Sunday, April 19, 2009

Keep a Foraging Journal

Sorry for not writing the past week, folks. It gets busy now that it is full-blown foraging time.

I've been foraging. Bags and bags of garlic mustard. I've mentioned already that this plant is a "foreign invader"--the worst part about it is that garlic mustard will take over from other native plants and drive them out. Deer don't eat garlic mustard, and they lose the native plants that deer do eat, so yes, it is a problem. So I'm doing my part by harvesting as much garlic mustard as I can and using the leaves in pesto and drying the roots (they have a slight horseradish zing to them) to add to my mix for vegetable bouillon.

This year, I'm keeping on top of what I've been doing by keeping a foraging journal. If you are new to foraging wild foods, as I am, it will benefit you greatly by keeping track of what you see, where it grows, the date you first see it, how much you harvest, recipes, etc. Last year, I didn't keep a journal and I'm regretting it--I can't remember when the horsetail finally showed up, or the plantain, or the best times and places to harvest evening primrose roots, etc. Which means that this year, I simply have to keep watching and checking. It'd be a helluva lot easier if I'd kept good records last year. Ah, the joy of living and learning!

Here are some excerpts from my journal. If anyone has a better idea of how to keep track, please let me know.

March 5: Long walk down to the old lake. Didn't see much of anything except for some wild garlic, or maybe wild onions. Got a small bag ful of them.

March 20: At the garden: wintercress (creasy greens), dandelions roots and leaves, yellow dock roots and leaves, wild onions. Washed and cleaned all the roots, chopped them up and set them to dry on the windowsill. Cleaned all the greens, and put aside the wintercress. I'll use that for our dinners this week. The dandelion, yellow dock and wild onions went to make a big pot of "spring tonic broth." I added a vegetarian boullion cube for some extra flavor and some garlic and hot pepper. Made a delicious broth, very healthy.

March 25: More wintercress from the big field south of the garden. Wild onions and chickweed too.

April 4-10: Coming back from the Amish, a big patch of garlic mustard. Yeah! Didn't find any last year. Two huge bags of it. Will make pesto and boil some greens up for dinner. Been harvesting dandelion roots for Kathy, since she's switching from coffee to dandy root coffee for now. A book she's reading says to avoid coffee if you have arthritis. That's a tough one, but the dandy root coffee should help. There's some farmer's fields on the way to Williams that are full of dandelion, yellow dock, wild onions, violets, chickweed, yarrow and lots of stuff I don't know yet. I pulled up some very big dandelion roots. Kept the leaves for broth, figure I might boil these twice as they're a bit bitter. Got some yellow dock roots and leaves too. The greens jar for this year is getting packed with dried greens. I'll grind these up with some sun-dried tomatoes, dried onions and garlic into a powder and cover them with olive oil. That'll preserve it and keep it and make a tasty, vitamin rich addition to soups, stews and casseroles. Picked a huge bag of dandelion blossoms for wine. Got enough for the first gallon anyway.

April 13: Made 3 batches of garlic mustard pesto. 3 cups packed garlic mustard leaves, finely chopped, 4 cloves garlic, 1/3 cup parmesean cheese, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup walnuts chopped finely. (Can't afford pine nuts.) I don't have a food processor, so I chopped everything up as much as I could then used my little hand-held immersion blender to make it all into a paste. Wow! Does this stuff make GREAT pesto. Gave some to Jennifer and she loved it too. YUM.

April 14: Picked a bunch of redbud flowers. The redbuds are glorious this year. This is a nice tasting flower, a lovely bright pink color. I'll get some chickweed and orpine and make a salad with them. Pretty.

April 15: Saw a huge field of what looked like black mustard (brassica nigra). Pulled over and got out to check. Yep. Little yellow flowers with four petals in the shape of a cross. Narrow, hairless, wavy-toothed upper leaves. Brill says very nutritious vegetable, full of vitamins and minerals. Gathered a bag of leaves, but mostly I'll wait for the seeds to show up. I want to make my own mustard this year.

Plantain just coming up, this year's plants. No horsetail yet, at least not in the huge patch where I found it last year. I'm seeing a lot of plants I don't know--have to get my guides down in the car and my backpack where they belong so I can start figuring out what they are.

April 17: Back to the dandelion fields for more roots and blossoms. The leaves are getting too bitter for me so I'll focus on other spring greens. The roots are now chopped and drying, the blossoms are now in the second gallon of dandelion wine. The first gallon is bottled in an wine jug with a balloon with pin-pricks in it as the air-lock. I'll keep making wine from everything I can. There's some great recipes for making wine from wild plants here:

Wines from nettles and chickweed. What a hoot. :)

April 18: More garlic mustard for more pesto. This is probably the last batch of the garlic mustard I'll get. It's flowering already and about to go to seed.


As you can see, I've been busy. I'll try to show up more here, though. I hope I can keep up. Next month we get to gardening in earnest.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Garlic Mustard

Last week, coming home from the Amish farm, the car was moving along the quiet, not-often-used roadway when it suddenly came to a screeching halt.

"What?" said Fred, startled.

"I think that plant back there is garlic mustard," said the Handmaiden.

The car backed up slowly, as HM carefully watched the ditch that was bordering the road. "There it is!" sez HM.

HM apologized to Fred, "See, I've been looking for garlic mustard for a while, and I think that's some right there," she said pointing to a luxurious green growth on the side of the woody, viney ditch. And sure enough, when HM got some leaves to sample, it tasted garlicy and spicy. Beware of traveling with a forager; you'll be subject to stops and starts and other strange behavior when the forager think she sees a particular plant.

Garlic mustard is considered an awful invasive plant by those folks who think in such terms. It is on the Plant Conservation Alliance's Least Wanted list. It even has a poster, just like a murderer has a poster in Post Offices and such. However, for a wildcrafter or forager, it's a good find for both food and medicine options. And I'm not so sure that getting all het up about a plant being "invasive" is a great idea. The wonderful Rose at Prodigal Gardens has a very thoughtful and thought-provoking essay on "invasive" plants. I found her writing on this topic very interesting and I suggest if you are interested in foraging and other like topics that you read that essay. Here's a couple of paragraphs from it:

It may be no accident that these same weeds that are busily working to restore the land are also some of our most powerful healers. “Noxious weeds” like dandelion, burdock and garlic mustard are nutritional powerhouses that offer themselves to us humans in super-abundance to help us to nourish our depleted bodies, leach environmental toxins, and otherwise help us to cope with our industrialized world. Yet instead of receiving the gifts these plants bring with them, alien species are villanized and portrayed as terrorists, competing with crops, threatening to reclaim fields, re-route waterways, starve the herds, the list goes on.

Most of the charges being leveled at invasive plants have to do with their disruption of human activities and land management practices. . In one brochure I picked up it states that invasive plants “reduce agricultural yields, decrease gathering opportunities, and hinder recreational activities. Eurasian watermilfoil chokes waterways and restricts boat access, while the toxic properties of wild parsnip deter hiking and other land-based activities.” It would seem as though these plants were declaring war on us! From a Gaia perspective these might be considered intelligent strategies for protecting the land, but from a human perspective it is a major threat.

economic impact is calculated at some 138 billions of dollars per year. These figures factor in the cost of research, conservation projects, labor, crop losses, devaluing of land, and the high price of chemical and other eradication programs. Fortunately, herbicide manufacturers are willing to help shoulder the burden of getting rid of invasives. Monsanto, for example, has been instrumental in the formation of the Exotic Pest Plant Councils.

Garlic mustard greens are very nutritional, having goodly amounts of Vitamins A, C, E and some of the B vitamins, potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and magnese. Check it out here. It's very pungent/spicy and a bit bitter. I steamed a good bunch of the greens and we've been eating them in various dishes. This is how I handle most wild greens, since Michael doesn't particularly like them just plain. I add them to soups, stews, rice dishes, casseroles, omlets and the like. In other dishes, he doesn't notice the slight bitterness as it is balanced by other, usually milder or sweeter flavors.

For every one page on edible or medicinal uses of garlic mustard, you'll find hundreds of the "horrible invasive weed" type. Still, thank goodness there are some, such as Wildman's, on garlic mustard.

I'm about to make some pesto from the other bag of leaves I reseved from the steamed greens. I'll use the recipe from Prodigal Gardens. If you find some, but don't care for the pungent/bitter flavor, do try it in a pesto. A little pesto added to a minestrone or Tuscany bread soup is wonderful, adding a lot of flavor and nutritional richness.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Quote from Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds

Charles has an interesting blog for April 2. Near to the last paragraph I found this:

Thus we have evidence that children prescribed powerful drugs for hyperactivity responded positively to a lifestyle stripped of sugar, junk food, TV and video games. Imagine the immense reduction in profits if drugs, sugary snacks, junk food, TV and video games were no longer "consumed" by American children. Cui bono indeed.

Ain't that the truth! That's why people need to turn off their TVs permanently. The TV was not created to entertain you or educate you. It was created to control you. It works extremely well, especially with a population crammed full of sugar, junk food and nasty drugs.

You might like the whole article, which you can find here. This blog never fails to provoke thought. And man, can that guy write!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Other Uses for Dandelions

Make a rubber band from dandelion sap? Think I'm crazy? Need proof? Read this. :)

Gallimaufree on Cache Gardening

Well, she did it again! I mentioned yesterday that I was going to spread around our wild plant buddies by planting them in other areas and helping them propagate as much as I could. And today I find an excellent article on cache gardening by Gallimaufree! Cache gardening is stealth gardening--planting your garden plants out in the wild and helping them go free and wild. This will ensure that food is available to you in odd places, i.e., not in gardens, per se, but out in the fields, woods, on land that isn't otherwise being used for crops or gardens. It's a terrific idea. Check out this well-written and insightful article.