Michigan Maple Fleur de Sel Caramels 

What’s more delicious that home-boiled maple syrup fresh from the sugar shack? A fleur de sel caramel made with said maple syrup, of course!

These classic French-style caramels are styled similarly to a Fleur de Sel caramel. The use of maple syrup in lieu of the commonly-used corn syrup will require close monitoring as the mixture reaches 248 degrees, but results in a much more balanced vanilla flavor that’s worth the effort managing the viscosity.

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Ingredients: 

1 cup heavy cream

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature

1 teaspoon fleur de sel

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

Parchment paper, baking sheet or pan and a candy thermometer

1) Prepare pan with parchment, oil slightly – the caramel making process is a sticky one.

2) Bring cream, butter and fleur de sel to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

3) Boil syrup,  sugar in a large saucepan, dissolving sugar and gentle stirring until syrup comes up to a boil.

3) Stir in cream, stir constantly and simmer until the candy thermometer reaches 248 degrees.

4) Pour caramel mixture into the prepared sheet, let cool.

5) Cut into strips or bite size candies, wrapping them in pieces of cut parchment, twisting ends.

6) Caramels store in a cool location for up to two weeks.

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Want to learn more? Click HERE  to go to WZZM13 to learn how Maple Syrup is made or visit my other posts on the blog HERE to learn about the syruping process. For more on foraging wild foods and other wild edibles, check out my book, Midwest Foraging.

Midwest Foraging

 

One of my first aid kit must-haves is a rose-infused vinegar in a spray bottle – which is great for sun burns and even poison ivy rashes. A rose-infused vinegar is useful in the herbal apothecary for topical skin infections, abrasions, burns and rashes. The astringent nature of both the rose and the vinegar can help quell the redness and inflammation of affected skin.

To prepare this astringent first aid spray you will need:

2 cups apple cider vinegar
4 TBSP fresh or dry rose petals
Small canning jar
Small spray bottle

1) Combine the vinegar and rose petals and let extract for two weeks in the refrigerator.

2) Strain off the mixture and store in a jar in the refrigerator to use as needed for a wash or skin soak on burns.

3) The rose petal vinegar can be put into a spray bottle to easily mist sunburned skin or poison ivy rash for those hard to reach places.

In a pinch? No time to gather roses? Steep chamomile tea bags in vinegar for a few hours, then strain and add to a spray bottle. There are times the ingredients don’t need to be top shelf for top relief (but having top shelf for cocktails, that’s another matter).

 Order my newest book, “Midwest Medicinal Plants” to learn how to wildcraft this and other wild plants?

You know the scene. It’s 4 a.m. You wake up, chilled and feverish. In denial, you toss and turn, hoping that you haven’t caught that cold going around the office. Instead of ignoring the symptoms, reach for this homemade elderberry elixir.

Medical research has shown that taking an elderberry-based tincture within the first 48 hours of a virus’ onset can shorten the duration of symptoms by as much as four days.

Keep a stockpile of this syrup on hand for whenever illness strikes. It tastes way better than the cherry-flavored stuff, it’s all natural, and in under an hour you can make a batch large enough to keep you and your family healthy all winter long.

Want local elderberry syrup? Shop my apothecary for my foraged chaga elderberry blend.

Or if you’re too sick to make a bottle, there are store-bought versions like Urban Moonshine’s Herbal Immune Zoom that are quite nice, too.

DIY Elderberry Elixir

Makes 1 quart

1 cups dry or fresh elderberries**
2 cups water
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 cup 40 percent alcohol
1 cup raw local honey
1 quart size canning jar
Small bottles for dispensing

1. In a large saucepan, combine the water, elderberries, ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, then simmer for 20 minutes. Press and strain elderberry-ginger mixture into a quart-size canning jar. Stir in 1 cup honey and 1 cup alcohol to preserve the mixture. Shake well to mix. Divide into smaller containers, if you like. The elderberry elixir will keep in the refrigerator for 6 months.

2. At the first signs of a cold or flu, take 2 tablespoons of elderberry every hour for up to 5 days.

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is abundant across North American, and its berries can be foraged from the wild across much of the United States. No time for foraging? Order dry elderberries online from reputable herbal sources like Mountain Rose Herbs, or choose to buy local from an herbalist in your area.

Want to wildcraft your own berries? Order my newest book, “Midwest Medicinal Plants” to learn how to ID and wildcraft the plant yourself!

 

Lisa M. Rose in a field of wildflowers in Millineum Park.
Gathering wild bee balm for my well-known Gypsy Tea.

Sometimes when you feel a cold or a flu coming on, it’s easy to brush it off and keep pushing ahead. But when that little voice tells you that your body has caught a virus, heed its warning!  Learning when and how to use popular herbal remedies can help you prevent from getting stuck at the corner of sick and miserable!

 

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Plant medicines like elderberry can help shorten the lifespan of a virus — If you know when and how to use them! If you listen to your body’s call, and try preparations of elderberry elixir within the first 48 hours of the start of a virus, medical research shows that symptoms that come from colds and flus can be lessened by as much as 4 days. (1) Now, that doesn’t mean you can just chug elderberry elixir and NOT rest. Of course not. Resting is a crucial part to the body’s healing process.

But how does elderberry work? Elderberry is not only filled with antioxidants and flavonoids useful for the body, but it stimulates the body’s inflammation response against the virus. By triggering the production of cytokines – the inflammatory and anti-inflammatory agents that regulate the body’s immune system – elderberry powers the immune system which then inhibits the virus’ ability to reproduce. (2)

Elderberry is most commonly prepared as a syrup of the fresh or dry berries. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) syrup is easy to make (visit my recipe online), but if you don’t have time, make a trip to your local health food shop to stock up, or better yet – support this local herbalist by stocking up with her elderberry elixir blends!! (Hint, hint) So at those first signs of illness – down that elderberry syrup in large tablespoon doses!

 

 

Gypsy Tea: Echinacea, Mints, Yarrow & Elderflower

While downing tablespoons of elderberry when I start to get sick, you will also find me making pots of my favorite tea traditionally known as Gypsy Tea- a formula that goes back generations. Gypsy Tea is a tea blend of aromatic mints (I prefer the wild bee balm, Monarda fistulosa), the bitter yarrow, and the relaxant elderflowers. I also add in echinacea for its additional immune boosting power, and sometimes garden herbs like sage and thyme for extra aromatics.

Gypsy Tea is also a great base in which to add honey and your elderberry elixir!To make your own Gypsy Tea, these herbs can be foraged from the wild, or you can procure your own herbs from a reputable forager or an online source like Mountain Rose Herbs.

Gypsy Tea Ingredients:

1 Part Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

2 Parts Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)

2 Parts Bee Balm (Monarda spp) or Peppermint

1 Part Echinacea (Echiancea spp)

Directions: Add herbal ingredients to a french press or directly to a pot of boiling water. Cover, let steep for 5 minutes and drink hot. And like Grandma always says, Put on a hat!  Cover the body, keep it warm, take to bed and REST. If you really are feeling crummy, consider making a large thermos of tea to keep hot by the bedside – this will help you to stay in bed and support the body’s immune system as it works on staying well.

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Even herbalists get sick.

It’s easy to forget how to care for yourself once a virus settles in and your body begins to ache. Be prepared! Have on hand the ingredients you need to care for yourself allows your body to rest and fight off the virus. And remember to have a backup friend to rely on when you are at the corner of sick and miserable – even if it’s your golden retriever.

For more tips on making a plan for Cold & Flu season, click HERE.

A Few Other Good Links & Resources:

– Darcey Blue on Flu

– Todd Caldecott’s Ayurvedic approach to Colds & Flu 

–  7 Song’s Materia Medica for Colds & Flu

— Paul Bergner on Vitamin D

Footnotes:

1)  “Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.” J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40.

2) “The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines” Eur Cytokine Netw. 2001 Apr-Jun;12(2):290-6

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In the middle of a hot and steamy July, there’s nothing like a tall glass of refreshing lemonade. But here in the Midwest, lemons aren’t local… but guess what? You can make that pitcher of lemonade – or a copycat “lemonade” without the lemons while using the staghorn sumac berries instead!

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Staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina

“What,” you say? Lemonade without lemons??? Well, ok, so sumac “lemonade” would more appropriately be called a tea. But that’s besides the point… Infused in cold water overnight, the sumac berries of Rhus glabra and Rhus typhina make a great-tasting, refreshing sour and citrus-like beverage that is delicious on its own or simply sweetened with honey and garnished with lavender for an extra herbal flavor.

Common in hedgerows and at the edges of the field are the staghorn and smooth sumac (Rhus typhina and Rhus glabra respectively). Both sumacs are common native shrubs whose flower clusters ripen into deep red fruit clusters toward the end of July and into early September. For more tips on identifying sumac, get a copy of my book, Midwest Foraging to take with you into the fields! 

 

The berries – or drupes in botanical language – taste sour like lemonade. Use hand pruners to gather the drupes into a bucket, choosing the clusters that are most bright in color and most uniformly red. In the kitchen, separate the red and sour drupes from the stems – be warned there may be a scattering of small bugs as you sort the plants.

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To prepare: Pack the drupes into a jar and cover them with cold water. Let them soak for a day or so in the fridge. Strain the liquid into a serving pitcher and voila – a delicious pink lemonade! Serve cold over ice and garnish with sprigs of lavender.

To see my TV segment on Staghorn Sumac Lemonade and easy tips for foraging with kids, visit WZZM13 Online: Staghorn Sumac.

For more on wild edibles, check out my book, Midwest Foraging.

Midwest Foraging

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Old Man Winter is upon us and rough lips, chapped cheeks and split cuticles are all signs that the dryness of winter months has gotten under our skin – literally.

I love winter.  As a runner and skier, the cold doesn’t keep me inside. BUT, the time outside in the dry cold can wreck havoc on my skin. Having a great skin-healing balm at the ready helps me enjoy the winter’s cold, as it protects my lips, cheeks, hands and feet from becoming overly dry!

Many products line the pharmacy shelves claiming to heal our dry skin and protect from chaffing and chapping. Conventional products often contain synthetic chemicals derived from petroleum, and while they may act like sealants on the skin, they do little to truly heal the dermis.

Fortunately the marketplace offers other options for skin care that are plant-based and more environmentally sound.

Chickweed
Chickweed

Botanicals for Skin Healing

As protective bases; plant-based oils like coconut oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil, and rose hip oils are all excellent choices and are versatile for all skin types. The healthy alternative to parrifin wax in skin care is beeswax. This helps create a protective barrier from the elements while letting the skin sweat and helps support bee-keepers. 

While perusing the skin care aisle, look for creams that contain plants like plantain, calendula, comfrey, chickweed. These plants are deep-tissue healers that can repair the cracks and splits in the skin.

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Want to make your own skin-healing salve?

Do you go through a lot of balms and salves and want to make your own? Good news! You can easily make your own calendula skin healing balm in a big batch in your own kitchen. Create a batch of chapped cheek balm in your kitchen with just four ingredients: herbs, olive oil, and beeswax. Beeswax helps solidify the balm and works as a protective layer on the skin without leaving a greasy feeling.

Chapped Cheeks Calendula Balm

Ingredients:
• 1oz dry calendula
• 8oz olive oil oil
• 1oz local beeswax
• Jars or containers

1) Infuse oil with the calendula. Infuse calendula in the oil in a double boiler and let simmer over low heat for 8 hours. This also can be done in a crock pot, taking care to not heat the oil past 130 degrees (lest it burns).
2) Strain the calendula herb material from the oil
3) Place infused calendula oil in a double boiler and heat until the beeswax melts. Adjust the consistency by adding more wax or oil, depending on your preference.
4) Remove from heat and pour into prepared tins or jars. Salves should be stored in a cool location.

Apply the balm before heading outside to protect the skin from harsh elements. If your skin feels sensitive in the shower, apply the balm before you rinse off. It may sound counter-intuitive to getting clean, but it will protect your skin from drying hot water and allow the botanicals to soak deep into the dermis for healing.

If you don’t have time to make your own, support local. While there are large-scale manufacturers making these botanical ointments, there’s a chance you live nearby a local herbalist that makes these skin creams from plants in your area.

I get great reviews on my Burdock & Rose Botanical Lip and Body Balm – which is made from all local plants that I wildcraft. I also really love Autumn Moon’s Plant Glamour in Detroit, but you can also check out localharvest.org to help locate an herbalist in your neck of the woods.

And remember – keep those balms handy to help you enjoy the cold. As my dad used to say, “There’s never the wrong weather, only the wrong clothing!” Protect your skin!

137_AZ_Mulberry_1_Fruit_LRSI remember growing up in my mother’s garden: Tall stalks of corn, overgrown zucchini bushes, large heads of cabbages — all part of the bounty grown for our dinner table. My mother canned and made preserves from our seasonal bounty, but we also had wild foods as part of our seasonal harvests.

The wild grapes lining the backyard fence were turned into jellies and canned juice. Morel mushrooms in the spring were added to eggs and pasta. Feral apples were picked off the wild apple trees near our elementary school. Wild foods were also a part of my childhood.

As I think back, I remember more and more wild food memories. They don’t come to mind immediately, and perhaps that is because they just were a part of my childhood — nothing particularly fancy or romantic.

One wild food memory, though, stands out. It was the evening I made my first summer fruit pie in my college apartment.

It was a mulberry pie, with berries I gathered alone one hot, sweaty summer night on a sandy trail beachside near to my apartment after an evening run. The pie itself wouldn’t have won a medal at the state fair by any stretch— it was runny, the fruit filling not very thick, and the crust was lumpy. But you know what? To me, the pie was amazing. And perfect.  

The memory of it all embedded into my mind forever because it was such a sensual experience.

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As my culinary abilities grew, and I found myself looking to the trees, hedges, weeds for “unloved” plants for my teas and meals at my table. Dandelions, the violets, the nettles, the burdock, and even the garlic mustard became my friends.

Overtime, I learned to sense and anticipate the subtle changes in the seasons, almost like a sixth sense. Those dry days in June? Better check on the roses and the elderflowers — one round of summer thunderstorms could decimate the delicate blooms that I so love to dry for tea.  And nuts falling in the green gulch next to my kitchen window? Better harvest those walnuts before the squirrels do.

I feel so empowered with this ability to “read”  the wild world around me. And now, my own children are cultivating a deep plant relationship as they work alongside me in the garden and accompany me on hikes in the woods and fields – even along the sidewalks – to gather wild foods.

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Gathering Mulberries

The common mulberry (Morus spp.: Morus alba or Morus rubra) is one of the first berries of summer to harvest, as well as one of the  easiest berries to discover and gather for simple snacking or cooking, especially for the urban forager.

Compared to other summer fruits, the mulberry has a slightly unremarkable flavor — it isn’t very sweet, isn’t very tart, isn’t significantly jammy for the dark berry that it is. That said, perhaps it is the delight of encountering such an abundant berry – especially in the urban areas, where mulberry is a common ornamental. It is a nice, cooling berry to snack on while out on the trail or on a run as the summer warms up. Easy picking and easy snacking.

The mulberry is high in antioxidants, and can be gathered in large quantity, strained through a sieve and made into juice that can be then made into a cocktail syrup and flavored with other herbs like lemon balm, basil or even lemon verbena.

The mulberry harvest can be made into jam and fruit leather (again, running through a food mill to remove the more seedy bits and the fruit stemlets).  The mulberry can also be baked into a pie alone or mixed together with the first of the summer strawberries. If used alone, the fruit can be quite runny, so add in an appropriate thickener to make sure the pie is not too soupy.

The mulberry is often most noticed as a small tree, growing in heights of 25-30 feet (though it can grow to be as tall as 70!). Its young bark ranges from yellowish to orangish-brown, with scattered large white lenticels. Older bark is brown and ridged with an occasional glimpse of orange inner bark. If the roots should be unearth by erosion or contraction, they are distinctively orange.

The mulberry is abundant and a common plant. There’s not need to worry about future harvests, as the seeds are spread by the birds who also love the mulberry fruit. The mulberry also makes for an excellent edible landscape tree and fits well into a permaculture landscape design.

The white mulberry is a native of China, but is a common ornamental planting in gardens, courtyards, and municipal parks across the Midwest and is naturalized in some areas. The red mulberry is native and a common tree found at the edge of the woods, along trails, in partial sun and shade. Around summer solstice, the juicy fruits of the mulberry cause a nuisance of a mess wherever they fall; on the sidewalk and stoop, staining the pavement with their black juice.

The leaves of both species are alternate, simple, more or less heart-shaped and palmately veined with three main veins and rounded teeth along the edges. Both the white and red mulberry trees may have mitten-shaped leaves. The white mulberry leaves are dark and shiny on top and feel smooth. The red are not shiny, they feel rough. It’s fruits are longer, juicer and better tasting than the white.

The mulberry fruit is easy to gather.  Pick them by hand and place them into a bowl as the fruit is delicate and will not withstand being thrown into a bag or harvest basket. Note that the fruit will stain hands, bowl, clothing and can get stuck in the soles of your shoes. The berries do not have a long shelf life and should be eaten fresh or processed in the kitchen (removing stems, freezing), for later use as soon as possible.

Interested in learning more about wild plants as food and medicine? Take a look at my books, “Midwest Medicinal Plants,” and “Midwest Foraging” (Timber Press, OR) – both available on Amazon.com.

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The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris)  is anything but common. The lilac is an ephemeral scent of spring, its fragrance from the purple and white blossoms wafting in the warm breeze of May. For me, the scent reminds me of my own Mother, her love of Derby Parties and Mother’s Day with my own children.

Of course, the lilacs are gorgeous as cut flowers, arranged in large vases that should fill every room of the house. But did you know – the lilac flowers are also edible!

The Delectable Lilac

Gather the lilac’s blossoms and bring them into the kitchen, preserving their fragrance for use in drinks, confections, and desserts.

The lilac’s memorable springtime scent can be captured in an aromatic simple syrup or lilac jelly. The lilac syrup can be used in refreshing cocktail recipes, lemonades, and soda spritzers.

Lilac jelly can be topped over pastries, shortbreads, or an accompaniment (with fresh flowers as a garnish, of course), to French madeleines. It can also be drizzled over fresh spring goat cheese with spring chives for a savory and beautiful appetizer.

The fresh flowers and flower odor of the lilac can be infused directly into white sugar (let infuse for two weeks to allow the aromatics to scent the sugar) and used for baking projects – particularly delightful in shortbreads and sugar cookie recipes, or even for lightly flavoring ice cream or white yogurt.

How to Identify & Harvest the Lilac

The lilac is a European shrub that grows to heights of 15 feet tall.  The lilac has dense branches with smooth, gray bark when young. As the branches grow older and larger in diameter, the bark becomes grayish brown and shreds. The leaves are simple, ovate, green and shiny. The lilac blooms around Mother’s Day in May, with showy flower heads (panicles) of sweetly aromatic white and purple flowers.

The lilac is commonly planted as an ornamental and found often feral along hedgerows and fences. Gather the flower heads (be sure to ask if you are gathering from someone’s private garden) on a dry sunny day. Take them into the kitchen and process immediately, as the flowers quickly wilt and do not tolerate refrigerated storage for a significant amount of time.

The lilac is a common planting across the Midwest, but the forager can propagate the lilac with cuttings, air layering, or from seed. It’s a delightful spring flower and adds a nice touch to a permaculture landscape design.

Interested in learning more about wild plants as food and medicine? Take a look at my books, “Midwest Medicinal Plants,” and “Midwest Foraging” (Timber Press, OR) – both available on Amazon.com.

 

 

The dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is much more than a weed — it is a healthful salad green and important herbal medicine.

As a food, dandelion should be included at the dinner table. Bitter greens such as dandelion help the stomach in digestion by increasing bile production. It’s a good spring habit to add handfuls of wild leaves to meals a few times a day, if possible.

Dandelions grow almost everywhere and are easy to find. In early spring when the weather is cool and moist, the rapidly growing leaves are tender for eating raw. Harvest the leaves with garden shears or by hand and gently clean them in the kitchen. Leaves are best when picked in the early morning.

Its nutrition, versatility, and abundance makes dandelion such an amazing plant medicine that it never ceases to amaze me why homeowners everywhere don’t allow the dandelion to take over the lawn. It truly is a wildly free medicinal!

As an herbal medicine, the dandelion flowers, leaves, and roots are useful to support digestion, the lymphatic system, and healthy urinary tract function. It is a perfect medicine that’s readily available and easy to find.

Dandelion root is a helpful metabolic tonic for the digestive system, where it helps digestion and absorption of minerals. Roast the root and prepare it in a tea or tincture to include as part of a digestive herbal blend. Dandelion root tea has an affinity for the urinary tract system and can be included as part of a protocol to support healthy urinary function when mixed with other plants such as cranberry and echinacea.

As a lymphatic herb, dandelion flowers can be used in a topical oil to massage over cystic and fibrous tissues. I like to use a dandelion flower oil massage to bring sunshine and vibrancy to tissues that may be stagnant and stuck, particularly the lymphatic breast and pectoral tissues below the armpits and the tender lymphatic tissues along the leg and groin regions.

Dandelion flower–infused oil works well with infused oils of calendula, plantain, and violet flowers and leaves. This gentle herb-infused oil is helpful for Maya abdominal massage (a well-known technique developed by naturopath Rosita Arvigo, based on her apprenticeship with Mayan healer Don Elijio Panti), and for massage for postpartum mothers.

Gathering Dandelion

In midspring, as the weather warms, pluck the flowers easily with your fingers. Because they are difficult to wash well, harvest flowers that are free from significant dust and debris.

Dandelions that grow in the shade will be more tender and sweet than those growing in direct sun. They will also bloom later. Leaves become significantly more bitter, dry, and rough after the dandelion goes to flower and seed and as the weather becomes warm in summer.

Dig the roots any time across the seasons. The soil quality and moisture determine whether the roots will be easy or difficult to remove. Use a hand-digging tool, and be careful not to break off the taproot midway. Both the crowns and roots will need a good brushing and scrubbing in the kitchen to remove excess soil.

Interested in learning more about medicinal plants? PreOrder my next book, “Midwest Medicinal Plants” on Amazon.com today! 

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Garlic Mustard: An Edible, Bitter Green

Dandelion, parsley, arugula, romaine, radicchio, endive are all delicious, bitter greens of springtime that make perfect addition to salads!  Why do bitter flavors matter? Bitter flavors of plants, while having a negative connotation to many, may be one of the keys to our wellness.  Bitter flavors help stimulate digestion, bile production and can support healthy liver function.

While Garlic Mustard continues to persist throughout our Great Lakes bioregion and threatens to crowd-out wildflowers and native vegetation, let us consider one of its virtues:  It is an edible, bitter green. Harvest away, be sure to replace the area with other plants native to the area to help reestablish the disturbed space and prevent another Garlic Mustard Invasion (that could be a band name, hehe).

Garlic Mustard Pesto

One of the most popular ways to prepare Garlic Mustard is preparing it as a versatile, delicious pesto. Variations on pesto recipes can vary to suit personal taste preference and the flavor of the Garlic Mustard that is being harvested.

Want to prepare a large batch? Pesto can be made without the nuts (they tend to taste rancid after thawing) and froze into ice-cube sized portions that will last for several months until the local Basil is ready for harvest here in Michigan.

The pesto can be added to pasta, used in soups (like a French soup au pistou), served on crackers with cheese as an elegant appetizer, or even used as a base for a wild foods pizza of local Michigan Morels, homemade soft cheese, and wild onion.

Recipe: Foraged Greens & Garlic Mustard Pesto

4 cups leaves, stems of Garlic Mustard (washed)

1 cup wild chives

1 cup wild garlic scapes

1 cup parsley (if desired)

1 cup walnuts

4 TBSP coconut oil

1tsp sea salt, pepper, squirt of lemon juice to taste

Add all to food processor, puree.  Check flavor, add parsley, salt, pepper to preferred taste. Serve over crackers, on pizza, pasta, soup… the ideas are limitless and the pesto can be used in similar ways to traditional basil pesto.

The Rise of Garlic Mustard

What is the adage, “A weed is a plant that is growing where you don’t want it?” Abundant in areas of disturbed soil – at the forest’s edge, along roadsides, and on river floodplains – the Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata, Brassicaceae) is deemed by many as a noxious, invasive species, choking out native vegetation and spreading wildly across the state.

The Roots of Garlic Mustard

The National Park Service describes the earliest appearance of the Garlic Mustard on the Atlantic coast to be documented in 1868. High in Vitamin C and a nutritious bitter green, it is believed that it was brought along by settlers to the area of Long Island, NY for food and medicinal purposes.

Since that time in the 1800s, Garlic Mustard has spread south and west and has wrecked havoc on natural areas throughout the Eastern United States, particularly throughout disturbed areas within fields, floodplains, and woodlands here in the Great Lakes BioRegion.

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What makes Garlic Mustard able to take over so much area in so little time? Garlic Mustard thrives on disturbed land and areas under development.

The Garlic Mustard Invasion

It is winter-hardy biennial plant and can reproduce lightning fast in its second year with its ability to produce hundreds of seeds once it goes to flower. And once the plant sets its seed, the seeds can remain viable in the soil for many years.  So if you want it out, pull it as it sets out its showy white flowers (photo above).

Picking Garlic Mustard for the Best Flavor

The early basal roots are more bitter in the spring, the fleshy stems less so – and it is sweeter in the fall after a frost. The roots are slightly nutty, and the second year plant should be harvested just before it flowers… But don’t get caught up in these rules — if you are pulling it to preserve other plants in your garden or a participating in a pull, use it and partner it with other flavors like parsley, walnuts and lemon to suit your palate!

Want to learn more about wild edibles? Check out my book, “Midwest Foraging!” Available online at Amazon.com.

Weather’s changing. Glad for a warm hearth, food on my stove and a pantry & apothecary full of ways to keep me & my family healthy this winter. Counting my blessings.

With the cold, damp weather upon us, one of my most favorite warming drinks is Chai. I like my chai so many different ways — with boiled coffee, with Lapsang Seuchong tea for a nice smoky flavor. With good, rich raw organic milk and honey.

My chai is a basic Masala Chai and varies depending on my mood or what I have on hand.  Masala means blend, and that makes me feel good about never really being strict on what goes into the pot. It allows me to tailor it as I wish.

Chai, on the whole, is a wonderful beverage that can help move circulation to the fingers and toes. It is perfect for this time of year once the weather turns colder. If you are headed outside, drink Chai when you come back in to quickly warm up those extremities. As someone who is chronically cold, this is a great way to warm up (that, and making sure I get enough fats in my diet!!).

Funny enough, I never had many warming aromatic spicy drinks in my house growing up as a child. I don’t ever remember having ginger in the house or chilies … and gosh, maybe never even fresh garlic, now that I think of it. Ah, life as a caucasian child in West Michigan in the 80s… These are all herbs I’ve come to appreciate from my own culinary and herbal learnings as an adult. But I digress. That’s all for another post.

It wasn’t until I moved out to the San Francisco Bay Area that really began drinking Chai (REAL chai — not the stuff in the box that became popular in the late 90s). I learned how to first make chai while volunteering at Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley… and somewhere I have that recipe that will serve 30.  I’ve adapted that recipe over the past 12 years (below), and now I can easily make just a pot of chai on the stove for myself while working at home or for visiting friends and clients.  You will find my recipe is written in a way that it can be easily scaled for any size group.

Making Chai Magical with Chaga. One of the most delicious ingredients I’ve been adding to my chai lately (as well to coffee, soups, bone broths, and sauces) is Chaga mushroom. Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a parasitic fungus that grows out of the wounds of birch trees (Betula spp). It grows across the northern hemisphere in forests with the Birch tree, and can be found here in the woods of the Great Lakes where the birch trees are plentiful.

Location & Foraging. I haven’t had much luck finding Chaga in the immediate Grand Rapids area, so I usually head north to forage it, where it grows aplenty. Some local folks have also said that it’s abundant along the lakeshore in West Michigan — though while growing up, I cannot ever remember that being one of the mushrooms we hunted for growing up (that’s not to say it isn’t there — I am sure it is). Bring along a mallet or small hammer to help get the Chaga from the tree. It’s harder than you might think. Be sure to thank the tree when harvesting always…

Because chaga is becoming popular and has been qualified as a locavore superfood, sustainable and careful harvesting of the fungus is important. Practice mindful harvesting techniques and do not remove the entire fruiting body from the tree to ensure that the chaga will continue to grow and mature for future harvests. It can take up to a decade for chaga to regrow to a harvestable size.

Uses. I was first introduced to Chaga as it’s used in herbal medicine by herbalist and friend Jim McDonald, and fell in love with the taste, smell and texture of Chaga when I first experienced herbalist Margi Flint’s skin cream. Because of it’s history of use for cell regeneration and support for the immune system, I learned from Flint that she incorporates the Chaga into foods, teas, beverages, and into that skin cream of her’s. Not only have I fallen in love adding Chaga to all sorts of foods, but I have had fantastic luck with making herbal variations of Margi’s Chaga Cream to support the skin’s ability to regenerate healthy skin cells and ward off melanoma.

Taste. Chaga has this rich flavor profile not all that dissimilar to a dark chocolate. It pairs well adding it to boiled coffee, pasta sauces, chili recipes, mole sauces, peanut butter & chocolate smoothies and ice cream and chai.  Imagine slathering yourself with this wonderful emmolient cream that smells of chocolate and feels so nourishing… Oh, I digress again. That cream recipe is for another post.

Processing. To get the most from this mushroom, it needs to be powdered and ground, and then its medicine is best extracted in a long simmering decoction in water to make a tea.

Processing is super easy if you just go online and order pre-powdered Chaga from a reputable mushroom source. I have had great experience with Mushroom Harvest and highly recommend their products.  Not so easy if you are foraging your own Chaga.

If you forage your own fresh Chaga off the Birch tree, Chaga is nearly impossible to process without the use of heavy stone tools, a hammer, and — I most recently l learned — a wood rasp to grind it down to a beautifully fine powder for infusions.

Don’t put whole Chaga pieces in your blender or spice grinder as it most likely will burn out your motor and screw up your blade (trust me on this one). If you are smashing it up, take care to use a sizable, durable mortar and pestle (once broken down into larger chunks).  Some say to remove the blackened exterior shell of the mushroom, but I just use the whole thing. You might want to wear protective eye-wear, too, lest you want chunks of flying Chaga in your eyeball (Safety first, right?).

Preparation. To make a Chaga infusion, add 1 part ground/powdered mushroom to 10 parts boiling water and then simmer for 20 minutes for a long extraction. Strain and consume. Make stovetop boiled coffee with it (yum). The infusion can be frozen for future use to cook foods like pastas, grains, nourishing infusions and bone broths. It can also be used as the waters in a cream recipe if you make your own skin cream.

The ground/powdered mushroom ~can~ also be added directly to a sauce or soup or smoothie (take care, though there are no large bits, lest you want to break a tooth by surprise). Some suggest a double extraction if you wish to make a tincture from a tea, but I haven’t used it this way and am not sure of the ratios. For my Chai, I add the ground mushroom to the final simmer of the herbs in the water. Or an infusion can be used to simmer the aromatics.

Lisa’s Masala Chai:

Masala Aromatics (for 2 quarts of Chai):

1 TBSP cinnamon

1 TBSP coriander

1 TBSP cloves

1/2 TBSP cumin

1/4 TBSP cardamon

1/4TBSP black pepper

1/4 TBSP dry ginger

I toss all these ingredients into an iron skillet and slightly toast them on the stove. I let the blend cool and add a dash of nutmeg, then grind when ready to make Chai. Because I make large batches of roasted Masala blend, I store it in a glass jar and then use about 5 tablespoons of herbs to grind and then make into Chai.   Pro-tip: This is the same blend you can use to make a Masala vegetable dishes. So it’s good to have a large batch on hand for more than just chai.. 😉

Simmering the Chai:

Add the Masala Blend, 2 TBSP of ground Chaga to a pot and cover with 2 quarts boiling water, simmer for 20 minutes. For a bit more local flavor, add in a few tablespoons of local SpiceBush Berries if you have some.

Remove from heat and add black tea (I like Lapsang Seuchong) if you wish. If your tea is added as loose leaf, I suggest that you strain the Chai into a thermos or teapot after about 2 minutes (the tea can turn your Chai very tannic if left to steep too long). If using a tea ball, just remove the tea after a few minutes.

Sweeten the entire pot or by the glass with real maple syrup or honey. Yum. Add milk, too, if you like. Sip. Enjoy.

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Resources:

Processing Chaga video: I came across this interesting YouTube Video and thought I’d share. It demonstrates the use of a rasp.

More on Chaga from another Michigan WildCrafter

Kiva’s Chai Musings

Double extraction process for making a tincture with Chaga

For other Chai recipe ideas: FoodIly

To order bulk organic herbs, I frequently recommend Mountain Rose Herbs

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