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.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Creamed wild greens with Greek yogurt: vegetarian, high-protein, low carb, low fat, gluten-free optional

Non-foragers, don't run away, although I made this dish with wild, foraged greens, you could easily make it with spinach or kale--and it would still be a healthier take on the creamed side dish.

Spring is officially ON in north Texas, and a lot of our freshest, tenderest wild greens are peeking out above the duff. But it can still be chilly, this year more than most, with temperatures in late February dipping into the 30s. And cold weather craves comfort food.

This dish makes great use of 3 invasive species: bastard cabbage (Rapistrum rugosum) a member of the mustard/cabbage family, curly dock (Rumex crispus), and this field garlic, I'm not sure which one it is, but if you get that garlic smell, it's an edible garlic.

If you don't have either of these wild greens, feel free to sub any mustard greens, lambsquarters, dandelion greens, sow thistle, spinach, kale, etc.

Bastard cabbage, Rapistrum rugosum.
All members of the cabbage/mustard family are edible,
if you can identify them properly.

Curly dock, Rumex crispus. An abundant, invasive wild edible,
available throughout North America.
I have a post on how to ID this plant, see below for more.

As yet unidentified wild garlic. It appears to be a hybrid with
invasive crow garlic, Allium vineale

One of the best things about this meal is that it can be on the table in under 20 minutes, and only uses one pot!!! So easy for cleanup as well. It makes a great side dish for grilled meat, or to help stretch out leftovers.

This dish is vegetarian, low in carbs, low in fat, low sugar, high in protein, and gluten-free optional.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Pickled wood ear mushroom relish and how to use it. From foraged wild mushrooms.

My pickled wood ear mushroom relish on grilled Polish sausage with 2 kinds of mustard, grilled peppers and caramelized onions. It tastes as good as it looks!

Wood ear mushrooms are generally regulated exclusively to Asian cuisine, where they are revered as both food and medicine. A Google search will reveal recipes for hot and sour soup, spicy Sichuan salad and the occasional stir-fry.

All great recipes (I've shared my version of hot and sour and Sichuan salad before), but I had to wonder: is there a way for this easy-to-identify wild mushroom to enter main-stream American cuisine?

Wood ear mushroom (also known as tree ear, jelly ear and Latin name: Auricularia auricula), faces a couple of huge challenges.

First, it looks like this:

Despite their unappetizing appearance, wood ear mushrooms have
no flavor, and absorb the taste of whatever you cook them with. 

And second, it has a weird, gelatinous, crunchy texture.

But taste? It doesn't taste bad, in fact, it doesn't really taste like anything. Which is what gave me the idea to pickle it and create a relish.

After all, a good relish is crunchy (wood ear: check) and absorbs the flavors of the vinegar and spices (wood ear: check). Why a relish over a traditional snack pickle? I'm not sure, except I was bored with just pickling things, and I also felt the thin flesh of the wood ear wouldn't hold up as well as a snack food.

The important thing is that they came out great!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Foraging: how to identify turkey tail mushrooms for natural, cancer-fighting medicines. 4 simple steps

The medicinal turkey tail mushroom is in the foreground here, showcasing it's iconic banding and zoning.

 Identification difficulty: Beginner 

Hi everyone!

Last year I posted about how to dry turkey tail mushrooms and make a cancer-fighting and immune-strengthening tea.

Now I'm back, because new research has come up in the past year, and I can provide updated information on just how turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) are performing in their clinical trials. (Here's a hint: they are doing well) and also science has given us more information on dosage and potential adverse reactions. (There aren't many). I will cover the updated research in a future post.

But for now, I want to show you how to identify Trametes versicolor (previously known as Coriolus versicolor) on your own, if you find it in the woods. Right now, preparations of this mushroom are only produced by a few suppliers, and are therefor expensive. However, this is a widely-distributed fungus, and frequently fruits abundantly, so there is no reason why you can't forage it on your own for free.

Special note on Turkey Tails: I have listed this ID as a beginner level difficulty. In fact, it can actually be quite hard to tell Trametes versicolor from some other varieties of Trametes. However, none of these similar looking mushrooms are poisonous, which is why I still consider this a beginner level mushroom.

So, let's talk turkey!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Vegetarian, foraged oyster mushroom chowder

It's important to know the right mushroom for every task.

When you go to buy oyster mushrooms in the store, you will find that the caps are very small (less than 2" across) and still feature "in-rolled" edges. Basically the edges of the caps roll down and under, towards the gills. This is considered the best time to eat oysters, as they have not yet released their spores, and the flesh is at it's most firm and meaty.

They basically look like this:

When the caps are still rolled down towards the gills,
oyster mushrooms have their best firmness. 

It's easy to harvest "optimal" mushrooms when you are farm-raising them. But in the wild, you generally don't have the luxury, unless you know a spot you can visit every day. Most often the oysters you find in the wild will have flat caps, occasionally with rippled and/or cracked edges. They will mostly look like this:

Older oyster mushrooms are less firm, and work best in soups,
gravies, and after being dried and reconstituted.

Older oyster mushrooms, like the ones above, loose some of that firmness, and are less meaty. Some foragers will even bypass these "spongy" specimens, but they still have a lot of flavor, and are perfect in the right application. By pureeing these mushrooms, like in soups or gravies, you avoid the texture issues.

You can also dehydrate older oyster mushrooms. Once reconstituted, they will have a unique texture--not firm and "mushroomy" like the young ones, but more meaty, almost rubbery a bit. Rather like cooked clams, which is what made me want to try this dish.

Being a native New Englander living in Texas, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with the desire for foods I simply can't get around here. Sometimes it's lobster rolls, but most often it's clam chowder.  I'd heard that oyster mushrooms can make a passible substitute for clam chowder, and I was highly skeptical, but I decided to give it a shot.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wild mushroom chicken marsala with foraged oyster mushrooms

So much for my plan to post new content every week.

This happens to me every so often, I get overwhelmed with life and have to withdraw from online socialization for a while.

Then to make matters worse, I developed plantar fasciitis, and have been struggling with it for months. Finally, with the help of new sneakers (I've spent a small fortune trying different pairs), and a lot of reflexology, I'm feeling good enough to forage again. However, I can only go on the weekends, as I have to get a foot massage afterwards, to keep things from tensing up again. I've only been feeling this good for a couple of weeks, so hopefully it keeps up.

Of course, the past few weeks have had incredibly unseasonable cold here in the DFW area, so I wouldn't have been out anyway. And a lot of the plants and mushrooms I enjoy in December were killed off by the low temps. Still, this weekend reached the upper 60s, and I was able to get out into the woods, where the mild temps and moisture created an oyster mushroom fungal bloom!

This is my take on your classic chicken marsala recipe. It’s pretty standard except for the use of wild mushrooms (in this case oysters) and the addition of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and aged balsamic.

I’m going to soapbox for a bit about oyster mushrooms, and human/forest interaction. If you just want the recipe, please feel free to skip down to where you see the recipe subhead.