Burdock & Rose

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

Month: April, 2015

Pull, Eat, Repeat: The Invasive Garlic Mustard

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Tender basal rosettes of the first year plant of garlic mustard are a delicious, spring wild edible. Harvest it now to eat and also to prevent spread of this invasive plant.

Abundant at the forest’s edge, along roadsides, and on river floodplains, garlic mustard is deemed by many as a noxious, invasive species that chokes out native vegetation. But we mustn’t forget that garlic mustard is also a highly nutritious spring green.

An invasive species like garlic mustard is a wonderful early spring staple in the forager’s kitchen — it makes a delicious and utilitarian pesto. We can help minimize the plant’s invasiveness in native habitats while providing nourishment at the table by incorporating it into regular mealtime.

The earliest appearance of garlic mustard was recorded in the mid-1800s on the Atlantic coast. High in vitamin C and a nutritious bitter green, it is believed to have been brought by settlers to the area of Long Island, N.Y., for food and medicinal purposes. Since that time, garlic mustard has spread south and west and has wreaked havoc on natural areas throughout the eastern United States, particularly in disturbed areas within fields, floodplains, and woodlands across the Midwest.

Garlic mustard thrives on disturbed land and areas under development. It is a winter-hardy biennial plant and can reproduce lightning fast in its second year, able to produce hundreds of seeds once it goes to flower. Once the plant sets its seed, the seeds can remain viable in the soil for many years. 

Frequently, the entire plant is pulled before it goes to flower to help maintain control of the garlic mustard’s population. Try to work clean in removing the plant from the soil, as this will mean less soil to remove in the kitchen. If you don’t remove the entire plant and only want to gather the leaves, kitchen shears can easily trim the edible greens. The stems are best harvested before the flower buds appear or open. Trim these succulent stalks of their leaves and discard the leaves before cooking.

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A versatile garlic mustard pesto for flatbreads, pastas and crackers. A delicious way to eat the weedy invasive species!

One of the most popular ways to prepare garlic mustard greens is as a versatile, delicious pesto. Pesto recipes can be adjusted (the lovely thing about pesto!) to suit personal taste preferences and the flavor of the garlic mustard that is being harvested. Want to prepare a large batch? Pesto can be made without the nuts and frozen into ice-cube sized portions that will last for several months until the local basil is ready for harvest. Add the nuts later, when are ready to serve the dish.

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Flatbreads featuring garlic mustard pesto and locally grown mushrooms.

The pesto can be added to pasta, used in soups (like a French soupe au pistou), served on crackers with cheese as an elegant appetizer, or even used as a base for a wild foods pizza of local morels, homemade soft cheese, and wild onion. In other dishes, partner garlic mustard with complimentary flavors like parsley, walnuts, and lemon to suit your palate.

Basic 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.

“Rampant” Overharvesting: Digging Too Deep for Wild Leeks

 

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Wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) are an early spring delicacy for foragers. Clip the top greens only for sustainable harvesting.

An early spring ephemeral, the wild leek—or ramps—is an aromatic, delicious wild onion. The bulb sweetens when roasted, pickles well for martinis, and has tops that are delicious as garnish or incorporated into a spring salad.

While they may seem to carpet the floor of the woods in the spring, there is growing concern for overharvesting wild leeks for the restaurant market and by hobby foragers. 

Regionally, wild leeks are distributed as far east as New York State and through Canada, west into the forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and south into Appalachia. Wild leeks are plentiful in the well-drained soil of beech and maple hardwood forests along rivers and on the back dunes along the Great Lakes shoreline. The broad leaves of the wild leek are frequently found alongside unfolding mayapples and trout lily.

Recently, the wild leek (Allium tricoccum) has been the forager’s darling, showing up on menus and in farmers’ markets. This increase in popularity is putting pressure on the wild leek population along the East Coast and has the potential to do so in the Midwest. It takes about three years for a seed to develop into a mature leek ready for harvest—a long time!

It takes about 18 months for a ramp seed to germinate, and another two years for that seed to grow into a small bulb** that sprouts two broad, smooth leaves of about 6 to 8 inches in length and 2 to 3 inches across. A sizable, mature bulb should be at least 3 years old or more.  In midsummer, the plant sends up a flower stalk with a white flower cluster which then bears small, round 1/8-inch seeds.

But harvest with care: recent popularity has threatened it.

The bulbs can be easily dug with a garden fork, but only harvest the full plant in moderation. The most sustainable way to enjoy the wild leek is to only clip the tops for use in cooking. Take time to first learn the distribution of leeks in the area before harvesting, and chose to harvest tops only.

Transplanting wild bulbs within the wild can help expand stands of the plant. Also, local growers are beginning to propagate the wild leeks for private forest gardens, making this a sustainable option for the forager wishing to enjoy the bulbs in the early spring.

I won’t lie: I really love ramps. But unless we take some pressure off of the wild plant populations, we will ensure their demise. Helping ensure a good foraging ethic is an important part of cultivating a sustainable local food system.

To that end, cultivate your own stands of wild leeks to ensure a small harvest each year.  Be sure to inquire at markets and at restaurants as to the forager’s sourcing and practices in gathering the wild leeks. In doing so, you can enjoy this delicious spring vegetable and help ensure patches of leeks in the wild can also be enjoyed by future generations.

For a more information on sustainable harvesting of wild leeks, view this recent article in Epicurious.

The wild leek is a early spring bulb that is markedly oniony in both flavor and scent. This early spring food could easily be mistaken with the false hellebore and lily of the valley, both of which are poisonous and neither of which smells or tastes like onion. If in doubt, scratch and sniff.

Think Little This Earth Day

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Pointing out the small spring shoots of Solomon’s Seal.

In the spirit of Earth Day, I think of the small actions and the power each of us has to effect positive change on the Earth, its land and all its inhabitants. Sometimes the problems we face as a planet and species seems insurmountable, but deep down, I truly believe we each have the power to make change.

Question is, where to start? We need to start with ourselves. Being open to see our relationship with the world and how we view the resources around us. How can we live more in tandem with the cycles of nature – in business, at home, in our personal lives. Can we be honest with ourselves, asking truly how do our actions impact others across the Earth? These are tough and uncomfortable questions.

I am not perfect and enjoy many creature comforts life affords me in the realm in which I live. But I do need to ask – how can I be a better steward of all I have to support me in my life? How can I do more with less? How can I listen to the Earth and better mimic the cycles of rest, growth, death and regeneration?

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I am seeing a growing groundswell of interest in learning the wild, edible plants.

I know I am not alone in asking these questions. It pleases me that more and more people are paying attention to these questions – questions that aren’t new, but are absolutely still relevant. When 40 people show up to my wild edibles classes, I start to realize that just like the growth of the local food movement, there is a growing groundswell of interest in the bigger picture of the natural world around us.

I offer inspiration from an essay by Wendell Berry called “Think Little” (from A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural & Agricultural reprinted in the Whole Earth Catalog, 1969).

“If we are to hope to correct our abuses of each other and of other races and of our land, and if our effort to correct these abuses is to be more than a political fad that will in the long run be only another form of abuse, then we are going to have to go far beyond public protest and political action. We are going to have to rebuild the substance and the integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and we are going to have to put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods. We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need persons and households that do not have to wait upon organizations, but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own.” ~Wendell Berry, 1969

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Sharing love for Motherwort.

I teach about wild plants and their role in our lives because its a forum that helps me better understand both myself and the place in which I live. Studying both plants and their ecosystems are models that can show me how to live a truly rich life. If I pay attention.

We are realizing that the answers we seek are already around us. If we pay attention. If we take action.

 

 

*photos by Megan Smith. 2015

The Roots of My Practice

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Maya healer and wonderful friend, Don Daniel Pool-pech. Tulum, MX

“If you don’t do the work of the heart, then you will always have pain.” ~ Don Daniel, Maya plant friend in Tulum MX, 2015.

I traveled to Tulum first in 2009, the first of what began as many trips to the Yucatan and the beginning of a love affair with such a magical place.  It was on that trip that I met an herbalist from Colorado – Shelley Torgrove where she introduced me to her Maya teacher and plant healer, Don Daniel Poolpech.

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Don Daniel and Shelley Torgrove, Tulum MX.

 

At the time of that trip, I was between “careers” … I had recently left my work as the director of our local nature center, which included leaving the small nonprofit I had founded called Mixed Greens (we created school gardens to teach nutrition education programming to urban schoolkids). I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was doing some food systems consulting, but that wasn’t tugging at my heart-strings. My children were little, then-husband commuting to Ghana (yes, Africa) and I was needed at home. NGO work had burned me out, having babies had sucked me dry — I was fried. And I was only turning 30.

I remember telling a farmer friend of mine I was so tired that I couldn’t even bother clearing away the leaves from my garden. His reply – maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe you should sit and listen to the plants. In Tulum – and upon meeting Shelley – I said out loud, “I want to work with plants as an herbalist” (even though I had no idea what that even meant – and still don’t haha). I just ~knew~ that being an herbalist was my calling.

Don Daniel, seeing how anxious I was (about everything) gave me blessings and a strong sedative tea. He told me (in Spanish) to drink it, as it’d help heal my stomach, clear my head and open my heart. Then he sent me back north to begin my path as an herbalist…

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Vinca blanca, an ingredient for my tea from the garden of Don Daniel in Tulum, MX.

Now 2015, I went to him with gratitude and humility and prayers for clarity and strength as I begin this next chapter in my life.

Don Daniel took me into his garden to harvest plants for my medicines and taught me their names. I dried the plants in my window of my rental car, as an impromptu solar dryer. Plant medicines for my own healing, to carry with me as I head back north to continue along the path.  Hopeful. Softer. Less anxious. Focused. And free. There’s healing power inherent in gathering your own medicines.

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My visit with Don Daniel in 2015

My plan is to return to Tulum within the year with my own students, to introduce people to the culture, food and herbal traditions of the Yucatan. We will stay in Tulum with locals, ride bikes, swim at the beach, dive into cenotes, eat nourishing foods and learn a bit from Don Daniel’s ways of Maya healing. It will be adventure of rest, renewal and growth. Look for an invitation soon to join me on a trip in May of 2016.

For now, I am partnering with Shelley on a fall excursion in Maya healing with Don Daniel. Interested? Take a look at Shelley’s website, Artemisia & Rue for the October 2015 excursion. We’d love to have you join us.

A Herbalist’s Pilgrimage to Tulum

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The Ruins of Tulum, MX 2015

Tulum has always held a special place in my heart. My first visit was in 2009 and I instantly fell in love with her people, ruins, beaches, city and plants.

Since that time I’ve made many visits around the Yucatan – Merida, Valladolid – all lovely places with unique personality. So in choosing all places to visit again, I chose Tulum.

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Sipping coco frios at the Ruins. Tulum 2009

This trip to Tulum was special. I was alone, with dictionary in hand. Sort of a soul-searching trip with not much on the books save for rest, eating, beach and plant study with my Maya friend and teacher Don Daniel.

I came down here again to recognize my own transformation over the years and the beauty of growing into my skin – despite all the heartache and pain of moving through that ever changing life of our’s. I needed to be able to document it for me as a reminder that life molds us like clay. And that we are shaped by so many people and experiences and not to push away any of it but embrace it. Pull it closer.

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Same place. Same Chacos. Older, wiser (up for debate). Definitely softer and open to new beginnings. Tulum 2015

I needed to see for myself that I didn’t push any of it away- but rather embraced the challenges over the past years, survived and am vital and full of life. No matter how painful it is to go into the darkness, dig deep and find the source of what really makes “us.” Put those roots deeper into the earth. Add water. Soil. Sun. Grow.

Appropriately enough, Tulum in Maya is translated as New Beginnings.

I traveled to the ocean to wash away the detritus of the past few years with the salt water beneath the ruins. To release myself from the strangling anxiety and to be open to new experiences for the future, to reconnect with the plants that first called me to be an herbalist.

To find rest and renewal and encouragement, to dig deep and be courageous to “live in the not knowing” – as Don Draper would say.

To be free.

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Sometimes, you get the signs you need. In English. Tulum, MX 2015

Travel & The Forager

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Last month, I turned a spring ski session into a usnea harvest outing while in the mountains of Montana. If I am in a new area, or bioregion with plants different than the ones from my own homeland, you can be sure I am out learning plants and gathering those I know and that are useful in my apothecary.

Traveling gives me a unique perspective as a forager and herbalist. It allows me to gather medicines I don’t have immediate to my neighborhood (once of course I have firm bearings on the plant’s distribution and a potential gathering site), and it helps me appreciate the uniqueness of the land of both where I am visiting and where I live. AND it gives me a reason to seek out local, regional plant guides!

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Usnea species or Old Man’s Beard grows prolifically in Northern Michigan and across alpine regions of the Midwest, across the Rockies and beyond. It’s a common lichen and useful in the apothecary as a tincture for infections in combination with herbs like echinacea. I gathered this usnea to compare it to the usnea local to my bioregion to see how they may differ in flavor and depth.

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