Wednesday, May 14, 2008

May Blog Party: Spring Greens - Native Wildflowers

This month's Blog Party is being hosted by Darcey with the theme of spring greens.

We arrived in the Methow Valley last September, so this is our first experience of spring and the scrumptious, beautiful, bountiful greens it brings. The Methow Valley is in the Northeastern Cascades of Washington state. The ecology ranges from sage brush shrub step to alpine pine forests with several rivers and many lakes running through it all.

We've been feasting on a lot of weedy greens like dandelion and dock. It was great to get these nutritious greens long before the salad greens started showing up at the farmer's market. And although I love my weeds, lately I've been fascinated with the native wildflowers that offer a cornucopia of food (above and beneath the ground).

Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata)
We've been enjoying lots of salads with spring beauties. They have a crisp distinctive taste that is completely reminiscent of spring. The aerial portions are high in vitamins A and C, and look absolutely beautiful in a salad. The corms found below ground taste like sweet potatoes. They can be baked, boiled, and eaten or dried into cakes for later use.

Blue Bells (Mertensia spp.)
Another great spring green. You can eat the leaves and flowers of this dainty plant that surely must be home to the fairy folk. Because it's in the borage family I limit my intake due to the potential alkaloids- adding a few to salads for decorum.

Desert Parsley (Lomatium triternatum)
This abundant plant in the carrot (umbelliferaceae) family has a spicy taste reminiscent of celery. Imagine celery with a kick, and that's Lomatium triternatum. Besides eating it in salads we are drying a bunch for use as a spice.

Wild Onion (Allium spp.)
Wild onions abound in the Methow. They can be used much like their less wild cousins you find in the grocery store, although they have much smaller bulbs. Tonight we had liver and onions eating both the bulbs and greens. Yuuummmy!

Mariposa Lily (Calochortus macrocarpus)
This might be cheating a bit on the theme since you don't actually eat the greens of this eye catching flower, only the bulbs. Still a great treat in the spring. I've only eaten these raw, but they have a pleasant nutty taste that I really enjoy.

Bitterroot (Lewisa rediviva)
Again, cheating a bit since we eat the below ground portions of this incredibly important food source, but I just had to include it because it is so beautiful and plentiful in the spring. We harvest the roots, cleaning off the outer papery portion and picking out its red heart in the center of the root. We then steam them for hours in a steam pit. I've also pickled them with beats before - they turned this brilliant fuschia color, but still tasted very bitter - making this a very well named plant.

For those of you in the valley (or elsewhere) wanting to try these plants, I urge a lot of caution. There are some very dangerous look alikes (death camas for example - another very well named plant you would not want to harvest for dinner), as well as a delicate ecology that needs to be tended with care.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Monday, May 12, 2008

Pickled Dandelion Buds

My friend Kimberly Gallagher mentioned she is trying to do one new thing with her favorite plants this year. That seemed like a great idea to me, and so in that spirit I tried pickled dandelion buds.

Recently I harvested whole dandelion plants from a local farm so that I could use the roots (for beverages) and the leaves for pesto. Once home I realized that although at first glance the plants were not in flower, hiding in the baselette of the dandelions were lots and lots of unopened buds... Hmmm, I thought, haven't I heard you could pickle these?

Luckily google came to my aid and I got this recipe from the folks at:

I started by separating the flower buds from the stems. I just took the ones that were smaller and didn't have a lot of formed bracts. (Although some I just removed the bracts.) I ended up with a decent amount. When selecting your buds, you definitely want to make sure that the flower buds are close tight and have never been opened before.

I then chopped up some onion, garlic, and ginger and put all of that in a mason jar. I filled the mason jar about a 1/3 of the way with tamari and the rest of the way with apple cider vinegar. I'll wait a couple weeks before sampling.

Has anyone else used the unopened buds before? I've sampled them before while out foraging, but this is my first recipe. I am excited to see how it turns out.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Dandelion Fritters

Wow! this has been a busy week. I guess spring is here and there is lots and lots to do. I spent a lot of time with dandelion this week and did some new things that I'll be sharing. Our lawn just erupted with dandelion flowers - it's so beautiful I just have a hard time understanding why people want to eradicate this plant.

I've made dandelion wine a few times and swore to never to do it again because it is a lot of work! But once those beautiful flowers showed up I just couldn't help myself. I am waiting for my wine yeast to actually make the wine and when it shows up I'll post about how I make dandelion wine.

We had a couple extra flowers left over so last night I made up some fritters! Definitely wild food junk food - but delicious all the same.

When I gather the flowers I try to get the biggest ones that are completely open. I put all the flowers in a basket that has some holes, or a paper bag. After collecting I leave this out in the sun for about an hour (the paper bag I put on its side) to let out all the creatures that were enjoying their dandelions before I came along and plucked it.

To make the fritters, we first started by taking the bracts off the dandelion flowers. In the picture you can see the one on the left has bracts and the one on the right the bracts have been removed. I was taught to remove the bracts because of their bitter taste.

I then made up the batter. I got my original recipe from Karen Sherwood and just tweaked it a little to fit the ingredients I had on hand.

1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flower
1/3 cup corn meal
1 t baking powder
cinnamon to taste
dash of salt
1 T of butter
2 T of honey
1/3 Cup milk
1 egg
Coconut oil

Mix the dry ingredients together and then melt the butter on low heat along with the honey. Let this cool and add the egg and milk. Mix well and then add to dry ingredients. You want to end up with a consistency like pancake batter.

I then heat up a good amount of coconut oil in the skillet. I like coconut oil because it is great for high heat and one of the most nutritious oils available. Whatever oil you use just make sure it has a high smoking temperature. (Olive oil is a very poor choice.)

Once the oil is hot enough I dip the flowers in the batter and place them in the skillet. I turn them once one side is golden brown.

Once they are done cooking I place them on a plate lined with a paper towel.You could also make these more savory by omitting the honey and adding herbs like thyme and rosemary.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata)

Now that the valley is bursting with life we will be harvesting more and more wild food for our meals. Today my husband spent a few hours harvesting spring beauties. We had this beautiful salad for dinner. We ate the entire aerial plant which is high in vitamins A and C. It tastes much like miner's lettuce from the western part of Washington state. They are both in the Purslane family of the claytonia genus. He also gathered a lot of the corms which we will process tomorrow, so I will post about that with pictures then.

I spent the day harvesting dandelions - the flower, leaf, and root. At we are studying dandelion this month and I am looking forward to being able to participate in the dandelion discussions. It'll be a big processing day tomorrow - I can hardly wait to get started. Of course I'll take pictures of all my concoctions and share it will you.

Also tomorrow my husband plans to harvest a lot of bitterroot - also in the Purslane family. I'll of course be writing about that as well.

Wow, that's a lot of teasers for one night. :)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Farmer's Market and Native Plant Hike

It's been an incredibly busy weekend. First, I was selling my herbal wares at the local farmer's market on Saturday morning. This week I had a table set up for people to identify local plants that was really successful and fun. I simply put some plant cuttings in cups, and then fixed a label to the backside stating the common name, botanical name, family, and some edible, medicinal, and utilitarian uses for each one.

I had yarrow, dandelion, yellow dock, mallow, mullein, and oregon grape out. Most people got dandelion, but the rest were not so easy! People were absolutely amazed you could eat some of them, or that yarrow is such a powerful medicinal (it grows everywhere here). It's so surprising to me that what I know isn't common knowledge!

Directly after the market I went up to Patterson Mountain to lead a native plant hike. I was worried headed up there that I would be too tired after such a big morning to lead the hike well, but I think it went great! I spoke a lot to the edible and medicinal uses of many of the plants we saw. There were lots of wildflowers out and over the next week I will be posting more about each one.

The beautiful picture above is of larkspur or Delphinium spp. It belongs to the buttercup family and is highly toxic to humans and cows. Apparently sheep aren't bothered by it. It's a very striking flower - the showy part is actually 5 sepals with the actual flower being in the center. After seeing it up on the mountain we found it growing on our property as well.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Edible Weeds Recipes

I taught a class last week on edible weeds and was surprised to see how many people were just coming around to the idea that weeds are great! I suppose I live in somewhat of an herbal bubble. :) I made up a little booklet of recipes for the class. If you are a part of the community John will be posting the pdf file so that you can print it out as a booklet. Otherwise you'll just have to read it here. :)

Common Edible Weeds
The following list is for educational purposes. Some of these plants require special harvesting times or special preparation before they are edible.

Lamb’s Quarters
Mustard Family

Yellow Dock
Stinging Nettle
Red Clover

Dandelion Pesto
2-4 crushed cloves of garlic
1/2 cup cold presses olive oil
2-3 cups freshly picked young dandelion leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Dash of sea salt

Place oil, garlic, and salt in the blender along with half of the dandelion leaves. Blend well, and then add the other half of the leaves. When finished blending it should be of a good consistency and a little runny still. Pour into a bowl and add desired amount of parmesan cheese. Occasionally I add pine nuts or ground walnuts as well. We love this pesto as a dip, on bread, pasta, salmon, or even a couple tablespoons with our scrambled eggs.

Dandelion Greens
One onion
Pinch of sea salt
2 T of olive oil or butter
2 cloves of garlic
Bunch of dandelion greens
Squirt of lemon

Begin by sautéing the onion and salt in olive oil or butter until it has turned to a rich brown color (caramelized). Add the garlic and sauté for a minute more. Add the dandelion greens and sauté until wilted and then add a squirt of lemon juice.

We use this base recipe in quiche, tacos, or simply rolled up in a large kale, chard of lettuce leaf. Delicious!

Dandelion Coffee

Collect dandelion roots after they have gone to seed or before they flower. Wash well, and cut into small pieces. At this point you can dry them well and store them for later roasting or you can roast them in a cast iron until they turn brown and have a pleasant odor. Once roasted I place a couple of tablespoon of roasted root in 8 oz of water, boil for seven minutes, add cream and enjoy.

Dandelion or Red Clover Fritters

One cup flour
One cup milk
One T baking powder
One cup corn meal
4 eggs
Dash of sea salt

One T honey (or to taste)
Cinnamon, cloves, cardamom nutmeg to taste OR

Thyme, rosemary, oregano or other savory herbs to taste

Mix the dry ingredients together and then add eggs and mix well. Add sweet or savory ingredients. Dip the flower blossoms into the mix and fry in hot oil until golden.

Wild Greens Casserole
(Recipe courtesy of Karen Sherwood)
2 cups cooked stinging nettles, amaranth greens, lamb’s quarter’s greens, mustard greens, or yellow dock greens
1/4 cup butter melted
4 eggs beaten
1 cup milk
2 garlic cloves minced
2 T Tamari or soy sauce
3 Cups cooked rice or quinoa
8 Leeks
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 t thyme and rosemary

Combine the above ingredients into a baking dish. Bake 40 minutes at 350 degrees

Marinated Burdock Root
(Recipe courtesy of Eaglesong at Ravencroft Gardens)
6—8 first year burdock roots
2 cups of water
2cups of tamari or soy sauce
2 cups balsamic vinegar
4 cloves of garlic sliced
One piece of ginger

Wash and thinly slice burdock root, slice garlic and cut ginger into matchstick size pieces. Add to medium skillet with water. Sauté until burdock is just tender. Add tamari and vinegar and reheat. Pack into sterile canning jars to seal or store in refrigerator.

Dock Seed Crackers

Mix together :
One cup of dock seed flour
One teaspoon of salt
One cup flour of your choice. (My favorites are whole-wheat pastry flour and rye flour.)

Mix in enough water to make a pliable, but not sticky dough.
On a well-floured surface, roll dough as thin as possible. Cut into desired shapes or transfer it whole to a well-oiled cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 -12 minutes at 375° or until crisp. I love these hearty crackers with Brie or goat cheese.

Herbal Vinegar
To make an herbal vinegar I fill a quart jar with lightly packed herbs, then fill it with organic apple cider vinegar and cap with a plastic lid or a plastic lined metal lid. I label it, let it sit for six weeks—shaking daily.

After six weeks I strain off the material and use this vinegar in our homemade dressing.
Favorite plants to make vinegar from:
Nettle leaves Chickweed Leaves Lamb’s Quarters
Dandelion Roots Dandelion Leaves Burdock Roots
Hawthorn Berries Yellow Dock Root Cleavers

Nettle Ale
(Recipe courtesy of Karen Sherwood)
49 Stinging Nettle stalks with leaves
1 1/4 gallons of water
1 1/2 pounds of sugar
1 oz. cream of tartar
1/4 oz of yeast

Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add nettles an steep 15 minutes. Strain the mnettle reserving the infusion. Add the sugar and cream of tartar stirring until dissolved. When the mixture is tepid add the yeast and stir well. Cover the container with cheesecloth and allow to sit for 4 days. Remove the residue on the top and decant without disturbing the sediment on the bottom. Bottle.