Wednesday food post: Foraging, Part 1

One of my big goals over the next couple of years is to get better at identifying local edible plants and harvesting them. I have visions of baskets of morels and wild asparagus, but we’ll see. Until then, I have my backyard. This time of year is a gold mine for finding fresh, local, amazingly nutritious foods just a few steps from your door. I am totally new at this, but I hope to do some interesting things with foraged foods this year. I’ll post about my adventures and discoveries through the season. As of the beginning of May, here’s what I’m seeing:

Pictured above are two edible plants in my area. 

Clover is very nutritious and the whole plant can be eaten (flower, leaves, and roots). The young leaves are good in salads, but can be cooked as well. I mostly have had clover as a tea- but I’d like to try incorporating it into other foods. Anyway, it’s said to be really high in protein and is a good source of calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine and vitamin C.

Violets (although not African violets, those are not edible) are a beautiful flower that I see in almost everyone’s yard this time of year. Pansies are also related to this genus of plants. The flower and the leaves are both edible, although the roots are toxic if eaten. Many people candy violets and use them for decorations on cakes and things. You can also make a beautiful jam or syrup out of them. Otherwise they can be put in salads, dried, used for tea, or cooked like spinach. It’s a really good source of vitamin C. It is also said to enhance the medicinal effects of other herbs.

Dandelions. I love these. Did you know that the definition of a "weed" is just a plant that people don’t value? I would not consider the dandelion a weed… and it’s a shame that it is largely considered one. For one thing, it’s super nutritious. It’s got more beta carotene than carrots, more iron and calcium than spinach, and is a good source for vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E, P, and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc. They are kind of bitter, but they can be cooked and incorporated into other things if you don’t like bitter greens. This plant is very versatile, too. You can eat the whole thing raw, cook with it in a variety of ways (sautee the flowers in butter, steam the greens, put it into soups, etc.). You can also make jelly (which is really tasty! We got a jar last year from our old CSA), and many people like to make dandelion wine. I also recently tried dandelion root as a tea. It’s delicious and kind of nutty tasting. I plant to try to use this plant in a variety of ways over the next few weeks- I read that you can batter and fry the flowers like fritters! Weed? Nah.

And last, lamb’s quarters (or I’ve also heard it called "pigweed"). This plant is delicious as a young plant in salads or cooked like spinach and added to a variety of things. It’s a good source of niacin, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, dietary fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium, potassium, copper and manganese.

This is just scratching the surface. I got a book recently called Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants. I have so much to learn! I’m not a fan of supplements. I think they are hard on people’s bodies and organ systems, and are often times not even able to be absorbed properly. It’s my opinion that food is the way by which we are supposed to get all these vitamins and nutrients, and we should be eating according to our nutritional needs. Basically, people need to eat a lot more green foods. All of these plants I talk about are extremely nutritious and they are free and better used by your body than a multivitamin. I also am of the mind that if you don’t like leafy green foods, then you will grow a taste for them as your body becomes better nourished. Just a theory, but I find greens to be extremely satisfying to eat, and I didn’t always.

Oh also, remember how I had all that volunteer kale that I had to use? Well, we turned them into chips! Jeff, Vera and I finished off the whole bowl, and Jeff couldn’t stop saying how cool they were. Basically, you just take the leafy part of the kale, wash it, cut it into uniform sizes, lightly coat with olive oil and salt, and roast at 350 for about 15-20 minutes or until just crispy and browned on the edges. They were great. I’m definitely doing these again. Recipes online have the addition of a little vinegar with the oil, or sometimes parmesan or other seasonings… I think we could have fun with these.

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I’ve got some water on to make some of my pregnancy tea blend (which has clover in it), and tonight I’ll be making a pigweed/dandelion potato dish, to go alongside some grilled steak and artichokes with butter. Mmm. 

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