Burdock & Rose

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

Month: March, 2016

Go Green with Garlic Mustard Pesto

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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 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.

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).

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).

Behind Every Vice… The Garlic Mustard’s Virtue

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 edible!

Like many early spring greens, the flavors of the Garlic Mustard are predominantly bitter. Different parts of the plant, as well the age of the plant can affect the degree in the bitter flavor.

Great Lakes Herbalist Jim McDonald believes that the 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.

Other bitter plants that are beneficial to add into the diet include parsley, arugula, romaine, radicchio, endive, dandelion, and coffee. Best thing about Garlic Mustard as a bitter – it can be easily harvested for FREE with little concern of damaging its plant population!

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!

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.

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.

The Herbalist’s Line

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I’ve been in-house blending organic teas at The Spice Merchants in Grand Rapids as their resident herbalist. My favorite combos are now located right there at the shop under “The Herbalist’s Line.”

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I also have some of my own wildcrafted, Burdock & Rose herbals in stock at the Grand Rapids location, as well as my book, “Midwest Foraging.” I’m pretty delighted to work with the Spice Merchants – it harkens back to the family business in Flint – my Grandfather’s wholesale tea and coffee business: Mack Tea & Coffee.

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You will see me around the DT Market every so often, working alongside their great staff answering herbal questions. I’ll try to get better at announcing when I’ll be around so you can stop by!

In the meantime, be well and drink tea!

Maple Syrup: A Forager’s Sweet Treat

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Drip. Drip. Drip. That’s the sound you hear of the maple tree’s sap dripping into buckets.

Did you know that it takes up to 60 gallons of sap to produce just ONE gallon of maple syrup. Consider that next time you are incredulous over the price of real maple syrup in the market — most commercial brands are made entirely of corn syrup – not a drop of that natural sap. Cheap and totally not the real deal.

In its raw form, the sap is a drinkable beverage that endurance athletes are realizing has a similar content of electrolytes as coconut water – and local, too. The sap also contains trace minerals of zinc, manganese and some iron, and these minerals remain as the sap cooks into maple syrup.

Foragers – aka Sugarbushers – tap a variety of trees and species to gather sap to make syrup – from maples to walnut trees to birches.  Most commonly known is the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) that produces the sweet vanillin flavored syrup we all know as REAL maple syrup.

The sap has to be boiled down in an evaporator- this reduction process boils off the extra water to produce that condensed, sweet syrup. Caution – don’t ever try to evaporate the sap inside. My mom did this once, and it peeled the wallpaper off the kitchen walls and left a sticky residue on the walls. It is now a family joke, but it wasn’t funny at the time.

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An outdoor evaporator is used by the students and staff at the West Michigan Academy for Enviro Science to boil down their sap.

As a sweetener, maple syrup has half the glycemic load of refined or white sugar, making it a good choice for those minding their sugar intake (all of us, right?). It’s delicious of course in pancakes, stirred into coffee, topped over oatmeal and drizzled over ice cream.

Maple syrup has lovely savory uses as well – as a glaze for meats and fish, balsamic dressing, or drizzled atop stinky cheeses.And the baking and candy making – oy – the candy making. My favorites are turning maple syrup into caramels and toffee. Super yum.

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Maple Fleur de Sel Caramels 

What’s more decadent than a delicious caramel? Why, one that is made with 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.