Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wild Ancestors of Garden Plants

You can find the ancestors of many common garden plants growing wild in yards and fields. Yesterday I found large amounts of wild mustard in an abandoned barnyard. There are several varieties of wild mustard and its relatives (like cress). I don't know what kind of this is, maybe field cress, but there's a lot of it. The young leaves are spicy and have that distinctive mustard green flavor.

Wild Mustard
The Mustard Family

There's so much mustard in this lot that I'm going to try freezing some. The time when many of these wild greens are abundant and tender is short, so freezing or canning some seems like a good strategy. Then the other 10 months of the year when you can't find goosegrass or succulent chickweed, you can still get the unique tastes and nutritional profile of some of these plants.

Wild Lettuce
Young Wild Lettuce

The wild lettuce is also up and coming. Wild lettuce produces a milky latex when you break off a leaf. It tastes bitter even when young. That's why I like to cook it instead of having it raw in salads. It blends in well with the mustard greens, so a mix of these two cooked together can be pretty good.

Oh! While weeding my mom's flower beds, I dug up a six-inch thick bundle of wild onions. This is the best way to get wild greens, since the weeding has to be done anyway. The extra food is just a side benefit. It's a bountiful harvest without having had to plant or cultivate, my favorite kind of gardening.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Violet Leaf Tea

[The following post was written yesterday, March 21, 2007]

The springtime air smells moist and fertile on this first full day of spring. The earth is like a damp sponge and more rains are forecast for the next five days. The spring rains and the sunshine that should follow next week are all that's needed to send the early plants on an uncontrolled growing spurt. This is great news for wild foods enthusiasts, but also means the grass will need mowing!

One of the early plants that have been making an appearance is the violet. Here's a picture of violets as they make their way out of the ground. I took this about a week ago and you can see how the leaves come up rolled into little tubes before they open. These are less then 1/2" tall.

Violets Emerging from the Rocky Soil
Violets Emerging from the Rocky Soil

In the next picture the violets have begun to open up. You can see the heart-shaped leaf form of the mature plant. The leaves have doubled in height.

Violets One Week Later
Violets One Week Later

You should make sure that violets are identified properly before you decide to try any. The most surefire way to do this is to identify them while they're flowering. That won't be going on for at least another month, so if in doubt, don't pick any of these until you can be positive that they are violets. There are both yellow and purple flowered varieties.

As they get older, violet leaves can be harvested and used in salads or cooked with other greens, but they may be at their best brewed into a tea. The leaves should be dried first to produce the proper flavor. It makes a nice hot drink for chilly spring evenings.

How are the rest of the greens coming along? Well, here's a picture taken beside a garden bed. It shows chickweed and goosegrass growing several inches tall. The goosegrass is the one with the star shaped leaf whorls radiating out from the stem. The chickweed has small teardrop shaped leaves. I've been having both of these plants regularly in salads, and whatever else I can throw them into.

Young Goosegrass and Chickweed

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Nettles, Eggs and Chicken Legs

Nettles and scrambled eggs go great together. I think it's even better than spinach, because the nettles don't impose their flavor on the eggs. The two tastes are more complementary.

A Mess of Greens

There really weren't enough nettles to make a decent stir-fry last night so this morning I picked some nettles and daylily shoots with a few little tender tops of chickweed. I also picked four or five young dandelion leaves and a few sage leaves from my garden.

I sliced the dandelion and sage leaves fine because they're both pretty strong flavored. The other greens got sliced into 5/8" long pieces (the chickweed was so small it didn't need to be sliced).

The greens were sautéed in olive oil for a few minutes then I added the eggs. Since there were only three eggs (whoops), I added the meat of half a chicken leg and melted in a slice of cream cheese. Seasoned with salt, garlic and dill, it was perfect for Saturday morning brunch with toast and potatoes.

I did get a nettle sting. I only had a glove on my left hand, and was using the scissors with my unprotected right. Inevitably, I slid my knuckles across some small unnoticed nettle plants. I rubbed on a dock leaf, but it took about 15 minutes for the irritation to go away.

Hey I just noticed what day it is. For me, planting potatoes on St. Patrick's Day is a family tradition. Around this time we also planted cabbage and broccoli plants, as well as sowing lettuce and radish seeds.

We won't be planting an early garden this year because we're moving our raised beds. Guess I'll just have to enjoy the wild greens.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Stinging Nettles - Good Eating!

It sure seems like the nettles are up early this year. Usually you have to wait till around Easter to get a good pot of nettles. It has been unusually warm the last couple of weeks. Tonight is supposed to be around 30°, so I'm going to harvest a few of these in case they get knocked down by the cold.

Stinging nettles are one of the tastiest
of the spring greens.

Nettles do sting, so use gloves to harvest them. After you cook nettles they no longer sting. Then there's the technique of grabbing a nettle hard, breaking the tiny stinging hairs at their base instead of brushing the tips were they can sting you. What's that old rhyme?

Touch the nettle gently and it stings you for your pains;
but grasp it like a man of mettle and it soft as silk remains.

I have tried this and it works. The formic acid is at the tips of the hairs, and breaking them off at the base seems prevent the sting. But it's hard to grab the nettle without some errant leaf brushing the back of your hand and giving you a sting anyway, so I usually just use gloves.

Nettle stings aren't too bad if you know what to do about them. Just grab a dock leaf and rub it on vigorously. The sting will go away pretty quick (and no, it’s not just because you’re distracted!).

It was hard to believe, but the daylily shoot in front of the rock from my last post had just about doubled in size by the next day. The growth rate on these things is amazing. I'm going to have to post every day just to keep up.

For now, I'm just going to harvest some young nettles for supper tonight. I think I'll stir-fry them with some wild onions and garlic. I love these sweet and mild greens, which are also an excellent source of boron and vitamin A. Boron and calcium work together for bone strength. It's a neglected bone nutrient, and one of the richest sources is free in my backyard. Plus, it tastes great. Bonus!

You can see more nettle pictures on my Wild Foods Page.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Daylily Shoots and Goosegrass

What a beautiful morning! The wild plants are popping up like weeds. Oh I forgot, most of these ARE weeds according to the mainstream, and they're not even wild. At least half of the plants that I harvest every spring and summer are not native to North America.

Daylilies are old-fashioned flowers that are common around older houses. You also see their orange flowers on roadsides and in fields, where they might mark an old homesite. Daylilies are more than just decoration, they are edible in all stages of growth. You can plant these in your backyard, say in an abandoned corner, and you'll have an emergency food supply. Not only can you eat the young shoots, but you can also eat the flower buds, the open flowers, and the underground tubers. You'll still find these offered in seed catalogs today.

Here's a picture I took yesterday of young daylily shoots. At this stage they're just perfect for salads

Goosegrass is also known as cleavers and has been called bedstraw in the past. I did find some, but they were too small to mess with for eating. Another week and they'll be ready to start harvesting. Like many spring greens, these are great for cleansing the system after the long inactive winter. They're a good lymphatic cleanser, to help clear out those winter cold and flu leftovers.

Young goosegrass only a couple of inches high

In just the last week, dock has sprouted up in my garden and is ready to harvest. These young shoots are tangy and crisp. Today I'll harvest these and some day lily shoots for a salad. I'll add chickweed and some tiny dandelion leaves that I found here. Sure beats that bagged salad in every way. Nutritionally it has to be about 1000% better for me.

Dock Plant

I found a great blog called Free Man's Table. The author (Wild Man) talks about eating dock like okra. The stems are succulent and slimy. In later stages, dock produces huge amounts of vegetation, but it tends to become more bitter as it gets older. Chop up the whole young plant, and then batter and fry like okra. Dock can also be used to help thicken soups.

I wasn't raised "southern" so okra and dock, or eating anything slimy for that matter, seems strange to me. Dad was the only one who liked okra, but heck, somebody had to eat it with him. Probably the only reason I still eat that stuff is because I used to eat it with my dad. He liked it made into patties with egg and cornmeal, then fried. Okay, I guess I kinda like it that way.

Wild T

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Young Dock and Chickweed

I get a little antsy this time of year and have to go out and check how the wild greens are coming. Today I found chickweed that was just a few inches high. You could nibble these, but I prefer to just admire them and wait until there's enough to harvest. Besides, I don't like getting my face down in the leaves;)

Here's a picture of some tiny chickweed that I took about an hour ago.

Chickweed, about 2 inches high
(click for larger pictures)

I ran across some little dock sprouts too. I was just walking along and the little burgundy leaves in the brown grass caught my eye. What a nice surprise!

A tiny dock leaf unfurling

In front of the same leaf, you can see
the next tiny sprout still tightly furled

The only thing I have to worry about with dock is the high oxalic acid content. You're probably pretty safe as long as you don't eat buckets of it, and you could nibble a bunch of these little sprouts no problem (I’m not a doctor or anything, do your own due diligence). Other foods high in oxalic acid include carrots and sorrels.

Stay tuned next week when I'll try to find some goose grass (I know, you can hardly wait:).

Wild T

PS. Ever wonder what a Grand Canyon mule ride might be like? Click:
Mule Ride in the Grand Canyon

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Spring is Coming!

It's the first of March! Soon, little green plants will be poking their tiny heads up through the soil. Already, I see chickweed sprouts that didn't quite die back this winter. In another week or so, the fresh green growth will be ready to start harvesting. Chickweed has diuretic and astringent properties, and is great for clearing out those winter toxins. It's even used in some weight loss remedies.

Dandelions too will be coming up soon. These are a real spring tonic, also known as "poor man's ginseng". Filled with vitamins A and C, and with excellent cleansing properties, dandelion is especially good for your liver.

One way to get the benefits of dandelion for your liver, without eating a lot of dandelions, is to drink coffee with chicory in it. Chicory is related to the dandelion and its root is used as a coffee substitute. You may not get a medicinal dose of chicory, but if you're a drinker you may like the extra assurance of having a liver tonic the morning after.

Try Café du Monde coffee blend. There may be other brands available as well. Roasted chicory root has a nutty flavor. Since I love this smooth taste of Colombian coffee, I usually mix the coffee blends half-and-half with 100% Colombian. Of course this dilutes the chicory even further, but in my opinion, some is better than none!

Have a look at my Wild Edibles page to see some wild plants.
Wild Foods

I've added some other pages to my website, Milky Way Publishing. These are all free information pages. If it looks interesting, check it out.

Natural Skin Care has recipes to make your own, plus info on dangerous ingredients.
Emergency Preparedness focuses on nuclear preparedness.
Free Books and Software
Free online VCR cleaning book

Thanks for reading. Until next time...