Crunchy Mama's Urban Homestead

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A NEW favorite wild edible: green milkweed seed pods!

Milkweed with green seed pods

It’s been a few months since I walked on a nearby path where I have spotted many a wild edible.  Busy with the homestead garden, ya know!  Anyway, I was thrilled to walk the path yesterday and find two wild edibles that I have been wanting to try: green  (immature) milkweed seed pods and staghorn sumac berries (blog post forthcoming).

So, I picked about 9 milkweed green/immature seed pods to try for the very first time.  When i got home, I referred to my copy of Sam Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest to find out exactly how to prepare them.  He says that some people can eat milkweed raw but other people cannot tolerate them raw.  I did taste a bit of the raw silky white and a bit of the raw green part.  The silky white part was pretty good raw and the raw green part was decent but I decided that I would cook the rest.   Generally, when I try a new wild edible, I like to keep it simple so that I can really taste the plant.  I steam/sauteed the pods, cut in half, for a few minutes in some butter (with a tablespoon of water) in my pre-heated cast iron skillet.  They were very good!  I now have yet another favorite wild edible!  They taste mild and delicious.  According to what I’ve read, you can put these pods in casseroles, stews, stir-fry’s, etc.  They are so versatile!  And, did I mention that they are delicious?!

What I did find out after I had picked them and come home is that I picked them a bit too big.  According to Thayer, pods that are 1 – 2 inches are best.  HOWEVER, I thoroughly enjoyed the pods that were 3 – 4 inches long.  I have some that are slightly bigger and I will try them later.  You should know, though, that once they turn brown they are no longer edible.  As with all new foods, please do your own research and, if possible, consult with a local wild food “expert” to make sure that you are following the “rules” of eating wild edibles: 1. positive identification of the plant, 2. eating the correct part of the plant at the right time of development and 3. proper preparation (can you eat it raw or do you have to cook it to make it safe to eat?)

Green (immature) milkweed seed pods (a bit bigger than “prime” according to Sam Thayer but still good in my opinion!)

Milkweed seed pods cut open to expose the silky white middle

Steam/sauteed green milkweed seed pods with butter, salt and pepper

Note on behalf of the butterflies: please don’t take all of the pods.  We want to make sure that this plant is widely available for the Monarch caterpillars.  I’d suggest taking only 10 – 20% of the pods and, if possible, take some mature seeds and plant some on your property!

Update: I did try the bigger ones and they were fine for me!

2nd Update: I had started a draft of this and thought that I lost it.  Well, I found it.  I’ve copied and pasted from my draft below:

On identification: the leaves are in opposing pairs on an unbranching stem.  They are 4-7 feet at maturity.

POISONOUS LOOK-ALIKE: DOGBANE.  Thayer on comparing dogbane shoots versus milkweed shoots: “The young shoots of milkweed look a little like dogbane, a common plant that is mildly poisonous. Beginners sometimes confuse the two, but they are not prohibitively difficult to tell apart. Dogbane shoots are much thinner than those of milkweed (see photo on page 47), which is quite obvious when the plants are seen side-by-side. Milkweed leaves are much bigger. Dogbane stems are usually reddish-purple on the upper part, and become thin before the top leaves, while milkweed stems are green and remain thick even up to the last set of leaves. Milkweed stems have minute fuzz, while those of dogbane lack fuzz and are almost shiny. Dogbane grows much taller than milkweed (often more than a foot) before the leaves fold out and begin to grow, while milkweed leaves usually fold out at about six to eight inches. As the plants mature, dogbane sports many spreading branches, while milkweed does not. Both plants do have milky sap, however, so this cannot be used to identify milkweed.”

Thayer’s bottom line on eating milk weed, in my own words, is that if the plant that you think is milk weed tastes bitter then don’t eat it!

Additional Resources:

4-inch milkweed seed pod boiled in some savory broth and served with some grassfed beef ribs, green beans and lacto-fermented sauerkraut









If you are looking for my other posts on wild edibles, they are here:


Wood sorrel (shamrocks)


Ostrich Fern Shoots (fiddleheads)

Wildcraft! board game review 


All posts tagged under the category wild edibles are here.

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Cool down…back to work! Tending to the plants and making notes for next year

It’s back to work this week as surprisingly cooler weather has blessed us here in the Great Lakes region.

Since Sunday, I’ve mostly been tending to the two dozen or so tomato plants that I have growing all over the place (many of which are over 6 feet tall).

  • I’ve been tying up fallen tomato plant branches to keep the fruits off the ground.  This year I am using zip-ties.  They are cheap and easy.  I don’t like that I cannot re-use them (at least not without a lot of fine motor movement to undo them).  Got any hints?
  • I’ve been cutting off the little branches that have only leaves (no fruit).  This will make it easier for me to see the ripening fruit.

I’ve also been making notes in my gardening notebook to help me plan my garden next year.

  • I’ve noted how well certain plants are growing (or if they are not growing well in the place that I planted them).  I’m disappointed and surprised at how many things did not even come up.
  • I’ve also started getting into the habit of making my Sunday to-do list in my gardening notebook while walking around the homestead.  Sunday is our big chores day.  (We have our family, fun, relaxation and church day on Saturday.)  I’ve started doing this because by the time I walk around and make mental notes about what needs to be done I will have forgotten most of them when I walk back into the house. Oy!

I need to start compiling lists of recipes that use some of the plants that are doing well such as my Malabar spinach (mostly I just use it in salads but I need to figure out other recipes too!).

Sliced and cut cukes ready for lacto-fermentation!

Lastly, I was given about 20 lbs of cucumbers last weekend.  I am experimenting with lacto-fermenting them.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I’d like to have some non-canning preservation techniques to use for two reasons: 1. I think that canning is the least healthiest way to preserve most foods and 2. I really don’t like how much energy (and HEAT) canning requires, especially the heat — the very moist heat!  (I have mentioned that I don’t like hot and humid, haven’t I.)

So, what’s going on in your garden?

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I’m hiding

I love enjoying nature and working outdoors most of the year but July and August are like January and February to most other folks around my area.  I’d rather be inside reading a book.  Mid-summer’s heat, humidity and mosquitoes are just the pits!  I almost like January and February’s cold better because at least the bugs aren’t attacking me.  But I’m not complaining really.  It’s just part of the year’s cycle and so I adapt.

My garden is growing strong.  I have tomato plants that are well over 6 feet tall.  I can barely walk down the walk-ways.

The weeds are growing, too.  I’m a horrible weeder.  I do some here and there but I’ve never been consistent or thorough about it.  And you know what?  It hasn’t mattered.  Most of the weeds in my garden are edible anyway, even though there are some that I haven’t actually tried yet.  I happily pick wild spinach (aka lamb’s quarters) almost daily as well as purslane for salads.  I’m fine for them to go to seed — actually I want some of them to go to seed for new plants next year.

I’ve got at least two types of amaranth — haven’t gotten around to researching how exactly you prepare and eat the green shoots.  Same for black nightshade.  Not deadly nightshade (that would be belladonna).  Of course, there is debate about the edibility of black nightshade.  I plan on trying some of the ripe berries this year but I’ll probably wait until next spring to try some of the properly prepared shoots.

Back to weeding.  I’m not sure if it’s because I have very rich soil (thank you, chickens) or because it really doesn’t matter but having lots of weeds in my garden has not stopped my cultivated plants from producing bumper crops every. single. year.

So, I don’t put a high priority on weeding, especially when it is hot, humid and buggy.   The mosquitoes are merciless (even with my homemade bug-off formula) and I don’t like to be out in my garden except long enough to check the plants for growing (and ready) fruit and  for problems (such as pests or falling over and needed to be staked/trellised/tied up better).  I want to say that it was Steve Solomon who wrote that the best fertilizer is the gardener’s feet.  It really is good to check on the garden daily — which is why being on vacation for 6 days in early July was a dumb move on my part.  I won’t make that mistake again!

Protection from crazy, swarming mosquitos

Yesterday I had it with the mosquitoes and I determined that I would gear up this morning so that I would not get eaten alive.  I got my DriDucks rain jacket with hood on and a mosquito head net over that.  It WORKED!  Oh those b*st*rds tried like crazy to get me but they couldn’t get through the barriers.  It was hot but I’d rather have hot and sweaty than a bazillion mosquito bites.




So, I am hiding  inside  enjoying my time inside reading some really great books.  I’m almost done with Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes.  I will most definitely be reading through it again and will be posting more on it in the coming months.

But really I am researching and reviewing preservation techniques in anticipation of another bumper crop of food.  I already know how to can and freeze and do some fermentation.  However, I have borrowed a book called Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation by The Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante.  The appeal to me of these techniques is that they use less energy to process and store than canning and freezing.  They also hold promise to taste better than canned food.  Personally, I’m not a big fan of canned food but it does have its merits.   And, lastly, they are uncomplicated; they do not require fancy or expensive equipment.  I’ll be sure to post on my successes and failures in trying these methods.

Some of the recipes that I have ear-marked are: cherry tomatoes preserved in oil, vegetable medley preserved in oil, Pistou (a French version of pesto), tomato puree balls stored in oil, and whole tomatoes preserved in brine.  I’m still reading through the book so I’m sure that there will be more recipes that I’d like to try.

Lastly, a few days ago I started 2 quarts of sauerkraut using only cabbage, caraway seeds and Real salt.  Thanks to my blogging buddy Survival Sherpa for the terrific post on how to make sauerkraut.  I’ll let you know how it tastes.

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PS I know y’all down South think I’m a wimp about the heat and bugs but at least I know my weaknesses. 😉  I suspect that I might be part Eskimo 🙂  Have  great day wherever you are!

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Wildcraft! board game — an excellent and fun introduction to wild edibles and medicinal plants

Good day, friends!  I want to share with you today my review of a board game that introduces children and adults to wild edible and medicinal plants.  The board game is called Wildcraft! An Herbal Adventure Game created by Kimberly Gallagher with herbalist John Gallagher and artist Beatriz Mendoza.  I purchased this game 2 months ago and I receive no monetary benefit by recommending this product to you.

I wanted to write this post because my family is wild about Wildcraft!  I don’t have to twist my children’s arms to play it — they ask us to play it and they have shared their enthusiasm for the game with others (such as Nana and cousins).  Actually, my two oldest realized that they can play without mommy or daddy and play it at least once a week on their own.

Of course, their enthusiasm is not the top reason that I take the time to write this post for you.  The subject of the game, wild edible and medicinal plants, and this terrific approach to learning them is the top reason.  I have written several posts on wild edibles (1, 2, 3, 4) because I am enthusiastic about fresh, local, nutritious and free food; I desire to share my first-hand knowledge of wild edibles with you because I believe that you might share or acquire my enthusiasm for wild edibles.  I use herbs for health and specific ailments and have done so for the past 6 years or so but I would not call myself an herbalist or herb expert.  Of course, I always want to learn more and I pick up herbal knowledge here and there, as needed.

As with other things of importance in life, I want to teach my children about wild edible and medicinal plants.  My oldest (who is 8 years old as of this writing) can identify quite a few wild edibles and he, like his mother, loves to share with others his wild edible knowledge 🙂  Wildcraft! board game is a great way to reinforce the things that we have already learned as well as to learn even more.

I’ve created a 3-minute video to introduce you to the game.  It’s here: 

My middle son (age 6) really enjoys the game for the “adventure” of the game, the matching aspect, the cooperation aspect, and, like the Gallagher’s children as explained here, the shortcuts and slides of the game.  I love the fact that they are learning the names and pictures of useful wild plants.  For families who have no or little previous experience with using wild plants, it gives an introduction to the concept that nature provides plants to help us stay healthy, to heal our wounds and ailments and to meet our nutritional needs.  Unfortunately, many children and adults in our “fast food and drug store” culture have never been exposed to those ideas.  For various reasons, many people from that culture decide to pursue a more natural path for their health and well-being.  This game is a terrific help for newbies to learn some of the wild edible and medicinal plants that nature provides.

While I do really love the game, there is one thing that I was disappointed in.  The game does not teach any specifics on how the plants can be used to cure ailments or to fulfill hunger.  One of the top things about eating wild edibles is learning which part of the plant you can eat, at what stage in development you can eat it, and how to properly prepare it (i.e. does it need to be boiled in 3 changes of water?).  Some plants have edible and toxic parts so it is vital that you know those things.  It’s the same with medicinal plants.  You must know which part is safe to use, how to prepare the part, how to use the part (i.e. is it safe to ingest or can it only be applied externally?), and how much to use.  The creators do acknowledge this and have provided a lot of freebies (e-books including a cookbook and a 10-video beginning herbal lesson series) to help you learn how to use the plants to meet your health needs.  I personally went through the 10-video herbal lesson, learned from it and enjoyed it.

The price is $37.00.  For some, that price might seem a bit high for “just a game”.  I certainly  understand.  For our one-income family, it was money well-spent.  We will continue to enjoy playing this game, learning better and better how wild edible and medicinal plants can help us.  And we will continue to learn the deeper learning material offered as freebies including a monthly herbal newsletter.

If you are on the fence about spending that much on a game, here is some great news — they guarantee that you will love Wildcraft! or they will refund your money AND you can keep the game!

Even if you do not have children in your life, as long as you have another person who is also interested in learning wild edible and medicinal plants, I highly recommend that you get and play the game together and, of course, learn and start using the plants in your cooking and for your minor ailments.  Of course, if you are on prescription drugs, you should consult with your physician to make sure that the herbs that you are interested in incorporating into your “medicine chest” will not cause you problems.

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, they are sold out of the game.  Their website indicates that they will have more by the fall (2013) and that you can enter your email address to be notified when the game is again in stock and available for purchase.  The space to enter your email address is at the bottom of the webpage.

If you have purchased this game, I’d love to hear what you think of the game!

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