Sunday, March 22, 2009

Early Spring Foraging


Two days ago it was a lovely day--sun shining, warm with just a hint of crispy chill in the air. I headed down to the garden to see what might be coming up. A lot of the weeds I look for grow in disturbed areas--such as our big garden plot. It needs to be plowed again to get it ready for planting in May, but right now it is covered with dead weeds and the old vines and stalks of last summer's tomatoes and corn.

I found wild onions all over the place--in the garden, on various hillsides, back in the woods; this valley is full of them. I harvested a big bag of them. This takes some digging down to loosen all the roots, then brushing off as much dirt from them as possible. I found yellow dock growing too, although it doesn't have that lovely sour citrusy flavor just yet. I dug up the complete plants and got both the leaves and the roots. I want to make more yellow dock root tincture, which is very good for the liver.

Wintercress (barbaria vulgaris) was also present. This is a member of the mustard family and it is an early spring green. Down south it is avidly harvested and eaten as "creasy greens." That's a wintercress leaf you see at the top of this blog. The leaves are a dark, glossy green. It grows in a basal rosette and later it will send up a center stalk to flower, a pretty yellow flower. When you see a field simply glowing with yellow a little later in the spring, that's probably wintercress. It's a bitter green, but this early, it isn't too bitter. I got a big bag of these as well. Free food! And very nutritious food as well. There's a good description of wintercress at Prodigal Gardens, in the Herbwalk section for March.

Here's a bit more info on wintercress from Mother Earth News:

Winter cress—a mustard—is rich in vitamins and has a slightly peppery flavor that goes well in mixed salads. The young winter leaves are also excellent shredded, flavored with chopped green onion, vinegar, salt, and sugar, and topped with minced bacon (drippings and all). Later in spring the greens take on a bitterness which can be removed by boiling in two waters. When the bloom develops, the leaves become too bitter to eat . . . but the buds can be cooked briefly—no more than 5 minutes overall—in two waters and served like the broccoli they resemble. Lemon butter and Hollandaise sauce are good additions to this wild vegetable.

I plan on harvesting more of the wintercress while it is in it's not to bitter stage. In a few weeks, it will be too bitter even for me. When I got home, I rinsed the wintercress three times in a big pot of water, then cooked it only in the water that remained on this leaves, thus steaming it more or less. I greatly enjoyed mine, but Michael didn't care for it as much. He loves lambsquarters, as do I, but not all greens are a delicious as lambsquarters. I'll eat it and use it in casseroles and slip a few raw leaves into salads.

I also harvested a few early dandelions, roots, leaves and all. Dandelions are not bitter at this stage, in early spring before they flowers. So it is a great time to get all that you can find as dandelions are very nutritious. Here's what Wildman Steve Brill has to say about dandelion leaves:

The leaves are more nutritious than anything you can buy. They're higher in beta carotene than carrots. The iron and calcium content is phenomenal, greater than spinach. You also get vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, B12, C, E, P, and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc by using a tasty, free vegetable that grows on virutally every lawn. The root contains the sugar inulin, plus many medicinal substances.

And here's what Euell Gibbons, master forager, has to say:

"Ridiculous as it sounds, we might be better off nutritionally if we threw away the crops that we so laboriously raise in our fields and gardens and ate the weeds that grow with no encouragement from us—indeed they grow despite all our strenuous efforts to eradicate them.”

“We spend millions on herbicides to kill the dandelions in our lawns, while we pay millions more for diet supplements to give ourselves the vitamins and minerals that dandelion could easily furnish.” Euell Gibbons in his essay on Just How Good Are Wild Foods?

So we ate the wintercress for dinner that night. The next day I put all the wild onions, curly dock leaves and dandelions in a big pot of water, added some dried cayenne peppers and lots of chopped garlic, and simmered it for an hour or so. This makes a wonderful spring tonic broth. Oh, I did add an organic, vegetarian boullion cube for a bit more flavor. This broth I will either use as a soup base, or I'll just drink it warm or cold. I'll give some to a couple of older folks here who could probably use some extra rich nutrition that the broth will supply.

It is still too early here for many of the plants I love, such as plantain. But it'll be coming up soon. I'm planning on harvesting as much wild food as I can--it'll help our food budget, and we'll get a nutritional boost as well. You can't beat that!
HM

5 comments:

sunni said...

It [the garden] needs to be plowed again to get it ready for planting in May, but right now it is covered with dead weeds and the old vines and stalks of last summer's tomatoes and corn.

Patty, are you familiar with Ruth Stout's gardening methods? She switched from a fairly labor-intensive gardening method, which included spring plowing, to one that was much easier while also did more to enrich the soil organically (way before "organic" became cool). At my place I recently reviewed one of her books; I liked it so much I bought my own copies. I'm willing to lend them to you ... they're hard to get hold of, and not inexpensive either. Her method seems like it'd suit you well.

And huzzah for the spring greens!

Patricia said...

Hey Sunni! Yes, I've read Ruth Stout--there's a library near here with at least one of her gardening books. And believe me, a portion of our garden will be done with mulch. I do have to get the book and read it again--and I'll go read your review too. Thanks a million for telling me about it.

I'm also going to be doing a lot of "stealth" planting as well. :)
HM

sunni said...

Thanks for taking my comment in the spirit I intended—helping fellow travelers cut down on unnecessary effort wherever possible. And I shoulda known you'd know of her, at the least!

Just in case the library copy is unavailable, my offer still stands ...

Patricia said...

Hey Sunni--if I can't find her book at the library, then I'll definitely take you up on your offer! Lord knows, we don't need to expend so much work and effort on the garden--we'll need it for other things. Thanks!
HM

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