Sheep 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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…..)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…………
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.
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.
This winter has been savage, even for Wisconsin. Long stretches of way-too-many-degrees below zero. Too cold to enjoy being outside, but perfect for snuggling up with a good Story. I’ve been hunting down books and movies that contain foraging, wild foods, botany and/or herbalism as part of the story line. These are not ‘how-to’ videos and books, these are just regular movies and novels in which the characters are foraging mushrooms, eating wild foods, studying plants, and making herbal medicine. These are just a few of the many Stories out there……
Now, Forager: This is a movie about a young married couple who sell wild mushrooms to high-end restaurants. The husband wants to go All In, ditch the apartment and travel the Mushroom Trail, and the wife wants to settle down, stop foraging and get a more stable job. It’s a little bit sad, but it was a good story.
A Cry in the Wild: This movie is based on the young adult book “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. It’s about a teen boy who survives on his own in the wilderness after the small plane he was traveling on crashes. It was made in the 90’s, it’s a little cheesy, but I enjoyed it.
Against the Wild: Another movie with some kids surviving a small plane crash, this time there’s a dog, too. It’s terrible. I’m not kidding, The acting was so bad it was painful, and I couldn’t even finish watching it.
The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldon. I’m not really sure how to describe these books. It is my hands-down All-Time Favorite book series. I’ve read most of the 8 books (9th one is being written) twice, and will probably read them again when the next book is finally published. The main character is a WWII nurse who accidentally time-travels to Scotland in the 1700’s. Herbalism, witch hunts, revolution, love, lust and everything else you’d want for an epic adventure.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett. A scientist is in the Amazon jungle working on the next new wonder drug, and disappears. Another scientist goes looking for her, and he disappears. Another scientist goes looking for both of them, and finds a whole bunch of stuff. It’s disturbing, exciting, thought provoking and some of the characters are from Minnesota.
The Mushroom Hunters: This is the true story of foodie writer Langdon Cook, who tags along with some rough-and-tumble sort-of-outlaws who forage mushrooms full time. Super interesting, well-told, and I finished the book knowing that I’d never be tempted to live that sort of life!
Today’s Tea: Fresh White Pine needles and some dried Rose Hips. So simple, so delicious. I picked up a few wind-fallen pine twigs, pulled the needles off and cut them up into a quart jar. Threw a handful of dried Rose Hips in the jar, topped it off with almost-boiling water, capped it to keep those volatile oils in, and steeped it for a couple hours to get as much vitamin C as possible. It’s mild and smooth, and I drink it hot or cold. I noticed when it was cold I could taste more of the tartness of the Rose Hips, but either way it’s refreshing and nourishing.
You can use most Pines and Spruces for teas, with the exception of Yew, Ponderosa Pine, and Norfolk Island Pine. In addition to having lots of Vitamin C, pine needle teas help loosen congestion and are high in antioxidants. Good stuff!