Burdock & Rose

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

Category: forager

Magical Mother’s Day Flowers: The Lilac

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 Dandy Lion of Spring

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! 

PreOrder: Midwest Medicinal Plants

“Midwest Medicinal Plants”

“Midwest Medicinal Plants” (Timber Press, OR) is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

Eat the Weeds: Garlic Mustard

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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.

Wild Summer Refreshments: Sumac “Lemonade”

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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.

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.

Botanical Balms For Dry Winter Skin

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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?

Visit Rodale’s Organic Life for my recipe for a Calendula Chapped Cheeks Balm!

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.

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!

The Pine: A Woodland Tree Medicine

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Winter is at its peak — the smell of cold, crisp, harsh air reminds us of the scarcity of the dark months. But even in the depths of winter’s darkness, nature offers us healing winter remedies for the season’s ailments.

Up above in the canopy of the woods, the boughs of pine (Pinus spp.) sends songs of its healing for the respiratory system into the breeze through the trees. Down below on the forest floor, the garlicky wild chives (Allium vinneal) poke through even the most frozen ground, cold but still carrying that flavorful aromatic of onion.

The drying, resinous aromatic pine needles and the stimulating flavors of the green tips of wild chives can be brewed together in a french press or tea pot as a loose tea.

This aromatic tea of the pine needles can release stuck mucous in the sinus cavities and can dispel the damp and stagnant lung mucous of winter’s respiratory distresses. The pine needles also adds in a bit of Vitamin C for an extra boost of this needed winter vitamin. Brew handfuls of both pine needles & tips along with handfuls of chives in equal parts hot water for 10 minutes. Sip hot.

Because of this tea’s drying nature, juice of lemon and the addition of honey are nice to add a soothing, coating element to the tea. Also from the woods, wild cherry bark (Prunus serotina) can be added to help quell an unproductive spasmodic cough to be more productive in eliminating congestion.

For sustainable gathering, collect fallen boughs and branches of the pine after strong winds have passed through the woods. The needles can be stripped from the boughs and used fresh for later use.  Clip the tops of the chives as they are perennial and will regrow as the sunlight returns to the forest.

The aroma of the simmering pine on the stovetop can also clear the air of stagnant winter ick that can collect inside the home. Simmer pine tips and needles on the stove, releasing the aromatic oils into the air. This brew can also be used as a steam inhalation by putting a few handfuls of the plants into a steaming pot. Remove from the stove and cover your head with a towel to help open the most stuck of sinuses.

Simply Sassy: A Mitten Gal’s Sassafras Rootbeer 

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The dunes of my childhood where sassafras grows in abundance.

While on a trail run through the dunes of Hoffmaster State Park this summer I realized that there is no other smell reminiscent of my West Michigan lakeshore upbringing than sassafras. That aromatic, spicy rootbeer fragrance of the sassafras floats on the breeze in the dew of the morning or after a wet, damp rain. It is one of those smells that truly defines my life.

You can imagine my delight when forager friend Sam Thayer recommended me to host a Minneapolis-based film crew to learn all about sassafras for their “How To Make Everything: Rootbeer” segment! I enjoyed taking the crew through the dunes woods of my childhood stomping grounds to gather the sassafras roots for their project. Check out our final segment on sassafras HERE.

Though it is fall and the leaves are rapidly falling from the trees, it isn’t to late to gather a few saplings to make a late fall batch of rootbeer! Want to make your own local rootbeer? Read more…

A Mitten Gal’s Sassafras Rootbeer 

Sassafras albidumSassafras is common along trails and beach areas and makes a delightful tea and culinary spice. Sassafras is a small deciduous tree that grows to heights of up to 60 feet or more in optimum conditions. It commonly has mitten-shaped, three-lobed and un-lobed leaves. Its bark is a rough and reddish brown, the aromatic roots range in color from white to reddish brown. The roots of a small sapling can be gathered in the spring or fall. Wash, chop, and completely dry them.

Here’s what you’ll need to make a simple syrup with sassafras and other woodland herbs for a refreshing batch of rootbeer soda pop.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chopped roots of sassafras**
  • 1/4 cup burdock root*
  • 1/4 cup sarsaparilla*
  • 1 tbsp dry hops*
  • 1tsp juniper berries*
  • 10 wintergreen leaves*
  • 1 tsp dry ginger root*
  • 1 tsp spicebush berries (optional)*
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups MICHIGAN maple syrup

Directions:

  • Simmer herbs in a pot with 4 cups boiling water for 5 minutes, covered to retain volatile oils.
  • Strain
  • Stir in maple syrup, let cool
  • Add 1 part sassafras simple syrup mixture to 2 parts club soda and serve over ice or with vanilla ice cream
  • Sassafras simple syrup can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 weeks

*Some herbs can be gathered by hand from the wild, procured from your local health food store or ordered online. I like Mountain Rose Herbs as an online supplier for organic herbs. To learn more about sassafras or other herbs mentioned in this recipe? Check out my book, “Midwest Foraging.”

Boo-tanical Fun For Halloween

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Snake Lady. Photo Credit: David McGowan

It’s that witchy time of year when the leaves blow from the trees and the winds howl through the misty October darkness. Apple cider, pumpkin carving and costume decorating is underway for the fun celebrations that fall across the last days of October. For a bit of botanical fun, my colleague at The Chicago Tribune and I were brainstorming lists of plants that could fit the scary and spooky bill for Halloween in his recent feature, “From creepy to dangerous, some plants a perfect Halloween fit.”

As a forager and herbalist, here’s my own Scary {but Edible!} list of Boo-tanical Horrors:

Poke (Phytolacca americana)

The pokeweed plant is very alien-looking with its bright purple clusters of berries and branching vibrant green stalks stretching across areas of disturbed ground and in waste places in urban lots and weedy garden plots.

Poke Berries

Many think this plant is poisonous – and if eaten incorrectly, it can be. But the pokeweed, despite all the warnings, can be made edible by eating the early, tiny spring shoots to make the traditional Southern dish of poke salt and the root and berries are used in herbal plant medicine. The berries make a beautiful purple plant dye to color fabrics and decor projects.

Prickly Pear (Optunia species)

Creeping along the ground with its red fruits dotting the landscape, the prickly pear cactus is the Midwest’s only wild cactus. The prickly pear grows in colonies, spreading across disturbed sandy and rocky soils, in south-facing locations.

Prickly Pear Photo Lisa Rose

Its spines ward off predators, but for those brave enough to handle the plant with leather gloves and remove it’s thorny glochids, the fruits can be used to make a delicious and fruity simple syrup for cocktails or sodas. It’s fruit can also be pureed to produce a fun and edible pink slime – perfect for Halloween tricks and treats.

Hawthorn (Crataegus species)

The hawthorn is a tree with a history of magic and folklore. The hawthorn grows as a rambling, hedgerow shrub with long and pointy spines lining its bark and branches warning everyone to hone their senses, lest they fall into the shrub’s spiny clutches while gathering the tree’s delicious fruits. Its berries are edible and can be used to make vinegar shrubs, cocktail syrups, and can be used similarly to that of the crabapple in cooking and hard cider-making.

Hawthorn Berry and Thorns

And as the hawthorn is known to be a plant of the faery realm, it’s worth remembering to take a gift of butter for the plant faeries and to sing songs while harvesting the berries. At the very least – and if you don’t believe in the plant faeries – signing songs or whistling is a good way to express thanks and gratitude for the tree’s fruits as you harvest and protect you from their potential tricks.

For more about these plants, how to harvest and how to prepare, check out my book, Midwest Foraging” and have a safe and fun Halloween season!

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