Cold-hearted Cattail Salads

young cattails Ithaca NY 337x450 Cold hearted Cattail Salads

Cattail shoots ready for harvest outside Ithaca, NY, June 2013. After tugging a few from the pond, I went for the easier-to-harvest shoots in a dry area on the pond’s edge.

The renowned forager and writer Euell Gibbons called cattails “the supermarket of the swamps,” and from that moniker other nicknames have emerged, among them “the Walmart of the swamps.” Although evoking Walmart doesn’t help me to connect with my joy for wild plants, the sobriquets are so given because of all the different plant food cattails (Typha spp.) yield—from the shoots (aka hearts or leaf cores) and flower spikes* to cattail pollen as flour, along with several underground parts, among which the rhizomes require a bit of processing to separate the edible starches. It is also often the case that cattails are quite plentiful where they occur, making them a good choice for a sustainable wild harvest.

Perhaps easiest to collect and process are the shoots or hearts, also known as “Cossack asparagus.” These are best harvested in spring and early summer, prior to the development of the flower stalk (Thayer, 2006), by giving a mellow yanking to the inner leaves near the base of the plant until the soft, white core releases, bringing the attached long green leaves with it. I usually cut the long green leaves off in the field, keeping just the bottom portion to finish cleaning in the kitchen.

The Heart: To Cook or Not to Cook?

Since cattail hearts are described as tasting like cucumbers, I decided to use the comparison to come up with a recipe for Hunger & Thirst’s June recipe share. But the recipe idea I came up with requires raw cucumbers, not cooked ones.

Numerous sources say to eat cattail hearts raw or cooked, though in The Forager’s Harvest (2006), Sam Thayer complains of getting “an itchy, irritated feeling” in the back of his throat when he eats them raw, so he prefers to cook them. I get a little of this sensation but it is not uncomfortable, just a bit strange.

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Creamy Green Yogurt Sauce with Spruce Tips & Dill

spruce sauce eggs asparagus 450x378 Creamy Green Yogurt Sauce with Spruce Tips & Dill

Egg on toast with wild asparagus and creamy green yogurt sauce made with blended spruce tips and dill.

Everybody seems so into spruce tips—those soft, light-green new tips that grow on spruce (Picea spp.) in spring. I’m still sleuthing about trying to find out where that idea on the culinary use of spruce tips came from. Maybe the cookbook Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by Chef Rene Redzepi, from the restaurant that all the chefs are raving about? Or, I just read in Ava Chin’s article—an informative read, BTW—that there is a chapter on conifer tips in The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes (2010) by Connie Green, so that book is now on my wild edible wish list too.

I couldn’t find many references as to the edibility of spruce tips aside from tea in my own book collection, but in Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies (2000), Kershaw warns: “Always use evergreen teas in moderation. Do not eat the needles or drink the teas in high concentrations or with great frequency,” though she does not say why. Also she indicates that as an emergency food, “tender young shoots, stripped of their needles, can be boiled.” Later she writes that evergreen needle teas are not advised for pregnant women. Read the rest of this entry

Wild Edible Notebook—June release!

WEN cover 640 288x450 Wild Edible Notebook—June release!Time flies. Before you know it, it’s time again for another issue of the Wild Edible Notebook!

The June 2013 issue starts off with an introspective diatribe on stinging nettles (Urtica spp.), followed by a look at the western high country edible, mountain marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala), which is related to and shares edibility characteristics with the eastern marsh marigold (Caltha palustris). There is a review of John Kallas’ book, Edible Wild Plants (2010), along with a short interview with the author. Inside you’ll also find a few recipes, two by the inimitable Butter at Hunger & Thirst, and a coloring page, which I think is just going to have to be an ongoing feature. Some of the content repeats from my blog (but with updates), and some is brand spankin’ new, with plenty of as-yet-unseen pictures throughout the booklet to boot.

The procedure for downloading the Wild Edible Notebook has changed. Please visit the Wild Edible Notebook page for information on subscribing to the iPad/iPhone or PDF versions for $1.99/month. Your support makes the continued development of this publication possible, both on the content and technical sides.

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EDITED 10.7.13 to reflect the new download procedures.


Edible Plant Hike Saturday June 8 in Summit County

sweet clover CO 350x233 Edible Plant Hike Saturday June 8 in Summit County

Last fall, we looked at about 20 edible plants in the Colorado high country. Let’s see what we can find in Summit County on June 8.

I’ll be offering a series of edible wild plant hikes in Summit County, Colorado, as noncredit courses (Continuing Education) through Colorado Mountain College this summer. There are still  slots open for the first hike on Saturday, June 8, to take place on the River Trail in Breckenridge from 9-11 am.

We’ll be identifying local edible wild plants and plant parts in the high country, with discussion on safe practices for identification, collection, and consumption, both for individual plants and edible wild plants as a whole. We will also discuss foraging topics including collection policies for public lands and how to forage responsibly so that plants can regenerate. There will be some opportunities for taste-testing, but we will not be foraging food in quantity.

The walks are limited to 12 participants and cost $20, with signups taking place through the college. Fill out the Registration Form and submit payment, either online at (go to Classes>Register for Classes) or in person at CMC Breckenridge (107 Denison Placer Road; 970-453-6757) or Dillon (333 Fiedler Avenue; 970-468-5989). Folks who have taken a CMC class in the past 10 months can phone or fax in the Registration Form.

All walks take place from 9-11 a.m. on the following dates: Read the rest of this entry

More Whitetop Kitchen Experiments

whitetop tops 450x360 More Whitetop Kitchen Experiments

Whitetop flower bud clusters, used as a substitute for broccoli.

The one nice thing about invasive, edible plant species is that there are more than enough specimens available for kitchen tests, and you don’t feel like you’re dishonoring nature’s gifts when something goes wrong.

Like in my recent countertop honey infused with whitetop flowers (Cardaria spp., Lepidium draba or related Lepidium sp.), which I was hoping would make for a nice, spicy honey mustard condiment. Instead I got icky, pungent, planty goo that Gregg says is smelling up the house.

Fortunately, a few of my other experiments came out pretty good, which is nice considering that I jumped on the whitetop bandwagon a little late this year, collecting one batch in Fort Collins at its prime, pre-flowering, broccoli-like state before the pickings were no longer quite so good. Still, we got a few more meals out of the plant after that, and as the green continues to emerge up here in the high country, there might be another opportunity.

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Pine Nut Dessert Extravaganza

pine nut dulce leche cookies 450x337 Pine Nut Dessert Extravaganza

Sugar cookies topped with homemade dulce de leche caramel and wild foraged pine nuts. Note the color variations in the seeds. Also note my one attempt at making a pine nut covered candy. It turned out flimsy.

Everything I’ve ever read says that pinyon nuts (Pinus edulis) are ready for harvest in late summer and fall. So you can imagine my surprise a couple weeks ago, while passing through Utah’s Great Basin on our recent road trip, to find fallen pine nuts with the nutseeds intact, ripe and ready to eat.

Throughout the trip I’d been absentmindedly pinching fallen pinyon nuts whenever I saw them, but always getting air. Then one day during a bathroom stop I got out of the car and looked up to see the most cone-laden pinyon tree I’d ever seen. All of the cones were dangling open, so I looked down to see a litter of pine nuts in the duff underneath. I picked one up and pinched it only to find a firm, white-tan seed inside! Incredulous, I popped it in my mouth, and was further astounded by the flavor.

When Gregg got out of the bathroom I asked him to climb under the tree with me to collect pine nuts. (In case you’re wondering, these are the same pine nuts that can be purchased in the grocery store—except that usually the pine nuts you buy at the store are imported from overseas, despite the fact that pinyon trees grow wild in large swaths across the western United States and Mexico.) Read the rest of this entry

Whitetop—A Wild Invasive Substitute for Broccoli

whitetop Fort Collins 450x337 Whitetop—A Wild Invasive Substitute for Broccoli

Whitetop is a listed invasive species, targeted for eradication in areas of Colorado and other regions.

I’ve been meaning to try eating whitetop, aka hoary cress (Cardaria spp., Lepidium draba or related Lepidium sp.)—an invasive plant targeted for eradication in parts of the Colorado high country and undoubtedly other locations too. It saddens me to see whitetop taking over entire fields; I always wonder what plants might grow there if that whorey mustard hadn’t so asserted itself.

Last summer, when Colorado wild edible plants expert Cattail Bob Seebeck gave me my first taste of whitetop flowers in a farm field in Mesa, it nearly burned my tongue off—a seriously spicy mustard. Which is why I was so surprised that my friend Butter found it to be pleasant and mild prepared in the style of broccoli rabe. She harvested the tops before the flowers opened, including a small portion of stem and leaves, then blanched and sautéed the hoary cress with salt, red pepper flakes, and red wine vinegar. Read the rest of this entry

Frisco plant survey 0591 450x337 Wild Edibles at Meadow Creek Trail in Frisco—Photo Gallery

Hello you sexy cow parsnip, you! (Heracleum maximum) Frisco, 5.20.13

It’s been funny weather up here in the high country lately. Where we live at 10,000 feet, it has been snowing fat, clumpy, wet flakes for days. Then yesterday, late morning, I headed to Frisco through pouring rain to survey some trails.

At my first stop, it was snowing and blowing and cold, so I donned my coat and hat before poking around. There were big snow patches across the trail and not too much in the way of edible spring growth. But then at the second and third stops—both uphill hikes through trees—it was warm enough that I had to shed both, and the sun peeked out, sending rays of dappled light to illuminate the freshly sprinkled plants.

I found spring—and the best diversity of edible, wild, high country plants—at Meadow Creek Trail #33 in Frisco, accessed from the I-70/Highway 9 traffic circle. It’s a somewhat strenuous uphill hike that takes you through an aspen grove to Lilly Pad Lake if you go far enough. I’d almost skipped it, not relishing the idea of hiking up, up, up, but then made a last minute decision to stop anyway. I was happily surprised to find so many of my wild edible friends had sprouted—some “wild” in the sense of native plants that belong to the forest, and others introduced species gone wild but growing in such a healthy state that they looked good enough to eat. Read the rest of this entry

Baked Curly Dock Chips a la Kale Chips

curly dock chips1 450x337 Baked Curly Dock Chips a la Kale Chips

Curly dock chips on the docket for snack time. The was my first batch, when I went through the effort to remove the midribs from the leaves.

Who needs kale chips when you can have dock chips? For this project—a bastardization of two online recipes for kale chips (Food Network, Allrecipes), I used young curly dock leaves (Rumex crispus) foraged a couple days ago in the outskirts of Fort Collins, Colorado. With the recent rains the dock is looking good, especially if you catch the young, light green leaves shortly after they unfurl, before the bugs have a chance to get to them.

Unlike kale, which is a mustard, dock is in the Polygonaceae family, which includes buckwheat and rhubarb—so the chips are bound to taste different than kale chips to some palates. To my simple one, both give the sensation of a melt-in-your-mouth crisped vegetable, which I find appealing.

One of the kale chips recipes I followed said to cut the leaves from the leaf stems, and to then rip the leaves into pieces. For my first trial I removed them from the midribs but didn’t rip the strips into smaller pieces, which made it easier to flip once they were in the oven. I tossed the leaves in oil and spruce salt and laid them out, not touching each other, on a cookie sheet, baking for probably six minutes at 275 degrees before flipping them over, one by one, using a spatula and my fingers. Read the rest of this entry

Black Greasewood with Tofu Cubes

tofu black greasewood 350x262 Black Greasewood with Tofu Cubes

Pan-fried tofu cubes with black greasewood leaves.

Last night I all but destroyed the kitchen, scurrying about cooking up a wild feast like a person possessed. It felt good to be back home experimenting with wild ingredients again after our recent road trip to parts west, to channel all that inspiration from finding exciting new plants into food while my better half lounged on the couch. And, of course, it was snowing while I did so, here in the last stronghold against spring at 10,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies.

One of the dishes I made uses the leaves of black greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus). The sprigs of the desert shrub had been sitting in the refrigerator for the last week and a half or so since we gathered them from a Nevada alkali flat. Not because I’d forgotten about them—rather because I was leery of the odd new plant, and awaiting responses to my recent query in the Edible Wild Plants group on Facebook as to whether anyone had eaten it before. Fortunately Brad VanDyke, based in Utah, responded: “I have eaten it, and like it. However, it does contain oxalates, so be careful,” he wrote. As certain commercial veggies we consume—like spinach—contain oxalates too, I took that to mean: Don’t overeat. As in an entire pound in a sitting. Read the rest of this entry

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