Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nature's Pantry- Wild Edibles- Part III- What to do with what you've found

So now you've gone out into the wilds and collected the bounty that nature has to offer. Now what?

Well, there are probably hundreds of things you can do with your harvest, but just to get you started, I'll tell you a few things I do with mine.

Chives: I gather bunches of them. I LOVE chives. They are delicious, and very versatile. When you bring them home, give them a quick wash. You can keep them wrapped in a damp towel in a plastic bag in the fridge for probably a couple of weeks.

I snip them up into small pieces - between 1/4"-1/2" and then I dry some by spreading them out on a paper towel on the counter, and put most of the rest that I don't intend to use right away into a baggie in the freezer, marked with the date and "wild harvested", as I have chives planted in my garden as well. Chives work well in salads, served as cru d'etes, and in almost any application where you would use onions.

Nettles: Stinging nettles are probably my current favorite field green. Their sting is not nearly so bad as most people make it out to be - it only stings for a moment and the boric acid/histimine combination really only makes your skin warm for a bit. Only the tippity top (apical) bud is harvested, and so long as you don't let it touch your lips, they can be eaten raw and are quite tasty. Most people are probably not that brave though, so as long as they are heated to 140 degrees, you'll be safe from the stings, as the hairs seem to dissolve at that temperature- a little warmer than hot tap water. The nettles will turn bright green when they're ready, which only takes about a minute. They can be boiled in hot water to make a delicious tea. Granted the first sniff of the tea smells almost exactly like broccoli- which is a little off-putting at first. But the tea is so delicious that it's worth it. I bottle it up in mason jars and keep it in the fridge. The tea becomes infused with all of the nettle's health benefits. The nettles that remain after making the tea can be eaten, and they are quite tasty, but they are also really, really soft and I don't much care for the texture. They'd be good mixed into something so that they don't go to waste though. Nettles can be used the same way you would use spinach- you can cream it, throw them into pasta, top pizza with them. The nettle-eaters I have talked to all seem to agree that it's best when lightly sauteed in a little bit of butter. Here, I added some lightly sauteed nettles to a couple of eggs, some chives, beat it all together, and used that as the foundation to an omlette- to which I also added a bit of cheddar cheese, some diced ham, and some sauteed yellow squash. It was delicious.

I just have to add, after my initial posting of this, that the cattails I harvested and ate the next day may now be my favorite natural harvest veggie. I gathered the young shoots and prepared them as "Cossack Asparagus" by peeling off the outer layers of vascular tissue to expose the tender white core, boiled it for 3 minutes in salted water and served it with butter and it was quite possibly the most amazing vegetable I've ever eaten. Delicious, and NOT to be missed. See my cattails entry for more info on how to harvest and prepare them. I strongly encourage you to not be intimidated by cattails, they are more than likely impossible to mistake for something poisonous, are abundant and easy to find, and the worst that could happen to you while harvesting might be scraped palms or a light battering by a goose if you're not paying attention to your surrounding. They are also quick to harvest, prepare and cook. And DELICIOUS. I mean really, I expected them to be good, but I was really surprised at just how good they were. Don't miss out on them!

On my most recent foraging expedition, I also decided to harvest some wild chive plants and see if I could get them to thrive in my herb garden. I've had mostly failure in the past trying to grown wild chive plants, but I'm not sure that I ever collected them properly, without damaging the bulbs. So hopefully this time they will take. I also found some mint growing in the same area and gathered some of it. I'm not sure what sort of mint it is yet, but I aim to find out. If nothing else, it will be good ground cover in my grassless yard. Mint always smells good when it's mowed.

There are many recipes to be found on the internet, and I suggest if you have an abundance of a certain wild forage, that you simply google "chickweed recipes" and see what you can come up with. If you know the general properties of what you've got, you can also simply prepare it in the manner you would prepare a similar plant. Pot herbs are generally boiled, or prepared as one would "greens"- with a bit of bacon or pork fat for flavor. There are many varied uses for wild forage, and most of it is nutritionally superior to the veggies you can find at your local supermarket, so I encourage you to learn about the plants in your area (get a book!), learn about the dangerous/poisonous plants in your area, and get out there and start foraging!

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