Burdock & Rose

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

Tag: spring

Eat the Weeds: Strawberry-Knotweed Pie


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Yup I said it. Pie.

Who said foraging and eating wild edibles was all about tree barks in tea and wild and bitter leaves in salads?? Us foragers also love a really yummy PIE! {which that’s not to discount the barks or bitters, btw}.

We all know and love a good strawberry-rhubarb pie in the month of June, when the wild berries are ripe or are getting big and juicy in the garden. But did you know that the invasive Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) can be transformed into a delicious strawberry pie with a similar flavor?

Japanese knotweed is at the top of nearly all of the invasive plant “Most Wanted” lists. It has virtually no known predator, other than foragers, to keep its spread in check. The Japanese knotweed spreads voraciously, lining ditches, streambeds, and woodland fields where there is damp soil. To find a stand of the Japanese knotweed, look for tall stalks left from the previous year as their woody, jointed stems last well into the next season. 

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Large stands of Japanese knotweed are fast growing and can reach heights of over 10 feet tall.

The perennial Japanese knotweed’s woody, bamboo-like leafy stalks grow in dense stands, towering in heights up to 10 feet. The new shoots emerge in early spring and are hollow and jointed with red flecks at the joints along the stem. The leaves are heart-shaped, bright green, and arranged alternately along the stem. The plant goes to flower in late summer into early fall, producing feathery clusters of dainty white blossoms.

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The tender stalks of Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) are best gathered in the spring and then stripped of leaves and used in pies, compotes and fruit jams.

The early spring shoots are crunchy with a tart, citrusy flavor similar to that of spring rhubarb. Its bright flavors make for a tart simple syrup, good for use in cocktail recipes. The larger stalks can be prepared as you would use rhubarb (unless you are cooking them, then the stalks soften significantly) in summer fruit compotes, jams, or pies. Because the fruit ripens much later than when you harvest Japanese knotweed, its stalks can be chopped and then frozen for later use.

While delicious and edible, many landscape companies and parks management protocols include using agressive herbicides on the plant to stunt its growth. So, be sure the area where you harvest hasn’t been treated with an herbicide meant to eradicate the plant. Look at surrounding vegetation for visible signs of plant burn, or ask the landowner or park manager about herbicide treatment.

One of my favorite Japanese knotweed & berry combo is in a strawberry rhubarb pie. While the strawberries from the garden aren’t ready yet here in the Midwest, the addition of the invasive Japanese knotweed was a delightful “re-wilding” of the grocery-store berries of May coming in from down south and out west (do choose organic – it matters!!).

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A Forager’s Strawberry-Knotweed Pie

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend ingredients in a mixing bowl for the filling and add to the prepared pie pan. Bake for 50 minutes until the filling begins to gel and the crust turns a golden brown. Serve with heaping spoonfuls of whipping cream, creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream. Garnish with lavender blossoms for a delightful herbal top note.

You will need: 

(1) 9″ pie pan and crust, pan buttered

For filling: 

4 cups strawberries

2 cups trimmed Japanese knotweed stalks

3/4 cups white sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 tsp salt

Maple Syrup: A Forager’s Sweet Treat

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Can you hear the trees awakening? It’s maple syrup time for the farmers and foragers setting out to tap the maple trees!

Even though the land around us continues to be covered with a deep blanket of snow, there’s a shift in the trees. With warmer days and cold, clear nights, the trees are stretching their hibernating limbs and the sap starts to flow. The birds also begin to sing again. A sure sign of spring and maple syrup’ing!

Maple syrup harvest season begins when the weather stays above freezing for a few days with continued cold temperatures of 20 degrees or so overnight — usually toward the middle to end of February in the Midwest.

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The length of the sap season varies from year to year according to the weather, anywhere between four to six weeks and toward the end of the season, the quality and viscosity of the sap changes considerably and lessens in quality. This year, because of such a late thaw, we can expect a short and fast Sugarbush season.

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 about 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.

 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.

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Want to tap your own trees? To produce maple syrup in any quantity, first identify maples of the right size for tapping. Tap only mature sugar maples at least 12 inches in diameter, placing the spike or tap about 4 to 5 feet off the ground. Hang a bucket off the tap, check it daily.  It’s helpful to have the trees close to where you will be processing the sap; as hauling, storing, and boiling down the sap is quite an operation.

To make syrup you will need to boil the sap down into syrup. Boiling off the water from the sap is a lengthy process and it puts off a lot of moisture into the air. You can build a temporary sap boiler outside to boil the sap down into syrup, or you can collect the sap and deliver it to an established sugar shack in your area. Search for local farms and nature centers across the Midwest that may have them on their properties.

Just note – Don’t boil the sap inside your home! Boiling off the water will literally peel the papers off your walls and will leave a sticky residue all over the kitchen. Not good. Not worth it – even to make syrup.

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Once the sap is boiled down into the syrup, it can be poured into bottles and canned by water bath or stored into the refrigerator.

Inspired to do your own Sugarbush? For more information check out Michigan Maple Syrup Association for news on events and backyard sugarbush training. Want to visit a local Sugarbush? If you are in the Grand Rapids area, check out Blandford Nature Center’s event happening in March!

Nutritious Nettles: A Foraged Risotto Recipe

Tender, delicious nettles poking through the brush along the  creek beds.

Tender, delicious nettles poking through the brush along the creek beds.

While on my run last Saturday, I was delighted to discover these tiny shoots of nettle (Urtica dioica)!!  I found myself stooping down to snack on them fresh with complete disregard to the tiny sting, enjoying the nettle’s flavor that I haven’t enjoyed fresh since last fall! I think my running buddies thought I was crazy… Hands down, the nettle is one of my most favorite nutritious, springtime foraged foods.

Many of us have met the stinging nettle along riverbanks and in the damp hedgerows at the edges of fields.  As kids, we most likely encountered them horsing around in the fields of grasses and brush with friends, only to be surprised by those stinging plants leaving prickly rashes on our skin. Little did we know that we just didn’t brush up against a bothersome weed, rather we were brushing up against one of the springtime’s most nutrient dense wild greens!

Look out, spinach. Pop-eye’s got a new superfood. 

Nettles have great virtues as a wild edible food that nourish the body with plenty of vitamins and minerals. Nettles are very nutrient dense; rich Vitamin C, Vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, cobalt, copper, potassium, B-complex vitamins – even protein.  And they are extremely high in chlorophyll.

In seeking out the nettle, go on spring-time (April-June) hunts (and again in the fall) in areas of nutrient-rich, damp soil. One can often find them in areas that are adjacent to rivers, streams and lakes, or along drainage areas. Take care to know the area from which you are harvesting and it’s history of use — try to avoid areas adjacent or downstream from large factories and farms.

Early spring nettles can be found along creek banks and riverbeds. Make sure to gather nettles upstream from farms or any factory to avoid pollution.

Early spring nettles can be found along creek banks and riverbeds. Make sure to gather nettles upstream from farms or any factory to avoid pollution.

Wear your harvesting gloves and long pants! They don’t call them *stinging* nettles for nothing! The stinging sensation and hive-like bumps that can occur from handling the nettle are caused from the hair-like needles found along the stem and leaves, and the sensation is similar to rolling in fiberglass. 

Fortunately, the nettles will lose (most all) their stinging properties as they dry or are cooked (steamed or sauteed). Choose smaller leaves before the plant gets tall and goes to flower mid-summer.  Once harvested, nettles can be used either fresh or dry.

If you plan on drying the nettles for use later in the season, prep them by chopping them into large pieces, taking care not to smash the fragile, fresh plant material. And do this immediately upon harvesting – you want to dry the plant in a vibrant state. You don’t want to let them wilt or deteriorate in your hot car on on the back counter. 

To dry, spread them out onto racks (screens are easy for this) and let them dry completely before storing them in glass jars. If they are not completely dry before storage, they will most likely mold.  The dried leaves can be enjoyed year round added to soups and brewed as infusions for drinking.  The infusion should be left to steep overnight as to best extract the minerals of this plant.  The flavor can be a bit swampy to some, and blending the nettle infusion with a choice of green tea, jasmine tea, oatstraw and/or red clover makes it less “swampy.” Add a bit of honey to sweeten to taste and it is a refreshing, nourishing beverage that should be consumed daily.

Fresh nettles can easily replace spinach in recipes that call for the greens.  They can be lightly cooked and added to soups, egg scrambles, quiches, or other similar recipes. Bon Appetit!

 Wildcrafted Nettle & Michigan Morel Risotto

1/4 pound young nettles (about 3 big handfuls – it will wilt like spinach)12 oz risotto/arborio rice 1 onion, chopped 4 Tablespoons butter1/2 cup dry Michigan white wine (an extra glass for the chef)6 cups chicken or vegetable stock1 oz grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup chopped fresh Michigan morels (if lucky) or fresh shitakes

¼ cup chopped, fresh parsleySalt, pepper to taste

  • Heat the stock in a large saucepan. 
  • Wash the nettle leaves. Blanch for 2 minutes in boiling salted water, drain and chop very finely. Set aside to add at the end. 
  • Cook onion and morels gently in half the butter in a large saucepan for a few minutes until tender. 
  • Add rice and cook over a slightly higher heat for 2 minutes while stirring. Pour in the wine, deglazing the pan. Cook, uncovered, until all the wine has evaporated, then add about 1 cup boiling hot stock; leave the risotto to cook, stirring occasionally and adding about 1/2 cup boiling stock at intervals as the rice absorbs the liquid. 
  • After about 14 – 15 minutes’ cooking time the rice will be tender but still have a little ‘bite’ left in it when tested.  Add the prepared nettles and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring. 
  • Take off the heat and stir in the remaining butter which will melt and make the rice look glossy; 
  • Sprinkle with the freshly grated Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, and add salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently and serve immediately.