Burdock & Rose

wildly-crafted plant tales from herbalist, forager & author lisa rose

Nourishing With Herbal & Bone Broths

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Broths! This may seem like the newest food trend but alas – herbal and bone broths have been in simmering on the stoves of healing kitchens across the globe and across time. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, broth is a key component to building yin deficiency and nourishing the body, and the Jewish bubbe knows that chicken soup is her form of penicillin. It’s an ancient food.

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A mug of gelatinous beef broth, a good replacement for that second cup of morning coffee.

Is it broth or stock? There is much banter back and forth between culinary professionals as to the difference between stocks and broths: To me, that’s like asking the difference between potato or po-tah-to. Personally, I consider stock (made from bones, meat and soft tissue – and sometimes prepared with herbs and veggies) a key staple in every kitchen. I consider broth the final preparation that is actually served at the table.

As an herbalist (and home cook, athlete and MOM), my focus is on making broths with nutritive benefits that come from cooking the bones (preferably from pastured, organic animals), soft connective tissue, herbal plants and mushrooms. Broths can be especially powerful when power-packed with nutritive herbs and medicinal plants like nettle, red clover, oatstraw, seaweeds, horsetail, astragalus, burdock and wild foraged medicinal mushrooms like reishi, maitake, shitake, and chaga.

Sun curing foraged Reishi for my broths

Sun curing foraged Reishi for my broths

I use broths as a simple soup and in many cooked dishes in my kitchen. It is a very nutrient dense, healing food! With the bones, connective tissue, herbs and veggies, a long cooking time (about 2 days, consistent heat, immediate storage) plus an acid added to the simmer (vinegar or tomato paste) extracts the minerals and amino acids found in bone and soft tissue into the broth.

Gelatin is made in the process of boiling stock that comes from the bones and the soft tissues of cartilage — which then produces collagen and thus amino acids for the body. These are then are the foundational building blocks for developing the body’s muscle and soft tissue. Consuming these as a broth makes them bioavailable to the body and easily digestible to nourish both the tissues and the immune system. ***

Broth can provide these building blocks to nourish the gastrointestinal tract, lubricate joints, re-vitalize skin, build muscle fibers, and enriches the blood. Consumed as part of a regular diet, broths can ease inflammatory bowel disease, serve as a preventative for rheumatoid arthritis (offering a food source of glycosamine), ease ulcerative colitis and gastritis, and address mineral deficiencies from a whole foods-centered perspective.

Broths should be a part of anyone’s approach to healing illness or debility. Recovering from the flu? Broths are easily digestible and can offer the immune system nutrients to rebuild while recovering from illness.

Healing a bone fracture, herniated disc, torn ligament or rebuilding dental deterioration? Because of the proteins, collagen and amino acids, the nutrients in broths can facilitate wound healing and support tissue repair.

Undergoing surgery? Broths can be included also as part of a pre- and post operative care regime to ensure the body has accesses to the most nutrients to endure surgery and facilitate recovery.

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A staple of my own diet, it’s great to see bone broth is becoming mainstream! I stock my own kitchen with broth for use across the year. It makes it super-easy to have on hand for both cooking and use when one of us in the family is sick.

I’ve learned many things about stock making over the years, and will say this: While there are a lot of techniques to produce the perfect stock, don’t stress. It doesn’t have to be perfectly clear like a consumme, or kept on a low simmer (we are extracting minerals here, so turning up the heat high if you don’t have a lot of time won’t matter – because heat doesn’t destroy minerals).

I invite you to learn more about broths and herbs I use to fortify my broth.  Read more ON MY BLOG for my recipes (with vegan tips as well). For classes on broths and broth making, check out my upcoming CLASSES.  To purchase my foraged herbs and medicinal mushrooms for your broth, visit my ONLINE shop.

Here are some recent links on the subject for your discernment:

Click HERE to see my most recent convo with WZZM13’s Healthy U and Val Lego on broths.

Jim McDonald’s recipes, musings and links on Broth

Chef Michael Rhulman’s Recipe for a Stovetop Stock plus links & Yummy bacteria convo

The Nourished Kitchen on Bone Broths with links to easy crock pot recipes.

More broth safety tips from The Kitchn.

My favorite SeaWeed Source: NatureSpirit Herbs

Need herbs? Organic, bulk herbs available from Mountain Rose Herbs. But they can also sometimes be sourced locally using LocalHarvest.org. 

Grassfed, pastured healthy bones for stock: LocalHarvest.Org for a farmer nearest you

Mushroom sources at Mushroom Harvest

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Broth on the run: Enjoying a bowl of Vietnamese pho, with rare brisket and extra tendon. One of my favorite nourishing dishes if I am out and about, or after a long run.

***Vegans will miss these benefits from stock, but there are herbal broths I recommend to provide key minerals for the body including magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and silica. READ MORE for tips I offer those wishing to follow a plant-based diet.

Holiday Cooking with Pines, Spruce & Firs

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Spruce tips (Picea spp) are a wonderful culinary flavoring in the kitchen.

 

From firs to pines to spruces– these favorite evergreens adorned many homes for the holidays with their fragrant boughs.

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to take down the trimmings– but wait! The boughs can serve an additional purpose: Before directing that greenery out to the compost or to the curb for recycling, think about repurposing those evergreens in the kitchen for both culinary flavorings and herbal medicine.***

Pines, firs and spruces are all edible and have various notes of flavor in their needles and branches. There is no finer way to bring the aroma of the forest into the kitchen and onto the plate than by cooking with these evergreens. High in vitamin C, the needles of pines, firs and spruces are notably bright, slightly sour, and citrusy in flavor. The needles can be used as a culinary flavoring in most recipes that call for lemon. Chop the needles and use them as an herb to flavor salads, butters, and vinegars for dressings. Add the needles to potato salads, bean salads, and pasta salads with other fresh salad greens. The needles, chopped, can also be used to flavor rustic breads in place of rosemary.

For the bar, spruce and pine needles can be made into a simple syrup or infused honey that can flavor mixed drinks or martinis. Beer brewers are becoming interested in using foraged ingredients and can use the fresh spruce or pine tips as a flavoring agent in the second fermentation cycle of brewing. A short fermentation will capture the desired aromatics and citrus high notes for a Belgian or wheat-styled ale without making the brew overly “tree” flavored.

Roasting meat or fish? Water-soaked boughs and needles can be used to roast or steam white-fleshed fish to infuse the meat with the flavors of the evergreens.

And for dessert, concoct a pine or spruce-infused honey to drizzle over ice cream (or can flavor ice cream!). The infused honey can also be served alongside a Stilton or local cheddar cheese — It is a sumptous way to savor the magical forest flavor.

These conifers also have a place in the herbal apothecary. As an herbal remedy, spruce, fir or pine needles can be made into a tea. Add boiling water to a pot of needles, cover, and let steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Its aromatics can open up stuffy sinuses and the astringency of the tea can help dry up runny noses and sinus gunk. Sweeten with honey, sip, and inhale the aromatics for best results.

Other musings on these conifers and their uses:

Pine needle tea

Fir body balms: (My friend and herbalist Rebecca McTrouble makes a divine White Fir Body Butter)

Spruce tip beer

Aromatic steam inhalations for colds and flus

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***Foraging note: Some things to give consideration before using the evergreen boughs for food and herbal use — make sure your boughs were sourced from a tree farm or nursery that uses chemical-free growing practices. It’s common in commercial Christmas tree farming to spray the trees with a fire retardant also, in addition to possible herbicides and/or pesticides used in the fields.

Don’t decorate your home with conifers for the holiday? The branches and boughs can be sustainably harvested off the forest floor after a winter’s wind storm without having to gather directly from a mature tree. 

Holiday Merriment Means Movement

IMG_2009It’s that time of year again when holiday stress is high.  Holiday parties, plates of butter cookies, and glasses of cabernet are the temptresses: singing to us like sirens on the rocks with their promises to way-lay the best set plans for getting in some exercise. We all kvetch that there is little time to “get it all done,” much less build in time for movement and exercise.

But movement and physical activity (especially movement in the brisk, winter’s air) is as important as making healthy choices during the holidays and getting adequate rest. Movement is something all bodies regularly need to both fight stress and build immunity: With proper hydration, movement keeps muscles and ligaments juicy and lymphatic glands moving. It helps blow off elevated cortisol from a stressful day and over time and in tandem with a healthy diet, can have a significant impact on blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Too many group commitments? Instead of another cookie party meet up, suggest a walk around the neighborhood as a way to get in some movement and fresh air. Or consider other group activities — from ice skating to sledding to roller skating, a group could even hit up the open swim at a local pool for a game of Marco Polo. It doesn’t really matter your current physical fitness level — it just matters that you make the decision and move!

And don’t let the snow and cold be a deterrent to getting outside.  The cold winter air is great to help build immunity and stay strong during cold and flu season — it just requires a mental re-frame about the winter weather and a bit of clothing planning. Remember, there is never the wrong weather — only the wrong clothing.

Here are some ideas to try that will keep your heart rocking, your glutes burning and will mix it up for the holidays. The tips are Grand Rapids specific, but wherever you are located, you can check into community resources in your area for similar activities — and all these suggestions are group and family friendly! Mix it up and get moving!

Ice-skating. There’s nothing more picturesque during the holiday season than an outdoor ice-skating rink.  Grand Rapids locals know one of the most fun and magical locations for ice skating is outdoors at Rosa Parks Circle located in downtown Grand Rapids in the city’s center adjacent to the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It’s our own little Rockefeller, and has affordable ice skate rentals. Afterward, you can stroll the local streets for some last minute holiday shopping or stop into the Art Museum to check out their most recent exhibit. There are also many private rinks in the area featuring rentals and open skate throughout the holiday season.

Skiing. Whether it’s classic cross country or downhill adventure seeking you crave, the snow machine has been ON in Michigan since Thanksgiving, allowing nearly all the local hills and resorts to have established base conditions for this early in the season. For cross country lovers, Kent Trails provides miles of fantastic cross trails, and many ski resorts offer both rentals and groomed trails where you can spend the day testing your cardio, quads and glutes on the skis. For a resource on all things ski related, including resort and conditions reports, check out MISkiReport.

Sledding Hills. Yes, wax the toboggan, it’s time for some sledding. West Michigan boasts some great sledding hills especially at the lakeshore state parks (Hoffmaster is especially nice) as well as in the city here in Grand Rapids (GR Kids GR Sledding Hill Guide), Pando is also a local favorite for tubing down the hills, and also has trails and gear for the ski enthusiast.

Roller skating. Roller skates! Yes, the 80s are alive and well (infused with a bit of Taylor Swift top 40 hits) at local rinks in the West Michigan area including Tarry Hall in Grandville. So, get your best Limbo and Hokey Pokey ready — it’s time to lace up and go for a roll!!!

Trampolines. Want to blow through a ton of calories playing on trampolines? Check out SkyZone Indoor Trampoline Play . This is exactly what is sounds like! Indoor trampoline play great for kids and adults alike—  you can even book “court time” to accommodate a group for an organized session of Dodgeball.

Hiking.   Grand Rapids is surrounded by extensive trail networks that are ready for a nice Christmas or New Year’s hike with family, a trail run or even a session on snow shoes. Enjoy the benefits of the great Michigan outdoors in winter. It’s magical and good for your spirit as well as body, and a great time to practice winter botany for upcoming spring foraging haunts!

Foot Races. There are some of us running junkies (ahem, you know who you are) who will want to get a race or two in over the holiday. Well, I am not going to say no to that one. The classic year-end Wolverine World Wide Resolution 4 mile Run/Walk is a great way to wrap up 2014 on New Year’s Eve, and then you can wake up and race all over again with a New Year’s Day race at the lakeshore for the Sgt Preston Yukon King Run.

All in all, don’t sweat the small stuff — just make sure you do sweat some over the holidays. It’s that first step that’s always the most difficult, but in the end so very worth it for your health. Your body and loved ones will thank you!

Happy Holiday Trails!

Surviving Holiday Stress: Have a Cup of Tea

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We all know the holidays can be stressful- even lonely for many people.  The stress can take its toll — not just impacting our relationships, but excess stress can set us up for getting sick … and no one wants to suffer thru the holidays with a cold virus. While I cannot help you with your in-laws, shopping list or wild holiday calendar, I can suggest a few favorite de-stressing herbal teas that you can keep on hand to help you have a more bliss-ful season. 

Need an energy boost? Go with an aromatic herbal blend.  Rose, Mints, Lavender, Lemon Balm — all have aromatic oils that are uplifting and can provide a boost of energy without adding the extra stress on the system that caffeine offers. These herbs can help clear a foggy head in the middle of a workday, break up tension from stress or soothe a headache caused by dramatic changes in the weather patterns.   

Trying to catch some Zzzzz’s? The ritual alone of bedtime tea can help you unwind at the end of a busy day. Try blending relaxant herbals like Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Spearmint, Catnip, Rose, Blue Vervain, Scullcap or Kava Kava. Hops and Valerian can also help and relax the body for sleep.

Nervousness giving you a tummy ache? Lemon balm does wonders for soothing an anxious stomach. I love it in my Melissa Bitters Blend. Chamomile also does wonders to calm nervous anxiety.

Can’t stop thinking about that To-Do list?  I like Passionflower, Wood Betony and Blue Vervain. Great to add to sleepy-time blends when your list-making gets in the way of falling asleep.

Heavy hearted? For those missing loved ones over the holidays, loneliness and depression can set in. While herbs can’t replace the presence of those loved ones, herbs like hawthorne, rose petals, lavender, and lemon balm can offer comfort for a sad heart. I find aromatic herbs are uplifting and help clear away the dark clouds and offer some clarity and peace of mind.

Build up your nervous system. Stress can take its toll on the body and weaken the immune system, making it more vulnerable to illness. Herbal teas (or infusions) that can actually restore tone to the central nervous system over time include Nettle, Red Clover, Oatstraw, Burdock Root.

The pressure of parties and gift-giving can be manic and overwhelming, leaving little time left to savor the the season. Take a few moments for quiet reflection to appreciate all of our gifts during this holiday season. Moments taken to remember what we do have can offer true healing and feelings of abundance.

Join me for an upcoming workshop on stress and herbs on January 26 at Acorn Studios! You’ll learn about these herbs and others, and make your own personalized tea, herbal salt scrub and herbal spritzer. Register here, spots are limited!

Wild Flavors of Thanksgiving: Chestnuts

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In Michigan and across much of the Midwest it’s a SNOW DAY! The snow out my window already blankets the ground with drifts in some areas over 2 feet deep!

This makes me glad for the season’s harvests that already are packed away in my pantry for hearty winter meals — the acorn flour, the fruit jams, the herbal simple syrups and the dried herbs for cooking and for tea. As I plan my holiday meals, I turn to the rich flavors of my autumn harvest to add wild flavors to my table.

One of my favorite flavors from the fall harvest for a forager’s Thanksgiving’s feast is the chestnut. The chestnut (Castanea spp.) is a delicious and nutritious edible, whose spiny shell can be found on the ground when the nuts ripen in late September.  Chestnut trees can be found growing along the edges of the mixed hardwood forests, in areas with well-drained soil and sunshine. Chestnuts are also a specialty crop for tree farmers. Check your local food guide for a chestnut grower who may have u-pick or who sells chestnuts at the farmers markets if you’d like to try this delicious fall wild edible.

With a neutral, buttery flavor, the chestnut is very versatile in cooking.  It can be dried and made into chestnut flour, cooked and pureed into a creamy soup. For me, I can’t do Thanksgiving, Chanukkah or Christmas without preparing simple, but classic roasted chestnuts. These delicious morsels can be savored steaming, right out of the pan or integrated into Thanksgiving’s stuffing. 

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Roasted chestnuts are a quintessential holiday dish (cue Nat King Cole) and is an easy appetizer that even the kids will enjoy. I like to roast the chestnuts in a heavy iron skillet on the stovetop (first score a slit with a sharp knife in the bottom of the shell to allow the moisture to escape). Once roasted, they can be easily peeled and enjoyed warm from the shell. 

With an abundance of gratitude, other wild foods that will find their place on my holiday table — nettles, serviceberries, acorns, autumn olive, wild apples, linden cocktail syrups and the needles of conifers to flavor my roasted meats. What foraged flavors will be on your table this season?

Crafting Your Cold & Flu GamePlan

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It’s unavoidable — being human means we will get the icky sniffles at some point this winter season, but the good news is that our bodies are of amazing design. We have built-in immune responses to help defend our system when we catch a virus or bacterial infection.

The trick is ~working~ with these immune system responses to ensure we can defend our body from further debility and return to everyday life just as strong as before.  Here’s a general game-plan for you to consider BEFORE you start to get sick so you can choose helpful therapeutics, recover and get back to the game of life.

Recognize the early warning signs. Stressed? Feeling worn out?Aches? Pains? These may be early signs that your body is giving you to SLOW DOWN. You may be under excess stress, making you more susceptible to viruses and illness. Dial back and rest, and most likely you will be able to negotiate the coming weeks sans illness. Make sure you nourish your body with good food, sleep, and Vitamin D.

Early-on Herbal Therapeutics. When you first start feeling crappy, try to kick the ick early and employ herbal therapeutics to support your body’s immune processes. Bust out the elderberry syrup – it can help inhibit the virus’ ability to reproduce. Echinacea also can help boost the peripheral immune system. Combo teas like mint, yarrow and elderflower are a must-have to help early on in a cold or flu, helping stimulate the immune system and relax the body.

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Elderberry syrup is a must-have staple in every home apothecary.

Rest up to kick it quick. My theory? Cut your losses early, rest and get better more quickly. Renegotiate any short term commitments to allow for some significant rest. I know this is hard for us parents, or folks with work that isn’t very flexible. Do what you can to re-arrange the workload so your immune system gets a bit more bandwidth to fight an infection. Remember, energy put into work while you are sick is energy that could be used for your healing. And the potential cost of pushing through a cold or flu virus? A secondary bacterial infection. No one wants that.

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Mandatory bed rest for your herbalist: At the corner of sick and miserable.

Got sniffles? A fever? At this point, you are sick and the hypothalamus is calling in the troops.  Don’t try suppressing those immune responses like the sniffles and a fever. Remember — these are not illnesses. They are ways the body helps fight illness. They are on your team!!! Fevers are not inherently bad (read more on fevers HERE thanks to Jim McDonald)– Support the fever’s therapeutic actions with herbs like elderflower, mints, yarrow, ginger, boneset, or chamomile. These are wonderful as hot teas (the hot water is a therapy in and of itself). These will help the body produce an effective fever and also be relaxant to the body (good for the aches and pains). As for those sniffles? Work with the body’s attempts at trying to loosen and move the phlegm and mucous so that healthy tone can be restored to the respiratory tissues. Using an OTC mucous eliminator is counter intuitive to maintaining healthy tissues — mucous is good!

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Aromatic garden herbs (fresh or dry) can be used as an herbal inhalation steam to clear clogged and congested sinuses.

Soothe the congestion. Try an aromatic herbal steam inhalation with peppermint essential or eucalyptus oil to open the sinuses. Or brew a pot of aromatic garden herbs like thyme, sage, or lavender to open the sinuses. Don’t forget to eat onion and garlic in copious amounts for its aromatic and antimicrobial benefits. Raw honey is also helpful too, especially in soothing a dry cough. A relaxant lung herb like mullein or cherry bark can help relax and open the lungs, while elecampane can work well on damp, wet coughs (great in bacterial infections also).

Chicken soup (or in my house -Jewish penicillin). Ok, it doesn’t have to be chicken. But any hot soups — nourishing clear broths full with onions, garlic, cayenne will help warm the body and the aromatic kitchen herbs can help clear clogged sinuses and offer additional anti-microbial benefits. I make broths well in advance of getting sick and store the quarts in the freezer so they are at the ready when my family gets sick. Click HERE for my recipes.

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Consider making chicken or beef broth by the stock-pot full and then freezing it to have on hand all winter long.

Clean out the gunk. Rest. Repeat. As the body starts to feel better, your lymphatic system will be working to clean up the debris left over from your immune system’s battle. Support this lymphatic work with continued liquids and broths, and herbs (teas or tinctures) that include red root, mullein, or very simply lemon in your water. This will help move the gunk from your body as it returns to normal. Also don’t jump back into the grind the first moment you feel better. Continue to take it easy for 10 days or so after a serious illness.mSlowly re-introduce work, stress and strenuous physical activity over time. This will all help to prevent a secondary bacterial infection that can easily settle in if your defenses are down and you carelessly jump back into the fray.

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When you start to feel better, continue to support your body by drinking lots of clear fluids – simple lemon water can help your lymphatic system “clean up” after illness.

Once you are better, keep feeding your body good foods, get enough sleep and exercise — that is foundational for winter wellness. For a bit more on my cold and flu theories read more HERE. And remember, at any given time you feel your illness is beyond your control and you find yourself turning to Facebook for answers — see a doctor.

Wild Apples, Forgotten Harvests & ReWilded Pies

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A recent walk around my favorite farmer’s market led me to discover an abundance of wild and feral apples. I am one that is know to snack off trees and pluck greens from the ground as I go about my day, so stopping down to taste one of the abandoned beauties didn’t surprise my companion, who I also offered a taste of the wild, crisp deliciousness. “Why, it tastes just like a real apple!!” my friend exclaimed.

I had to laugh. Without blowing my friend’s cover, I’ll disclose that she is an apple person and her family owns an orchard in Upstate New York. “Well, yes,” I chuckled. “They are in fact real apples. Crabapples, maybe, and wild in flavor, crispness and sweetness, but apples just the same.”  I proceeded to fill her purse with the beauties, because I couldn’t stand to walk away from such an abundant harvest.*

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This year was another bumper crop for apples – both cultivated in the orchards and the feral ones in the field. This is good for foragers this year, as wild apples and crabapples are one of the easiest edible trees to find in parks, landscaping, edges of forests and along trails. Just keep an eye peeled and a harvest bag on hand to collect your windfall. There will be wild apples to gather well into November, both on the trees and on the ground. Just look for firm, healthy looking fruit and taste them along the way to select those with the flavors you prefer best.

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Your wild apple harvests can be stored in a cool, dark place and used into the first part of the winter. Of course, they can be prepared into apple sauces, fruit leathers, dehydrated apple snacks, and pies. The smaller, more tart crabapples are delicious made into a spicy chutney or even pickled. Both can be mashed and made into cider (fermented for hard cider) or made into a delicious apple cider vinegar.

This harvest was made into delicious french dessert called a tarte tatin. A tarte tatin, despite the fancy name, is really an upside-down apple pie. The tarte tatin is probably one of my most favorite french desserts (tied with a clafoutis). I learned how to make it while I was studying in France in college and love the tarte tatin for its rustic simplicity. Perfect for my little foraged apples. Click HERE for a recent recipe featured on Food52.

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It had been AGES since I had made, enjoyed and savored a tarte tatin … and sooo delicious it was.  I scooped spoonfuls of plain yoghurt on top and ate nearly the entire tarte tatin myself. Total perfection in both the feral harvest and rewilded French dessert. C’etait manifique.

A note on urban foraging: I foraging in and about Grand Rapids and am very mindful of the plants I gather, where I gather and when I gather. I feel it’s a forager’s responsibility to own the risks associated with foraging from areas that might be subject to soil and air contaminants and how the plant you are gathering could be affected by such contaminants. That said, I frequently muse to myself that these are plants — specifically like this apple tree — that live alongside me in the city, subject to the same pollutants and noise of the city. To that end, and knowing that there would be little issue of spray, brake dust, or heavy metal contaminants in the apples I was gathering (AND that the harvest was for my own personal consumption), I didn’t feel too concerned gathering these fallen fruits from the ground. 

Autumn Olive: An Underworld Fruit

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Spent time in the woods gathering autumn olive berries yesterday from trees still heavy with ripe fruit. I hope we can reimagine these delightful fruits as life-giving and nourishing because of their abundance (or invasiveness, depending on perspective). The rain, falling leaves and dark day’s weather were symbolic of the slow transition to winter; these berries reminding me so very much of the underworld story of Persephone and her treasured pomegranate …

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I was inspired to concoct a warming spiced autumn olive chutney for fall cooking to enjoy as the weather turns colder.

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Warming, spiced autumn olive chutney 

Simmer in a small saucepan until thickened. Take care to not scorch the fruit. Add to small glass jars and store in the fridge or even freeze. Perfect on vegetables, white fish, turkey, goose, phesant or chicken.

  • 3-4 cups autumn olive berries (the central seed and thin stems will more or less soften up a bit while cooking but if you wish you can mash it all through a food mill before, but I am not that fussy)
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 cup white or brown sugar
  • 2 TBSP maple syrup
  • 2 TBSP vanilla
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • season with clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and chili pepper to taste

 Enjoy this recipe and relish with gladness the earth’s bountiful and beautiful harvests, for soon it will be winter. 

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Unfurling

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Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)

Early spring is bursting with all its wild edible glory right now. The woods are filled with fiddleheads, trout lily, morel mushrooms, wild ginger, field garlic, dock and white lettuce leaves. The fields have violets in bloom for salads and sunshine yellow dandelions ready for dandelion wine. Invasive edible plants like Japanese knotweed and garlic mustard still have some small patches that can be gathered for wild food meals like stir-fry and pesto.

One of my favorite early season wild edibles is the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) fiddle head. The fiddleheads can be found in damp, wetland areas of the woods. To identify, first look for last year’s fertile fronds. This will help you locate the central crowns where you will find the fiddleheads. About 5-9 fiddleheads emerge from central crowns, covered in a brown and thin papery sheathing. The u-shaped indent in the stem differentiates them from the bracken fern. To harvest sustainably, trim only a couple from each crown using a sharp hand knife or kitchen shears.

How to eat: First clean the fiddleheads, removing the brown sheathing and any dirt that may cling to the plant. The fiddleheads should first be cooked in boiling water for about 10 minutes to neutralize the compounds that make them inedible raw (skip this step and risk stomach upset). The ostrich fern fiddleheads retain their firmness even when cooked — similar in texture and taste to asparagus.  Add them to pasta with a garlic mustard pesto or cream sauce, or topped onto a wild foods pizza. Or simply eat them as a side dish; drizzled with olive oil, salt and a bit of lemon and served with a local salmon lox. Add a nice crisp Michigan white wine for ambiance.

What is spring unfurling for you?

 

Nutritious Nettles: A Foraged Risotto Recipe

Tender, delicious nettles poking through the brush along the  creek beds.

Tender, delicious nettles poking through the brush along the creek beds.

While on my run last Saturday, I was delighted to discover these tiny shoots of nettle (Urtica dioica)!!  I found myself stooping down to snack on them fresh with complete disregard to the tiny sting, enjoying the nettle’s flavor that I haven’t enjoyed fresh since last fall! I think my running buddies thought I was crazy… Hands down, the nettle is one of my most favorite nutritious, springtime foraged foods.

Many of us have met the stinging nettle along riverbanks and in the damp hedgerows at the edges of fields.  As kids, we most likely encountered them horsing around in the fields of grasses and brush with friends, only to be surprised by those stinging plants leaving prickly rashes on our skin. Little did we know that we just didn’t brush up against a bothersome weed, rather we were brushing up against one of the springtime’s most nutrient dense wild greens!

Look out, spinach. Pop-eye’s got a new superfood. 

Nettles have great virtues as a wild edible food that nourish the body with plenty of vitamins and minerals. Nettles are very nutrient dense; rich Vitamin C, Vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, cobalt, copper, potassium, B-complex vitamins – even protein.  And they are extremely high in chlorophyll.

In seeking out the nettle, go on spring-time (April-June) hunts (and again in the fall) in areas of nutrient-rich, damp soil. One can often find them in areas that are adjacent to rivers, streams and lakes, or along drainage areas. Take care to know the area from which you are harvesting and it’s history of use — try to avoid areas adjacent or downstream from large factories and farms.

Early spring nettles can be found along creek banks and riverbeds. Make sure to gather nettles upstream from farms or any factory to avoid pollution.

Early spring nettles can be found along creek banks and riverbeds. Make sure to gather nettles upstream from farms or any factory to avoid pollution.

Wear your harvesting gloves and long pants! They don’t call them *stinging* nettles for nothing! The stinging sensation and hive-like bumps that can occur from handling the nettle are caused from the hair-like needles found along the stem and leaves, and the sensation is similar to rolling in fiberglass. 

Fortunately, the nettles will lose (most all) their stinging properties as they dry or are cooked (steamed or sauteed). Choose smaller leaves before the plant gets tall and goes to flower mid-summer.  Once harvested, nettles can be used either fresh or dry.

If you plan on drying the nettles for use later in the season, prep them by chopping them into large pieces, taking care not to smash the fragile, fresh plant material. And do this immediately upon harvesting – you want to dry the plant in a vibrant state. You don’t want to let them wilt or deteriorate in your hot car on on the back counter. 

To dry, spread them out onto racks (screens are easy for this) and let them dry completely before storing them in glass jars. If they are not completely dry before storage, they will most likely mold.  The dried leaves can be enjoyed year round added to soups and brewed as infusions for drinking.  The infusion should be left to steep overnight as to best extract the minerals of this plant.  The flavor can be a bit swampy to some, and blending the nettle infusion with a choice of green tea, jasmine tea, oatstraw and/or red clover makes it less “swampy.” Add a bit of honey to sweeten to taste and it is a refreshing, nourishing beverage that should be consumed daily.

Fresh nettles can easily replace spinach in recipes that call for the greens.  They can be lightly cooked and added to soups, egg scrambles, quiches, or other similar recipes. Bon Appetit!

 Wildcrafted Nettle & Michigan Morel Risotto

1/4 pound young nettles (about 3 big handfuls – it will wilt like spinach)12 oz risotto/arborio rice 1 onion, chopped 4 Tablespoons butter1/2 cup dry Michigan white wine (an extra glass for the chef)6 cups chicken or vegetable stock1 oz grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup chopped fresh Michigan morels (if lucky) or fresh shitakes

¼ cup chopped, fresh parsleySalt, pepper to taste

  • Heat the stock in a large saucepan. 
  • Wash the nettle leaves. Blanch for 2 minutes in boiling salted water, drain and chop very finely. Set aside to add at the end. 
  • Cook onion and morels gently in half the butter in a large saucepan for a few minutes until tender. 
  • Add rice and cook over a slightly higher heat for 2 minutes while stirring. Pour in the wine, deglazing the pan. Cook, uncovered, until all the wine has evaporated, then add about 1 cup boiling hot stock; leave the risotto to cook, stirring occasionally and adding about 1/2 cup boiling stock at intervals as the rice absorbs the liquid. 
  • After about 14 – 15 minutes’ cooking time the rice will be tender but still have a little ‘bite’ left in it when tested.  Add the prepared nettles and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring. 
  • Take off the heat and stir in the remaining butter which will melt and make the rice look glossy; 
  • Sprinkle with the freshly grated Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, and add salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently and serve immediately.   
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