Sunday, May 8, 2016

Foraged spring soup: greenbriar and potato

Happy Mother's Day! In the spirit of the day, here is a wildcrafted dish that would be perfect with brunch! And it comes together quickly, so you and mom can spend the morning together in the woods, and whip this up when you get back.

You know how spring greens just seem to pair naturally with potatoes? I think it's because, at the end of a hard winter, our ancestors would only have root vegetables left, and they would be eager to mix them up with those sweet, fresh, first greens of spring. In addition to much needed variety and nutrition, wild greens would have given our forefathers a food source when they most needed it: when their own reserves were spent from the winter, but when planted crops hadn't yet begun to produce.

So I made this dish with that heritage in mind.

Leaving the skin on the potatoes increases the nutrition. To keep the dish vegan, but to add some meatiness, I think a garnish of sautéed mushrooms would really complete this soup well. Next time!

I have to be honest, I did not expect this soup to turn out THIS well! The greenbriar has an excellent leek-like taste, especially with the additional onions. Plus something about the flavor really reminds me of dill, which goes so well with the potatoes.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Identifying and sustainably harvesting Smilax (greenbriar, carrionflower)

Smilax species, often called greenbriars, bullbriars, or catbriars, are a plant not often addressed in foraging circles, and I'm not sure why. Maybe because identification, while actually pretty easy, seems so complicated at first.

Identification difficulty: Novice

I was scared to eat greenbriar too; I had tried it when in the company of more experienced foragers, but unwilling to forage it on my own.

After all, it has over 300 varieties, with a wide array of leaf shapes, colors and mottling. Leaves are a big part of identification, and it's easy to get distracted by the differences. And then there's the berries, which can be dramatically different too: red, blue, black, hanging in clusters like grapes or in pairs or globes! Finally, there are so many dangerous vines to look out for, it just seemed like too much risk to  take.

Well after spending a little time with the plant, which grows abundantly in Texas, I'm pleased to say that greenbriar are actually a very easy ID.  Yes, the leaves of different varieties look different from each other, but they do have key similarities, and leaf shape is only a secondary element to identification.

As always, please read the disclaimer before using these tips to identification.

Greenbriar quick history

Smilax is a rite of spring in the Black Sea region, like Turkey and Georgia (the country). It was also used in Central and South America to enhance male libido. Early European settlers brewed a drink from the roots, early sarsaparilla, and used it not only as an aphrodisiac, but also to treat genital diseases, like syphilis. I would seriously doubt it's effectiveness on STDs, but I'll leave amorous experimentation up to you.