Friday, October 17, 2008

Spring Greens in the Fall?

Yesterday I went out to the fields and the garden to harvest some "spring" greens. Dandelion, curly dock, woods sorrel, plantain and some leaves from my neighbor's herbs, rosemary, sage, dill and thyme all went into the harvest bag. Yes, this time of year you might well find some young curly dock, often growing not far from some older dock plants that have already gone to seed. Dandelions too lose their bitterness this time of year and the greens become palatable again. The plantain is looking lush and tasting really green and fresh and there's wood sorrel to add some lemony bite to the mix.

These greens are common in the spring, and to my delight, common in the fall here too! So I loaded up a big bag full of them, brought them home, cleaned off the dirt, and cut them up. They will either go in salads, or as potherbs, or in various casseroles. It is incredibly useful to have a bag of free greens--full of vital nutritious vitamins and minerals--in the fridge, ready to hand. Rather than taking some multivitamin/mineral tab made by some industrial pill-producer somewhere out of who knows what chemicals cooked up in a lab, try gathering your greens. I'm hoping I can do this right up until it snows or the greens start to disappear or start tasting weird or bitter. If I'm hard up for something nutritious, I'll use them even if they are bitter. I can always infuse them or boil them for a bit and then drink the water since it'll have most of the vitamins.

Here's some information on each of these vital herbs.

The link there will take you to Botanical's pages and pages of info on this incredible plant. It grows worldwide, is recognizable to everyone, and is one of the better greens around. Taste-wise, it is flavorful in spring and in the fall. In the summer, the leaves get bitter to protect the plant while it is busy reproducing itself, which is does extremely well. This time of year, in the fall, is the time to dig the roots as well as get the greens. If you are serious about adding to your family's stores of nutrition, read up on all the wonderful things dandelions can do for you. It is a very useful plant--you can make dandelion wine from the blossoms, you can eat the greens, or make a tincture or tea from them, and the roots are a storehouse of other vital properties. Botanical's exegesis on the dandelion is a great start--it even has some recipes for the teas and tinctures. However there's lots more out there. This herbalist, for instance, swears by her dandelion oil (made by infusing olive oil with dandelion blossoms) for achy muscles. As someone with a bad shoulder and near constant neck and shoulder pain, I'm just waiting for those springtime blossoms to come 'round again! In the meantime, though, I'll be gratefully using this powerful plant and thanking God for this not-so-hidden manna!

This concept of manna--the wild foods all around us, but unseen by most people--belongs to my friends Ra and Morgan. I'll see if I can get them to write something as a guest post here about it. I found it quite intriquing...

You can find some good pix of this plant here and here. These pictures show what young curly dock plants look like--as they get older, they put up a large flower stalk, which turns reddish in the fall. But the pictures at Prodigal Gardens show what the curly dock is looking like now--the young plants I'm picking leaves from. I'm also digging the roots, but from the older plants with the flower stalk. The leaves of rumex crispus are sour, lemony, a taste I like, but one my husband finds too bitter. The bitterness if probably the oxalic acid--which in large quantities may not be good for you. In moderation, however . . . delicious! I do want to try to ferment some more greens, and so I may use a portion of the bagful in the fridge for that. If I do, I'll describe the process for you in another post.

Here is an excellent article on the medicinal properties of curly dock root. Very beneficial for cleansing the lymphatic system, and cleaning and building the blood. All in all, curly dock is a good plant to know. Especially if it can be available both spring and fall!

The link in the title here leads to a neat cooking with sorrel article, including recipes. Fun stuff! Woods sorrel is high in Vitamin C, and another tart, lemony-sour flavored herb. While too much of this herb would be overwhelming, except perhaps in soups and sauces, I think a bit of it in a mix of other greens in potherbs or salads would be wonderful. I don't much like taking pills, so eating my vitamins in their natural forms is well, a natural for me.

Hmmmm. While as a forager, I'm glad to find curly dock and woods sorrel in the fields around and in the garden, as a gardener, I'm not so happy. Both of these plants are a sign that the garden soil needs improving, needs strengthened and sweetened. Nothing a bunch of dead fish and aged horse manure couldn't handle... and we'll be putting those into the garden shortly. Maybe next year I'll have to go farther afield to find my dock and sorrel.

Pretty much a miracle plant, in terms of its actions on all kinds of skin disorders, itches, scrapes, bug bites, and used internally it is a good detoxifier. But up til now I haven't really eaten much of it. My readings told me that it gets too fibrous to really eat, unless you get rid of the fibers, a time-consuming task. But early in the spring, and maybe later in the fall, well, we'll see! It is mild-tasting plant, and thus will go well with the dock and sorrel. I'll let you know what I think about plantain as an edible in a future post. For now, let me say it looked very fresh, lush and inviting--a hint to me to give it a try? I'm stay tuned.



tjbbpgob said...

That plant you show as curly dock looks awfully like one know as narrow dock here in my part of the South. Is that the case or do you know?

Patricia said...

There is broad leaf dock, and then there is the plant called curly dock (or yellow dock or sour dock) and which is, I suspect, also known as narrow dock--yep, just checked in a book called Just Weeds, and it is also called narrow-leafed dock.

It is called yellow dock because of the intense yellow color of the root.