Friday, March 8th, 2013 at
Black birch twigs can be used for tea. Note the horizontal lenticels that look like dashes, as Steve Brill describes them.
It’s now a week into this month’s wild recipe challenge at Hunger & Thirst for Life, and can I just say, I’ve been out of it for eight months and all of a sudden, this game has gotten way harder.
This month, Wild Things is a “Tree Party,” which, despite the fact that it conjures up happy tree house imagery for me, is not as simple as it sounds, because the following tree parts are disqualified, reserved to grace a later contest on their own merits: leaves, needles, fruits, and nuts. So much for the pine nut vodka I was thinking I’d make into vodka sauce.
Instead we are left with “sap, bark (including cambium), pollen, catkins, and resin,” explains Butterpoweredbike, head cheese of the wild recipe share. She expects to receive monographs or recipes for herbal remedies that use tree bark, and syrup from folks who tap trees, in addition to her own culinary experiments with ponderosa pine bark. Read the rest of this entry
Wednesday, May 9th, 2012 at
Might think about trimming the chickweed better next time.
If I don’t get the rest of this New England story out soon I’ll be permanently stopped up in the blog-hole, though perhaps it’s something a large dose of chickweed (Stellaria spp.) could solve.
I already wrote about chickweed in Part I of this series, I know, but I just read an amusing account in Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants (1985), wherein he first spends an entire hot and humid day prostrate in a chickweed patch gorging himself on the stuff before suffering “the worse case of diarrhea [he has] had to this day,” followed later by his idea to make an extremely strong chickweed tea for a constipated friend—only to discover that it worked so well his friend was stricken with the shits for days.
For use as a laxative, Brown recommends to steep a “palmful of fresh, chopped leaves” for a half hour, strain, and take ½ cup twice a day; I’ve never tried this but I do know an oft-constipated sister who has chickweed growing in her garden…
When I made chickweed for my parents, I snipped it far down the stems, found it too tough and chewy for my liking, and then wrote about it in Part I of this series. Meanwhile I’ve got Sam Thayer (2006) in the back of my head saying, “The deplorable state of information on edible wild plants can be cleared up over time if those who write on the topic exhibit professionalism and follow a few simple guidelines,” one of which is to “not condemn a plant based on limited experience with it.” Read the rest of this entry
Tuesday, May 8th, 2012 at
Seemingly innocent poison ivy lies in wait, plotting your extreme discomfort.
One of the things I noticed about foraging in New England that does not present a problem here at 11,000 feet in the Colorado High Country is the seeming ever-presence of poison ivy (Toxicondendron radicans). One morning, overjoyed to find false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum or M. stellatum) growing in abundance in the forest around my parents’ Connecticut house, I borrowed a trowel and headed out to dig up some rhizomes, only to find each and every plant intricately intertwined with poison ivy.
Poison ivy is not edible. And, unless you are one of the lucky few not (yet) allergic to T. radicans, coming in contact with it can instigate a blistering, itchy rash. I know first-hand how potent the roots can be, having developed a nasty case after a day digging in the not-yet-leafing-out plants as an archaeology student in college. My hands and arms were so bad that the Health Services department insisted I had contracted scabies. Inhaling fumes is a thousand times worse—the unlucky sap who accidentally burns it in a campfire and then huffs the stuff should be rushed to the hospital immediately, as the rash can develop internally throughout the body as well. Read the rest of this entry
Friday, May 4th, 2012 at
Garlic mustard, busy invading
“There’s a reason why the pre-Columbian population of Colorado was low,” wild plants author Sam Thayer once wrote me, referring to the relative lack of edible wild plants in this semi-arid land compared to lusher parts of the country. How dare he? I recall thinking—though truth be told, here at 11,000 feet in the Colorado High Country, the new spring growth is still less than an inch tall; meanwhile the rest of the country is happily chatting it up about their bountiful spring forage, whether dock and dandies, redbud flowers and milkweed shoots, chickweed and sorrel, and so forth.
Honestly, though, I’m not sure I could handle the abundance.
Take my recent New England trip for example. I arrived in Connecticut mid-April, just as the trees were newly leafing out. One walk with mom down our old country road renders me speechless. There are so many plants I want to try—plants I recognize from my books, plants that nearly every other forager knows well and uses often, plants that I have not had opportunity to try since Wild Food Girl was born.
I conclude that I need a few years out east, not two weeks interspersed with family visits, to get down and dirty with all these wild plants. Especially when my 7-year-old niece purportedly complained to her mother: “With all the wonderful plants in New Hampshire, how will I be able to get enough time to play with Aunt Erica since she loves plants so much?”
Read the rest of this entry
Wednesday, June 15th, 2011 at
Lathyrus japonicus on the shore in Old Lyme CT.
I ran into an old high school friend at the beach in Connecticut the other day. She was busy chasing around her two toddlers who kept trying to pick the pretty purple flowers in bloom amidst the dunes. “Don’t pick those flowers,” she admonished. “Don’t go in the grass. We need to keep the dunes healthy.” She was right, of course—because sand dunes and the plants therein often play an important role in protecting the land against storm surges—but at the time I was glad she hadn’t seen me picking pea pods from those same dunes just a few hours earlier!
The purple-flowering plant that captured the children’s attention was also the one that had captured mine—Lathyrus japonicus, the wild beach pea. Lee Allen Peterson (1977) puts the range of this plant as the east coast of the United States south to New Jersey, in addition to the shores of the Great Lakes, Oneida Lake, and Lake Champlain. Plants for a Future, the U.K. based “resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants,” expands the range to include sandy coasts from Alaska to northern California, western and eastern Europe, and eastern Asia/China. Read the rest of this entry
Friday, June 10th, 2011 at
Wild Edibles app by Steve Brill and WinterRoot. Image nabbed from iTunes.
Steve Brill recently released “Wild Edibles,” an iPhone app that helps foragers identify and use edible wild plants. The free version, Wild Edibles Lite, contains 20 common plants, while the full version costs $7.99 and offers “165 edible plants, 52 minor look-alikes, 719 images, and 162 vegan recipes.” The release is compatible with iPhone (iOS 3.0 or later), iPod touch, and iPad, with an Android version currently under development by the software’s creator, WinterRoot LLC.
Considered to be one of the foremost experts in the foraging field, “Wildman” Steve Brill has held wild edible plant tours in and around New York City since 1982 and published several books on foraging and wild food preparation. He is perhaps most well known for his 1986 arrest by undercover NYC park rangers for eating a dandelion in Central Park.
I don’t own an iPhone myself, but I downloaded the free version onto Gregg’s phone the other day to take a look. Even though Wild Edibles Lite only contains 20 plant entries, there are still several plants in there that I don’t yet know, despite the fact that I own Brill’s comprehensive 1994 guide, Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not-So-Wild) Places. (Informative and thorough as that book is, it’s big to be toting into the field and I find the black-and-white botanical illustrations hard to match up definitively to the actual plants—so I often reach for something smaller and in color instead.) Read the rest of this entry
Monday, May 30th, 2011 at
Cook stinging nettles before consuming lest you get stung in the mouth.
Accounts of stinging nettles are far from uncommon in the wild foods literature; likewise, stinging nettle soup is sold in more than a few restaurants—such that some wild foods neophytes like Gregg’s little sister Caity have more experience with the plant than I do, isolated as I am in high-mountain Colorado. For me, then, finding a small colony of nettles growing out of a culvert in Woodstock, New York last week was cause for great celebration.
I tried nettles on one other occasion three years ago, when, at the end of my cross-country journey to Colorado, I found myself alone and foodless save for a grocery bag full of nettles (which miraculously made it four days without refrigeration in the back seat of my car from State College, PA where it was gifted to me by a friend). This was before my newfound obsession with wild edible plants, and I worried about getting sick as I stripped and boiled the prickly leaves in the unfamiliar kitchen that has since become my own. (Everything turned out fine, though I can’t honestly say I relished the nettles at that moment. Funny what fear can do to the taste buds!) Read the rest of this entry
Friday, May 27th, 2011 at
Wild foraged fiddleheads and morels purchased from a health food store.
It’s been a number of years since I made it out east in the spring—and what a spring it is! Apparently it’s been raining more than usual, such that the outdoors is carpeted in lush new green growth the likes of which I seldom see. Coming from the Colorado high country, where snow still covers the forest floor, I have to admit I’m not sure where to begin.
Gregg and I headed first to Woodstock, New York, to visit my friend Aurora. The Hudson River Valley where Woodstock is located is truly an Eden of wild foods, a fact that she pointed out has been the case for thousands of years—and the reason so many native people relied upon this area for hunting and gathering. Granted, many of the plants that now flourish in these parts were imported by early settlers, but I am overwhelmed by the abundance of wild edibles I have an encountered.
In the Hudson River Valley we found the following plants ripe for the picking (in addition to many other that are not in season): stinging nettles, garlic mustard, mint, clovers, cleavers, goosefoot, mallow, burdock, several varieties of dock, a few late fern fiddleheads, sorrel, wild carrot, dandelion, plantain, and milkweed shoots. I helped Aurora weed some of these plants out of her garden and ended up with a cooler bag full of wild edibles. Later, on the forested grounds of my Alma Mater, Bard College, we found wild ginger, mayapples not yet fruiting, spicebush, and sweet cicely. Read the rest of this entry
Thursday, May 12th, 2011 at
A whole spring dandelion dug from the Denver dirt.
Yesterday another foot of snow fell at the house, which lies at 11,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies. So much for the few hints of green that were beginning to poke out of the dirt. Fortunately, Gregg and I scored some small spring dandelions last weekend at his parents’ house, which lies much lower at 6,100 feet in Aurora, on the outskirts of Denver.
Weeding Dandelions with Love
Gregg’s step-dad Jim was kind enough to let me weed dandelions from the part of the back yard where he doesn’t spray poison due to its proximity to the fish pond. We have a symbiotic relationship in that way—he needs edible weeds removed from his carefully tended landscape, and I want to eat them.
Have you ever weeded dandelions out of a lawn by hand? It’s not so bad if the soil is soft. Between the soft soil and the long metal hand weeding tool Jim supplied me, it was simply a matter of carefully extracting the dandelions—taproots, leaf stalks, leaves, buds, and all. Read the rest of this entry