Burdock & Rose

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

Category: forest gardening

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 Pine: A Woodland Tree Medicine

FullSizeRender (3)

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.

“Rampant” Overharvesting: Digging Too Deep for Wild Leeks

 

11041582_837601799628006_612991772795604945_n

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.

The last days of winter…

207638_4725735135010_350567691_n

The last days of winter are always the longest days. It’s like being 9 months pregnant – just when you thought it was your due date and the baby’s ready, you are forced to weather out 10 more days, waiting for change. And with spring, just when you are about to sell the proverbial farm lot, stock and barrel, the weather breaks and plants spring forth from the ground.

Well, even with that nice 65 degree day us Michiganders had Monday, we aren’t to spring… yet.

The snow is retreating and has left behind a trail of winter – dirty snowpiles and trash along roadsides. Maple syruping continues (READ MORE HERE), but it’s too cold still for planting cool weather crops directly in the soil– maybe we will see the soils warm enough over the next 10-20 days to plant sweat peas and other cool-weather greens for spring salads.

As for the wild and weedy plants that come up on their own time (like birthing babies), I am finally seeing the familiar and cold-tolerant field garlic in clumps among the leaf litter, mullein basal rosettes starting to unfurl and dock leaves stretching their long leaves.

IMG_1243

It will only take a bout of warmer weather and we will see many other plants spring forth from the soil — the chickweed, cleavers, garlic mustard, dandelion greens and violets to name a few… all are right around the corner.

Want to learn more about what’s coming up for spring foragers? I invite you to come to my next class, Foraging 101 with Ada Parks at the Ada Parks Learning Center. We will cover foraging basics and head outside for an early season plant walk.

Check out my other plant walk classes coming up this spring – lots of opportunities to learn about the wild edibles around you! Click HERE to see the listing – there’s something for everyone!

943539_10200451520624246_506995141_n

In the meantime, the land wants some help in spring cleaning. Take a moment or two this weekend to collect a bag of trash off the road or in a nearby park. It’s a good deed for the land, and nourishing for the soul to be a caretaker of the earth this is about to offer us another season of life.

The Magic Nectar of Maple Syrup

FullSizeRender

Who doesn’t love that dark amber nectar of real maple syrup – the sweetness of the trees and one of the earth’s most decadent and natural sweeteners? Click HERE to watch me rave about syrup on WZZM13.

We treat maple syrup like it’s liquid gold in my house – a precious food that I love to use in cooking. Why is real maple syrup like liquid gold? Because it is! Not only do the sugar maple trees grow in relatively small range across the globe, but 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.

IMG_2414

A variety of trees and species can be tapped to produce a syrup sweetener (maples and birches), but it’s the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) specifically that produces that sweet, vanillin flavored syrup we all know as REAL maple syrup.  The sugar maple grows as far east across Canada into Vermont, as far west as Wisconsin, and as far south as Georgia – making a heart-shaped area in the northeast in which superior maple syrup can be produced. Read more HERE to learn about the syruping process.

As a sweetner, 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. But 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.

Maple syrup is also a useful sweetener in my herbal apothecary for tonics and tinctures, like my Dark Storm Bitters. The maple syrup can also be used as a base to make an iron-rich yellow dock syrup supplement for those needing an iron supplementation.

And these are just a few maple syrup uses… what are your favorites? Any special ways of using it in the apothecary?

IMG_1276

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.

IMG_1287

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 del to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

3) Boil syrup, sugar, water 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.

IMG_1283