Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#9


When most people think of roses, they imagine William Shakespeare, or a garden in full bloom, or Valentine’s Day. Few people actually think of eating the roses, but I admit I am one of that crowd. There are actually two parts of the rose that can be considered top-notch edibles: the hips (that is, the ripe fruit that forms after the flower has fallen), and the petals.

The hips are high in vitamin C and as such make a valuable contribution to the winter larder. Make a simple tea (decoction) from the hips, or a syrup, and take it by the teaspoonful as a medicine. It tastes strongly tart but can be tamed with a little sugar or honey.

And the petals? Sprinkle fresh, light rose petals on top of a summer green salad, or on top of fresh fruit or even ice cream. It’s also easy to candy them by dipping them carefully in a sugar syrup and allowing them to dry on a screen. Roses help heal the heart—emotionally, so eating them as a sweet treat is surely on target for what Mother Nature intended for this beautiful plant.

To Your Whole Life,
Holly

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#8


Berries in general are high on most people’s Most Enjoyed Wild Foods lists, and mine is no exception. But should I include Autumn Olive, with its firm, red berry? Or the Beach Plum, with its exquisite mauve-purple gem? Raspberries? Blackberries? Blueberries or huckleberries? While I spend inordinate hours every summer gathering these berries with my children, (and eating them fresh and raw with stained hands and mouths), I must include here in the Top Ten Edibles list the Elderberry. Why? Because it just doesn’t get much attention, that’s why, and it’s incredibly easy to harvest and prepare into delicious food. My beloved “mentor” herbalist Euell Gibbons commented that hundreds of thousands of pounds of this berry go uneaten every summer, and it’s true—I rarely come across other elderberry connoisseurs even though these lovely small trees grow plentifully around marshes, bogs and streams.

The lovely elder is much more medicinal than it is edible, so the bulk of its information will be in the Top Ten Medicinal Herbs article, but I will say here that its plant matter (leaves, flowers, berries, bark) should be harvested with utmost respect for its inner deity, or Elder Mother. Legends abound about the Hulda Mutter who, in old European folk lore, resided inside the trunk of the tree. Great care was taken when harvesting the wood for firewood and many peasants refused to cut it for such a menial purpose, instead bequeathing to the elder tree the highest status of the land and using its products (if at all) for strictly healing or musical purposes. Indeed, the small hollow twigs can be made into rudimentary flutes, and the leaves, flowers, berries and bark are all venerated for their healing effects on the respiratory system, bronchial chambers, immune system, and for skin complaints.

So how do you enjoy the edible berries? First, be sure to cook them. This is important, since the berries have a rather rank scent about them and will cause upset tummies if eaten raw. But cooked…they impart a rich, earthy flavor and combine wonderfully with blueberries. Add them into your recipes for muffins and pies, using half elderberries and half blueberries or huckleberries.

Another way to use elderberries is to harvest them and place them fresh into a glass mason jar. Follow your favorite cordial recipe and cover them with vodka or brandy, and sugar. The longer they steep the mellower they become, and once strained will delight guests with their vibrant purple color and sweet flavor.

Elder flowers are also edible and are usually prepared as fritters. Harvest the entire flower head from the stalk and dip it into a prepared bowl of batter. Fry quickly on high heat and serve with a light honey or sweet-and-sour sauce.

To Your Whole Life,
Holly

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#7


Wood sorrel (Oxalis) is that tiny little clover-like plant you see growing on the sides of trails, with almost invisible yellow flowers and infinitesimal Hindenberg-shaped seed pods. To convince yourself of the worthiness of this divine little snack, snip off a few leaves (and even better, a seed-pod) and pop them into your mouth. Taste that tingling, tangy citrus flavor? It’s lemony and delicious and sharp, and that mouth-watering tanginess is the result of this plant’s high concentration of oxalic acid. 

Use the leaves and seed pods frequently as little highlights in your salads, or quick nibbles on your herb walks, but don’t indulge in a whole plate—oxalic acid in great quantities can turn into calcium oxalate in the body, possibly forming kidney stones. (By the way, spinach is also high in oxalic acid.)

To Your Whole Life,
Holly

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#6

Every gardener is familiar with the next on my list, lamb’s quarters. Properly called Chenopodium album, lamb’s quarters begin in early spring as ¼ inch high bluish-green bi-lobed sprigs. These tiny seedlings often carpet a rich area such as a garden or cultivated field, and they can be eaten beginning now all the way through their maturity, which is in late fall. At their height, lamb’s quarters grow 7 or 8 feet tall with branches that reach out several feet and leaves the size of your hand. They are annuals and will rapidly self-sow, but don’t worry—they’re entirely welcome. (Of course, remove those that will shade your vegetables.)

Lamb’s quarters offer two distinct types of food to the discriminating forager: the leaves, and the seeds. The leaves are green on top and pale silver underneath, like a raspberry’s leaves, and are deeply serrated and soft, with a dusty quality about them. These can be plucked and eaten raw, or they can be gathered en masse and steamed much the way you would steam turnip or spinach greens. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and vinegar, and you have a side dish par excellence.

These greens are incredibly high in minerals, in fact they are as nutritious as spinach and should be consumed in the same ways. I’ve read that lamb’s quarters were cultivated by the American colonists and traded, but since they readily grow wild they were not a viable commodity.

So to the seeds: In the late fall, the large plant will virtually be falling over with the weight off its small, brown seeds. They hang in slender little bunches and can easily be stripped off by hand and collected in a bag. Do this, because you will be rewarded with nutty-flavored seeds that, when lightly roasted, add a delicious (and highly nutritious) crunch to oatmeal, granola, and even salads. Try baking them in your breads and muffins; they are hearty and grounding. Many “hippies” soak them and use them like TVP, textured vegetable protein, as a meat substitute. Imagine: all this for simply enjoying the sideline “waste” areas of your garden!

to Your Whole Life,
Holly

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#5


In early spring, jewelweed sprouts alongside skunk cabbage in all those wet and swampy places we love to look but fear to trod. The soft, murky, marshy areas underneath the trees is usually too unstable to hold our footsteps, but just perfect for jewelweed, a member of the Impatiens family, to grow. These are the plants that have the yellow or orange flowers in the summer, and the same plants that boast the pods in the fall that pop out their spiraling mass of entrails (seeds), which is why they’re nick-named touch-me-not.

At the beginning of spring, look for little, light green sprouts popping through, similar to basil sprouts in that they have one large lobe on each side of the stalk—and that’s it. Each lobe has a little notch in the end, and they are very flat, round and pale green. This is a baby jewelweed, and at this stage it’s edible.

Simply snip off the top part of the sprout with your finger and thumb and collect in a basket; add these snips to your green salad for a delightful crunch and sweetness. Once the sprouts grow to about 4 inches tall, they’re getting too tough to be enjoyed as an edible. A true spring delicacy!

To Your Whole Life,
Holly