Sunday, July 8, 2018

Identifying hemlock, deadly plant, by its leaves. Resembles wild and cultivated carrots, parsley, celery and more.

Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) leaves closely resemble the leaves of several edible plants.
Skull image designed by Vecteezy

I want to talk to you about a plant that I HAVEN'T eaten.

Pin me!
I haven't eaten this plant, because if I had, I wouldn't still be here.

This plant is Conium maculatum, commonly known as Poison Hemlock. (Also: English or European hemlock, carrot fern, Devil's porridge, spotted hemlock, wild hemlock and poison parsley) It should probably be known as deadly hemlock, as it's one of the most dangerous wild plants you can encounter.

I have read that poison hemlock is so toxic, it has poisoned children who used the hollow stems as whistles -- simply the act of putting it to their lips and later licking them.

C. maculatum, and the closely related (and equally deadly) Water Hemlock (Cicuta species) are members of the greater Apiaceae family. The Apiaceae family is the carrot family, and provides us with many of our most important cultivated edibles, including carrots, parsley, parsnips, fennel, dill, coriander/cilantro, anise and celery. Europeans will also know the food plant "Alexanders".

Because the deadly hemlocks are so closely related to many edibles (including wild carrots/queen anne's lace, sweet cicely, cow parsley, and--more distantly, alexanders (Europe only), parsnips and fennel) they closely resemble them as well, and it's essential for any forager to completely familiarize themselves with hemlock BEFORE they attempt to eat any wild plants in the Apiaceae family.

It's a good thing for gardeners to know about this plant, as it can spring up in their garden, and will resemble carrots, parsley and celery.

But this post will help you safely identify and avoid poison hemlock.

Note: this post deals exclusively with the young, pre-flowering plant, when it is most likely to cause confusion with edible plants like carrot and parsley.

Friday, April 20, 2018

How to identify and forage redbud: early spring flowers, mid spring veggies

Identification difficulty: Beginner 

If you live in the Southern, Mid-Atlantic, or Western states of the US, there's a good chance you know redbud, even if you don't think you know it.

Redbuds are the earliest splash of color seen among the trees, even before most leaves are starting to bud. It looks like a fairy passed though and completely encircled the branches in vivid pink. Everything about redbud is charming: beautiful pink flowers, heart shaped leaves, and delicate branches.

They are lovely. . . and edible! In the early - mid spring, redbud flowers add unique flavor and stunning color to a variety of dishes. Young leaves can be cooked, or used sparingly in salads. Late in the spring, you can enjoy the most robust edible from this spectacular tree: the soft green seed pods.

Redbud trees are in the genus Cercis, and the most commonly encountered is Cercis canadensis, the Eastern redbud. Despite the name "canadensis",  it's more thoroughly distributed in the United States than in Canada.

Redbuds are great for urban and suburban foraging, as they are often planted in neighborhoods along sidewalks, and I see them a lot on corporate campuses, in parking lots, and along park/bike trails.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Backyard weed Green Goddess dressing with Greek yogurt. Gluten free, keto, made with cleavers and henbit.

A healthier take on green goddess dressing. This swaps greek yogurt for mayonnaise, and add in some of the earliest, freshest, wild green herbs of spring. 

I don't know why it never occurred to me before, to make a dressing using edible weeds. It seems like such a simple, obvious idea; but then sometimes its harder to think of the simple stuff, right?

A green goddess dressing seemed like the perfect homage to spring. In name, anyway.

The original "green goddess" dressing dates from the early 1920s, and was named for a famous play, not because of it's use of natural, fresh spring ingredients. In fact, the original green goddess dressing is none too healthy, being mostly mayonnaise thinned out with a little vinegar, and given the barest green tint with a few herbs.

This version remedies that by removing the mayo, adding in greek yogurt, and kicking up the herbs to be the major ingredient, rather than just a flavoring. Plus, I used wild foraged herbs, ones that you can most likely find in your own backyard.

Henbit can easily take over an entire field, turning it to soft purple. I love it for it's abundant growth (great for sustainability) and for it's strong, herbal flavor. 

I chose to use cleavers, (Galium aparine) and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) because they both have such strong, herbal flavors. There's also a TON of garlic in this dressing, so it packs a ton of flavor.  If you don't love garlic as much as I do, cut my amount by half.

Any strongly flavored wild herb would probably do well in this dressing, like creeping charlie, wood sorrel, lemon balm, bergamot/bee balm, speedwell or goldenrod (later in the year). Or if you like milder flavors you could try nettles or docks.

 Veggie burgers: it's what for din. . .I mean lunch. 
Both cleavers and henbit are invasive species from Eurasia, though they have become more or less naturalized here in North America; their status as invasive species makes them excellent for sustainablity.

I've been enjoying this dressing on EVERYTHING this week: salads, meat, and it's versatile enough to double as a dip (really good for cucumber slices and crudités).

I made it in tandem with these chickpea and curly dock burgers that I posted the other day and they've been a great, quick lunch to heat up as needed. 

Cleavers are one of the most robustly-flavored wild herbs you can gather. 

Green goddess dressing made with greek yogurt and backyard weeds

Makes about 3 cups, can be halved. Total time: >10 minutes.

3 cups of packed cleavers
2 cups of packed henbit
10.5 oz. plain, unsweetened, fat-free greek yogurt (2 individual-size servings)
4-5 bulbs of wild garlic, or 4-5 cloves of cultivated garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
juice of half a lemon
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper.
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add in your cleavers and boil for about 2 minutes, stirring regularly.  Add in your henbit and blanch for another minute. Drain.
  2. Working in batches if needed, add your cooked greens and all other ingredients to a food processor. 
  3. Dressing will keep in the fridge for 5 days. Remember to store in glass, not plastic or metal. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Foraging recipe: veggie burgers with chickpeas and edible weeds, vegetarian and gluten-free

All week long I've been eating these veggie burgers/patties, just dripping with the foraged green goddess dressing.
I'll share the dressing recipe soon!

I love me a good veggie burger. (I love a good meat burger too!)

But I've never met a pre-formed frozen patty that I could actually call a good veggie burger. Not even the expensive, organic ones from places I rarely shop in. Part of the problem, I think, is that too many veggie burgers try to be meat substitutes. They try to emulate the texture, and in some cases, the flavor of ground beef.

I guess that makes sense for vegetarians and vegans, who might be craving something they can't have. But, since I am not a vegetarian, I eat plenty of actual beef. So when I want a veggie burger, it's because I am deliberately seeking out the unique flavors, textures and even colors that you can't get with meat.

Of course, some frozen veggie burgers DON'T go the meat substitute route, but they are still a product specifically designed to be mass-produced and shipped and stored in a frozen state for an indeterminate length of time, and reheated through whatever technique the user desires. They are formed first for connivence, and only second for flavor.

This time I used wild curly dock. These burgers are also good with nettles or sow thistle.
Not a forager? Try spinach or kale instead.

My version of a good veggie burger uses a lot of leafy greens. This time I opted for curly dock, because it was abundant and looking super tasty. Sometimes I use nettles, sow thistle, wild mustard greens, pokeweed or lambsquarters, or a mix of any of the above.

I use beans. Depending on the flavor profile I'm aiming for, I usually use black beans (with Mexican seasonings), chickpeas (with Indian or Middle Eastern flavors), or white beans (cannelloni) with Italian seasonings.

This time I mixed it up. I was craving an Italian twist, but I had chickpeas on-hand. As Bob Ross would have said, "It's your world. There are no mistakes, just happy accidents."

If you're thinking that these veggie burgers sound a lot like the pokeweed veggie patties I shared last year, you're right. And I'll probably share something similar next year, I simply love having a lot of these patty/burgers, made from different ingredients, on hand.