Dandelions with Wild Garlic for Dinner

Dandelion greens, field garlic and spicy mustard chicken

Dandelion greens, field garlic and spicy mustard chicken

Today I got my Green Dean’s Eat the Weeds Newsletter, and it inspired me to… eat the weeds!  🙂

Washing dandelion greens

Washing dandelion greens

What’s most plentiful in my yard right now are dandelions and field garlic.  So that’s what I harvested.

Right now the dandelion leaves are small with only a slight, pleasant bitterness to them.  They would be great in salads at this stage.  Later they will be very bitter and will require parboiling twice to make them good.

Field garlic bulbs

Field garlic bulbs

Dandelion greens can pick up a lot of pine straw and trash.  The best way to wash them is to cut them free from the base, then float them in a large bowl of water.  That way you can pick out the pine straw and stray plant matter, and much of the trash sinks to the bottom of the bowl.

The field garlic bulbs clean easily with a spray of water to wash the mud off them.  Then you use the little pearly bulbs.  The green leaves are too fibrous to eat.

Field garlic bulbs ready to cook

Field garlic bulbs ready to cook

I sautéed the garlic bulbs in grapeseed oil because I was out of olive oil until they were translucent and just starting to brown.  Then I added what looked like a massive amount of dandelion leaves, which quickly cooked down to a fraction of their size.  Then all I added was salt and a sprinkling of hot pepper flakes.

I topped them with leftover chicken breast chunks, tossed with spicy brown mustard, splenda and lemon juice.

The dandelion greens cooked up sweet, without a hint of bitterness, and a little chewy.

Not bad for an almost free meal!

 

 

Correcting Some Misconceptions

The lone purple leaf of the Indian putty root plant

The lone purple leaf of the Indian putty root plant

Due to my great joy in finding and preparing wild edible plants, it dawned on me last night that I might be coming across in my blog as some kind of self-proclaimed expert.

I like being proud of things I learn and do, but I do not like the idea that I may be trying to pass myself off as something I’m not.

I know a fair number of our local plants and love learning new ones and ways to use them.  But I was reading Samuel Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest last night and it graphically demonstrated how much I do not know, and what a shallow understanding I have of the science of botany and the art of foraging.

What my plant photos, and my experiences with them, should demonstrate to you is that anyone who is willing to spend time learning a few plants and their uses can share one of the most useful, fun pursuits that I know of.

 

Really Yummy Foraging

A mix of golden and smooth chanterelles

A mix of golden and smooth chanterelles

I’ve been through photo files today until I a bleary-eyed.  I decided instead of posting endless photos of what probably looks like weeds to most people, I’d just post some of the especially delicious wild foods I’ve found.

Smooth chanterelle

Smooth chanterelle

I used to be an avid wild plant forager.  But eventually I got bored with just wild veggies and started studying mushrooms — mainly to add some variety to our foraged meals.  I’ve slacked off on my study since we got, first the Aliner and then the Casita.  There was just too much other fun stuff to do outdoors.

But now the desire to get back out there and get serious about learning new plants — and new ways to use them — is becoming a compulsion.

So I am really anxious for spring to come!

Golden chanterelle

Golden chanterelle

I did forget to mention using day lily flower buds in my last post.  You can boil them like green beans, or my favorite way is to batter and fry them.  I hope to get some photos of lots of cooked wild edibles for you from our camping trips next year.

Another thing that most people would like — simply because they taste exactly like little potatoes — is groundnut bulbs.  I boil them in salty water until they swell up and the top of the skins starts popping to expose the white inner flesh, then toss them in butter and serve.  A simple, starchy, fun, filling side dish.  I’ve read that in some areas of the country that groundnuts have a slight turnip taste.  I’ve never run into that, though.

Daylily flower buds

Daylily flower buds

And then there’s the foraging that EVERYONE knows about — wild blueberries and blackberries.  Here’s what I did with my blackberries when I didn’t want to mess with making jelly.

So much for the low-carb diet!  🙂

Groundnuts

Groundnuts

blackberry cobbler

Blackberry cobbler

with ice cream

YUM!

Groundnut leaves.  Groundnuts generally grow by streams.

Groundnut leaves. Groundnuts generally grow by streams.

 

On edit – At the request of one of my readers, I’m adding a photo of groundnut leaves.

Foraging in My Mind

wild persimmons

Wild persimmons

Today it has rained all day, and it’s predicted to rain all night.  So it’s been a grey, cold day, and the yard is getting mushy.  I’m not complaining, though.  Hopefully this will go a long way toward breaking our persistent drought.

There seems to be some interest in one of the forums I post on in wild edibles.  So I was going through my files tonight to find pictures to share with them.  It was fun remembering the days I found the different plants, how much I enjoyed discovering them, and remembering how alive and happy I felt.

Black cherries

Black cherries

Since I have no camping or Casita news to share with you, I’ll let you go along with me as I recall happy foraging days in the past.

If there is interest, I’ll keep going through my files and posting more of these photos.  If not, then this is a one-day trip!  🙂

Wild strawberries.  My favorite!

Wild strawberries. My favorite!

Baby oyster mushrooms

Baby oyster mushrooms

Wild violet leaves

Wild violet leaves

Wild violet flowers

Wild violet flowers

Poke salad shoot (poke salat up north)  :)

Poke salad shoot (poke salat up north) 🙂

Bracken fiddleheads

Bracken fiddleheads

Bull thistle flower stalk. Cut the stalk and hold it in a gloved hand. I use Leatherman pliers to peel the bristly skin off the stalk. What is left tastes like celery and can be eaten raw or cooked. The stalk becomes woody and inedible once the flower starts blooming.

Indian putty root.  This plant is too rare to use for food.  I did once, just to see what it was like.  The raw bulbs taste like a starchy, crunchy water chestnut.  Cooked, it will stick your teeth together, and is best used as a glue.

Indian putty root. This plant is too rare to use for food. I did once, just to see what it was like. The raw bulbs taste like a starchy, crunchy water chestnut. Cooked, it will stick your teeth together, and is best used as a glue, which is what the Indians did.

Daylily corms

Daylily corms

Mild, oniony-tasting daylily shoots

Mild, oniony-tasting daylily shoots

Pipsissewa.  This is a medicinal plant, not an edible.  But I just loved this picture, so am posting it, too.  The Native Americans used to make a lung tonic tea with it.

Pipsissewa. This is a medicinal plant, not an edible. But I just loved this picture, so am posting it, too. The Native Americans used to make a lung tonic tea with it.

Playing with Fire & Primitive Skills

My first DIY backpacking stove, built around 2001 or 2002

As much as I dearly love camping in the Casita, at times I truly miss backpacking and primitive camping.

The Pocket Rocket. (image from Amazon)

I’ve enjoyed making a lot of stoves over the years, from hobo stoves to tuna can stoves to various alcohol stoves.

I fell out of love with alcohol stoves while hiking back in 2003 when I was caught in a surprise snowstorm.  The wind was whipping, I was freezing, and was trying to get water to boil for hot chocolate.  Normally 3/4 ounce of alcohol would bring my little .7 liter titanium pot full of water to a rolling boil in 5 or 6 minutes.  But since I didn’t have a decent windscreen for my stove, I used up 4 ounces of my precious alcohol fuel and the water was nowhere near boiling.

A couple of days later I stopped into an outfitter’s and bought a Pocket Rocket stove… and it’s jet-like blast of high pressure isobutane fuel assured me of boiling water on demand.

But I hated having to worry about where I’d be able to find my next (expensive) canister of fuel.

Solo Stove — wood burning gasifier hiking stove (image from Amazon)

I was lurking at a hiking forum the other day, vicariously reliving the good old days, when I saw a new-to-me hiking stove mentioned.  It’s heavy for a backpacking stove — 9 ounces.  BUT you need NO FUEL since it burns sticks and twigs.  And in the East, that means a limitless amount of fuel is always available — free!  (Add an Esbit tablet, piece of wax, or Wet Tinder to get wet wood going.)  It has a fire grate up above a solid stainless steel bottom so you don’t leave any trace of your fire on the ground.  And it burns so completely that all that is left is white ash.

So I’ve got the Solo Stove in my Amazon cart…. until I can talk some sense into myself and delete it as the unnecessary item it is.  But man!  What a COOL TOY!!!!

And remembering the stoves and how much fun I had with them reminded me of all the fun

Primitive bread (like chapitas) with no yeast and no oven.

I had learning to do primitive cooking over coals.

Cooking directly over a fire gives you very little control over the heat — and it coats your pots and pans with a nasty layer of soot.  But I learned that if I built a small fire and let it burn until I got a good bed of coals, then moved the fire over with a couple of sticks exposing the coals, that I had a perfect outdoor “stove.”  A pan placed in the center of the coal bed would get very hot and quickly bring water to a furious boil.  Move the pot out from the center and I’d have medium heat.  And if I wanted a simmer, I just moved my pot to the edge of the coals.  And when you cook on coals instead of over fire, you get NO SOOT on your pan!

The first oyster mushrooms I found on our property

Thinking about all the fun Ron and I had building campfires and cooking over them naturally led to reminiscing about our adventures with wild edibles.  I got interested in studying wild foods in the late 1990’s.  It took a few years to become proficient at being able to make decent meals from foraged ingredients.

Then I started getting bored with roots and veggies, nuts and berries, so decided that wild mushrooms would add a nice touch to my wild meals.  So I plunged into intensive mushroom study.  I was very fortunate in that David Fischer, author of Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America, was extremely approachable by email and cheerfully helped me positively identify photos of my earlier finds before I dared to eat them.

Chanterelles found in the Talladega National Forest

I used to like to hike out into a national forest with no food except salt, sugar, coffee, tea and a small bottle of olive oil, and eat only what I could forage.  The first day was always a little scary, but after that I would just keep finding good things to eat so the problem would be to not gather so much that it would be wasted. (Except in winter, of course.  I would starve to death then!)

There were also experiments with all kinds of primitive shelter building.  My most elaborate was a wickiup, pictured here partially built.  Since I didn’t have good thatching material on our property, I cheated and bought hay.  😀

Wickiup building in progress

I think that what has made all of those experiences resurge in my memory is the knowledge that, due to health problems, I won’t ever be able to backpack again.  I guess that’s something everyone has to come to grips with as they age.  Some of the good times are forever gone.

But it has reminded me that even if I can’t climb mountains or backpack anymore, I can still get out, build a campfire, and relish the satisfaction of being self-sufficient enough to cook without all the modern trappings of society.

And, in doing so, to capture a little of what our ancestors must have felt as they went about their daily affairs.

(NOTE:  Since this subject is so special to me, I am re-posting this as a permanent page so that it won’t disappear into my blog’s archives.)

Wild Edible Plants & Tulip Trees

Baby wild blueberries

I walked down our dirt (gravel) road today to deliver an Easter basket to my neighbor.  Just that short distance provided me with a treasure trove of interesting (to me) photos.

The wild blueberries have appeared!  It won’t be long until blueberry dessert time!

I also found a rare (in this area) Solomon’s Seal.  A few years back I dug one up to sample the tubers.  But since I hadn’t seen any for several years, there was no

Solomon's Seal

way I was going to disturb this one brave little spray of leaves that grew along the roadside.

I also found some wild strawberry plants that are a lot larger than the ones that grow on the edges of my yard.  I wonder if the strawberries will be larger also.  They are usually so small that I eat them as fast as I pick them and never have enough left over to

These wild strawberry plants are much larger than the ones that usually grow around here--more than double the size that I'm used to seeing.

make dessert with.

The Japanese honeysuckle blooms are getting ready to open.  It’s actually a noxious weed around here, but the blossoms are so beautiful and the scent so heavenly that I love them.  I haven’t yet made tea from the flowers, although I have intended to.  This year I will finally do it!

And I couldn’t resist more greenbrier photos. I think the shoots and tender new, almost translucent leaves are beautiful.

I used to pick and cook a lot of poke salad shoots.  But an odd thing  happened

Young greenbrier leaves

to the flavor.  The ones in our area used to have a wonderful taste that was a cross between asparagus and green beans.  Last year, when I was in Florida, I picked some  to cook for my sister to introduce her to them.  But when they were done, they were completely tasteless.  I threw them out.  Then when I got home I picked some and they had the same puzzling lack of flavor.

I believe that it may have been due to all the rain we had.  Steve Brill in New York has described poke shoots as having a pungent taste.  Ours never did–they were always mild tasting and good.  So climate must have a big bearing on flavor.  I’ll cook

Young poke salad plants

some tomorrow and see how they turn out this year.

If you want to try poke salad shoots, only use the shoots with small new leaves at the end.  The mature plant is poisonous.  When the leaves lose their new green color and translucence, they are no longer edible.  Also avoid shoots that have a lot of red on them.    To remove the small amount of water soluble toxins in the young shoot and leaves, bring a large and small pot of water to boil.  After the water in the small pot is boiling, add the shoots and cook for 5 minutes or so.  Drain and pour more boiling water over the shoots and cook for two or three minutes more.  Pour that water off and cover them with boiling water once again and cook a couple more minutes until done.

Wild lettuce bolting. This one had been run over by a lawn mower.

The water from the first two boils will be reddish and cloudy.  The water in the last boil will remain clear.  At this point, you have a safe, very healthy vegetable that was once a staple food in the Deep South, particularly in the war years.   Brush with butter and salt lightly when done.

My older neighbor remembers her mother cooking poke salad for dinner.

Up North, they call the cooked greens poke salat.  Down here, it’s still poke salad.  🙂

I also stumbled upon a wild lettuce bolting.  This is the sweetest, tenderest variety of wild lettuce.  Even though it

Baby black cherries

was bolting, the leaves only had a tiny, pleasant tinge of bitterness.

The blackberry flowers are beginning to lose their petals, which means small green blackberries will be appearing soon.  And the black cherries continue to grow in abundance.  I made syrup with them last year.  This year I’ll probably make jelly.

This post is getting WAY too long, so I’ll add the rest of the photos without comment.

Blackberry flowers are beginning to lose their petals.

Red clover. Their red blossoms are nutritious in teas and recipes.

Yellow clover. When wilted, it develops coumarins, so I avoid it.

Yellow poplars (tulip trees-not edible) grow all over our property, but I had never noticed flowers on them. Today I found several fallen blossoms where branches had been knocked down. Will have to go looking for flowers on the trees tomorrow.

I don't think birdsfoot violets are edible, but wanted to post this picture anyway!

And finally, another strange, bulls-eye looking leaf parasite. Will have to research what it is. On edit - this is a maple eyespot gall. It is caused by a midge and it does not hurt the tree.

Sweet Wildflower Tonic

Stars of Bethlehem

I was feeling down today so took a walk to lift my spirits.  As usual, the stunning natural beauty that surrounds our property was the tonic that my spirit needed.

I first learned to identify Star of Bethlehem when I seriously studied wild edible plants.  I knew them then as poisonous plants to be avoided.  But now, I see them as little white gems of exquisite beauty.

I learned to identify Venus Looking Glass one year as I puzzled over the  weeds

Venus looking glass. On edit — these are misidentified. A blog reader gave me the correct ID. They are common vetch. Still gorgeous, though. 🙂

with purple flowers that ran rampant in my square foot gardens in early spring.  Now I treasure them as a gift before vegetable garden planting season begins. (On edit, I misidentified these flowers.  See photo caption.)

Little bluets delight me.  They are so small that they are easily missed unless your eyes are open to the tiny wonders under your feet.

I am not sure what the little purple flowers on tall stalks are.  They have always grown everywhere I’ve lived since I was a child, but it occurs to me that I have neglected to learn their name.   I will do a search and try to discover their secret.

Sweet little bluets, almost hidden underfoot

And dandelions.  When I lived in condos and apartments and houses in town, they were an eyesore and a blot on unbroken green, manicured lawns.  Then, in my edible plant studies, I discovered what a marvel they truly are.  Since then I have been fascinated by their intricate, enduring beauty.

I think age has also softened my perspective on what a wonder these precious little weeds are.

I need to learn this little treasure’s name. [on edit, a commenter has identified these as toadflax, possibly blue toadflax. Thanks, Kara!]

The greatly underappreciated, marvelous little dandelion

The endlessly fascinating little puffball that promises the next generation of dandelions. 🙂

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