Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A-Foraging I Go...

Spring thunderstorms roll today; the fifth day of gray raininess.

In between the rains I can go foraging through the gardens. Both cultivated and wild plants provide new growth for me to plunder.

The basket of goodies above made up most of the salad that I had for dinner last night. Spinach from last fall's planting, new and tender horseradish leaves, and one Purple Passion Asparagus spear made up the cultivated portion -- along with a few leaves from my potted lettuce.

On the wild side were chickweed (my favorite), cleavers (it's Everywhere), wild violet leaves, and wild violet flowers (aren't they pretty?).

I topped it with slivers of roasted beets (red and yellow), chopped chives, and a drizzle of olive oil and blackberry-ginger balsamic vinegar. Some nights I'll toss in a few young leaves of lavender mint, lemon balm, monarda, or spearmint. You can't get more gourmet than that. You can't get much more nutritious than that, either.
Tonight I foraged more chickweed (found a new bunch under the elderberries) and some of the beautiful flowers that give the redbud tree its name (shown at left). Chickweed prefers moist and shady areas, although it will tolerate some drought with sufficient shade. It is one of those "winter annuals" that begin growing in mid-to late winter and die back when the weather turns hot.

The chickweed has started to set flower buds, so I'm trying to keep it cut back to encourage new growth and delay flowering. I love its bright green flavor in salads or as a fresh topping on hot dishes. The redbud flowers lend a pea-like flavor. A friend of mine likes to put them on her toast.

Wild plants offer much to us in the way of nutrition and medicinal value. And we also often overlook the tasty edibleness of some of our cultivated plants -- such as the horseradish leaves. I've got to use the horseradish leaves as much as possible now, as they are growing fast and soon will be too tough to eat. Those lovely purple grape hyacinth flowers growing in the front of my house also are edible. And the flowers of johnny-jump-ups and other violas, such as pansies. Roses, daylily buds and tubers... the list goes on.

Most people would include stinging nettles on their list of wild foods, but I cannot honestly do that, since I cultivate them. By "cultivate" I mean I give them a few spots to grow and do not discourage them (until they wander into the paths). I even pull weeds out of the nettle patch. Nettles are chock full of vitamins and minerals. Really, really good for you. They have a rich flavor that goes well with onions and other strong flavors, although steamed nettles topped with butter and a bit of salt are melt-in-my-mouth scrumptious. This is the best time to pick them, when they're young and tender. Cooking and drying take out their sting.

Another wild edible I will utilize in a month or so is lambs quarters. Related to spinach, this plant is even more nutritious than its cultivated cousin. And tasty. It tastes like spinach, only better. Of course I'm eating the dandelions, too. The entire plant is edible and medicinal. Later the purslane will begin to take over some parts of the garden. Might as well eat it.

Foraging is lots of fun. You'd be surprised at all the stuff around you that is edible. This article from Mother Earth News (it's old but relevant) gives good information about wild foraging, as well as a list of wild edibles. Of course the list is incomplete (it doesn't even include cleavers) and not all of these will be available everywhere.

Plants don't have to be wild to be part of the foraging. The forage can include parts of plants people don't normally consider eating, but which are eminently edible, or cultivated plants that have their own ideas about where to grow. A friend of mine (yes, the one who eats redbud blossoms) makes "sidewalk salad" from the various things that spring up between the stones in her paths. The salad can include a wide variety of things, from dandelion greens to the arugula and lemon balm that scatter seeds everywhere.

Just be sure you know for absolute certain the identity of a plant, and which part is edible before you go noshing.

No comments: