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PhotobucketSaturday's forage was my most productive ever. Here's a list of what I got, some of which I've covered in previous diaries in the FFF series and some of which I'll cover today or soon:

burdock stems
clover flowers
lamb's quarters
stinging nettles
curly dock
Kentucky coffee beans
garlic mustard

It was like coming home with a free CSA box.

In other news, the baby robins have hatched! They're well camouflaged, but 4 of them are huddled above (photo by wide eyed lib). Their exposed nest was worrisome, so seeing them alive was a relief.

This diary is dedicated to my paternal grandfather who was stationed in Hawaii with the Navy during WWII. I was young when he died, but I'll never forget the Naval uniforms, the notes of Taps or the tidily folded flag handed to my Dad. Please take a moment today to honor the sacrifices of our troops.

Covered: burdock, sassafras & lamb's quarters

Previewed: highbush cranberry, juneberry & mayapple

[As always, if you're new to foraging and want to give it a try, please read the first diary in the FFF series for some important information.]

Today's first plant is one I keep forgetting to include. As on a map where the features identified with the largest fonts are often overlooked, so it is with burdock's huge size and profusion. Nonetheless, it's an important and useful plant for the forager. (Above, left to right: Burdock Rosette, Mature Burdock and Burdock Winter Burrs, all by wide eyed lib)

PhotobucketBurdock is a biennial herb that occurs in disturbed soil and overgrown fields with full or partial sun in Southern Canada and 48 U.S. states, with Florida and Alaska being the exceptions. It's originally from Europe and Asia and was brought by settlers. The leaves are dark green, triangular and rough looking with wavy edges, deep purple-tinged veins and copious wool on the reverse. They are also enormous and can reach more than 2 feet long by a foot wide. The first year of its lifecycle, burdock is a basal rosette and remains in that form all year, storing energy in its taproot. The second year it again emerges as a basal rosette, but by mid-Spring it grows a ribbed flower stalk from 2 to 5 feet tall that eventually develops pink-to-purple flowers superficially resembling those of thistles (i.e., miniature old-fashioned shaving brushes). After the flowers die away, the plant develops a terminal cluster of seed-bearing, round, brown burrs that stick tenaciously to clothing or anything else they come in contact with. (Left: Burdock Rosette and Root by wide eyed lib)

Burdock's long, off-white taproot is perhaps its best known and most useful food product. Known in Japan as gobo, it's used in stews and soups and is often cooked with rice. The best time to harvest the roots is in Fall for a 1st year plant and in early to mid-Spring for a 2nd year plant; in other words, you want taproots that have stored up a maximal amount of energy. At this point they can be several feet in length and more than 3 inches in diameter, so dig accordingly. In cross section they have a core much like carrots and parsnips do.

Unfortunately, unless you monitor a patch starting in Spring, it's difficult to tell where particular plants are in their life cycle just by looking. On the other hand, burdock is sufficiently common in most places that if you guess wrong you can simply dig up another plant without guilt. Burdock root should be peeled to remove the woody bark, then chopped and par-cooked for about 10 minutes in salted water before being added to the final dish for additional simmering. Wet preparation methods (soup, stews and boiling) are generally preferable, but particularly tender specimens could probably be roasted. The flavor is somewhere between parsnip and potato, but the texture is somewhat more woody.

Prior to the development of flower buds, you can also strip the flower stalk of leaves, peel it and use it like celery. I've gathered some to give this method a try, but haven't actually tasted it. A few references also mention preparing the center ribs of mature leaves in the same way, but I haven't yet tried this. Finally, some foraging guides will tell you that young burdock leaves are edible, but while they won't hurt you, I've found them bitter and basically dreadful. If I were hopelessly lost in a gigantic burdock field I might eat them in a survival situation, but even then I'd be reluctant. YMMV.

Burdock root is high in fiber, protein and thiamin (and other B vitamins) and contains significant amounts of calcium, phosphorus, potassium and inulin. Tea made from the root is used medicinally for liver and urinary tract problems. It’s also a diuretic and general detoxifier. It’s good for skin problems ranging from bruising to eczema and psoriasis when taken internally or used externally via an infusion of the leaves.

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PhotobucketAnother plant with highly useful roots (as well as other parts) is sassafras. (But read the important note below before using.) Sassafras is a deeply fragrant, native tree with vertically furrowed, reddish-grey bark on mature specimens and bright green bark on saplings. It's found in Ontario and most of the Eastern half of the U.S. Most specimens have a tendency to branch like a candelabra, with several branches emanating from the same point. In Spring, sassafras has tiny yellow flowers with 5 petals, and in summer these yield to oval, dark purple fruits about ½ inch long that are grasped by little crowns formed by modified sepals. They look for all the world like purple eggs in tiny green egg cups. Despite a bit of searching, I haven’t found anything definitive about the flowers’ or fruits’ edibility.  

Sassafras is also a wonderful scratch and sniff tree; take a small twig, scratch the bark and sniff. It smells like root beer (and in fact safrole, an extract, was used to flavor root beer). You can also chew on the twigs to enjoy their flavor. (Right: Sassafras Bark by wide eyed lib)

The most unusual thing about sassafras is the leaves. They come in three shapes: a pointed oval, a mitten and what I call the bird-foot leaf with three lobes roughly in the shape of toes. Once you identify sassafras in a given location, you're bound to find more. Because this tree has some difficulty reaching the height of other forest trees (and therefore doesn't get enough light toPhotobucket reach maturity), it compensates by reproducing prolifically via underground rhizomes. Any adult tree in a natural environment is going to be surrounded by several saplings, and some are surrounded by a virtual thicket of them. These saplings are unlikely to reach maturity, but just in case the "mother" tree is killed, they huddle around ready to take advantage of the resulting additional light. (Left: Sassafras Leaves by wide eyed lib)

These "extra" saplings are a boon to foragers, because their roots make wonderful beverages. Loosen the dirt around a sapling to a depth of about 8 inches, then grab the bottom of the sapling and pull steadily. The entire root (or at least a decent chunk) should come free. The roots are similar to the branches in their root beeriness, only more so. Cleaned and placed in boiling water, the resulting liquid can be drank as-is for tea or further reduced, sweetened (maple syrup is nice for this if you're feeling rich) and refrigerated for a root beer-like drink. If your mixture is strong enough, you can dilute it with seltzer to make a natural soda.

PhotobucketYou can also make tea from the leaves or twigs, but there's a much better use for the leaves. Dried and finely ground, they become filé powder, a seasoning and thickener used in place of or in addition to okra in gumbos and other Creole stews. Although you can find commercial filé powder, much of the time it contains no sassafras whatsoever. Even if you never plan on making gumbo, try it in other soups and stews and you'll learn to appreciate its subtle yet unmistakable flavor. Use about half a cup of powder, stirred in after it's removed from the heat, to add thickness, flavor and body to a big pot of soup. (Right: Sassafras Roots by wide eyed lib)

Medicinally, the root has been used to purify and detoxify the blood, to treat colds, fever, arthritis and high blood pressure and as a Spring tonic.  In the 17th Century, it became all the rage in Europe to treat just about anything, including syphilis (on which it apparently had no effect).

Important note: Beginning around 1960, a series of studies showed that enormous quantities of synthetically produced safrole caused cancer in rats. The FDA pulled various forms of sassafras from store shelves but never pulled filé powder or nutmeg, which also contains safrole. (And it's still perfectly legal to own sassafras in any form.) My research has indicated that safrole oil may very well contain sufficient quantities of toxins to be dangerous to humans. I couldn't find much about toxicity from drinking tea in humans other than the following quote:

A 72-year-old woman drank sassafras tea up to 10 cups a day and developed diaphoresis and hot flashes. When the woman "stopped drinking the tea, the diaphoresis and hot flashes promptly resolved." (Haines)

Personally, my symptoms would be far worse if I were to drink 10 cups of coffee or 10 beers a day, and both of those substances are completely legal. I liken this to the difference between chewing coca leaves and snorting cocaine in that the form in nature has mild effects that don't seem harmful if used in a rational fashion but a purified, highly distilled version is dangerous. As always, you should use your own judgment in such matters, but I personally won't be giving up filé powder or the occasional cup of sassafras tea.

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PhotobucketOur final plant for today is lamb's quarters (also known as goosefoot). Lamb's quarters is an annual herb brought here from Europe by immigrants. It features diamond to triangular shaped, bright green, alternate leaves with an irregularly toothed edge. It's widely available all across North America, apart from the most northern parts of Canada. As a shoot (which is the stage it's in right now in my area), it has the unusual characteristic of having a dusty bloom of a protective, gritty wax that's particularly heavy in the top center where the youngest leaves are. The leaves are white on the bottom with more of the same waxy bloom. (Above Left: Lamb's Quarters by wide eyed lib)

In Summer and fall, lamb's quarters will develop ball-shaped, green miniscule flowers in short spikes just above the leaves on the top third of the plant. These dry into a reddish brown color in fall and are filled with incredible quantities of black seeds (some sources say as many as 75,000 per plant).

PhotobucketWhen the plant is less than a foot high, you can eat the stems and the leaves, but as it grows taller, the stems get somewhat tough though the leaves stay tender and delicious. The buds, flowers and seeds are also edible. (Right: Lamb's Quarters Leaf by wide eyed lib)

Once you learn to identify lamb's quarters, you'll see them everywhere. They love full to partial sun, so they're especially common in fields, on the sides of roads and fences and in forest clearings. They're also extremely abundant, and you'll seldom see one plant without seeing at least 10 more.

Lamb's quarters has many relatives with similar flowers and seeds. From what I've read, these are all edible provided they are scentless like lamb's quarters. Other relatives, like the Mexican herb epazote, have very pungent, medicinal odors, and these should be used sparingly in small quantities. Still, it's best to get to know the different variants one at a time to make sure you're eating the right thing.

PhotobucketLamb's quarters are delicious, with a flavor much like spinach, only a bit more delicate. They can be eaten cooked or raw and used in any recipe where spinach can be used, though it does shrink more, so plan accordingly. The leaves need to be rinsed thoroughly and gently rubbed to get rid of as much of the gritty bloom as possible. It's easiest to do this is a big bowl of water.  I find it an oddly rewarding task despite its repetitiveness; the underside of the leaves are covered in fine hairs that trap air and repel water, creating the illusion, as they swish through the water, that they have been silver plated. It's beautifully hypnotic. (Left: Very Early Lamb's Quarters Shoot by wide eyed lib)

Lamb's quarters leaves take well to being dried or canned, and the seeds can easily be dried. Lamb's quarters plants are high in protein, calcium, potassium, beta carotene and niacin. Both the dried leaves and seeds can be ground for use in breads, and apparently bread from lamb's quarters seeds was a staple for Napoleon's army.

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Still no ripe berries here yet, but here are sneak peaks at some developing fruits I've been keeping my eyes on.

Highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) flower and leaf (Above, both by wide eyed lib). It's my understanding that there are 2 similar kinds, one native and one European. The native one tastes considerably better, and I'm hoping that's what I've found.


June berries (aka service berries) are just starting to turn pink. The flowers above were from late April. (Left and above, both by wide eyed lib)


Mayapple's enormous leaves and the tiny developing fruit below. (Above, both by wide eyed lib)

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Finally, last night with part of my bounty I made a terrific green soup. Although it was warm yesterday, this soup is light enough that it didn't feel unseasonal.

Wild Green Soup

1 med onion, chopped
2 Tbs olive oil
2 med potatoes, cubed
2 cups packed chopped stinging nettle leaves
2 cups packed chopped lamb's quarter shoots
2 cups packed chopped curly dock leaves
(I also had 1/2 cup leftover trout lily leaves that I tossed in)
1 Tbs wall pepper or a couple of grinds of black pepper
good pinch of salt
1 heaping tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes
1 quart vegetable stock
2 cups water
2 Tbs white wine vinegar
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs soy sauce

Saute onions on med heat until translucent. Add all remaining dry ingredients (potatoes through hot pepper flakes) and saute just until greens start to wilt (they will shrink). Add remaining ingredients and stir. Taste to correct seasoning. Bring soup to just under a boil, then cover and turn down heat to allow mixture to simmer until potatoes are soft (20-25 minutes). Sourdough bread on the side is nice. Serves 4.


If you're interested in foraging and missed the earlier diaries in the series, you can click here for the previous 9 installments. As always, please feel free to post photos in the comments and I'll do my best to help identify what you've found. (And if you find any errors, let me know.)

Here are some helpful foraging resources:

"Wildman" Steve Brill's site covers many edibles and includes nice drawings.

"Green" Deane Jordan's site is quite comprehensive and has color photos and stories about many plants.

Green Deane's foraging how-to clips on youtube each cover a single plant in reassuring detail.

Linda Runyon's site features only a few plants but has great deals on her dvd, wild cards and books (check out the package deals in particular).

Steve Brill's book, Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places is my primary foraging guide. (Read reviews here, but if you're feeling generous, please buy from Steve's website.)

Linda Runyon's book The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide contains especially detailed information about nutritional content and how to store and preserve wild foods.

Steve Brill also offers guided foraging tours in NYC-area parks. Details and contact info are on his website.

Finally, the USDA plants database is a great place to look up info on all sorts of plants.

See you next Sunday!

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Originally posted to wide-eyed wanderings on Sun May 24, 2009 at 03:06 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips and recs (33+ / 0-)

    are always appreciated.

    I also have a correction to make. I had read that the flower stems of curly dock are good to eat before the flower buds open and passed on that info. Not so! They're far too fibrous to chew comfortably. I'm going to correct the diary where I mention that, but I also wanted to let everyone know.

    Finally, I came across a group of Chinese women foraging the plant below. They claimed in a cagey way that they didn't know what it was called in English or in their own language. (I can't blame them for being furtive; I'm often the same way.) I suspect they didn't want me to take any, despite the fact that it was fairly abundant. Can anyone identify it?

    It was growing in partial shade at the side of paths in the woods in southern NY state and was about 4-6 inches high. I found it in one place in the sun, and that's where the flower picture came from. The flowers were on shallow, terminal umbrels. The flowering plant had developed branches was about 14 inches high. Apologies that the flower picture isn't clearer.



    "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

    by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 03:03:48 PM PDT

    •  Try looking up (9+ / 0-)

      Bishop's Weed or Bishop Weed. There's also a 'variegatum' variety with beautiful white-edged leaves, which tends to revert back to the form as in your photograph.

      I must have an unconscious ability to recognize shapes. I instantly recognized the plant in the photos, but it took me a while to remember the name. It was the same with the photos of the white & red clover leaves, as your post proved last week proved.

      Thanks for these fantastic diaries. I've been frantically pulling out the basal rosettes of burdock popping up in my raspberry patch. Digging the roots wouldn't be good for the berry roots, so it's just as well. Somehow the soil there must be just right for burdock, because I don't see much of it elsewhere. I think I prefer the berries, which are of the 'everbearing' variety, providing two crops, July and late September until frost. We do have indigenous wineberries here. Many years ago I had a neighbor for whom I gathered wineberries, and he made wine from them.

      We have volunteer, self-sowing parsnips that I strewed about, anyway, so there's no shortage of winter roots to add to the potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes and garlic that we grow.

      What we really need is a source for fresh winter greens. We're working on a polycarbonate tunnel over a garden bed in which we can try growing mache, etc. next winter.

      •  Ding ding ding (6+ / 0-)

        We have a winner! It's also known as goutweed and is related to carrots (and by extension parsnips).

        It's funny because I thought it might be honewort, a.k.a. wild chervil but the flowers were wrong. It turns out that the two plants are related.

        Thank you!

        Burdock likes disturbed soil, so that's why it's in your garden. If you were to dig someplace else, it might show up there as well. :)

        Good luck with the winter greens; that's a tough problem to solve.

        "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

        by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 04:37:41 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Have you ever tried skunk cabage? (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JayDean, prodigalkat, wide eyed lib

          GOP supported their standard bearer and all they got was this lousy minority status.

          by AfroPonix on Sun May 24, 2009 at 05:24:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  They taught us in survival school that you can (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            prodigalkat, wide eyed lib

            boil the leaves twice, with different water, and it will remove the toxins found on the leaf that get stuck in throat/irritate throat.

            After that it tastes just like normal cabage.

            GOP supported their standard bearer and all they got was this lousy minority status.

            by AfroPonix on Sun May 24, 2009 at 05:36:24 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  No, I haven't, but I've read that (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mataliandy, prodigalkat, AfroPonix

            it's edible but dreadful. It contains a substance that will burn your tongue if you don't neutralize it, and after you neutralize it it's tasteless.

            Steve Brill has a very funny recipe for it on his website:

            4 cups vegetable stock or water
            4 cups young skunk cabbage leaves
            1 boot
            Salt and pepper to taste

            1. Boil the skunk cabbage in the water or stock with the salt and pepper for 1 hour. Stir occasionally.
            1. Throw out the skunk cabbage.
            1. Eat the boot!

            Serves 4 to 6

            If you or anyone else has any first-hand experience with it and has a decent preparation method to make it palatable, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

            "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

            by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 05:37:53 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Odd, I thought it looked like (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        prodigalkat, wide eyed lib

        what we call queen anne's lace out here, at least the flower photo.  Don't recall what the leaves look like, but I've heard it was a carrot relative.

        Bah. Typoed during acct creation. It's Ezekiel 23:20

        by Ezekial 23 20 on Sun May 24, 2009 at 06:53:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I also thought the flowers looked like Queen (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          prodigalkat, Ezekial 23 20

          Anne's Lace, which isn't surprising considering they're related.

          By the way, QAL and carrots are not only related, they are the domesticated and wild versions of the same exact plant. :)

          (However, QAL looks very similar to water hemlock, so it's important not to harvest any wild carrot until and unless you can distinguish between the 2 plants with 100% certainty. Water hemlock is deadly.)

          "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

          by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 06:58:46 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I'd Hesitate to Eat Anything (9+ / 0-)

    I had foraged in the neighborhood here -- my building is on reclaimed industrial land in Northern New Jersey.

    But I have noticed that in Manhattan, wild blackberries can be found along the Hudson river parkway, as well as epazote, useful in Mexican cooking, everywhere.

    More on epazote for locals here in the Northeast:

    It is the flavor that you can't recognize in cooked Mexican black beans.

    Obama's Solution: Give Money to the Rich to Buy Distressed Assets.

    by bink on Sun May 24, 2009 at 03:12:47 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for the sassafras tips (7+ / 0-)

    I have a ton of it on my 5 acres on the Cumberland Plateau.  Also a lot of huckleberries, gooseberries and black berries.

    Do you have an gooseberry recipes?  I haven't tried them yet.

    The sleep of reason brings forth monsters. --Goya

    by MadScientist on Sun May 24, 2009 at 03:14:45 PM PDT

  •  I went to the farm this morning....... (6+ / 0-)

    I'm not sure if I'll be going back.... there is poison ivy just about everywhere now and all I have to do to get it is look at the stuff crosseyed!!!  I think I got lucky today and didn't get any.  Then there are the ticks.... G-d, I'd forgotten about them.  If I were able to use the 'mule', the ticks wouldn't have been so bad.  But, the 'mule' is currently down for the count and it was determined today that it needs a new fuel pump.

    The trees are so tall now!!!  It may have been 5 years since I was last down there, 3 for sure.  There are huge quantities of volunteer trees mixed in with the planted ones now as well.  I could see that there were many of the original planted have also died now.  But, overall, the trees are doing wonderfully.  

    I didn't see any of the wild blackberries, but then again, they're in the 'old growth' trees beside the poison ivy.  Besides, it's still a bit early for them to be in season yet.

    •  Poison ivy is flowering here (5+ / 0-)

      I was actually going to post some photos of it to make sure that people can recognize it but ran out of time, so thanks for giving me the excuse. I'm not as sensitive as you and I'm glad you didn't get the rash. :)

      I guess the mule is a tractor or something?

      It's way to early for blackberries and raspberries here. The plants haven't even flowered yet, although they have buds.

      It's always nice to go back to a place that you haven't seen in a while and see the changes.

      Poison ivy:


      "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

      by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 03:27:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I always thought that the 5 leafed, (4+ / 0-)

        surrated edge plant was poison ivy.....  I'm now not amused.... I could have gone down to the creek!!!  I went googling and it appears that what we think is poison ivy may actually be Virginia creeper.  But, I do know that poison ivy is down there as I've gotten it a couple of times.  The site says that people can be allergic to it as well.... with my reaction to poison ivy, it wouldn't surprise me if I'm not allergic to this stuff as well.

        Link to pic that looks real close to what we find down on the farm...

        Yes, the 'mule' is something of a tractor.  It's made by Kawasaki and I call it an overgrown golf cart.  It looks something like this, but green:

        Dad got the Ford tractor started as well.  It's a circa 1940 tractor.  Those things were built to last an eternity and still hold their value!!

  •  Wonderful diary. (8+ / 0-)

    I've been trying to grow sassafras from seed. What can I say, I like root beer.

  •  As always, a good diary! (5+ / 0-)

    I found some Marsh Marigolds recently, and while I left them in place, it's another plant that's supposed to be quite good.  I try some after they've seeded. :)

    I think that I have had enough of you telling me how things will be. Today I choose a new way to go ... and it goes through you!

    by Norbrook on Sun May 24, 2009 at 03:43:05 PM PDT

    •  I haven't found any marsh marigolds yet (4+ / 0-)

      but I've been keeping my eyes open. I have to get back to one of the wetter places near me.

      Have you been foraging anything else lately?

      "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

      by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 03:51:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not really (5+ / 0-)

        Most of the plants (besides Garlic Mustard) aren't really up all that much yet.  Wood Sorrel is just beginning to show around here.  Here in the central Adirondacks, the seasons are generally two to four weeks behind everyone else.   The blueberries are just starting to flower.    I stumbled upon the Marsh Marigolds by accident - I was scouting out a good place to fish for brook trout.  

        I think that I have had enough of you telling me how things will be. Today I choose a new way to go ... and it goes through you!

        by Norbrook on Sun May 24, 2009 at 04:24:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Burdock and sarsparilla (5+ / 0-)

    I remember my granddad talking about it.  I'm assuming it's a root beer type drink, but they used it medicinally.  They also made home brew.  That would have been prior to/during the Depression.

    I thought I had a huge patch of curly dock, but seeing the seed pods, I know now that it's burdock.  I don't know who owns the land where I go.  Picking leaves doesn't bother me, but digging up someone's property is another matter.  I may have to pass on burdock unless I find another source.  I do like roots, except for orange ones (carrots and yams, etc.).

    I need to find a spot with lamb's quarters.  It grows everywhere here, except where I happen to be :-)  Could I use it to make "spinach" dip?  That sound really appealing right now...

    I'm waiting for the elderberries to bloom.  Last year, I harvested tons (well, tens of pounds) of it for friends who made jelly/jam.  This year I'm going to see if my wine-making friend wants to hassle with it.  I understand that there is a trick to the cleaning of it when making wine.  He may not want to mess with it.

    Thanks for these diaries.  They are both informative and tasty!

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Sun May 24, 2009 at 04:33:46 PM PDT

    •  Saspirilla is indeed (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      luckylizard, prodigalkat, Norbrook

      something like rootbeer, but it's not related. Smilax species are vines with edible tendrils and medicinal roots. Apparently pharmacists started sweetening the root decoction because it was bitter, and a favorite drink was born.

      Bitter dock (or sometimes curly dock) and burdock are easy to confuse (and the names don't help) but burdock has the fuzzy underside. Just turn over a leaf. I highly doubt anyone would mind you digging up burdock. It's really considered a pest plant. I don't normally advocate foraging on someone's property, but if you don't know who the land belongs to and it's burdock you're foraging, I would probably go ahead but I'd also be sure to make the area really tidy afterwards.

      You can use lamb's quarters in any spinach recipe, so I'm sure lamb's quarters dip would be amazing. Once you find a patch, gather way more than you think you need because it really shrinks.

      You can also eat elderberry flowers (called elderberry blow). They're yummy!

      "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

      by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 04:51:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I know they smell yummy.... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        prodigalkat, Norbrook, wide eyed lib

        I wasn't around last year when they were flowering.  Do I just pick and eat or do they need preparation?  If they're too good, I might not end up with any berries :-)

        The place where I found the dock is more of a weed patch and yard waste compost pile.  I suppose I should be worried about fertilizers and such, but at nearly 60, I can't see that ingesting a little bit more toxic crap is going to make much difference one way or the other.  I think I might try a rock hunting trick: a really long screwdriver.  If I work my way around the base, I might be able to get it out without too much extra disturbance.  I also wouldn't be quite as obvious doing the deed as I would be with a big old spade...

        -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

        by luckylizard on Sun May 24, 2009 at 04:59:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  you can just pick and eat (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          luckylizard, prodigalkat, Norbrook

          (you might want to rinse in there as well) or you can use them in green salads as a garnish, in fruit salads as a component, in muffins or pancakes. If you want to impress someone female, put a couple of flowers in each section of an ice cube tray, fill with water and freeze. This makes for a really pretty glass of water or any light colored drink (lemonade, gin and tonic, Sprite, etc.).

          They can be frozen raw but not dried.

          Yes, you have to hold back to get some berries. :)

          If you wrestle out some burdock and give it a try, let me know if you like it.

          "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

          by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 05:27:53 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Uses for Garlic Mustard (5+ / 0-)
    is what I'd like to find more of.. It's starting to make inroads in my garden and to hear other gardeners talk about it, it's the kudzu of the North!   I've tasted the leaves and, it has at most, a very faint garlic flavor.

    Has sweet concord o'er taken blackest woe?

    by QuaintIrene on Sun May 24, 2009 at 04:39:48 PM PDT

    •  Interesting... I find it quite garlicky (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      prodigalkat, Norbrook, farbuska

      Did we talk about this already?  I know someone else asked about it once. Pesto is a great use, and it's nice in salads. I also use it in things like hummus where I want a garlicky flavor. You could saute it and put it into tomato sauce. It would be really nice combined with spinach (or lamb's quarters) and layered with pasta sheets and cheese for a spinach lasagna.

      You can mix the leaves with cream cheese for a garlicky bagel or bread spread. You can also cut it finely to use in salad dressing.

      What really want to get rid of, though, is the root. The root tastes like horseradish and you can make a horseradish substitute with it. Clean and chop roots to measure a cup, add about 1/2 cup vinegar and a tsp of salt. Blend well in a food processor or blender and then store in a clean bottle in the fridge. It will last forever and is good on anything horseradish is good on.

      I hope that gets you started!

      "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

      by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 04:58:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It makes a good addition to pasta sauces (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      prodigalkat, farbuska, wide eyed lib

      as well as added to soups and stews.  You can eat the entire plant (including roots).  Alternatively, you could just cook it by itself.  It's actually very nutritious.  I ran into the DEC's invasive species coordinator this weekend, and he and I had a nice conversation about it - and where it was at the moment.   You can also use it as a salad green.  If it's bitter, you can soak it overnight in ice water (or a bowl of water in the fridge).  

      I think that I have had enough of you telling me how things will be. Today I choose a new way to go ... and it goes through you!

      by Norbrook on Sun May 24, 2009 at 05:07:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  wide eyed lib, you so majorly ROCK! n/t (5+ / 0-)
  •  Your foraging diaries are so interesting (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    prodigalkat, wide eyed lib

    Well written, and the photographs are unbelievable! I think it's great that you're writing about wild edibles.  People who follow your recommendations will be more attuned to the natural world.

    Thank you for all your hard work!

    Equal "rites" for ALL Americans!

    by Diana in NoVa on Sun May 24, 2009 at 06:23:07 PM PDT

    •  Thanks so much! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      greycat, prodigalkat, nchristine

      If the pictures are good, I can assure you that most of the credit belongs to my wonderful camera (a Canon A590) and the tools at photobucket (especially the "sharpen" tool). I just push the button. :)

      You've hit on the very reason why I do this series. For so many people, nature is a green, undifferentiated blob. For those people, what the plants are, which plants are useful and which are invasive aren't important.

      But if you start to tell them apart and harvesting them (and being able to eat them is very motivating), then suddenly you start caring about the condition of the soil, what's been sprayed there, whether the plant is being crowded out by other plants...

      It can open up a whole new way of looking at the world. And it's fun and tasty and an extremely useful skill. And I'm always learning from the comments. Really, what's not to like?

      "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

      by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 06:33:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good lord, that burdock stuff is all over the (3+ / 0-)

    back corner of my yard, and I spent a ton of time trying to kill it.  (Manually, not with poisons.)

    I'll have to wait til the fall and try to harvest some instead this year.

    Bah. Typoed during acct creation. It's Ezekiel 23:20

    by Ezekial 23 20 on Sun May 24, 2009 at 06:51:33 PM PDT

    •  If you have any that's not flowering yet, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      you could certainly try digging up the roots now. I harvested some just a week ago, and it was fine and tasty. The worst that might happen is that they might be too small or a bit woody.

      I love it when someone recognizes that something they've been fighting against is good to eat.

      If you try it, come back and let me know how it went!

      "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

      by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 07:02:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Just got little ones now (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        prodigalkat, wide eyed lib

        under the apple trees and the raspberry bushes and behind the shed.  Takes it much of the summer to grow out the 2 ft leaves.

        Bah. Typoed during acct creation. It's Ezekiel 23:20

        by Ezekial 23 20 on Sun May 24, 2009 at 07:13:04 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  And all the while it's doing that, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ezekial 23 20

          it's taking the carbohydrate from the taproot to fuel the growth. So if you suspect any of those plants are 2nd year growth, now's the time to dig. Fall's good, too, but anytime in Spring before the flower stalk appears is the best time for 2nd year growth.

          "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

          by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 07:18:07 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  As always, great stuff! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    prodigalkat, wide eyed lib

    I'm going to check on the medicinals for these plants and get back to you later tonight.

    Right off the bat I can say that pennyroyal is a good woman's herb but not too much or for too long. And, as you noted, sassafras is not to be taken in any form on a regular basis.

    Back in a while...

    As long as prejudice exists in this country - in this world - we are all its victims. ~~ Keith Olbermann

    by Purple Priestess on Sun May 24, 2009 at 08:16:41 PM PDT

    •  Thanks! (3+ / 0-)

      I really appreciate it. I always try to cover some of the medicinal uses, but for some plants the list of uses is overwhelming.

      (Did you see the mullein entry? Since that's mostly medicinal I was able to devote significant space to its many uses.)

      I'm embarrassed, though. I hadn't fully identified the mint species I foraged but based on flower color I'd tentatively settled on pennyroyal. Since I only mentioned it and was planning to do some more research before actually covering it, I didn't think it would be a big deal if I turned out to be wrong. Turns out it's not pennyroyal but some form of catmint/catnip. No wonder my cats were trying to get in the fridge all day. :) Mint (as I'm sure you know) is a huge and confusing family.

      Apologies if you looked up pennyroyal. Anyway, here's a pic of the catmint.


      "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

      by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 09:07:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Okay, here's what I could dig up.. heheh (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        prodigalkat, wide eyed lib

        Catmint is really great for cramps (yes, ladies, those cramps). Also a calmative and muscle relaxant. It is said to relieve the symptoms of colic in children, and can be used as a digestive aid for adults.  

        Sassafras is not really recommended for internal use. It is a great skin tonic, though.

        Burdock is used treat a variety skin diseases such as abscesses, acne, carbuncles, psoriasis and eczema. As a tea, it induces sweating and has a diuretic effect, so it's a popular detoxifier. The inulin in burdock helps balance blood sugar and the mucilage soothes the digestive tract.
        Red clover is, well... awesome. To whit:

        A delicate sweet and medicinal tea is made from the fresh or dried flowers, it is alterative, antiscrofulous, antispasmodic, aperient, detergent, diuretic, expectorant, sedative and tonic. Red Clover has also shown anticancer activity, poultices of the herb have been used as local applications to cancerous growths. Internally, the Red Clover plant is used as an alternative medicine for skin complaints such as eczema and psoriasis, cancers of the breast, ovaries and lymphatic system, chronic degenerative diseases, gout, whooping cough and dry coughs. Red clover is now involved in research for a certain medicinal alkaloid 'slaframine' which is often found in diseased clover, this substance has shown antidiabetic and anti-AIDS activity.

        When dry, nettles lose their sting. They are used as a tea or infusion (for skin problems). They are a natural anti-histamine and also have anti-asthmatic properties. Nettle has also been found to be effective in the treatment of benign prostate hypertrophy.

        Chickweed is an excellent poultice or ointment for skin irritations, skin abscesses and boils. A mild diuretic, it is also supposed to cleanse and soothe the kidneys and urinary tract and help relieve cystitis. It’s also reputedly good for rheumatism.

        Mugwort is most widely known a a woman's herb. It is used as a uterine stimulant that can bring on delayed menstruation and help restore a woman's natural monthly cycle. It is mildly sedative and useful in calming frayed nerves and easing stress.
        It is an excellent digestive stimulant, and is quite effective taken before or after heavy meals to alleviate gas and bloating. One of the more interesting traditional uses of mugwort is that of a dream herb, it is often used as one of the main ingredients of sleep pillows, and it said to bring the dreamer more lucid dreams. I add it to chamomile and lavender for this.

        Hope that helps a bit. I just did a first harvest of my catnip, lavender, tarragon and parsley. Looking forward to using it soon :)

        As long as prejudice exists in this country - in this world - we are all its victims. ~~ Keith Olbermann

        by Purple Priestess on Sun May 24, 2009 at 09:37:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks for this! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I'll certainly include your observations about catmint when I actually cover it (probably next week).

          I wish the dream use about mugwort worked for me but alas it doesn't. Someone wrote in last week to say it worked for them.

          Red clover blossoms have quickly become one of my favorite things. They are so sweet. Diuretic is right... I had a cup of tea from them last night and had to get up 4 times to go to the bathroom. That's a record!

          P.S. I really enjoyed your diary tonight. Aloha!

          "You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care."--Kate Gronstal, on marriage equality

          by wide eyed lib on Sun May 24, 2009 at 09:47:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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