Friday, June 07, 2013

Recent Harvest

Seems like winter lasted up into may this year, then we had three months of spring happen in three weeks. Here's a few of th' fine goods we've been harvesting and eating lately. 

Milkweed shoots. Pick these before they form flowers buds, while they're still rapidly growing, and cook them anyway you'd cook asparagus. They are similar in shape and texture, but have a much better flavor, in my opinion. We like to eat them raw, but i have heard of some people getting sick from th' raw ones, nevertheless, th' flavor is much better than when cooked, so try one or two raw before you cook them, you won't get sick off of so few, and your taste buds will  be glad you did. Below are some grilled with fish, peppers and shallots. Those were good.

A few days ago we pounded and leached acorns for this mornings breakfast. 

Acorn waffles with butter and maple syrup
Then i headed into th' mountains with Alex, or Axe, as Fynn calls him to a spot we've come to call "Th' Garden". Me and Alex have an ongoing skills trade agreement, which is nice, because skill sharing is better than reading books, or laboring away solo for years. I'm learning hide tanning, among a host of other skills, and he's learning foraging, and bowmaking. Plus, it helps us all to hone our skills. It's easy to impress folks who have little experience in an area, it's something else to show off your skill to someone with experience. Helps you to always get better. Never settle for mediocre. 

We picked wild Violet flowers. 

And stinging nettle. Sorry for th' blurry picture. 

We munched dandelion flower stalks, and came to understand that stalks with flowers are more bitter than stalks with seedpods. Try it for yourself. 

One of my favorite things in th' world is walking barefoot through a mountain stream surrounded by food. We harvested a bag of raspberry leaves to dry for tea. We got rained on. And we ate Cow Parsnip. A flavor i crave every year, that tastes like no other, and cannot be bought in any store. 

We peeled and ate thistle stalks and petioles, and collected a bunch to make pickles. Thistles are very juicy, like a cucumber or a watermelon, and th' ones up here were enormous. 
Here's a thistle garden. I know you can't see how big these really are, but some of th' stalks were two inches in diameter, and full of fresh filtered water.

30 pounds of thistle in this bundle.

To eat th' flower stalks you need to peel the outer layer of fiber, or just break it in half and scrape it off with your teeth. To eat th' leaf petioles, just scrape off th' spines and eat. 

Another exciting find was th' positive identification of a new to us and very useful food, Wyeth Biscuitroot. This was a north american native peoples staple food, and another root vegetable, which is where th' calories are. 

Th' root at this time of year was fibrous and dry, but it had a good flavor. We'll be back for more in th' fall, and next spring, th' root season. Th' leaves have a flavor very much akin to fennel and dill, which we'll dry for spice. I love foraging because there is always a new plant to learn, and biscuitroot is one i've been after for a while now, and now that i know it, i'm finding it in great abundance. It's amazing how you can see a plant for years, and then one day, when you realize what it is, you see it in a brand new light. I look forward to many new experiences with this plant, and it's cousin, th' yampa. 

To finish th' day we gathered two good sized bags of Black Locust flowers. These are too good for words, but Alex says they taste like they look. Try some and see what you think. 

And, just for th' icing on th' cake, we found a four and a half foot roadkill bull snake, which we promptly skinned, and is now waiting to go on a bow's back.

All in all, it was a good day.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Foraging Tour and Oil Lamps

We just led our first official Foraging tour, and were pleasantly surprised at how well it went. We had about twenty folks there, and planned th' tour for two hours. But as always with foraging, there's no end of surprises. 

There were lots of kids, and they found a nice little hobo shelter to play in while we talked about th' yellow dock plant, and learned how to twist dogbane into a nice string, which me and Josh used for oil lamp wicks.

Rosemary with a nicely twisted string

th' kids in their hobo shelter

Friday, May 10, 2013

Stalking th' wild Asparagus, and other spring goodies

I awake- have a cup of coffee and read the asparagus chapter from Euell Gibbbon's Stalking the Wild Asparagus. That's my goal today. Asparagus.

Spring greens are growing like weeds around here. Oh wait, they are weeds. Anyway, started off th' harvesting with some Salsify plants, also known as Oyster roots.

Oyster roots
  At first glance Salsify looks a lot like th' grass it grows amongst. You gotta put on your "Salsify Eyes", and then they stand out from th' crowd.
You can eat  this whole plant, th' tops tasting like a sweet, almost creamy green,
a good addition to a salad. But th' cream of th' crop here is th' root, which when roasted or baked becomes an incredible delicacy that can't be bought from a store. We wrote a previous post on these, and how to find them amongst th' grass in which they grow, and that they hide very well amongst.

From there it was on to the asparagus. It was just beginning to sprout, mostly what i harvested was tips, but oh were they good tips. In th' words of a first time asparagus forager who accompanied me, "it tastes like,,,,th' way food should taste." 

Like th' Salsify, you gotta put on your "Asparagus Eyes" when huntin these guys. 
Asparagus spreads by rhizomes, so Look for last years stalks, and check th' ground around them. Below is a picture of an old Asparagus stalk, on th' right, and a yet to be identified plant whose stalk looks kinda similar, and usually grows in th' same location. With a little experience, these old stalks look unique, and can be told apart even from a vehicle moving thirty miles an hour down th' road.

 Below are some blanched spears, or spears that've grown under debris, making them white, and tender, more so than th' green ones poking up into th' sun.

Also on the agenda, i got us a good Curly Dock harvest. 

This is a hearty green, which makes a mean saag paneer, and goes really well in lasagne, or enchiladas. And it's one of our most easily identifiable wild foods. Just look for last years rust colored seed stalks. 

And some bitter lettuce, or compass plant. These truly are bitter, but still make a good cooked vegetable, and if you've built up your bitter palate, in this stage they are quite good. It's called compass plant because when it gets older all of it's leaves turn and face th' same direction, ie, that of th' sun. 

And there's always something unexpected waiting to be found. Like a toy boat sailing amidst a patch of Watercress.

And still, after almost a month, thanks to our late season coldness and excessive snow/rain, we're harvesting th' purple "Musk" Mustard. 

I love my job. Being a professional forager definitely isn't going to make anyone rich, monetarily. But when i find a diversity of vegetables greater than i can buy in th' supermarkets, and th' only price i have to pay is being outside gathering them, observing th' world i love, sometimes with th' people i love, getting hot, getting rained on, getting wet, drying off, seeing a fawn and it's mother grazing in a field, watching th' clouds dance above,  i find it an acceptable price to pay. Especially when th' view from my "office" looks like this.

Or when i'm gazing upon Ft. Collins' hidden canyon.

In th' words of Madeleine L'Engle, "Being alive is a marvelous, precarious mystery, and few people appreciate it."


Friday, April 19, 2013

Foraging East Texas

There are a few frontiers left in th' world today, and th' world of plants is one of them. Even right here in my hometown, there are multitudes of plants that we are still learning about, and many of which we know absolutely nothing. We recently traveled to my homeland of East Texas, and though i spent my childhood here, i've been gone long enough for it to seem like we had entered into a new frontier. From both a cultural and climatic point of view, we might as well have been in a foreign country. 

We left Colorado just ahead of a spring snow storm, and when it really set in that we were entering a new land was when i found recently fallen acorns beneath a Texas live oak tree. Note how th' leaves look nothing like our more typical oak trees. These are called live oaks because they are evergreens, uncommon amongst deciduous trees, even in Texas. These were found in north Texas, off old highway 287, near Oklahoma.

Texas Live Oak

live oak acorns
We spent th' night at a rest stop south of Dallas, and awoke to find Wild Carrots all over th' place. Throughout th' rest of our stay we saw more wild carrots than just about any other plant. They grew nearly everywhere, from th' highway medians, to th' ditches to peoples frequently mowed lawns. Wild Carrot does resemble poison Hemlock, please know that you've got th' right plant before even tasting one of these, as one bite of poison hemlock could be your last. We have a friend who, just to prove she had found wild carrot, took a piece of a leaf and bit it, she instantly realized her mistake, but it was too late. She very nearly died. Th' plant she bit was poison Hemlock. Th' most obvious distinguishing feature is that carrots have hair all over them, and hemlock does not. Below are three pictures of wild carrot, and a picture of poison hemlock, and though they are and do look different, in th' field they are surprisingly similar. Be careful. Most poisonous plants just taste bad and you spit them out, no harm done, Hemlock is not like that, one bite and you're in big trouble. Do yourself a favor, and really get to know these guys before eating. With that said, once you know a wild carrot and a hemlock, they are not hard to tell apart, just pay attention. Wild carrot is a good food that should not be overlooked for fear of Hemlock.

Wild carrot first year rosette

sane plant pulled up

Wild Carrots adorned all th' roadsides in East Texas
Poison Hemlock leaf

 Here's a picture of th' Texas state flower, th' Blue Bonnet. I love these because they grow in giant patches, amongst all the other wild flowers, and cover th' medians and road sides in brilliant hues. I imagine a time before roads, and think how colorful th' world used to be.

We stayed at my grandparents place on th' western most border of th' great piney woods, a forest which extends (or used to) from the Atlantic all th' way to east Texas. At this time of year, which would be early summer there, so many plants were growing, and all different from what we're used to here in Colorado, that we felt like hungry kids walking through a salad. It seemed as though you could close your eyes and just eat anything. It felt like we were in th' Garden of Eden. Any plant we found abounded, nothing was rare if it was there. Of th' treasures we found were Japanese Honeysuckle. 

The yellow and white flowers on the left are honeysuckle. The red ones on th' right are yet to be identified, please leave us a comment if you know what they are. When i was a kid we used pick the yellow flowers and pull th' stamen out of the bottom, which would bring with it a tiny ball of nectar. Then we'd suck on that and do it again and again and again, maybe hundreds of times. I still don't know of anything that tastes so good. 

 Another favorite was th' wood sorrel, or Oxalis species. Again, these abounded. They have a pleasingly tart flavor, reminiscent of lemon, and are good added to sandwiches and salads, as well as munched on while walking around.
 We found both purple and yellow flowering sorrels, with th' purple ones having much larger leaves, but both tasted excellent.

wood sorrel in midday sun closes up

 While wandering around, we had no choice but to admire th' overhanging canopies of oak- something we don't see here in northern Colorado.

We harvested loquats, which are a Chinese native fruit that has become naturalized in many parts of th' south. And just like pecans, they ripen and fall to th' ground for th' animals, while people go to th' store and buy fruit. Strange. Because these are really really good fruits, tasting something like a pear and a plum.

Texas Loquats
On a trip to the ocean we found some beachside goods to eat. First, below th' whale shark, is a giant black nightshade bush. These provide tasty leaves and berries, which are like a pepper flavored tomato. These won't even begin to sprout for more than a month here.

And here is some large purslane, on th' left, with leaves bigger than my thumb, and on th' right an unknown plant, resembling amaranth, but succulent. We ate a bit of it and it tasted like amaranth, if you recognize this one, please let us know, as we've not been able to find it in any book or online source.

 And here's th' Sea Rocket, a member of th' Brassica family, with characteristic mustard flavor, and a little salt, due to it's being found on th' beach.

Sea Rocket (Cakile spp.)

purslane and ?

 Heading back inland from th' beach we stopped at a gas station and in th' neighboring field found these...

Yep, ripe black raspberries and mulberries. Our Blackberries haven't even sprouted yet, but here we are munching fresh picked berries in April. There are only a couple of Mulberry trees were we live, so these were a real treat for us. Mulberries are juicy and taste like sweet corn, and unlike black and raspberries, th' seeds are pleasant to eat, making this a most agreeable berry.

We also found Cleavers, Wild grape, not yet fruiting, and a new favorite, Smilax. Smilax is a vine that grows all over th' woodlands, and we ate th' tender, still growing tips whenever we could. They also produce large edible tubers which were a staple crop for th' natives to this area.


Wild Grape

There were cat's ears...resembling a cross between a dandelion and a salsify.

And Pink Primrose (Oenothera speciosa), which is actually an evening primrose, not related to th' true Primrose (Primulaceae). As we child we called these Buttercups, and would ask unknowing victims to smell them, while we'd touch them to their nose leaving a bright yellow pollen mark, which our victims might not have known about were it not for our uncontrollable laughter. These have edible leaves, flowers, and roots which are very potent, like horseradish.

Pink Primrose
And Heal-All, (prunella vulgaris) which we harvested to dry for tea. This, like every good plant, is both food and medicine, as it's name suggests. Good for what ails ya- it can be eaten raw, or dried and used for tea, or tinctured fresh. It's benefits include all around wellness- sore throat and cold relief, and it stops bleeding. Drink it often to stay healthy, or to restore health during and after an illness.

Self Heal
And wild Onions.

Wild onion patch.

We also found Ground beans (apios, though i failed to get a picture). I am really excited about these, and though it was not th' season to harvest th' beans, i know where they live, and should i return fall, winter or spring, look out.

And here's another plant that abounds in th' east Texas woods. Don't make a salad out of this plant.

Poison Ivy.
I am highly allergic to poison ivy, and have tried every remedy known to man, save for a few. What works best if you get a rash is to wash it at least three times a day with pine tar soap, then rub aloe vera leaf gel on it. It's the only thing that has ever worked for me. But if you do it as soon as you notice th' rash, or th' plant you might have touched, it will save you from two weeks of hell.

Coming from th' north, after a long winter, to a land flowing with nectar and greens was truly a treasure for us all. But i realized something on this trip, for i've found many treasures in my life. Finding a treasure is a great thing, but th' true miracle is th' change that occurs in th' seeker. You can wait around all your life for a miracle, or you can wake up, and be th' person you were meant to be.

And two days later we returned home to almost two feet of snow.
In Mid April.