Burdock & Rose

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

Tag: midwest

Summer Staycations: Foraging with Kids

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Collecting sumac drupes for sumac lemonade

There’s no better place on earth in summer than #PureMichigan. Summer vacation is a time to load the car and head to the lakeshore – bikes tied to the back and sandals in tow. The great thing about our Great Lakes state is that we are never more than 20 minutes from an outdoor adventure that can rival any escape to greater terrain up north or out west.

As part of your outdoor escape, get the kids, neighbor’s kids, and even dog outdoors to plan an foraging expedition to learn wild edibles. From bogs to dune habitats at the lakeshore, this is a great chance to expose children to parts of Michigan they’ve never experienced before AND teach them new outdoor skills.

Short on time and want an even lower cost excursion? Plan this endeavor to take place in your own backyard! There are many wild edibles to discover right outside your doorstep.

To begin to learn and identify wild edibles with the children:

Pick a place to explore: Let the kids select the plants around them to learn, sometimes the most adventures can actually happen right outside the back door in the yard!

Safety: Remind the explorers to never pick nor eat a plant until they can properly ID the plant.

Remind the children of the rules of foraging: Ask permission if it is private property you are exploring and respect the rules of any parks area.

Respect plant sustainability: Teach the children that we are stewards of the land and can help plants grow and propagate, especially native plants and never harvest plants that are on the threatened or endangered list.

Pack a foraging kit: Include a notebook, colored pencils, a camera and perhaps a snack, sunscreen and bug repellant (need an herbal recipe? check out my blog here).

Find the right expertise: Head to the library and select a few good field guides and consider picking up a copy of Midwest Foraging at your local bookstore.

Let this journey be kid-led. Let them explore the outdoors, make a plant journal and even let them get really dirty. Create a cool certificate or bad for those kids completing the adventure and celebrate them for trying something new. It’s low-cost, high-yield activity that offers lessons that last a lifetime.

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To find a trail: 

Thanks to the glaciers long ago, the ecosystems of Michigan area are very diverse. And what better way to learn about them than to explore them on foot with the family in tow?

In Kent County, the Kent County Parks Foundation and The Friends of Grand Rapids Parks offers miles and miles of maintained trails in its expansive parks network that local residents can explore free of charge. The State of Michigan also offers great resources for hiking. Headed north? Try the Leelanau Land Conservancy for ideas of local nature walks. Some programs offer walks free for area residents.

Be sure to add to your summer bucket list nature centers and eco-preserves to walk the trails and experience the land that might be different. Remember, many of these habitats may have stringent rules prohibiting foraging – be sure to use these areas as learning laboratories only, taking nothing and leaving only footprints.

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Gathering black raspberries in the hedgerow behind our house.

Click HERE for my kid-friendly Staghorn Sumac Lemonade recipe and for more easy tips for foraging with kids, visit WZZM13 Online: Staghorn Sumac.

“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.

Holiday Cooking with Pines, Spruce & Firs

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Spruce tips (Picea spp) are a wonderful culinary flavoring in the kitchen.

 

From firs to pines to spruces– these favorite evergreens adorned many homes for the holidays with their fragrant boughs.

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to take down the trimmings– but wait! The boughs can serve an additional purpose: Before directing that greenery out to the compost or to the curb for recycling, think about repurposing those evergreens in the kitchen for both culinary flavorings and herbal medicine.***

Pines, firs and spruces are all edible and have various notes of flavor in their needles and branches. There is no finer way to bring the aroma of the forest into the kitchen and onto the plate than by cooking with these evergreens. High in vitamin C, the needles of pines, firs and spruces are notably bright, slightly sour, and citrusy in flavor. The needles can be used as a culinary flavoring in most recipes that call for lemon. Chop the needles and use them as an herb to flavor salads, butters, and vinegars for dressings. Add the needles to potato salads, bean salads, and pasta salads with other fresh salad greens. The needles, chopped, can also be used to flavor rustic breads in place of rosemary.

For the bar, spruce and pine needles can be made into a simple syrup or infused honey that can flavor mixed drinks or martinis. Beer brewers are becoming interested in using foraged ingredients and can use the fresh spruce or pine tips as a flavoring agent in the second fermentation cycle of brewing. A short fermentation will capture the desired aromatics and citrus high notes for a Belgian or wheat-styled ale without making the brew overly “tree” flavored.

Roasting meat or fish? Water-soaked boughs and needles can be used to roast or steam white-fleshed fish to infuse the meat with the flavors of the evergreens.

And for dessert, concoct a pine or spruce-infused honey to drizzle over ice cream (or can flavor ice cream!). The infused honey can also be served alongside a Stilton or local cheddar cheese — It is a sumptous way to savor the magical forest flavor.

These conifers also have a place in the herbal apothecary. As an herbal remedy, spruce, fir or pine needles can be made into a tea. Add boiling water to a pot of needles, cover, and let steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Its aromatics can open up stuffy sinuses and the astringency of the tea can help dry up runny noses and sinus gunk. Sweeten with honey, sip, and inhale the aromatics for best results.

Other musings on these conifers and their uses:

Pine needle tea

Fir body balms: (My friend and herbalist Rebecca McTrouble makes a divine White Fir Body Butter)

Spruce tip beer

Aromatic steam inhalations for colds and flus

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***Foraging note: Some things to give consideration before using the evergreen boughs for food and herbal use — make sure your boughs were sourced from a tree farm or nursery that uses chemical-free growing practices. It’s common in commercial Christmas tree farming to spray the trees with a fire retardant also, in addition to possible herbicides and/or pesticides used in the fields.

Don’t decorate your home with conifers for the holiday? The branches and boughs can be sustainably harvested off the forest floor after a winter’s wind storm without having to gather directly from a mature tree. 

Autumn Olive: An Underworld Fruit

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Spent time in the woods gathering autumn olive berries yesterday from trees still heavy with ripe fruit. I hope we can reimagine these delightful fruits as life-giving and nourishing because of their abundance (or invasiveness, depending on perspective). The rain, falling leaves and dark day’s weather were symbolic of the slow transition to winter; these berries reminding me so very much of the underworld story of Persephone and her treasured pomegranate …

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I was inspired to concoct a warming spiced autumn olive chutney for fall cooking to enjoy as the weather turns colder.

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Warming, spiced autumn olive chutney 

Simmer in a small saucepan until thickened. Take care to not scorch the fruit. Add to small glass jars and store in the fridge or even freeze. Perfect on vegetables, white fish, turkey, goose, phesant or chicken.

  • 3-4 cups autumn olive berries (the central seed and thin stems will more or less soften up a bit while cooking but if you wish you can mash it all through a food mill before, but I am not that fussy)
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 cup white or brown sugar
  • 2 TBSP maple syrup
  • 2 TBSP vanilla
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • season with clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and chili pepper to taste

 Enjoy this recipe and relish with gladness the earth’s bountiful and beautiful harvests, for soon it will be winter. 

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On a plant writing sabbatical…

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Headed across the Midwest, with my camera and laptop in tow.

Destination is Big Sky & Jackson Hole for a writing sabbatical, working on my next book — “The ReWilded Kitchen: A Forager’s Guide to Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Midwest” (Timber Press, 2014).

Here, I stopped just outside of Gary, Indiana off of Interstate 94 to get up close with Chicory. Since Ancient Greek times, it’s been referred to as a Guardian of the Roadways (Wood). The wild Chicory, a delicious bitter green similar in flavor to cultivated Endive, is in full bloom and lines the roadways of the Midwest. Slow down and say hello to her!!

The choice of spot to take her photo — just a few miles from the US Steel complex in the heartland of the Rustbelt — was pretty intentional. Being a city-dweller myself, I am always drawn to the layering of industry, people, plants, “contamination” and the remediation of land. As a forager, the idea of contamination is real and is important — prudent knowledge of plants and potential contamination from the surrounding land is always top of mind for harvesting and health’s sake.

That said, I frequently wax poetic over this dichotomy in my mind… “I live in the city, my environment is contaminated, thus everything is toxic and I cannot eat it.” … Certainly lead, heavy metal contaminants are toxic to human health and foraging must be done prudently, but is bug juice and spicy Cheetos from the corner store more nourishing and less toxic than chicory on the same corner growing in an empty lot??

Without jumping to conclusions that the Chicory salad greens would be the better choice (factoring in all processes and toxicity of processed food), it’s a good conversation starter…