It's been over a month since I posted, so here is a month's worth of posts all at once, in a breezy kind of Reader's Digest format. Whee! Always something new over here.
Many, many years ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and I did not have any children, I fell under the tutelage of an herb wizard who boosted my lifelong fascination with natural remedies up to a whole new level. I watched her move with ease in her gorgeous garden and through the weeds outside it, responding confidently to the various health complaints of her family, setting beautiful meals on a gracious table, and I was totally inspired.
Among her many gifts to me was a book by Lalitha Thomas called 10 Essential Herbs, which I devoured. It's a fantastic primer. Thomas' sensible voice, and the distinctive one of my other book-teacher, Susun Weed (her French-y characterization of the dandelion, putting one in permanent mind of this, is one that you can never un-hear) are always echoing through my head along with Jane's when I am rustling around up there for herbal intel in response to some health event.
In addition to their potency, of course, plants are very tasty. In fact, you're an herbalist already if you're eating, since the powers of the herbs, spices and other plants we consume do not rely on our knowledge or consent to work their mojo in our bodies. Intention and awareness just make them better allies.
This is most definitely the time of year to fall in love with what you can eat (and cure) in the yard. Lately I've fallen under the spell of two new foraging dynamos, and thanks to them am inspired to move one more big step forward in the world of wild foods. ('Every two decades, some progress!' is my motto.) If this and this do not move you out the door with a fork and spoon, well--stay tuned for next week, when there will be chocolate sauce, a medicinal of another sort entirely.
Here's what we've been snacking on, both from the back forty and the herb garden:
Though their season for fresh eating is ending in my zip code (you have to stop harvesting once they bloom), we've gotten good mileage from our expanding nettle patches this month, and will extend the season with dried nettle (for infusing later; the tea has lots of goodness in it), some greens paté (and a nettle pesto sort of like this one) that went into the freezer, and a promising-looking nettle ferment that's working away, or so I am led to believe, on the counter as we speak. One of the reasons to love nettle as an edible is its deliciousness, another is its impressive nutrition, and a third (not to be discounted) is that it is really, really easy to identify. Ouch? That's a nettle. Bonus fourth reason, special maybe only to my lunatic self, is that picking them is a form of meditation with a totally clear risk/reward set-up. When I am attentive, I pick in peace. If my mind wanders for even a second, even benignly to thoughts of what I will make from what I am picking, then I get schooled by nettle's sting. I console myself that urtication is a respected remedy for aches and pains.
My nettle life-goal this year: learn to identify the more secretive cousin, the wood nettle, whose season runs a bit longer thanks to shady growing conditions. Remember to hunt the new nettle crop in the fall. Eat more nettle.
You can eat it! Really! The bud clusters, before they flower, are the gateway edible part (I also tried the flower clusters but was less charmed, mainly due to texture). I picked some buds. I noted the milky sap running down my hand. I wondered if this was such a hot idea.
I blanched them, which neutralized anything suspicious about them.
Then I made fritters in a little simple batter of rice flour and egg, and found them so mild and agreeable that the next batch I just blanched, then stir-fried like broccoli.
Milkweed goals: eat the pods this summer and remember to try the new shoots next spring, which some would have you believe can be eaten like asparagus. Also: leave plenty of milkweed for this guy here below.
Another easy home-run in the edible weed category: plentiful, easily identified, delicious and good for you. Treat it like spinach, meaning lightly blanched or steamed or stir-fried. Make that green goo.
Lamb's quarter goals: try to freeze more of it. (I am generally too busy eating it to think of saving any for later.) It's potently good, chasing the last remnants of winter from one's inner reaches.
The chamomile at my parents' house, like the dill and a few other rogue characters, has naturalized itself, crossing the border between cultivated and wild beast. I tried Alana's version of roasted rhubarb, deeply skeptical that the mushy mess I had made of roasted rhubarb up to this point could be avoided by the counter-intuitive addition of liquid to the process, but lo (and also behold, above), it totally can. Lacking the rosé she called for, I used white wine. Possessing copious handfuls of fresh chamomile sprigs, I subbed that for the ginger. Oh, my. That was tasty. You do have to pluck the little dears out after cooking (using a full sprig, rather than a photogenic but impractical scattering of blooms, would simplify this step) as their texture is not delightful, but the flavor was worth the tweezing.
Pretty much anything I can get my hands on
Just about every herb and weed that crosses my path these days is being dried and combined with salt and sesame seeds, to make a gomasio seasoning that delivers flavor and nutrition to anything that will sit still long enough to receive it (a salad, an egg, an avocado, some popcorn, or buttered toast, or...). We've been powering through a batch with ramp, nettle & dandelion, and another with chive blossoms and nettle, and next time out I think it will be lemon balm (Jane's idea!) and maybe some basil or the lime leaves my friend in California mails to me in envelopes that make the mailbox smell like a very restorative vacation. Or maybe I'll make a version of this one.
Make some! It's easy. First you dry some herbs. Then you toast some sesame seeds. Grind these things up (I like to grind half the seeds, and leave the other half whole). Then you mix it until you like it, adding good salt (or not), maybe some heat. If it tastes good (to you), it IS good (because you will use it).
Things to remember
- Start your weed-eating with easy-to-identify plants.
- Pick your weeds with good sense: away from roads and away from heavily cultivated fields, both of which could contaminate the little dears (and you, by extension).
- Pick some but not all of what you find, leaving plants behind to go to seed and to otherwise fulfill their mission.
Blessings on your forage. Let me know what wild thing you ventured to try!