How to Make Dandelion Coffee, Cook Poke Salad Shoots & Other Wild Tips

This is the only photo I have left from one of my hiking-foraging trips.  These are ingredients to a lunch soup, which includes oyster mushrooms.

This is the only photo I have left from one of my hiking-foraging trips. These are ingredients to a lunch soup, which includes oyster mushrooms.

A few years back, I was reading an article by Thomas Elpel, author of Botany in a Day and several articles and books on all kinds of primitive skills.  He’s a true master.  But he had attempted to make dandelion coffee, and it didn’t turn out for him and he was disappointed with the results.

The reason is, he had tried to make it in a drip coffee maker.  I thought of writing him and telling him how I do it, but figured he is the expert and I’m just a little hobby forager, so decided to let it go.

Poke salad shoots

Poke salad shoots

The dandelion root coffee that I have made is rich, mellow, smooth, complex and has chocolate undertones.  It’s truly a superb beverage.

The way I did it is to dig the roots with a weed digger. (You probably know that you can’t pull them up!)  Then I scrubbed them, put them on a baking sheet, and put them in a 250 degree oven for 5 hours.  At that point, you break a couple of the roots to make sure they are a rich, dark brown inside.  Then you “grind” them in the blender.

This type of wild lettuce is very mild without a hint of bitterness.

This type of wild lettuce is very mild without a hint of bitterness.

Dandelion roots do not grind properly!  You will end up with some powder and lots of irregularly shaped chunks.

To properly prepare dandelion coffee, you need to use an old time stove top percolator.  But once when I was visiting my sister in Florida, I was going to make some for her but she didn’t have a percolator.  So I took a pot, lined a large sieve with a coffee filter, then added the dandelion coffee, and made sure it was submerged in the water.  I brought the water to a boil, then simmered it until the coffee was the strength I liked.

This is another type of wild lettuce.  It's slightly bitter and is best mixed with other greens.

This is another type of wild lettuce. It’s slightly bitter and is best mixed with other greens.

And that’s how you make real dandelion coffee!  Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of that operation to share with you.  Maybe I’ll do another tutorial with photos in the spring.

Today I’m going to post a lot of photos because this will be my last wild edible post until spring comes.  I plan to not only take photos of wild plants, but show you how I use them.  That will be a lot more useful than just pictures of plants that I’m posting now.

Another wild edible that has been a staple to people during hard times, particularly in the Deep South during the Depression, is poke salad.  Poke salad is a highly nutritious vegetable, but care has to be taken in its preparation.  The poke plant is poisonous.  The roots are deadly poisonous.  But the young shoots, and the leaves while they are a bright, translucent emerald green, are easily treated to remove the toxins, resulting in a safe, healthy edible.

This is called an Indian strawberry.  It is sometimes confused with a wild strawberry.  Its fruits are a dark, cranberry red and its seeds are held out from the fruit on tiny stalks.  It won't hurt you, but it will certainly disappoint you!

This is called an Indian strawberry. It is sometimes confused with a wild strawberry. Its fruits are a dark, cranberry red and its seeds are held out from the fruit on tiny stalks. It won’t hurt you, but it will certainly disappoint you! Unfortunately, it’s very aggressive and is wiping out the wild strawberries in my yard.

To prepare the poke shoots, bring a separate large pot of water to boil.  Fill a smaller pot with some of the boiling water, add the poke shoots, and simmer for 5 minutes.  At that time the cooking water will be reddish and cloudy.  Pour off that water, cover with more boiling water, and cook another 3 minutes.  This time the water will only be slightly cloudy.  Pour that water off, fill the pot with boiling water one more time, and simmer a few more minutes.

At this point, the cooking water will be perfectly clear, assuring you that all the water soluble toxins have been safely removed.  Dip the poke out of the water, discarding the water, and serve with butter and salt.  Do NOT pour cold water over the poke shoots in the pot or you will set, rather than remove, the toxins.

For comparison, here's a real wild strawberry with its scarlet fruit and seeds embedded on the surface of the fruit.

For comparison, here’s a real wild strawberry with its scarlet fruit and seeds embedded on the surface of the fruit.

In spring, I will do a picture tutorial for you.

Delicious raw.  I have found that the purple greenbrier shoots do not have the slightest hint of bitterness like the green ones sometimes do.  I don't know if it's a different variety of greenbrier, or if the new shoots are purple because they are in the shade.  Cooking will toughen these and ruin them unless they are added to a soup at the last minute.

Delicious raw. I have found that the purple greenbrier shoots do not have the slightest hint of bitterness like the green ones sometimes do. I don’t know if it’s a different variety of greenbrier, or if the new shoots are purple because they are in the shade. Cooking will toughen these and ruin them unless they are added to a soup at the last minute. I don’t believe it is a bullbrier (also edible) because the leaf shape is wrong.

Here's a green greenbrier shoot.  Often they are tender and sweet without a hint of bitterness, but sometimes they are a little bitter.  That's great in a salad where you like a contrast of flavors.

Here’s a green greenbrier shoot. Often they are tender and sweet without a hint of bitterness, but sometimes they are a little bitter. That’s great in a salad where you like a contrast of flavors. To pick, break the stem off at the point where it snaps off easily without flexing. The entire stem and leaves are eaten.

Common plantain.  It is edible when the leaves are young and tender before the leave veins get tough.  It can be eaten raw, but I don't like it raw.  I do like it cooked.

Common plantain. It is edible when the leaves are young and tender before the leaf veins get tough. It can be eaten raw, but I don’t like it raw. I do like it cooked.

These are sassafras leaves.  One winter camping trip, a group of us dug us sassafras roots and made a huge stockpot of sassafras tea.  I can't imagine anything more delicious on a cold, winter day.

These are sassafras leaves. One winter camping trip, a group of us dug us sassafras roots and made a huge stockpot of sassafras tea. I can’t imagine anything more delicious on a cold, winter day.

Solomon's Seal.  Note the way the double flowers (and later berries) hang down below this plant.  That distinguishes Solomon's Seal from False Solomon's Seal.  The roots aren't delicious and I have never cooked them long enough to get them tender, but they are a nice addition to a wild edibles soup.

Solomon’s Seal. Note the way the double flowers (and later berries) hang down below this plant. That distinguishes Solomon’s Seal from False Solomon’s Seal. The roots aren’t delicious and I have never cooked them long enough to get them tender, but they are a nice addition to a wild edibles soup.

The birds-nested seeds of wild carrot.  I just love this picture.  If you are new to wild edibles, avoid the carrot family as there are some fatally poisonous members in it.  When they bloom next year, I'll post good photos showing you foolproof ways to identify wild carrot.

The birds-nested seeds of wild carrot. I just love this picture. If you are new to wild edibles, avoid the carrot family as there are some fatally poisonous members in it. When they bloom next year, I’ll post good photos showing you foolproof ways to identify wild carrot.

One more photo of tender greenbrier leaves just because I get such a kick out of picking them and eating them right off the plant.

One more photo of tender greenbrier leaves just because I get such a kick out of picking them and eating them right off the plant.

Country Road & Beaver Dam

Down my rural lane

My country road

Late yesterday afternoon Ron and I took a walk to check out the beaver pond about 3/4 mile from our house.

Wild carrots grow all along the road.  They fascinate me.  Such intricate clustered white flowers — each one with one tiny purple flower in the very center.  I used to enjoy dipping the flowers in batter and frying them for an unusual treat.  But since I’m trying to eat wiser, I just admired the flowers this time.

wild carrot flower

Wild carrot flower

But even more interesting than the flowers is the birds-nest form the flowers take on as they go to seed.  At first, it looks just like a cupped birds nest, but they progress into a completely closed cage-like formation.

Funny…. when I was younger I thought studying plants was the most boring thing on earth.  Now I find it endlessly fascinating.

The wild daylilies blooming season is past.  I found one single flower remaining.  The rest of them look like straggly bunches of grass now.  I used to thoroughly enjoy fully exploiting the edible parts… corms, shoots and flowers.  But it has been so hot this year, I haven’t had much desire to go digging in the dusty clay or bushwhacking through tall weeds to get to them.

wild carrot flower birds nest

Wild carrot birdsnest fully closed

I think, too, once you have learned a plant and its uses, that simply taking photographs can be as rewarding as eating them.

When we got to the beaver pond, we were disappointed and saddened.  The water is WAY down.  And it looks like someone sabotaged the dam.  There were large rocks on top of it that someone must have put there.  And the dam had fallen into disrepair.  I am afraid that something happened to the beavers.

beaver dam

Due to the low water level, grasses and weeds are growing, and the dam appears to be abandoned and in disrepair.

We did get a good bit of rain last night, so the water level might be up a little.  I’ll check the dam again soon and see if it has been repaired.

On our way down to the pond, one of the neighbors’ aggressive dogs ran out and accosted us.   I am not usually afraid of dogs, but this time I was really frightened.  One of the owners’ kids came out, gathered up the dogs, and assured me, “They won’t bite you.”  Yeah, right.

They are supposed to be fenced or chained, but no one enforces the laws out here.  On our way back, again the dogs came out at us, but the kids rounded them up again.

daylily flower

The one remaining daylily bloom

I used to enjoy taking long walks, but I am feeling less and less safe.  The only place I really enjoy walking anymore are the trails when we go camping.  It’s so sad, because I do live in a beautiful area with so much to take in on long, leisurely walks.

Whew!  This post is getting long!  I’ll quit talking now and just share some of the photos I took.

[Note 8/8/2010:  The beaver dam is in complete disrepair.  Apparently someone killed the beavers.]

erosion and tree roots

This eroded tree root by the side of the road looks like something out of "The Hobbit"

groundnuts

Groundnuts plant

wild quinine

Wild quinine

wild carrots by beaver pond

Wild carrots by the beaver pond

red clover

Red clover looking a little heat stressed

buttonbush

Not a great picture, but I included it because it is the first time I have seen buttonbush flowers growing here.

More Wild Edibles on Our Property

yellow clover

Yellow clover has killed livestock when molded leaves were mixed with their hay. It produces coumarins when wilted or molding. So I avoid it, although technically it is edible.

young poke weed plant

Young pokeweed plant. Shoots must be cooked in three changes of boiling water before eating. Highly nutritious.

wild lettuce bolting

Wild lettuce bolting. Only the tiny leaves in the center of the top are good at this stage.

baby crabapples

Young, green crabapples

japanese honeysuckle

Japanese honeysuckle. Heavenly smelling noxious weed. Can make tea from blossoms.

wild strawberries

Another wild strawberries photo. They are so photogenic!

These photos were taken Friday, Saturday and today.

They are not intended to be a tutorial — just to share with others who love finding wild edible plants as much as I do.

greenbrier shoot

Tender, juicy greenbrier shoot

bullbriar shoot

Tender, sweet bullbriar shoot

bull briar leaves

Tender, mild baby bullbriar leaves

lowbush blueberries

Young lowbush blueberries...goodness to come!

baby sassafras tree

Baby sassafras tree

white clover

I no longer harvest white clover due to its potential for developing coumarins when wilted or beginning to spoil.

Wild Edible Foods in My Yard

Wild strawberries in my yard

Delicious, sweet wild strawberries

Our land is completely surrounded by forest.  We keep the area as natural as possible, which leaves a transition area between the forest and the yard where all kinds of wild plants thrive.

Since we were out camping, the yard went a couple of weeks without mowing.   This also allowed all kinds of cool edible plants to do their thing.

Late this afternoon I took the camera out to see what had sprouted up in our yard in our absence.  I was amazed at the variety I found.

best kind of wild lettuce

This is the best variety of wild lettuce. Tender, and not a hint of bitterness.

There were all kinds of greens at their prime.  I also noticed that the blackberry bushes were covered in little green blackberries, and the blueberry bushes had tiny little green blueberries.

There were many wild strawberries fruiting.  The ones that are reddish orange are not quite ripe.  The ones that are a deep red are beyond description.  Sweeter than any domesticated strawberry with a burst of intense, fruity pleasure.

I have noticed something odd about the poke salad.  It used to have a scrumptious flavor that was a cross between asparagus and green beans.  But this year it is very bland.

I noticed that when I was in Florida, too.  I had picked poke shoots to cook for my sister to show her how good wild edibles could be.  They were so bland I threw them out, rather than introduce her to something that wouldn’t impress her.

I know that Steve Brill says poke salad in New York has a very pungent flavor.  So the taste must vary from location to location.  Maybe all the rain we have had has affected the taste.

The blog editor is  not letting me insert photos where I want them, so they will be out of logical sequence.  For some reason, it is inserting the last photos here instead of at the end.  Hope it’s not too distracting.

wild salad greens

Wild salad greens. I threw the plantain leaves out as they were too tough to serve raw.

Another variety of wild lettuce... slightly bitter

Another variety of wild lettuce. This one is slightly bitter, and is best mixed with other greens.

sheep sorrel with wood sorrel in background

Tangy sheep sorrel with lemony wood sorrel in background

unripe blackberries

Little green blackberries, soon to be fat, juicy, purple blackberries!

unripe highbush blueberries

Little green blueberries

passionflower vine

Passionflower vine promises maypops in a few months

poke salad

Poke salad

common plantain

Common plantain. A decent cooked vegetable. Also edible raw when very young, although I don’t care for it raw.

poke salad shoots ready to cook

Poke salad shoots ready to cook

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