Burdock & Rose

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

Tag: wild foods

Wild Flavors of Thanksgiving: Chestnuts

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In Michigan and across much of the Midwest it’s a SNOW DAY! The snow out my window already blankets the ground with drifts in some areas over 2 feet deep!

This makes me glad for the season’s harvests that already are packed away in my pantry for hearty winter meals — the acorn flour, the fruit jams, the herbal simple syrups and the dried herbs for cooking and for tea. As I plan my holiday meals, I turn to the rich flavors of my autumn harvest to add wild flavors to my table.

One of my favorite flavors from the fall harvest for a forager’s Thanksgiving’s feast is the chestnut. The chestnut (Castanea spp.) is a delicious and nutritious edible, whose spiny shell can be found on the ground when the nuts ripen in late September.  Chestnut trees can be found growing along the edges of the mixed hardwood forests, in areas with well-drained soil and sunshine. Chestnuts are also a specialty crop for tree farmers. Check your local food guide for a chestnut grower who may have u-pick or who sells chestnuts at the farmers markets if you’d like to try this delicious fall wild edible.

With a neutral, buttery flavor, the chestnut is very versatile in cooking.  It can be dried and made into chestnut flour, cooked and pureed into a creamy soup. For me, I can’t do Thanksgiving, Chanukkah or Christmas without preparing simple, but classic roasted chestnuts. These delicious morsels can be savored steaming, right out of the pan or integrated into Thanksgiving’s stuffing. 

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Roasted chestnuts are a quintessential holiday dish (cue Nat King Cole) and is an easy appetizer that even the kids will enjoy. I like to roast the chestnuts in a heavy iron skillet on the stovetop (first score a slit with a sharp knife in the bottom of the shell to allow the moisture to escape). Once roasted, they can be easily peeled and enjoyed warm from the shell. 

With an abundance of gratitude, other wild foods that will find their place on my holiday table — nettles, serviceberries, acorns, autumn olive, wild apples, linden cocktail syrups and the needles of conifers to flavor my roasted meats. What foraged flavors will be on your table this season?

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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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.   

Wolf Moon’s Winter Woodland Plant Medicines

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The light of the shining January Wolf Moon falls onto the crisp, glimmering snow crystals of the Michigan Winter Woods.  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 White Pine 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 poke through even the most frozen ground, cold but still carrying that flavorful aromatic of onion.

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With the drying, resinous aromatic of the pine and the stimulating flavors of the wild chives, together both can be brewed as teas to help dispel the damp and stagnant lung mucous of winter’s respiratory distresses. It can also help release stuck mucous in the sinus cavities. And the Pine adds in a bit of Vitamin C for an extra boost of this needed winter vitamin. 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, sp) can be added to help quell an  unproductive spasmodic cough and support it to be more productive in eliminating congestion.

For sustainable gathering, collect fallen boughs and branches of White Pine after strong winds have passed through the woods and clip the tops of the chives as they are perennial (at least here in the Great Lakes) and will regrow as the sunlight returns to the forest.  Brew handfuls of both pine needles & tips along with handfuls of chives in equal parts hot water for 10 minutes. Sip hot.

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For steam inhalations, put 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. This trick below — particularly the use of the child’s towel – was handed down to me from teacher and friend herbalist Jim McDonald (photo credit: T. Beel, 2013).

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The aroma of the simmering pine also helps 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.

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