Here are a few of the foraging/herb projects I’ve currently got going: A lemonade substitute made from Sumac berries, plantain oil that will become plantain salve when it is time, and lots of herbs drying, waiting to become teas, salves, and tinctures.
Sumac-Ade is quite tasty, a nice tart drink, refreshing on a hot day. And it couldn’t be easier to make. Just gather a bunch of sumac berry clusters (staghorn or smooth sumac--the *red* berries--white berries from a sumac growing in marshy wet areas means poison sumac and you do not want that). You need about 4-10 berry clusters for a gallon or so of sumac-ade. Once you’ve got the berries, fill a big pot with about a gallon of water, rinse off the berry clusters, then put them in the pot. Crush the berries with your hands to ensure that the flavor of the berries will dispense into the water. The berries have lots of vitamin C in them. Let the water sit for a day or so--the longer it sits, the more flavor it will have, of course. When you like the taste, strain the mixture through a couple of layers of cheesecloth or a bandana to remove all the fine hairs and berry stuff from the liquid. And voila, sumac-ade. Refrigerate it or freeze, and serve it sweetened to taste. I like it just as it is, but most will like it sweetened.
An oil or salve made from plantain is just what you need for summer’s ills of bug bites, rashes, skin disorders or any small wound. Plantago major is a wonder-herb, and I’ll bet you will find some not far from your door. The stuff grows everywhere and is easy to identify. And it is very useful to the human family. Gather the leaves for wound-healing and topical uses. If you have an bug bite, chew up some leaves and slap them on the bite. Do the same for any rashes, small wounds, stinging nettle rash or any other problem with your skin. Plantain has been used for so many different problems and symptoms that it has been considered a panacea. You want to get to know this plant. You can eat the young leaves in early spring, especially as a potherb with other foraged greens. The whole plant can be used: roots, leaves and seeds. Read the first link in this paragraph for how what a good ally plantain can be.
To make the plantain oil is easy--gather a slew of the leaves (I take the ubiquitous plastic bag from grocery stores with me when I forage, so a slew is a bag full). Chop up the leaves and stuff them into a quart mason jar. (In this case, it is recommended that you do not wash the leaves first, because the moisture on the leaves could cause mold to form. I read this after I washed the plantain leaves, so we’ll see.) Pour olive oil to cover the leaves, cover tightly and set aside in a dark place for six weeks. Check on the jar occasionally and shake it. After six weeks, strain the oil and add the plant matter to the compost. To make a salve, heat the oil in the top of a double boiler, add in about an ounce or so of grated beeswax (1 ounce beeswax to 1 pint oil), stir with a wooden spoon. Pour it into wide mouth small jars (or a baby food size jar).
Currently we have lots of wild plants and herbs drying in various paper bags: maidenhair fern, mullein leaves, wood nettles, stinging nettles, mugwort, horsetail, lemon balm, plantain, and yarrow. Also there are dandelion root and yellow dock root, cut up and dried. All of these will be used in the winter for teas and the roots for tinctures. This winter we discovered nettle tea and we really like it, so rather than buy it from the bulk herb section of the health food store, we’ve got our own ready to go. The other teas are for more medicinal purposes: maidenhair fern and mullein for coughs and colds; the mugwort I will use in a small pillow to aid sleep and dreams, or a decoction in the bath to relax muscles; the horsetail contains a lot of silica and is useful as a diuretic and to inhibit wound bleeding. Lemon balm is a nice flavorful tea, helps to reduce stress, and is considered a “calming” tea. Useful for TEOTWAWKI, yes? Plantain is good for just about anything, and yarrow is a premier herb for wound-healing. The dandelion and yellow dock roots will be made into a tincture for spring-cleaning--of the body that is. These aid the liver, strengthening and detoxifying.
Another project I will start soon is to collect and dry many forage edible and medicinal plants, dry them and add them to a “Greens Jar.” I read this somewhere and it sounded like a good idea, since all of these plants have vital vitamins and minerals, including trace elements. I will probably use a half-gallon canning jar. The idea it to collect many different herbs and edibles, dry them and put them all mixed up in the jar. Then, when you’re making soup or stews, just add a handful of the greens. Even if dried, they’ll lend their vitality to the soup or stew, and you’ll be getting some good nutrition, especially if you’re living on your stored rice and beans. I will do this with all the “safe” herbs and plants. If an herb or plant comes with cautions-- “don’t use if pregnant or have a heart condition” or anything like that, you might not want to add it to the greens jar. But that leaves a host of plants that you can and should add to the jar. Consider it a low-cost and easy way to add good nutritional value as well as tastiness to your food.