Crunchy Mama's Urban Homestead

Come learn about awesome plants on my homestead

On wild foods and food allergies

A quote from one of my absolute favorite wild edible books, Nature’s Garden by Sam Thayer.

A must-have book for foragers in temperate climates

“There is a slight possibility that you could be allergic or intolerant to a plant that is normally edible.  Thousands of people are affected by allergies to familiar foods such as peanuts, almonds, mangoes, and cashews…the forager is exposed to new foods on a regular basis…Food allergies are an inescapable and unpredictable fact of life. To use wild foods you must assume this risk.  However, such reactions are rare” (30-31).

 

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Consuming Raspberry Leaves

I have an amazing amount of wild spinach (Chenopodium album) and that makes up the bulk of our greens but I also pick a few other types of leaves including young grape leaves and young raspberry leaves.  In this post, I’ll write about just the raspberry leaves.  I’ll save the grape leaves for a future post.

young raspberry leaves

 

I like to consume some of the leafy greens in my diet in the form of green smoothies (the other part in salads; I’m not a big fan of sauteed greens).  My green smoothies consist of a few cups of washed greens and a few cups of frozen (or unfrozen) fruit and water.  My favorite fruits are frozen blueberries and frozen bananas but we also use pineapple, mulberries, raspberries, melons, peaches, grapes, etc.  I also started sprinkling some cinnamon and kelp granules into our smoothies.  You can taste the cinnamon goodness but thankfully not the kelp.  Sometimes I will put in some coconut milk.  What turned me on to green smoothies was Victoria Boutenko’s book  Green Smoothies   Consuming more leafy greens really resonated with me.  The benefit of increasing the amount of veggies in one’s diet is hard to argue with.  One of the most surprising things that I learned from her book is that greens are actually high in protein.  Sweet!

I choose young raspberry leaves and young grape leaves.  The raspberry leaves that I choose are just an inch or long; and, of course, they come as a set of three.  They are a much lighter and brighter green than the old leaves.  I simply pluck off the set of three with my thumb nail and middle finger.  I don’t take any of the thorny stem.  I have tasted the leaves plain and they really don’t have much of a taste.  I don’t put these in my salads or eat them as “trail nibble” because I do not think that they have a good mouth feel.  As a side note, raspberry leaves can be dehydrated and later steeped for tea.  Here are the benefits of the tea, according to Traditional Medicinals.

If you are new to gardening and/or wild edibles, you should definitely know what poison ivy looks like (for a variety of reasons).  I mention this because of the one similarity that raspberry leaves and poison ivy leaves have: the leaves grow in sets of three.  Perhaps you have heard the phrase: “leaves of three, let them be”.  This is good advice for people who are new to identifying plants.  However, as you examine the two plants side by side you will see some very distinct differences.  I will list out the characteristics of each.

Raspberry Plant:

  • thorny stem/cane grows upright for a few feet before making an arch back down to the ground as the stem continues to grow (note: some plants may be thornless)
  • leaves grow in sets of three (but sometimes five)
  • leaves have lots of small “teeth” along the edges (they serrated)
  • the underside of the leaves are silver-colored
  • leaves are astringent (pop a young leaf into your mouth and you won’t taste much but the leaf will give your mouth a very mild but strange sensation which someone called “cotton mouth”)

Raspberry leaf set with 5 leaflets and another leaf set turned over to show the silvery underside

Poison Ivy (info taken from this webpage of the site Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac Information Center (linked below))

  • “It can appear as a ground cover, a shrub, or as a vine growing up a tree. Older vines are covered in fibrous roots resembling hair that grow into the supporting tree.”
  • “It has dull or glossy compound leaves on a long stem that are divided into 3 leaflets, each 2-4″ (5-10 cm) long. The leaflets can be slightly lobed, and are a dark waxy green, above, and light, fuzzier beneath. A short stem sets off the end leaf.”  My note: the leaves can also have a burnt orange color.
  • “Poison ivy grows throughout eastern North America…[and] can be found in Bermuda and the Bahamas. Poison ivy…grow[s] in open woods, thickets, fence rows, stone walls, roadsides, and waste places. On roadsides, it tends to be ground cover, and in sandy coastal areas, it tends to be an erect shrub. In woods, you’ll mostly see the vines on trees.”

This site is dedicated to poison ivy: Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac Information Center.  I highly recommend the Poison Ivy Tutorial on their site to better familiarize yourself with poison ivy.  Another nice article on poison ivy (by Twin Eagles Wilderness School) is here.  And this pdf from jim mcdonald with close-up, color photos.

poison ivy leaf set with a raspberry leaf set in lower left side of the photo

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Wild Edible Short – On Flavors

Whenever I talk to folks about eating wild edibles and the topic of dandelions comes up, I refer back to some advice that John Kallas gave in his AMAZING book Edible Wild Plants.  He wrote something to the effect of this: Most people like to eat meals that have a medley of flavors.

Don’t think that to include bitter wild edibles in your diet that you need to eat a plate full of dandelion greens!  YIKES!  That’s ridiculous.  If you are not fond of bitter foods, just include a tiny bit into your meal — mixed in with other foods (such as green smoothies).  For instance, I only put one or two chopped dandelion leaves (young ones) in my entire salad. Same goes for garlic mustard — just 2 or 3 leaves, chopped, go into my entire salad.  I still get the benefit of the bitter foods but I don’t have to endure my meal.  I enjoy the variety of flavors on my tongue.

For more of my posts on wild edibles, please click this link.

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Free virtual survival summit with 29 speakers next week

Greetings!  I wanted to share with you about The Survival Summit that starts January 20, 2014 and runs 6 days!   It’s free.  It starts next week.  It’s online!  Here is the speaker line-up: http://thesurvivalsummit.com/schedule/

There is a wide range of topics, especially about homesteading and self-reliance — foraging, making biodiesel, first aid, trapping, food preservation WITHOUT electricity, growing food without irrigation (by Paul Wheaton, a favorite speaker), plus all of the zombie apocalypse survival stuff too. 🙂

I’m very excited to hear some of these speakers.  And I’m very excited about being able to stay at home and hear them.  How very energy-efficient! 🙂

I traveled 5 hours by car 2 1/2 years ago to go to a Mother Earth News Fair.  While it was neat to be there in person to see presenters, I wouldn’t drive that far again for it.  There was no hands-on learning; it was just watching presenters.  I was glad that I went once but, to me, I can watch a video presentation at home and save a lot of money and energy.

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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:

http://www.countrysidemag.com/87-2/sam_thayer/

http://www.tacticalintelligence.net/blog/how-to-eat-milkweed.htm

http://foragingpictures.com/plants/Milkweed/

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:

Purslane

Wood sorrel (shamrocks)

Violets

Ostrich Fern Shoots (fiddleheads)

Wildcraft! board game review 

 

All posts tagged under the category wild edibles are here.

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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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Succulent, Delicious Garden Weed: Purslane

Image

Welcome to another installment of Crunchy Mama’s Wild Food Adventures!  I am pleased to present one of my favorite summer wild edibles: purslane (Portulaca oleracea)!  I noticed purslane last year in my organic veggie garden.  It was prolific (because we had put an irrigation system in).  Once I found out that it was edible, I tried it and I really enjoyed eating it.  It is a mild-tasting, very slightly lemony, succulent vegetable that happens to be grown outside of the U.S., on purpose, to be eaten as one of the most nutritious vegetables around.  In the U.S., most folks call it a weed.

An acquaintence of mine mentioned that she developed an allergy to purslane.  So, I am going to give a variation of the warning that just about every wild food blogger (teacher, etc.) gives to his/her audience: Whenever you eat a food that you have never eaten before, you should only have a little so that you can see how your body reacts to the new food.  Additionally, you really should get solid confirmation from several reputable sources that the plant that you’d like to eat is what you think it is.  I often take videos and photos of plants that I am unsure of and post them in wild edibles forums such as the forum at Eat the Weeds and several wild edible Facebook groups.

Benefits of purslane:

According John Kallas, purslane is extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and glutathione (140). Other sources say it is high in vitamin A and C.  If you grow it on purpose, it is drought-tolerant once established.  Because it contains mucilage, it is very soothing to mucus membranes in your digestive system.  Other foods and medicinal plants that contain mucilage are: okra, slippery elm, marsh mallow (not the white sticky sweet treat), chia seeds, flax seeds, and aloe.

Here blogger Meghan Telpner writes about the health benefits of mucilaginous foods.

Videos

Here is a video by YouTube user thejourneyoutdoors in which he shows purslane and a toxic look-alike which he calls spurge.  After digging around to find out the scientific name for the toxic plant, I found out that it is Euphorbia maculata (or prostrate spurge).  The biggest help to find out if a plant is spurge or purslane is if it has a milky sap.  Purslane has clear liquid inside.

Here is a video that I made in which I show another purslane look-alike.  I am pretty sure that it is prostrate pigweed or mat amaranth (Amaranthus blitoides). 

Here are a few more videos on purslane by fellow YouTubers.

My experiences with the plant and what others say about it

I have only eaten it raw in salads or just as-is when I am working in the garden.  However, I have read from several sources that you can cook it with other things and it will thicken the dish in the same way that okra would thicken a dish.  This is because it is mucilaginous.  The mucilage is released when it is cooked.

Purslane-containing recipes (along with other tidbits on purslane):

http://www.culinarymusings.com/2008/06/purslane-not-a-weed-but-a-wonder/

http://www.prairielandcsa.org/recipes/purslane.html

Tomato, Cucumber, and Purslane Salad

http://www.mariquita.com/recipes/purslane.html

http://www.gardenguides.com/115934-purslane-recipes.html

Pickled Purslane

Look-alike plants

Amaranthus blitoides images  — this plant is not toxic; I’ve read from some sources that they are edible but I have no experience with preparing and consuming them.

Euphorbia maculata images — this plant has milky sap and is toxic to include giving you a skin rash

Itemization for (or how to identify) purslane:

Identification: The stems are smooth and red and the leaves are spatulate-shaped and thick.  The leaves grow directed from the red stems, usually in clusters. The leaves have a glittery sheen to them (as compared to a clear shininess on A. blitoides — see my video for comparison).  The leaf veins are subdued, probably because it is a succulent plant. This is a sprawling plant (meaning it grows along the ground instead of upward).

Time of Year: Purslane likes hot weather.

Environment:  It will thrive in moist, fertile soil but it is drought tolerant.  It likes plenty of sunshine.

Method of preparation: You can eat the stems, leaves, flowers and seeds (but not the root).  Eat them raw or cooked.

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this post, please click the “LIKE” button and consider subscribing via email, Twitter ,  Pinterest or your favorite reader.  P.S. more resources are listed below.

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Resources on purslane:

Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas (pages 129 – 140)

http://www.msuturfweeds.net/details/_/common_purslane_34/

Resources on “prostrate pigweed” or “mat amaranth” (Amaranthus blitoides):

http://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/amaranthus/blitoides/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaranthus_blitoides

http://practicalplants.org/wiki/Amaranthus_blitoides

http://www.pfaf.org/User/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Amaranthus+blitoides

Resources on prostrate spurge (Euphorbia maculata) — the TOXIC one:

http://www.msuturfweeds.net/details/_/prostrate_spurge_38/

http://ontariowildflowers.com/main/species.php?id=604

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphorbia_maculata (The sap of this plant is a skin irritant and will cause a rash similar to Poison Ivy. Use gloves when pulling this weed.)

http://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/spotted-spurge (“Commonly there is a faint to prominent red splotch mid-leaf, but not always. Stems are up to 16 inches long, typically prostrate but occasionally ascending some, sparsely to densely hairy, often reddish colored, branching frequently, forming large circular mats.”)  That it is hairy is a big clue that it is NOT purslane.

Wow!  That’s a lot of information on purslane and its look-alikes!  Better to have more information than not enough when it comes to wild edibles.

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Green Sour Butterfly Leaves (Wood Sorrel; Oxalis) — Crunchy Mama’s Wild Edible Adventures

Greetings, friends!  Next up in my wild edibles series is wood sorrel.  Wood sorrel might be mistaken by new foragers for clover but after reading this post you will know how to distinguish it from clover.  It is similar to clover in that it has three small leaves coming from the end of a small stem.  Wood sorrel, however, has three heart-shaped leaves and the veins in the leaflets radiate out from the base whereas clover has three egg-shaped leaves and the veins in the leaflet come out from various points from the center vein.  The wood sorrel flowers have 5 petals and the clover flowers have “lots of tiny pea-like flowers clustered together on flower heads” (Kallas).  Click here to see images of clover flowers.  Both clover leaves and flowers and wood sorrel leaves and flowers are edible but the taste difference is very distinct.

Wood sorrel between my fingers

 
Wood sorrel has a bright, sour, lemony flavor.  Clover does not have this sour flavor.  The sour flavor comes from a mixture of acids including oxalic acid; a common warning to those with kidney problems, gout, etc. is that they should avoid plants with oxalic acid.  Everyone should be aware that consuming vast amounts of foods with oxalic acid might cause problems (see below for more links regarding oxalic acid).  Many “normal” foods have oxalic acid but there are no big warning labels on them regarding oxalic acid (spinach, swiss chard, and beet greens, okra, figs, peanuts to name a few, according to http://juicing-for-health.com/oxalic-acid.html).  John Kallas writes, “[i]n spite of many authors claiming so, oxalates are not a problem for normal healthy humans eating a normally diverse diet.”  You will need to do your own research and decide what works for you. 
 
One of its nutritional benefits when consumed as part of a varied diet and in moderation (whatever THAT means — sarcasm) is that it is high in vitamin C.  Another source says that it is high in vitamin A.  Kallas reports that it is high in iron and calcium.
 
 
Other names it might be called are: sour grass, shamrock (although clovers are sometimes called shamrock so I would avoid calling wood sorrel shamrock), yellow oxalis, sour clover, or oxalis (after the genus that it belongs to).
 
I have personally only eaten wood sorrel as “trail nibble”, meaning that I just picked some leaves and ate them then and there.  Because of the oxalic acid, the surface of your teeth will feel strange for a few minutes.  It’s the same feeling that you would get after eating raw spinach leaves (for the same reason: oxalic acid). 
 
Poisonous look-alikes? No
 
Here is the itemization for wood sorrel:
 
Identification: Herbaceous (non-woody) plant with slender rhizomes; each leaf (green or plum-colored) is made of three heart-shaped leaflets that are an inch or less in length and they grow out from one point at the end of the leaf stalk (aka the petiole, pronounced PET ee ohl) and each leaflet has a crease along the middle and the leaflets can open and close depending on the weather (like a butterfly); the small flowers can be yellow or violet and have 5 petals. 
 
Time of year: spring through fall
 
Environment: Found in the lower 48 States. Likes partly shady areas and moist soil.
 
Method of preparation: You can eat the leaves, flowers and pods raw or cooked.  John Kallas recommends that when you snip off the leaves and flowers that you snip about 1/2 inch down the stem (from the leaves and flowers).  The stem is fibrous so you do not want to include much of the stem.  You can include some wood sorrel in your salad (maybe 20% of your greens) or you  can add them to soups or make a tangy sauce with them (see Kallas’ book for the recipes).  You can dry the stems, bundle them together with some clean string and make a tea by seeping the dried stems for a minute or two in hot water, according to Kallas.
 

Additional resources for learning more about wood sorrel:

John Kallas’ Edible Wild Plants pages 177-190 (This book is one of the BEST books on wild edibles! Go read the reviews!)

Green Deane’s http://www.eattheweeds.com/sorrel-not-a-sheepish-rumex/

Steve Brill’s http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Plants.Folder/Sorrel.html

http://www.american-lawns.com/problems/weeds/wood_sorrel.html

http://kingdomplantae.net/yellowWoodSorrel.php

http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/s/sorwoo68.html

More reading on oxalic acid:

http://juicing-for-health.com/oxalic-acid.html (“ORGANIC oxalic acid is essential for our body. It is the INORGANIC form of
oxalic acid that we need to be aware of.”)

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400344/Avoid-Vegetables-with-Oxalic-Acid.html

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Gorgeous, Delicious and Nutritious Violets! My Wild Food Adventures Series

I’ve said that ostrich fern shoots are my favorite wild edible but violets are a super-close second.  They are so lovely!  On my property, I have lots of Viola odorata.  Collecting Violets

The young leaves are mild and great in salads.  The flowers are mild-tasting with a hint of sweetness; you can just pluck and eat or gather some for a beautiful addition to your salad or sprinkle on your cooked and plated food.

Violets top my salad In this photo, I have a base of cut-up turnips topped with an avocado slice, tomato slices, garlic mustard leaves, and violet flowers and young leaves.

Here are some close-up photos that I took:

Violet flower Violet leave front Violet leave back

Violets & other plants

In this photo, you see a violet plant growing all by itself and so I just used some scissors to harvest the leaves.   Harvest Violets

Here is the itemization of the violet:

Identifying Features:

Flowers have 5 petals in a butterfly shape.  They grow as a single flower at the end of the stem.  There is a sharp bend where the flower and the stem join.

Leaves are heart-shaped; the sides often curl toward the juncture of the stem and the leaf.

Roots are fibrous and are NOT edible and actually toxic according to Teresa Marrone.

Time of Year: mid-spring to early-summer for the flowers and leaves (before they become tough from the summer heat)

Environment: Preferably moist soil with some shade.

Method of Preparation: You can eat the flowers and young leaves (lighter green) raw.  You can also cook the young leaves as well as older leaves as you would spinach.

Medicinal uses? Yes! Two Herbal Mamas has a video on how to make an oil infusion with violets. And on their blog they have a post which lists the medicinal qualities of the plant: “Violet…contains saponins, salicylates, alkaloids, flavonoides and volatile oils. The actions of this shy plant are anti-inflammatory, expectorant, diuretic, anti-rheumatic, laxative and stabilizes capillary membranes. Violet contains an enormous amount of Vitamin A. Chew on a violet leaf and spit it out on to your hand. Give the leaf a good rub. You will feel the slippery mucilage contained in this powerful plant. Mucilaginous herbs are moist, and soothe skin ailments and internal mucous surfaces.”

 

Poisonous look-alikes?  Larkspur and Monkshood— there blooms look similar perhaps to an untrained eye but you can absolutely tell the difference between them and violets in short order.

The larkspur bloom has a long spur on the rear of the bloom.  There are good photos here. The leaves are very different as well.  And, lastly, there are multiple blooms coming from one stem (unlike the violet which is one bloom on the end of the stem).

There are some good photos and information on monkshood here. Again, the leaves are very different than violet leaves; monkshood leaves are palmate while violet leaves are heart-shaped. While the blooms can be the same color as violets AND have 5 petals they are shaped differently.  According to the Wikipedia link at the beginning of this paragraph, “[the flowers] are distinguishable by having one of the five petaloid sepals (the posterior one), called the galea, in the form of a cylindrical helmet; hence the English name monkshood.”

According to Abundantly Wild by Teresa Marrone, you would be wise to collect violet leaves only when the plant is in bloom because the the leaves can resemble some poisonous plant leaves.   When the plant is in bloom, it will be easy for you to recognize and gather the correct leaves.

As with anything that you put in your mouth, you need to properly identify the plant. Here are more resources on properly identifying and eating violets:

Green Deane’s Eat the Weeds;

Eating Violets by The Urban Forager (Ava Chin);

Wild Man Steve Brill (great illustrations and close-up photos);

Elias and Dykeman’s Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide (pages 95, 96, 116);

Abundantly Wild by Teresa Marrone;

Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Great Lakes Region by Thomas A. Naegele

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My wild [food] adventures — ostrich fern shoots

My journey with wild foods began when I first became aware of the problems that plague our food supply including depleted soils on farmland, the crazy dependence on fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, Monsanto’s diabolical acts with pesticides, herbicides, and genetically changing seeds, and more.  I bought several wild edible field guides and began to look for the plants.  For the past few years, I have added a few wild edibles to my knowledge base and diet.  Last fall, I found a revoluntionary set of books on wild food that my set of wild food adventures on fire!  Those books are John Kallas’ (KAY-less) Edible Wild Plants and Samuel Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest and Nature’s Garden.  I’ll be talking about the books in coming posts but I want to dive into some great and ready-right-now wild foods that are easy to find and identify.  In the meantime, you should check out their reviews on amazon.com.

So, let’s take some wild food adventures together!  Spring is a great time to learn about, find and eat wild foods because there is not too much vegetation to overwhelm you — at least in the Midwest and northern part of the US.  Once the heat of late spring and summer comes, it might be harder because so many things are growing.

The first and tastiest wild vegetable that I want to urge you to go out and find is ostrich fern shoots and fiddleheads.  Oh my goodness, if people were to be introduced to wild foods with ostrich fern shoots and fiddleheads rather than dandelion leaves, we might have more wild food eaters.  And, one more thing before we begin: I will only post about wild edibles that I have personal experience with. ostrich fern shoots mid-spring

Green Deane, who runs the most watched foraging channel on youtube called EatTheWeeds (http://www.youtube.com/user/EatTheWeeds), teaches us to itemize a wild food.  ITEM = identification (be sure the plant is what you think it is by examining its features), time of year (is it the right time for eating a particular plant part?), environment (where does it like to grow; under what conditions?), and method of preparation (can you eat it raw or must you cook it a particular way?).

So, we are going to itemize ostrich ferns because there are some fern species that you don’t want to eat.

Identifying features of Ostrich ferns during the edible season for this plant which is spring when the trees are leafing out:

  • The ostrich fern shoots are either green, smooth and shiny or have a thin whitish powder covering the stalk. The ones that I’ve enjoyed are the ones with a very fine whitish powder.
  • They have a tightly coiled top (called a fiddlehead).
  • They have a deep groove running up the middle of the shoot (think of a celery stalk groove) and, according to Samuel Thayer on page 80 of The Forager’s Harvest, this groove is what distinguishes the ostrich fern from other INEDIBLE fern shoots.
  • They taste crisp and sweet.

Time of year for collecting and eating ostrich fern shoots:

  • Mid-spring; about the same time as when the leaves begin to emerge on the trees

Environment:

  • The Midwest and Northeast of the US in river bottom forests and “places prone to erosion by floods or human disturbance” because they need bare soil its spores to germinate.
  • Mine are in a flood plain of a creek.  Unfortunately, I do not have large population of them so it is a rare spring treat to have a few servings of them in the spring.

Method of Preparation:

  • Pick the stalks near the base when the stalks are between 8 and 28 inches tall AND they still have the tightly coiled top (the fiddlehead).
  • Only pick 1/3 to ½ of the stalks from one rosette so as not to kill the entire plant and only do this once per season for each rosette.
  • They can be eaten raw but boiled or steamed until tender and served with butter is a very tasty way to eat them.
  • Thayer lives near a super abundance of them and collects enough to freeze and pressure-can some so that he can enjoy them throughout the year.ostrich fern shoots to boil

Here is a video of ostrich fern shoots growing on my property:

Lastly, I want to give you a phrase to memorize that might help you to remember ostrich fern shoots: Green fiddleheads with a celery groove

Remember that “knowledge weighs nothing” and, even if your food storage is stolen or destroyed, you can still have food by knowing the foods that nature supplies!  Practice eating wild foods now so that should you ever need to rely on them for short-term or long-term you will have confidence in foraging for them.

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