Thursday, March 26, 2009

Harvesting the Hillside: Wild Onions and Dandelions

(wild onions)

It's a lovely day and I decided to put off housework once again and head out and do some foraging. I noticed that the hillside under our balconey going down to the road is plumb full of dandelions and wild onions. I brought my digger tool and my clippers and set to work. Digging up the wild onions wasn't a problem and I got a bag of them. And I dug up loads of dandelions as well, roots and leaves. Well, as much of the root as I could get.

I foraged for about an hour. The real work starts when I got everything home. Every thing needs to be washed. The dandelions went into a 5 gallon bucket that I half filled with water. This is for their first cleaning, mainly to get all the mud off. The wild onions went into a big pot of water in the kitchen. I let everything soak for a while and got my cutting board, knives, and colander ready.

The wild onions didn't take too long to process--just wash them and cut them up, ready for use. I got about 3 cups worth. They'll be used in a lot of dishes I'll be making. I chopped them up into little bits for adding to casseroles, soups, rice dishes, whatever. I love onions and they are very good for you. You can read more about wild onions at the Wild Food Foragers site, here. If you want, you can also freeze them: just put the chopped up bits in a ziplock bag and plunk them in the freezer.

Once I was done with the onions, I next washed all the roots of the dandelions out in the bucket, scrubbing them with a little brush I have for that purpose. The cats found this a very interesting procedure and watched carefully. July kitten snatched a dandelion from the ones I was washing and took it off to investigate more thoroughly.

The next step was to separate all the parts I would be using. I cut the roots from the plants, then took off any flower buds (these are small and round, don't use the bigger ones that are beginning to elongate to become a flower). Finally I cut the leaves from the crown of the plant, putting all the leaves into a big pot to be washed again. The buds can be used as a vegetable on their own or in other recipes. The leaves can be sauted, steamed, or if they are too bitter for you, boiled in some changes of water. Unfortunately, if you do that, you will lose a lot of the vitamin content when you toss out the water. It is worthwhile to try to cultivate a taste for a slight bitterness. Nutrition scientists are finding that sour and bitter tasting plants are more protective against disease. Read more about bitter herbs at Prodigal Gardens.

Finally, the roots are chopped and put on the drying shelf on my windowsill. These will be used for tea. Or, you can roast them and use as a coffee substitute. I also make a roots extract with dandelion, yellow dock and burdock roots. I like wine, but I love my liver, so I take this extract daily. A friend with non-symptomatic hepatitis C also uses the extract with good results (he gets his liver enzymes checked regularly I guess).

The leaves are then chopped and put in a big plastic bag in the fridge for use throughout the week. I'll probably saute a bunch of them tonight with some of the wild onion and some carrot in olive oil and a bit of soy sauce.

Since I've not eaten the buds before, I'll either saute them in butter or boil them lightly in salted water.

So, foraging outside took me about an hour, maybe a little longer. The processing took about 2 hours. It is more work than you'd think, but foraging for wild foods is a great way to get more nutritious food and medicine. I love the process, myself. You just can't beat free, healthy food.

You all know how good dandelions are for you, don't you? If not, then read more about dandelions here and here. They are one of the most highly nutritious veggies on the planet. Needless to say, don't harvest them from lawns that have been sprayed with chemicals. They grow wild worldwide, nearly everywhere. God's gift, they are!

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