Burdock & Rose

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

Tag: wild edibles

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.

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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“Midwest Foraging” Featured in Chicago Tribune

INTERVIEW Midwest Foraging_Chicago Tribune

 

To read the entire Chicago Tribune article, click HERE.

Go Nuts with Walnuts: Italian Walnut Liqueur

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Cocktails flavored with different plants and herbals are now all the rage among foodies and at popular restaurants. Beyond the garden, foraged, wild flavors can be gathered from the woods and fields to be blended into infused liqueurs, simple syrups and handmade bitters for the cocktail cart.

The windfall of falling walnuts becomes noticeable in mid-summer as the green fruits of the black walnut begin to drop. Your main competition for this fruit will be the local wildlife, particularly the ever-aggressive squirrel.

The wild walnut of the Juglans nigra (black walnut) is a forager’s delight – not only does it offer delicious nutmeats for cooking and baked goods, but the green hull has a fragrant, citrus-like aroma that infused in liquor makes a delicious aperatif.

Traditionally, nocino is made from the English walnut, but here in the Midwest, black walnut may be used. In some literature, there has been question whether or not the juglone content of the roots in the black walnut render the nut inedible (as it is a gardener’s nightmare for plants intolerant of the juglone), but there is enough traditional and contemporary use of the black walnut to negate this potential concern. The only issue that the black walnut may cause is in companion planting in the garden! 

For more tips on identifying the black walnut, get a copy of my book, Midwest Foraging to take with you into the fields! 

In “Midwest Foraging,” I describe that  the green hulled walnut can be transformed into a traditional Italian digestif known as nocino, an aromatic spicy liqueur that contains clove, orange peel, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Try making a nocino with the herbs of the spicebush, tulip poplar, and wild ginger.”

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To make your own nocino, gather 4 quarts of green walnut hulls. In the kitchen, stuff large ball jars to the brim with the nuts, including a tablespoon each of clove, juniper berries, orange peel, cardamon, ginger, and 2 cinnamon sticks. Cover completely with vodka (or white wine), and let macerate for 8 weeks. Strain and preserve in a glass bottle to let age.

Enjoy as a sipping liqueur or in a dessert course with fragrant cheese and dark chocolates.

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.

On Writing “Midwest Foraging”

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There’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your new book for the first time. As a mom, it’s sort of like seeing your newborn child – mixed emotions of excitement and uncertainty and relief and nervousness all combined.

The day my book arrived, I was writing at my desk at home, not expecting a package. When I opened the door, I realized it was my book in that plain envelop. In urgency, I called after the UPS man to wait because I didn’t want to open the package and see the book for the first time alone. We opened it together (funny thing, sharing such an intimate moment with a complete stranger), he was impressed and said, “You must know a lot about plants to write such a big book.” I didn’t know what to say – simply hugged him and said thank you for staying and delivering my book today, and that it meant a lot for his kind words.

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The author’s blurry selfie the moment the book arrived.

I returned back to my desk alone to savor those first moments with my text. As I flipped through the pages, memories and images of me producing the book flashed across my mind.

As I flipped through the pages of my newly minted work, I was somewhat in awe. In part, in awe because 1) I produced another book, 2) I produced another book despite all that was happening in my life around me.  I saw that in that book was my life embedded in print. From childhood to adulthood, my learnings, my relationships and most of all – my relationship with the earth — all of these were embedded into the pages.

Writing Midwest Foraging spanned two years from signing the contract with Timber Press in 2013 – one year writing, photography and one year of editing and publication. Those two years happened to span the most two difficult years of my life. I wrapped up a divorce, sat by my father’s side in the ICU until his death at home in hospice, up-rooted my gardens and moved across town, and abandoned running to nurse a blown disc. It was an epic time in my life, but in that time, I was surrounded by the most amazing people to help me through the tough stuff and to produce my book.

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Each of of my experiences with both people and plants have helped make Midwest Foraging possible. And albeit intense, I would not change any of it.

Now, these are more existential musings than musings of plants and wild edibles. Working with the plants have taught me so much – they’ve helped me grapple with the cycles of life and death, find peace in the struggle and offer hope in moments of the unknown and despair. The wild plants hold the keys to our past and can unlock the doors to our future if we choose to sit and watch and listen and pay attention.

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Of the more bittersweet moments, the finished piece that arrived after my father’s passing and the dedication in his memory.

For this reason, I’ve begun describing my writing as part botanical field guide, part culinary treatise and part memoir. The wild flavors of plants that I describe in Midwest Foraging are not the same as the flavors in the grocery store. They are real and vibrant. They are raw and unfettered. The wild plants reflect the diversity of experiences in life – the bitter and the sweet.

Embracing the wild tastes of the wild plants help me embrace the wildness of life. The wild tastes awaken all my senses, and encourage me to be fearless and enjoy life’s spectrum of experiences more fully and appreciate all that the journey has to offer.

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The author, excited to walk into the Chicago Tribune Tower to talk with a reporter about the book. Full on stoke, excited for the possibilities.

So with that, I share with you Midwest Foraging and invite you to fearlessly step into the world on your own wild journey. And may you embrace each moment of living in the not knowing, living with hope and excitement as to what may be around the next bend.

Midwest Foraging is available at your favorite local bookshop, online at major retailers like amazon.com or can be procured directly through me – I’ll sign it and ship it off to you with wild plant love inside the envelop.  For retail or bulk sales inquires, contact Tina Parent, tina.parent@storey.comFor media inquiries, contact author Lisa Rose, lisa.marlene.rose@gmail.com or Timber Press publicist, Bethany Onsgard at bonsgard@timberpress.com.

Wild Gardens in the Windy City

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During a weekend of work and play in Chicago, I made my way down the stairs on Wacker to the riverfront for a morning walk. Musing about the layers of the city and metal beams my partner commented, “Chicago is a city built of steel with 3 dimensions.”

I thought more about that statement in relation to the environment- the three dimensions. The stark contrast of metal and concrete to the blues of the harbor and green of the gardens and uncultivated weeds. The intersection of plants and human development. How the plants are persistent, and how humans are affected – or affect – this presence. How nature expresses itself. How we express humanity toward nature in the city.

As we walked, I took note of the blooming lindens along the Chicago riverfront, the lambs-quarters popping up in newly sown grasses. The plantain edging the sidewalk and the succulent chickweed encroaching on the roses in a private garden bed.

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Through Millennium Park I walked and stopped, walked and stopped. In part for my own rest and to just watch other visitors around me fall into a comfortable relaxation among the plants. I appreciated the park staff’s integration of my favorite wild plants like elderberry in the formal gardens of Millennium Park.

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For a city of its size, Chicago has a refreshing abundance and intentional focus on green space and greening initiatives- from the new garden spaces (including edibles!!) in many of the municipal parks to the secret gardens and spaces across the city maintained by city residents. Green space is valued by Chicagoans.

Finishing the walk, I left the manicured gardens of Millennium Park and turned back toward the riverfront to climb the metal stairway to back up to the hotel.  I looked down at my feet, paying attention to the weedy plants along the alley and intersection. But then I stopped.

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Among the weedy plants, I noticed a small sign that said “Look Out For Plants.”

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Then another sign, “Please don’t walk here.”

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And another, “Fire Department Garden.”

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Sure enough, alongside my favorite wild weeds of burdock, dandelions, lambs-quarters and wild carrot were squashes and cucumbers planted in the spaces between a vacant lot and a sidewalk.

Beneath the cacophony of the steel overpass structure there was the human effort to cultivate nourishment in a small space of vacant land. The paper garden signs were a small request for people to be mindful and pay attention to these efforts. All offered quietly planted with loving tenderness.

I don’t know the front or backstory behind these plants – though I am curious. But less important than the story was that this small, cultivated space contrasted among the persistent wild, weedy plants and vacant lot did make me stop and take pause in appreciation for the humanity of the gesture.

It’s the simple things. Take notice. Care for what’s around us. Plant seeds. Even in places where you think no one will notice. Perhaps those are the best places to root your efforts.

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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Wild Leeks: A Tasty, Precious Sign of Spring

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Spotted: Wild leeks, Allium tricoccum

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.

Here in Michigan, the Wild Leeks (or Ramps are they are also called) are plentiful in the Beech/Maple woods along the rivers and on the back dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline, frequently found alongside the unfolding MayApples and Trout Lilly.  They are abundant in Leelanau County, throughout the Sleeping Bear region and in the southwest portion of the state near St. Joseph and toward the Indiana border. In the Greater Grand Rapids area, they exist but do not carpet the forest floor as plentifully in other areas of the state.

A relative to onion, the Wild Leek is a bulb and is markedly onion-y in both flavor and scent. Take care to note these characteristics in trying to identify the plant, as it could be easily mistaken with the immature False Hellebore, or Lily of the Valley, which neither smells or tastes like onion, and is quite poisonous.

I spotted these beauties at one of my favorite parks, Johnson Park. These are a part of only a few stands here along the river, outside the City of Grand Rapids — please let them alone. Equally, if you see stands within the Greater Grand Rapids area — they aren’t as abundant here as in other areas at the Lakeshore and up the coastline.

A 2011 article in The New York Times featured the Wild Leek and claimed the increase in harvesting for the restaurant market and by hobby foragers is putting pressure  on the Wild Leek population.  While the Wild Leek certainly is not ~that~ close to being extinct in the Great Lakes area, it is something to consider as the plant ends up on the farm to table menus and baskets of market foragers – particularly when we know the plant is not widely distributed.

Because it takes about three years for a seed to develop into a mature leek for harvesting, I personally no longer harvest the bulbs, and have taken to transplanting them to try to re-establish stands in local parks in the area. I won’t lie — I really ~love~ the Wild Leeks, but unless we take some pressure off of the plant population in our area (due large in part to the love of this plant by the farm to table & locavore community), we will over harvest them and secure their own demise.

From my perspective, I don’t believe we have enough plants in our Great Lakes bio-region to be regularly supplying the local farmers’ markets & farm to table restaurants with an abundance of wild-harvested Leeks for the entire spring season.  It really is an issue we eaters must be concerned with, not just the foragers. I once saw a social media post by a local chef hauling out a full garbage bag full of leeks for his restaurant. This was several years ago, and if I saw this happen again by someone I knew in my community, I would not be afraid to do some public shaming of the chef and the restau for simply bad foraging practices. Not only is unethical foraging not ok, it goes against fundamental environmental values of “do no harm” within the local food movement.

So in the essence of helping share the knowledge — if you come across them in the farmers market or in the restaurants — I ask you to inquire about the source of the Wild Leeks. Ask about the forager’s standards. Ask about their sustainability practices. And if YOU are the forager and are planning on harvesting, take time to first learn for yourself the distribution of leeks in your area. THEN find a sizable stand and clip the tops only. This is the most sustainable way to use the plant.

Yes, I know these beauties are delicious pickled as cocktail onions in martinis (!!) and roasted, drizzled in olive oil over a nice spring egg & nettle quiche, so a few handfuls is probably is ok.  And if you do indulge, just make sure you offer to help replenish the stand and give deep thanks for the plant world that sustains us.