Rose Hips

Rose Hips

Hubby and I were out looking for mushrooms on Thursday October 18 (which happens to be our anniversary – 38 years and counting!).  I really wanted some Hen of the Woods to make jerky with, but….we got skunked.  Well, not really, since we found a BIG Beautiful patch of Rose Hips.  Look at how gorgeous these are!!  Some of them were shriveled and dry, which is perfect because I’m going to dry them anyhow.  
 If you have rose bushes, you might be in the habit of pruning faded rose blossoms to encourage more flowers, but if you leave them, you will see these small, berry-like seed balls. 

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I thought about making some jelly with some of these berry-like seed pods.  It would be quite tasty….but….I don’t use a lot of jelly.  I drink a LOT of tea, though, so that’s what will happen with this bunch.  I’m going to put them in the dehydrator until they get crisp, then keep them in a glass jar until I’m ready to make a nice bright and tart and sunny-tasting tea, full of vitamin C.  Good stuff for dark, cold winter months. 
These were hips from Wild Roses in Northern Polk County, and you can use hips from virtually any roses at all – wild, shrub, vines or cultivated.   

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Here’s what the inside of the Rose Hips look like.  One thing to note here is the tiny, hair-like fibers that you can barely make out surrounding those seeds. If you want to make jam, pie, or anything that involves eating the entire berry, you will want to scoop those seeds out of the berry.  Those hair-like fibers don’t break down in the digestive process and they cause itching and discomfort on the, um, tail-end of the process.  You just don’t want that, trust me. 

I have noticed that I find Wild Rose Hips near water – on the South Shore of Lake Superior; near Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan, near McKenzie Creek in northern Polk County.  They are out there right now, go get yours.  🙂

Chokecherries

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The chokecherries are ready to harvest!  I don’t know why the birds haven’t gotten them all, but I’m glad!  Last weekend, hubby and I harvested 25# of these beauties, most of which are bubbling into wine right now.  We saved out a few pounds to make jelly and syrup with, too.  They are delicious when cooked, but very astringent when you eat them raw.  It feels like they suck the spit right out of your mouth, leaving it dry and feeling weird.  

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One of the ways to know you have chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) is to look on the leaf petiole (stem) to see if it has a couple of little glands – they look like tiny bumps, and you can see them here, just barely.  Black cherries hang in a long cluster, just like chokecherries, and can be used interchangeably.  

To make a syrup, I pull the little berries off the stems and put them in a pan with enough water to not-quite-cover them.  I simmer until they get good and soft and I start seeing the pits floating around, then strain the pits out, keeping as much of the pulp as I can.  (I like my syrup chunky….if you like it smooth, then you’ll want to use a finer mesh to strain just the juice).  I’ll put the chunky juice back into the pan with an equal amount of organic sugar, then boil until I can’t stir it down.  Cool and refrigerate.  So far the syrup I made has lasted a week in the fridge, and I am going to freeze it soon.  I’m using it to flavor my kombucha, and over ice cream.

Happy Trails!!

 

 

Sheep Sorrel

SheepSorrelSheep Sorrel is a summer delight.  Those interestingly shaped leaves – are they sheep heads with little tiny ears and big fat snouts? Or electric guitars? Or Arrowheads?  Whatever they are, they are tart, tangy and delicious.

I rarely cook Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), though it can add a nice tang to soups and hot dishes.  I prefer to eat it plain as a snack when I’m out in the yard, or else in my salads and smoothies.

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Sheep sorrel  grows in sunny spots, and I see it flowering along country roadsides everywhere.  As a member of the buckwheat family, it has a tall flower spike with tiny florets adorning it.  Unlike other plants, the leaves of Sheep sorrel stay tender and tasty even when it’s flowering.  It is hardy, too – it grows in our yard and gets mowed down over and over again….only to keep popping back up, over and over again.

Advice from Sheep sorrel: When life mows you down, dig your roots deeper and come back stronger.

Chickweed

Chickweed

This is such a pretty little plant, and delicious, too.  Chickweed (Stellaria media) is one of those nice wild greens that never gets bitter and can be good to eat all through the growing season.  The flavor is mild and tastes like summer.  I see it in a variety of places – alongside an old barn, out in a pasture, on the edge of the woods.  The long, leafy stems like to lay down, but if they get crowded with other plants, they will grow upright.

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At first glance, the Chickweed flowers look like they have 10 petals, but a closer look shows that there are really 5 deeply lobed petals.  This is a common trait in the Pink family, which Chickweed belongs to.  You might see a very small, sort of fuzzy plant that looks just like this, with the same kind of flower – that would be Mouse-ear Chickweed.  That one is edible, too.  Fuzzy food is not my favorite, so I just leave that one be.

I usually eat Chickweed raw in salads and smoothies.  I’ll go out and snip some stems with a scissors, then pull the leaves off the lower, tougher end of the stem.  The stem tips are usually tender enough to use.

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I see you there, baby Chickweed, growing in my strawberry bed, lol!!  It’s okay, you will make a nice ground cover, and since this is right out my back door, I won’t have to walk very far to pick some tender leaves for my salads.

 

 

 

Wild Violet

Wild Violet
Did you know that Wild Violet (Viola sororia) is Wisconsin’s State Flower?

I love this little flower, and it’s a good thing, because it grows ALL OVER my yard and property.  It is delicate and beautiful and it makes me happy to look at those sweet blossoms with their heart shaped leaves.  And they taste good, too.

The blossoms have sort of a nutty, raw-pea kind of flavor, and the leaves are just nice and mild.  I like to chop the leaves and put them in salads and fritters (my current-favorite way of using wild greens, recipe down below).  The flowers I’ll leave whole and put on top of salads and dips as an edible decoration. They make a nice presentation when bringing stuff for a pot-luck.

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These delicate, innocent-looking little plants grow very robustly, so I’m not worried about over-harvesting at all.  They are related to pansies and johnny jump ups, which are also edible flowers.  They grow around the edges of buildings and woods, where they get some shade for part of the day, and are happy no matter how much or little rain there is.

Okay, here’s the recipe for my current-favorite way of eating wild greens: Fritters!

  • 1 cup grated fleshy vegetable like sweet potato or zucchini.
  • 1/4 cup flour of choice (I like garbanzo bean flour)
  • 1 egg

Now here’s the fun part – chop up whatever wild greens you’ve got on hand, throw in about 1/4 cup (more or less, depending on taste) and mix it up good with the other ingredients.  Spoon onto a hot griddle with plenty of oil and flatten into a disc shape.  Fry until golden, flip and repeat.  These are delicious hot off the griddle or cold so they are great to pack in lunch boxes.

Enjoy!

 

 

5 Best Practices for Foraging

Here we go, Spring Foraging is about to come into full bloom!!  My plan is to feature one or two In-Season plants in each blog post from now until the deep, dark winter comes again.  To start us off, here is a list of Good Harvesting Practices to keep in mind.

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Don’t these look like very Friendly Foragers?
  1. First and foremost, before you eat a Wild Food, be absolutely sure of its identity, and Don’t Eat Something if You Don’t Know What it is.   (Go ahead, click the link, you won’t regret it) I often tell people that learning about Wild Foods isn’t hard, but it does take effort.  You can go to the grocery store and tell the difference between Lettuce and Cabbage, right?  Or Iceberg from Romaine Lettuce, right?   And if we were to confuse those lettuces at the grocery store, we’d still come home with food that is safe to eat.  That’s not always true in the wild, though……many plants have look-alikes and look-similars that will make us and our loved ones sick, so let’s be sure of what we’ve got.
  2. Get Permission.  If it’s not your own backyard, make sure you have permission to harvest.  On many local trails, parks and public land it’s perfectly fine to forage, but if you aren’t positive, make a phone call to be sure.
  3. Harvest from clean areas.  I like to be aware of whether the area has been sprayed with chemicals like herbicides and pesticides, and avoid those places.  In my county, most farmers use these things, so I’ll refrain from foraging near corn and soybean fields.  I have friends who employ a service to spray their lawns with weedkiller, so I don’t harvest from their yards, either.  I’m sure it’s not any different from what we find on conventionally grown foods in the grocery store….but…if I’m going through all this effort to find beautiful, nutritious Wild Foods, I’m going to make sure it’s organic, too.
  4. Harvest with the Plants’ health in mind.  We want these plants to thrive and keep growing so that we can continue to come to them for food and wisdom.  You’ll find a variety of ‘rules’ about How Much to pick – anywhere from 10% to 50% is what I’ve seen.  I don’t think any one percentage can be applied across the board.  A yard full of Dandelions would be hard to over harvest, in my mind, lol!!  I would say to be Mindful as you go, listen to your intuition, even go ahead and ask the plants themselves.  Be Friendly.  🙂
  5. Start Small.  It is a wise practice to eat ‘just a little bit’ when you are trying out new foods, whether they are Wild nor Not.  Everyone’s body is different, and you may be able to eat as much Chicken of the Woods as you want, but I know from experience that I cannot eat it at all.  (I’ll spare you the messy details…..)
  6. Okay, I know this is more than Five Best Practices, so consider this a Bonus: Have Fun!!  Get outside, enjoy the sunshine and the rain, take your kids and grandkids along, talk to the plants, listen to them, and enjoy the heck out of life every day.  Why not?

 

Tangents and Rabbit Holes

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Diving deep into Wild Food culture can land you in some really interesting places.  What started off for me as a cool way to get free food (foraging beats the pants off of Ultra-Couponing) has led me into some other very satisfying and creative endeavors. Here are some of my favorite tangents that foraging has led me to……

Botany: Well, you can hardly study Wild Foods without acknowledging some Botany, right? Knowing characteristics of Plant Families helps to narrow down the possibilities so we can more easily get to a positive ID.  A walk in the woods with my field guide has me looking up any interesting-looking plant these days.

Fermenting, Wine making, Cheese making: Successful foraging means you’ve got a bounty of wild foods, maybe even more than you can eat up.  You *could* share it with friends, but they *might* not appreciate it as much as you do…..so in comes Wine Making and Fermentation.  I could freeze those berries to make smoothies, but I prefer a nice bottle of blackberry wine, lol!  I can freeze or can fiddleheads and wild leeks, but lacto-fermenting them makes them SO delicious and even more healthy than they already are.  Cheese-making isn’t exactly a Wild Food thing, but once you start making wine and fermenting vegetables, it’s just going to happen…

Conservation: More and more I am finding myself talking and teaching about protecting plant and animal habitats.  We can’t very well forage or hunt if we destroy these things in the process, or allow others to destroy them with harmful practices.

Primitive Skills: Cordage and Willow Weaving are two new skills I’ve learned recently.  Eventually I want to try my hand at birch bark basket making, primitive fire starting, and gosh just all kinds of stuff……..

Outdoor fitness: Kinda comes with the territory, right? There’s a lot of hiking involved when we go looking for mushrooms, ramps, fiddleheads and berries!  Kayaking and canoeing are the methods we use to get Lotus Heads and Wild Rice.  And while we are spending all that time outside on trails and such, let’s try a little Geocaching, just for funsies……

Personal health: “Food is medicine”.  “You are what you eat”.  The more I learn about the foods I eat – not just the Wild Food – the more I feel empowered to keep myself healthy.

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Chicory….it’s just so darn pretty.

 

 

 

Tap, Sap, Syrup, Sugar

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Boiling Sap, it’s mesmerizing to watch

The Sap Moon is full as I write this, and the Maple Sap is flowing.  We’ve got 40 taps out right now, and the First Boil happened March 24 when our sons came and spent the day in the sugar shack while we were out and about.  They turned 55 gallons of sap into 1.5 gallons of syrup – it was a good day.

Second Boil happened March 29 – hubby boiled 50 gallons of sap down to 5 gallons for making Wine – an even better day!

Third boil happened April 1 – hubby went out to the sap buckets and poured out the tiny bit of sap that was trapped under the ice.  It was super concentrated, VERY sweet.  We had about a quart, and boiled it to 259 degrees, then stirred it into a cup and a half of Maple Sugar!  First time we’ve ever made it, and it was very fun and satisfying.

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Maple Sugar Goodness!

I’m enjoying drinking some Maple sap straight from the tree – it’s really sweet!  I’m using it to make tea, and to flavor my coffee, too.

Jars of Sap
Clear, cold and delicious!

 

Did you know that you can tap trees other than Sugar Maples, and make sryup with them, too? Walnut, birch, hickory, sycamore, ash, basswood and butternut all have sap that contains about one percent sugar. And other types of maples can be tapped too, like box elders, silver and black maple. Sugar maple’s sap is The Boss, though, because it contains 3-5 percent sugar, so it takes less sap to make syrup.  I’ll bet a person could drink the sap from those other trees, though, and it would taste yummy…………

Wild Mushroom Soup

Wild Mushrooms
Oh, the heavenly smell of Wild Mushrooms!!

A friend recently served me some Mushroom and Brie soup, and it was so delicious I had to try making some.  The wild-foraged mushrooms in my freezer were starting to look sad, so I used them all up in this soup: Oysters, Crown Corals and Pheasant Back.  I looked up a couple of recipes online, and then made up my own.  That’s how it’s done, right?

1/2 cup chopped onion, 1 cup mushrooms – saute in butter, add 1T Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 Cup brandy.  Pour a quart of chicken broth over the mixture, add 1 teaspoon dried thyme and a clove of crushed garlic.  When the broth gets hot, stick the immersion blender in and blend until it’s as smooth as you like.  Then add 8 oz of cubed Brie (I took the rind off) and 1 cup of cream.  I stirred and stirred but that Brie never melted all the way through, so I ate it with soft chunks.  I kinda liked it that way.

Bowl of Mushroom Soup
See that little chunk of cheese in the middle of the bowl? It was a tasty treat!

Okay, so my soup wasn’t as good as my friend’s, but I had fun making it and it wasn’t terrible.  Plus I’m eating Wild Mushrooms in the winter, so it’s a good day.