The Grapes of Youth: 11+ Age-Defying Reasons to Love This Plant

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I grew up picking muscadines, a local wild grape, in the woods around my home. The table grapes from the store were nice, but nothing beats a ripe muscadine. My wife disagrees, but as I tell her, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love muscadines and those who are wrong.” She’s cute when she’s angry.

Anyway, let’s talk about grapes. Or rather, let’s talk about the plant as a whole. The grapevine has much more to offer besides fruit, and you might be surprised by some of its age-defying benefits.

Identification

Grape leaves come in a variety of shapes, which isn’t very sporting of them, if you ask me. They can be rounded, heart-shaped, lobed, hairy, smooth, toothed, etc. Determining the exact species can be maddening. Thankfully, grapes as a whole are easy to identify.

Grapes 1

Grapes 2Grapes grow on woody, clinging vines with tendrils, and they form clusters of berries. Well, I say they form clusters of berries. But anyone who has gone out to hunt wild grapes knows the frustration of coming across bare vine after bare vine. The sad truth is that less than half of the vines are female, and even those will only produce fruit sporadically.

The trick here in the Ozark Mountains is to just walk uphill of a non-fruiting vine. The seed that grew it probably rolled down from the momma plant just uphill. You can often find several generations of plants that have colonized a hillside, and chances are that several of them have decided to fruit that year. But let’s get back to plant identification.

The leaves are alternate and highly variable, as mentioned above. When you find a leaf growing on one side of the stem, you’ll often find it opposite a tendril. The tendrils can be single or forked.

Grapes 3

If you find a woody vine without tendrils, it’s not a grape. It could be the dangerous look-alike, moonseed. Another way to tell is that grapes have multiple, ovoid seeds (not counting seedless grapes), while moonseed has a single, crescent moon–shaped seed.

Grapevines are fairly adaptable, in terms of environment. Given their choice, they’ll take full sunlight, a generous amount of water, and soil with good drainage. They can be found in thickets, fencerows, woods, and forest edges. They grow in all of the contiguous United States and in the eastern half of Canada. Cultivated and wild grapes can also be found in many locations worldwide, particularly in Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East.

Edible Uses

We all know how to eat grapes. Make them into juice, jelly, wine, or raisins, or just eat them whole. Cultivated grapes are usually sweeter than their wild counterparts. Some wild grapes, however, such as my native muscadines, are especially sweet and tasty.

Grape leaves can also be eaten in a variety of ways. Raw is an option, though I find this method to be the least palatable. The young leaves are fine on a sandwich or in a salad. They could also be boiled for 10-15 minutes and served with butter. I like to add them in with a taco salad. Older leaves will need more boiling, and you will hit a point where they’re just too tough to be worth the trouble. But it’s up to you exactly when that point is.

Dolmas

The most well-known edible use of grape leaves is probably in dolmas. Dolmas are stuffed vegetable, rice, and/or meat dishes that use grape leaves as wraps. Just parboil the leaves for a minute or two. Then dip them in ice water to stop the cooking process. Now you can place a spoonful of whatever filling you like onto each leaf and wrap them up like burritos. You can eat them as they are, or place them in the oven for additional baking. Bigger leaves are a lot easier to work with here.

Grapes 4

Leaf Chips

Another tasty option is leaf chips. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Place your grape leaves in a bowl and lightly coat them with olive oil. Next, spread them out on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper, or the seasoning of your choice. Place them in the oven and let them cook for about 10 minutes. Give it a try.

Grapes 5

The seeds can be pressed for their oil, which is edible and also used in herbal skin applications. Infused grape-seed oil is considered fairly ideal for already oily or blemished skin. It is absorbed quickly and leaves no oily residue.

The sap is edible as well. It could just be a lifesaver if you’re ever lost in the woods and in need of a clean water source.

Medicinal Uses

Resveratrol

Now we get to the really exciting part. In terms of medical properties, grapevines are a veritable fountain of youth. In particular, the chemical resveratrol can help to prevent almost all age-related chronic diseases, and may render many chronic diseases—such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, Type 2 diabetes, and osteo-arthritis—reversible.1)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.2)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.

In one study, middle-aged male mice were fed a high-calorie diet, and were then given resveratrol. While the resveratrol did not keep them from gaining weight or help them lose weight, it did protect them from the negative effects associated with the weight gain. And not only were they protected from weight- and age-associated health problems, but also their health and mobility steadily improved until their test results were within the same range as the control group of normally fed mice.3)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

Resveratrol seems to be able to mimic the effects of a calorie-restrictive diet, tricking our bodies into aging more slowly.4) Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. The science on this isn’t completely settled, though it is a very encouraging idea.

Cancer

Resveratrol also has some rather promising anti-cancer properties, particularly as a preventative. It has been shown to interfere with the three major stages of tumor formation—initiation, promotion, and progression.5)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.6)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. In particular, resveratrol has been associated with a significantly lower risk of prostate cancer.7)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

Oligomeric Procyanidins

While resveratrol gets most of the glory, grapes produce a number of health-supporting compounds, such as oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs). OPCs are highly antioxidant—many times more powerful than vitamins C and E.8)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.

These compounds are commercially extracted from seeds. However, they are 10-100 times more abundant in the leaves. And why buy a supplement when you can pick a leaf?

By the way, OPCs are especially antiviral toward dengue.9)Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging Resistant & Epidemic Viral Infections. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2013. So just tuck that little tidbit away in the event that you spend some time in a tropical region.

Circulatory System

The Vitis genus also seems to have a special affinity for the circulatory system. Many of its effects may be linked, directly or indirectly, to this affinity. It helps to regulate blood sugar levels, prevent blood clots, prevent and repair varicose veins, treat hemorrhoids, and protect against atherosclerosis.10)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.11)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.12)Johnson, Rebecca L., Steven Foster, and Andrew Weil. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The Worlds Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2014.

It also supports and protects the microvascular systems of the body, such as the delicate blood vessels in the eyes and fragile capillaries throughout the body. This circulation enhancement is used to treat macular degeneration and eye strain, and may help to prevent cataracts.13) Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.14)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.15)Johnson, Rebecca L., Steven Foster, and Andrew Weil. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The Worlds Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2014. Increased circulation to the brain may explain the neuroprotective benefits, such as its potential to help improve and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.16)Ma, Teng, Meng-Shan Tan, Jin-Tai Yu, and Lan Tan. Advances in Pediatrics. 2014. Accessed May 23, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4261550/.17)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.

Connective Tissue

Grapes and grape leaves strengthen, stabilize, and repair connective tissue throughout the body and have been used to help strengthen the intestinal walls to prevent or stabilize diverticular disease.18)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.19)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007. They also help to prevent bruising, particularly in the elderly.20)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. This may be related to the plant’s circulatory effects, connective tissue effects, or a combination of both.

Antimicrobial

Compounds within the grape plant also have selective antimicrobial properties—a dampening effect on pathogenic bacteria—while having only a minimal effect on healthy gut flora.21)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. They also have some antiviral properties, especially toward dengue, as mentioned above.22)Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging Resistant & Epidemic Viral Infections. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2013.

Other Properties

The leaves are astringent, anti-inflammatory, and help with asthma and allergies by reducing histamine production.23)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.24)Chevallier, Andrews. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. DK, 2000.25)Johnson, Rebecca L., Steven Foster, and Andrew Weil. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The Worlds Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2014. Leaf tea has traditionally been used for diarrhea, stomachache, thrush, hepatitis, and uterine bleeding.26)Chevallier, Andrews. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. DK, 2000.27)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Leaves have also been used as a poultice for rheumatism, headaches, fevers, and blisters on the feet.28)Chevallier, Andrews. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. DK, 2000.29)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Selecting Grapes

Medicinal properties tend to be stronger in grape varieties with darker fruit, though exceptions exist and growing conditions can also have an effect. Resveratrol production, for example, is greater in grapes that have had to endure a fungal attack.30)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. Grapes that have been treated heavily with pesticides, such as most store-bought grapes, have fewer medicinal benefits.31)Magee, J.B. “J.B. Magee.” HortScience. April 01, 2002. Accessed May 23, 2018. http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/37/2/358.short.

Resveratrol is usually associated with the skin of grapes, where it tends to be the most concentrated. However, resveratrol can also be found in significant quantities in the leaves, though this, too, depends on variety and growing conditions.

Method and Dosage

While the fruit gets the most glory, grape leaves contain the same medicinal compounds in varying proportions. Use whichever you prefer or whichever is available.

The leaves can be eaten directly or used in infusions or tinctures. Grapes are most famously used in wine, though juice can be used fairly interchangeably. The juice may even have longer-lasting antioxidant protection.32)Johnson, Rebecca L., Steven Foster, and Andrew Weil. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2014.

Due to the variability between grape varieties and species, recommending a standard dosage is problematic. This is one place where standardized supplements have an advantage over wildcrafting. My best advice would be to listen to your body. Try a bit every day and see how you feel in a couple of weeks. Up the amount as needed.

Also, resveratrol metabolizes quickly, so more frequent doses may be advisable. And, no, I’m not giving you permission to drink all the wine you want. A little wine is fine, but remember the non-alcoholic sources, as well.

Lastly, for maximum medicinal effect, consume grape products separately from fatty meals. Fats significantly reduce the bioavailability of resveratrol.33)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

Caution

When combined with blood-thinning medications, grapes may increase the bleeding risks.34)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.

I hope you’ll be motivated to ditch the pesticide-laden, store-bought grapes and grow some of your own.

Are you already growing grapes, or do you have any wild vines nearby? Let me know in the comments!

_______________________________________________________

Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

_______________________________________________________

Subscribe to TGN's bi-weekly newsletter

 

References   [ + ]

1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 18, 21, 30, 33. Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.
2, 11, 19, 23, 34. Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.
4. Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.
6. Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.
8, 14, 17. Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.
9, 22. Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging Resistant & Epidemic Viral Infections. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2013.
12, 15, 25. Johnson, Rebecca L., Steven Foster, and Andrew Weil. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The Worlds Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2014.
13. Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.
16. Ma, Teng, Meng-Shan Tan, Jin-Tai Yu, and Lan Tan. Advances in Pediatrics. 2014. Accessed May 23, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4261550/.
20, 27, 29. Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
24, 26, 28. Chevallier, Andrews. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. DK, 2000.
31. Magee, J.B. “J.B. Magee.” HortScience. April 01, 2002. Accessed May 23, 2018. http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/37/2/358.short.
32. Johnson, Rebecca L., Steven Foster, and Andrew Weil. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2014.

The post The Grapes of Youth: 11+ Age-Defying Reasons to Love This Plant appeared first on The Grow Network.

From Dinner to Detox: 15+ Ways to Get Healthy With Cleavers

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This article on cleavers is one in a series on growing a weed garden, and how to identify and use the plants commonly found there. Check out the rest of the series here.

Plants are great, right? But you don’t always have time to go out and harvest them. Life gets busy. That’s why, today, I am bringing you a plant that is so easy to harvest, it picks itself.

Cleavers 1

Cleavers (Galium aparine), also known as goosegrass, clivers, clingers, and a whole host of other names, is an annual weed, growing about 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 centimeters) tall. It has square stems, with 6 to 8 small, lance-shaped leaves arranged in a whorl1)Whorl: A leaf arrangement of three or more leaves around a single point. at the nodes.2) Node: A point along a plant’s stem at which one or more leaves or branches can form. Certain plants can also grow roots at nodes.

Cleavers 2

Cleavers produce tiny white flowers with four petals each. These turn into tiny, round, green, dry, bristly, 2-lobed fruit.

The entire plant is covered in tiny, curved prickles. They don’t hurt to touch, though they do feel very rough when you run your hand over them. Some stories name cleavers as the inspiration for Velcro. The tactile sensations are very similar.

Cleavers 3

Most of the common names for cleavers come from its prickly nature . . . except goosegrass. That’s just from watching the birds eat it.

You’ll find this plant growing in rich, moist soil; in thickets, the woods, or waste spaces; and probably in your yard if you don’t mow often, like me. It likes to form clusters, if given half a chance, and will recline on whatever vegetation is around it.

Cleavers 4

This little guy didn’t come up in my weed garden, but he’s reaching over to drop his seeds into it for next year’s crop. That’s so neighborly.

Cleavers’ combination of weak stems and clinginess make it a marvelous self-harvesting plant. You walk by and brush up against it. Then it grabs hold of your pant leg and hitches a ride to drop its seeds off somewhere down the line. It’s not a bad reproductive strategy, given that you can find cleavers all over North America, Europe, and many of the other temperate regions of the world, including Australia. Cleavers can be found in Greenland, in all of the southern provinces of Canada, and in every U.S. state except Hawaii. (Chin up, Hawaii. You have pineapples.)

Cleavers has such a wide growing range that telling you their growing season becomes tricky. April to September would not be an unreasonable generalization. But like anything else, it depends. Down south, you’ll get them popping up and fruiting a lot sooner. Here in my Arkansas yard, they’re definitely through with the flowering stage and have set their seeds. Give it another month and most of them will be gone with the heat. In cooler climates, you might have them all through the summer.

Edible Uses for Cleavers

Cleavers can be used to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute. It’s supposed to taste just like coffee. They’re in the same family, so I guess that makes sense. Slow roast the seeds in your oven or on the stovetop until dark brown. They’re small, so watch that they don’t burn. Then, send them through your coffee grinder and prepare the grounds as you would regular coffee.

I’m not a fan, but I’m not a big coffee drinker to begin with. Give it a try, and then come back here to tell me what you think.

Other foragers will tell you how great the young shoots are when you cook them. Boil them for 10 to 15 minutes, then add them to omelets. Boil, then chill and add to salads. Enjoy the young tips raw, or boil and serve them with butter, etc.

I’m going to be honest with you: I’m not in with the majority here. I just don’t care for cleavers, raw or cooked. But I’ll tell you what I do enjoy. The juice! If you don’t have a juicer, just fill up your blender. Add a little water to help it get started, and then strain out the pulp when you’re done. Jelly straining bags work great. Or just use a clean sock. I won’t tell.

The juice doesn’t store well, so you’ll want to drink it right away. The taste is mild, green, and refreshing. Add a splash of lemon and apple juice to taste, and now you really have something special. The flavors mingle together and really complement one another. It’s a perfect drink for cooling down and reinvigorating yourself after a hard day of yard work.

Eat only the young shoots or growing tips. Ideally, you’d gather them before they flower. Older plants accumulate silica and are just too tough to eat. They’re still okay for juice and cleavers coffee, though.

Medicinal Properties of Cleavers

Cleavers are a general nutritive herb, and can be used safely for prolonged periods of time to support growth, renewal, and overall health.3)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.4)Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstars Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2009. The aerial5)Aerial: The aboveground parts of a plant. parts are used medicinally.

One of the more common uses of this herb is as a gentle diuretic. It helps to flush out and sooth irritations of the urinary tract and kidneys.6)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.7)Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstars Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2009. Cleavers tea is often recommended for dissolving kidney stones and for other urinary issues.8)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.9)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.

Cleavers are cooling herbs, useful for bringing down fevers and for helping skin conditions related to heat and dryness.10)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.11)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.12)Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2009. They are also strongly anti-inflammatory, which likely contributes to these successful uses.13)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

They are often taken for diseases such as eczema, psoriasis, and seborrhea.14)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016. Again, tea is a popular choice. Because this herb is gentle and safe, I would drink several glasses a day.

One of cleavers’ most impressive functions is as a liver protector. Most other liver herbs will support normal liver function or cleanse the liver, but cleavers has the ability to protect the liver from harm and to actually help the liver heal.15)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004. Herbs that do this are relatively few and far between, so it’s nice to make a mental note when you find one. (Milk thistle would be another example.)

Another equally impressive function of cleavers is as a lymph mover. It helps keep everything moving, clear swollen lymph glands, strengthen the immune system, and generally improve a wide range of lymphatic issues.16)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.17)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.18)Deane. “Goosegrass, Cleavers, Bedstraw.” Eat The Weeds and Other Things, Too. December 17, 2017. Accessed May 13, 2018. http://www.eattheweeds.com/galium-aparine-goosegrass-on-the-loose-2/.19)Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginners Guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub., 2012.20)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. It’s an excellent tonic for the whole lymphatic system.21)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

In this respect, cleavers is much like pokeweed. But if you read my blog on that topic, you’ll remember that, while pokeweed is a powerful medicine, it doesn’t go out of its way to be user friendly. In fact, it’s quite dangerous. Cleavers offers a much safer alternative for this function, without sacrificing potency.

Read More: “Pokeweed: The Weed, the Myth, the Legend”

Cleavers’ detoxifying properties also give it a place in holistic cancer strategies.22)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.23)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. This is especially true of the juice.24)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.

Older plants are a source of silica. Silica is a compound that aids the body in innumerable ways, many of which we may not yet understand.25)Martin, K. R. “The Chemistry of Silica and Its Potential Health Benefits.” Advances in Pediatrics. Accessed May 14, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17435951/.

In Alternatives to Dentists, Doug Simons talks about the importance of silica for tooth health. His plant of choice, however, is a specific species of horsetail (Equisetum hyemale). If you’d like to learn more about Doug’s tried-and-true method of healing teeth and keeping them healthy, click here.

Amounts and Methods

Common methods of application are tea, powder, tincture, and juice. Fresh juice is generally considered to be the most potent, though you could also make an argument for the tincture. The juice can be frozen in ice cube trays, as mentioned above, and saved for later in the year. (Incidentally, this happens to be a nice dosing size.)

Younger plants are more potent for most medicinal applications. Once they start to flower or form their fruit, their energy goes into reproduction, and they become less potent.

However, if you’re looking for silica, everything is backwards. Older plants have more silica than younger ones, so don’t harvest those tender young shoots. Wait until they’re too tough to eat. A lot of that toughness is the silica.

The preferred methods are backwards, too. Fresh juice is okay, but if you strain out the pulp, you’re losing a lot of the silica-rich body of the plant. Dried plant powder is best because it retains the full silica content. It can be made into tea, or stirred into liquid and swallowed whole.

The following amounts and frequencies are fairly general. Consult an herbalist if you’d like to tailor a protocol to suit your particular needs.

Tincture of Fresh Plant

1:2 ration in 25% alcohol. Use 1–2 dropperfuls, up to 4x daily.

Fresh Plant Juice

Drink 1–2 Tbsp. (or the equivalent of one ice cube), as needed.

Infusion

Use 2–3 tsp. of dried herb. Pour boiling water over it and steep for 10–15 minutes. Drink 3 times per day, or as needed.

Powder (For Silica)

Stir 1–2 tsp. of powder into water. Drink it, powder and all, once or twice a day.

Cleavers has no reported drug interactions.26)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. However, as a diuretic it could theoretically amplify the effects of diuretic drugs. Also, cases of contact dermatitis from touching the sap have occasionally been reported.27)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

What are your experiences with using cleavers as food and/or medicine? Do you have any tips beyond what I included in this article? Leave me a note in the comments below!

_______________________________________________________

Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

_______________________________________________________

Subscribe to TGN's bi-weekly newsletter

 

References   [ + ]

1. Whorl: A leaf arrangement of three or more leaves around a single point.
2. Node: A point along a plant’s stem at which one or more leaves or branches can form. Certain plants can also grow roots at nodes.
3, 11, 13, 20, 21, 23, 26. Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.
4, 7. Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstars Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2009.
5. Aerial: The aboveground parts of a plant.
6, 10, 22, 27. Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
8, 14, 16, 24. Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.
9, 15, 17. Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.
12. Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2009.
18. Deane. “Goosegrass, Cleavers, Bedstraw.” Eat The Weeds and Other Things, Too. December 17, 2017. Accessed May 13, 2018. http://www.eattheweeds.com/galium-aparine-goosegrass-on-the-loose-2/.
19. Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginners Guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub., 2012.
25. Martin, K. R. “The Chemistry of Silica and Its Potential Health Benefits.” Advances in Pediatrics. Accessed May 14, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17435951/.

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Grow Lavender This Summer And Harvest Some Amazing Benefits

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grow lavender

The intoxicating smell is just one of the reasons to grow lavender this summer.

There are many reasons to grow lavender. Lavender is a beautiful plant, most often known for its intoxicating smell. The small purple flowers and the leaves both emit the fragrant perfume that the plant is famous for. With lavender in your garden, you can expect to catch the scent on a breeze as long as the plants are flowering. But is lavender as easy to grow as other herbs? And what can you do with it aside from enjoying its perfume in the garden? Armed with the right knowledge, you can successfully grow lavender in your garden and put it to good use as a scent, in foods, and for medicinal purposes.

How To Grow Lavender

Lavender is the common name for an entire genus of perennial plants called Lavandula. The name comes from the Latin for “to wash,” probably because lavender has long been used in baths as a way to purify the spirit and to scent the body. Lavender is native to the Mediterranean mountain zones. There it grows in the hot, dry sun and in rocky soils. All species of lavender plants are small to medium woody shrubs with silvery-green, narrow leaves. The flowers appear on tall spikes and are small and usually purple.

In spite of lavender’s origins in the desert-like climate of the Mediterranean, it can be grown in a range of areas. In fact, lavender is well known as a garden element in England, with a cool, wet climate that is the opposite of the southern homeland of the plant. Select a spot in your garden that gets the most warmth and sun. Full sun is best. Lavender can grow in many soil conditions, but to get the most oil in the flowers, which is the origin of the scent, the soil should be well-drained, poor, slightly alkaline, and chalky.

Lavender plants are very hardy after you have gotten them established. In fact, if you live in a drought-prone area, plant plenty of lavender. You can expect it to survive and even thrive in your harsh conditions. Until the plants are established, however, give them a little compost and a regular watering. After one year, you should have hardy shrubs that can be given less attention.

You can grow lavender as far north as zone 5. What is more deadly to a lavender plant than cold is dampness and moisture. Having soil that drains well is very important to the success of your plants. If your lavender will be staying outside for the winter and you are in a cold climate, a layer of mulch will help. You might also consider growing lavender in containers and bring it inside for the winter. The roots of the lavender actually prefer a tight space.

Pruning in the spring is a good idea for lavender shrubs. For the taller varieties, take them back to about a third of the original height. For smaller species, trim back a couple of inches. Whatever you do, though, do not prune until you see new growth developing in the spring. If you prune too early, the plant may not come back to life.

New “Survival Herb Bank” Gives You Access to God’s Amazing Medicine Chest.

Types Of Lavender

There are hundreds of varieties of lavender out there from which to choose, so the options can get a little overwhelming when you first make your decision to grow lavender. They are roughly categorized as English, Spanish, and French, but there are also plenty of other varieties not included in these groups.

  • English. The English lavenders are of the species L. angustifolia. The varieties of this species are hardier than others and are better suited to colder and wetter conditions. They grow to a height and width of approximately one and a half to two feet. They bloom twice in the growing season: in June and again in August. These plants are best started from cuttings rather than seeds. Varieties include Hidcote, Rebecca Kay, Munstead, Cedar Blue, Blue Cushion, Melissa, and Richard Grey. Another group of varieties called the lavandins are sometimes classified as English lavender, but they are really hybrids.
  • Spanish. Spanish lavender varieties are from the species L. stoechas. They originate in the hot, dry Mediterranean region and are not hardy. The Spanish varieties are very dense and can be thinned down in July to keep air circulating through the branches. There is a great deal of variety in the size of these plants.
  • French. The name is misleading, as French lavender is not necessarily from the country of France. They are varieties of the species L. dentata. The word dentata refers to the tooted nature of the leaves. These varieties are not very hardy and should be grown outside only in warm climates. Otherwise, the varieties, like Green Fringe, Grey Fringe, and Linda Ligon, can be grown in containers and brought inside for the winter. The plants are a little bit shorter than English lavender.

Harvesting Lavender

When harvesting the flowers, wait until they bloom. As soon as you see the full color of the flowers, you can cut the entire stalk off of the plant. Do this in the morning after the dew has dried. If it can be done, harvest on a dry day. If you are using the flowers fresh for their fragrance, get them to a cool location quickly. The cooler they are, the more fragrant oil they will release. If you want to dry the flowers for potpourri or cooking, you can hang bunches of flowers upside down in a dark location or you can lay them out flat in a sunny spot.

Uses For Lavender

The most obvious reason to grow lavender is to capture its intoxicating scent. You can set fresh flowers in water to enjoy the smell or dry the flowers to use in potpourri, wreaths, and other crafts. One of the unique aspects of lavender is that the flowers retain their fragrance even after they have been dried.

Lavender oil can also be used for its fragrance. It is made by extracting the oil from the flowers of the plant. The oil is also used medicinally. The scent is thought to help relax you and get you to sleep at night, so a sachet in your pillow is a great use for the flowers or the oil. Smelling lavender is also believed to be helpful for treating headaches, while the oil may help with skin issues such as fungal infections, eczema, wounds, and acne. It may help relieve pain as well as heal.

What surprises many people when they decide to grow lavender is that in addition to its delightful scent, you can eat it! Both the flowers and leaves are edible. If you use too much in a recipe, however, you can give your food a perfumy and bitter taste. In other words, a little bit goes a long way when it comes to lavender. English lavender varieties are the best for culinary uses. Other types can be overwhelming in flavor. Try some of these ideas with your lavender harvest.

  • Use the leaves of lavender, fresh or dried, in the same way you would use rosemary. The two plants are very similar, but you will get a nice surprise when you substitute lavender leaves for rosemary leaves when roasting meat, potatoes, or vegetables.
  • Toss a few fresh flowers in a salad for an interesting flavor twist. Just don’t use too many! If the flavor is overwhelming, take a few out.
  • Make a simple syrup by boiling lavender flowers and leaves with the sugar and water. Strain the herbs out before using. The syrup is especially tasty in lemonade and in tea.
  • You can also infuse your sugar or salt with the taste of lavender. Mix in lavender flowers and let the salt or sugar sit in a closed container for a week or two. Use the sugar or salt as you would normally.
  • Add dried flowers to recipes for cookies, breads, cakes, and practically any dessert. About one tablespoon of dried, crushed flowers per typical dessert recipe is appropriate.
  • When following a recipe that calls for lavender, you can use fresh or dried flowers. If the recipe calls for fresh flowers and you have dried, use one-third the amount.

You may also want to check out Companion Planting:  Vegetable “Buddies” That Actually Thrive Together!

©2018 Off the Grid News

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Espalier Fruit Trees: Ideas To Pack Big Fruit Harvests Into Small Spaces

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The post Espalier Fruit Trees: Ideas To Pack Big Fruit Harvests Into Small Spaces is by Lorin Nielsen and appeared first on Epic Gardening, the best urban gardening, hydroponic gardening, and aquaponic gardening blog.

Have you ever wanted to grow fruit, but didn’t want to give up space in the yard for one of those heirloom apple trees? Even a crab apple might be too large? Then you will want to know about espalier fruit trees and how they’re grown! This old technique has been used on grape vines, … Read more

The post Espalier Fruit Trees: Ideas To Pack Big Fruit Harvests Into Small Spaces is by Lorin Nielsen and appeared first on Epic Gardening, the best urban gardening, hydroponic gardening, and aquaponic gardening blog.

Growing Tomatillos: Enjoy Salsa Verde All Summer Long

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The post Growing Tomatillos: Enjoy Salsa Verde All Summer Long is by Lorin Nielsen and appeared first on Epic Gardening, the best urban gardening, hydroponic gardening, and aquaponic gardening blog.

Have you ever tried growing tomatillos? Often used as part of salsa or Mexican cuisine, this relative of the cape gooseberry is a popular fruit. But what are tomatillos, really? The Mexican husk tomato, sometimes called jamberry but more commonly called tomatillo, is a strange little plant. Its fruit grows within a natural papery lantern-like … Read more

The post Growing Tomatillos: Enjoy Salsa Verde All Summer Long is by Lorin Nielsen and appeared first on Epic Gardening, the best urban gardening, hydroponic gardening, and aquaponic gardening blog.

Dandelions: 31+ Medicinal and Culinary Uses for the King of Weeds

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This article is part of a series on weed gardens and identifying and using the plants you’ll often find there. For other articles in the series, please click here.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

As you can see, the weed garden is really starting to come to life. I’ve got henbit, sedges, dayflowers, wood sorrel, pokeweed, and a few other visitors. But one weed I would gladly welcome has yet to show up. Dandelions!

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

Dandelions are pretty much the unofficial mascots for foraging and herbal medicine. They can be found on every continent (except Antarctica) and have tremendous value as food and medicine. They invade lawns, fields, and waste spaces despite every effort to control, contain, and kill them.

Dandelions are survivors, and they pass on a little of that to us when we consume them.

Identifying Dandelions

While dandelions do have a few look-alikes, none of them are toxic. Among the common fakers, you’ll find cat’s ear, chicory, shepherd’s purse, and hawksbeard. Here’s your guide to telling the real thing from the fakers.

Dandelions are perennials1)Perennial: Any plant that lives for more than 2 years. that grow in a basal rosette.2)Basal Rosette: A circular arrangement of leaves at ground level. You’ll never find leaves growing from the stem. Leaves are anywhere from 2 inches to over a foot (5 to 40 centimeters) long and have jagged teeth.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

The jagged pattern of the leaves can vary quite a bit. On some plants, the indentations will go nearly to the midline of the leaf, while others will have fairly shallow teeth. The tips of the teeth tend to point backward, toward the center of the plant. Leaves are virtually hairless at all stages of growth.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

By the way, the name “dandelion” is said to come from “dent de lion” or “teeth of the lion.” And depending on who you ask, this either refers to the jagged leaves or the flower petals.

The scientific name, Taraxacum officinale, could be translated as “the official cure for every disorder.”

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

The yellow blooms are composite flowers. That is, they look like one flower, but are technically a cluster of tiny flowers. The ends of the petals tend to be flat, rather than tapering to a point, and they overlap all the way to the center of the flower. Blooming happens mostly in spring, and again in fall, with sporadic blooming at any time.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

These flowers turn into the puffballs that kids love to blow on to make wishes. A single dandelion plant may produce many stems and flowers, but each stem will have only a single flower. The stems are hollow and can range in length from 2 to 18 inches (5 to 45 centimeters).

All parts of the plant contain a white, milky sap. This would normally be a warning sign, but dandelions are an exception to the rule.

Read More: “How to Not Die While Wildcrafting: 15 Rules for Foraging Safely”

There are even some rather useful applications for this sap, which we’ll get into below. Be aware that dandelion sap has occasionally been reported to cause contact dermatitis in some individuals.

Dandelions can be found throughout the U.S., Canada, and most of the rest of the world, especially around people. This is another plant that loves us and wants to be near us. You can find them in lawns, fields, pastures, waste spaces, and disturbed ground. They seem to survive everything from drought, to over-picking, to digging, to mowing, to herbicides. But why would you want to get rid of these happy little guys? They’re beautiful, and they’re trying so hard to help us.

Edible Uses and Dandelion Recipes

If you do an Internet search for dandelion recipes, you’ll find page after page of preparations for this versatile vegetation. Recipes abound!

I, myself, have only scratched the surface of dandelion delicacies. There are just so many!

Nutritional Value

And why shouldn’t there be? Every part of the plant is edible, raw or cooked. And not only are dandelions plentiful, they’re very nearly a perfect food. Dandelions are rich in potassium; magnesium; manganese; phosphorus; sodium; copper; choline; calcium; iron; lecithin; biotin; inositol; chlorophyll; fiber; and vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B6, B9, B12, C, D, and E.3)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.,4)Peterson, Lee Allen, and Roger Tory Peterson. A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.,5)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.,6)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.,7)Gladstar, Rosemary. The Beginners Guide to Medicinal Herbs 35 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use. Storey Books, 2012.,8)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.

That’s quite a mouthful. Literally.

They have more vitamin A than any other green plant—six times more than carrots—and a single cup of fresh greens will meet your daily requirement of beta-carotene, iron, calcium, and potassium!9)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.

That tap root really reaches down to bring up the good stuff. You can see why I call them the king of weeds.

Furthermore, when eaten as a whole (roots to flowers/seeds), the dandelion forms a complete protein, with all 9 essential amino acids.10)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014. That’s a pretty good trick for a plant.

Dandelion also seems to help with the absorption and balance of minerals.11)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

Overcoming the Bitter Taste

But let’s address the elephant in the room. Dandelions are bitter. Very bitter. Involuntarily-spit-them-out-and-go-wash-your-mouth-out-with-ice-cream bitter.

Perhaps I exaggerate. But how is one to get past the bitterness to access those amazing nutrients? I’ve got you covered.

First, you should select the best dandelions. The best-tasting leaves have had the easiest life. Don’t pick any sunbaked, twice-stepped-on leaves. Harvest from a plant in a shady, well-watered location. Harvest younger greens, earlier in the year. Leaves toward the center of the rosette also tend to be less bitter.

Next, choose the right preparation. It’s the rare individual who enjoys eating a handful of dandelion greens raw. It’s a lot easier to moderate their taste by chopping them up and mixing them with other greens. They also pair well with savory dishes.

Of all the cooking methods, boiling does the best job of reducing bitterness. Drop the leaves into boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. If you’ve picked a good plant, it shouldn’t take much more than this. If not, you can always boil them longer. Use plenty of water so the bitterness has someplace to go.

Eating the Roots: Stir-fried, Pickled, and as a Coffee Substitute

The root can be eaten raw, but tastes better when cooked. Try them sliced and stir-fried with other veggies. Cooking breaks down the root’s inulin into fructose, bringing out a much sweeter taste. They’re also a fine addition to soups and stews, and—although I’ve never tried it—they are reportedly quite tasty when pickled.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

Dandelion Coffee Recipe

The root is typically harvested from late fall to early spring. Second-year roots are preferred, but good luck on guessing how old a dandelion is by looking at it. If it’s too old and woody to eat, you can still use it to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute. Slice up the root and slow-roast it in your oven until it turns dark brown and becomes brittle. This should take about 30 minutes at 350°F (175°C). Let it cool, and then grind it up to use like coffee grounds. I’m usually not a fan of coffee substitutes, but this is one I really enjoy.

Dandelion Mocha Recipe

If you’d like to take your dandelion coffee to the next level (and who wouldn’t?), you can turn it into a dandelion mocha. This recipe comes from Rosemary Gladstar, and it is delightful.

Use 1 tbsp each of dandelion coffee grounds and cacao nibs. Simmer in 3 cups of water for 30 minutes. Then strain and add ½ cup milk (or milk substitute), ½ tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. vanilla extract, 1 tbsp. honey (or other sweetener), and a dash of ground nutmeg or cloves.

It’s excellent. I highly recommend you try it.

Eating the Flowers: Sautéed, Fried, and Infused

The flowers make a colorful addition to salads, soups, ice creams, or just about anything else. Two of my favorite ways to eat them are sautéed in butter and as an ingredient in dandelion lemonade.

  • Sautéed blooms are easy. Just melt some butter and sauté away. (Alternately, you could make a simple egg-and-flour batter and fry them. Yum!)
  • To make dandelion lemonade, just add about a quart of dandelion flowers to a half gallon of lemonade. Let the mixture infuse in the fridge overnight, then strain out the blossoms and enjoy.

The less green you have from the base of the blossoms, the less bitter they will taste. Here’s a brief clip demonstrating a super easy way to separate the petals from the bitter greens:

https://youtu.be/fWyA35Cs5e0

The last way to get past the bitterness is simply to build up an appreciation for it. Sure, it’s not the most popular option, but you really can develop a taste for a food by consistently consuming small portions of it. Gradually, your aversion turns into tolerance. And then tolerance can even become a craving. It really works. Try it!

Medicinal Uses for Dandelions

Dandelion’s medicinal effects are not limited to its impressive nutritional profile. It sports a bevy of benefits. Let’s dive in!

As a Digestive Aid

Dandelion’s bitter taste is likely also its best-known medicinal property. It’s a bitter. Bitters are plants that encourage optimal digestion by stimulating the secretion of enzymes and digestive juices.12)Gladstar, Rosemary. The Beginners Guide to Medicinal Herbs 35 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use. Storey Books, 2012.,13)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

Dandelion stimulates appetite, aids the liver in its detoxification duties, helps to regulate the release of pancreatic hormone, is stimulating to the spleen, supports correct bile duct function, and even helps to repair the gut wall.14)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.,15)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.,16)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. It may even help to resist the progression of cirrhosis of the liver.17)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

Dandelion is a remarkable plant!

To Treat Colitis

In one experiment, participants with non-specific colitis were given dandelion along with calendula, lemon balm, and St. John’s wort. Complete relief from spontaneous and palpable pains was reported by 96% of participants, and stools were normalized in those with diarrhea symptoms.18)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

As a Spring Tonic and Diuretic

Dandelion is also well-known as a spring tonic. It helps to flush and tone the body after enduring the rigors of winter.

The entire plant is diuretic, flushing excess water from the body and generally giving us a good cleansing. The leaf is more powerful than the root, and is comparable to the drug furosemide in terms of strength.19)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. Don’t take it right before bed or you’ll be up all night. Trust me. I know.

Dandelion’s diuretic properties help to relieve fluid retention.20)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. It is also used to dissolve calcium stones and to prevent new ones from forming, and can be used safely over long periods.21)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.,22)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

Dandelion’s diuretic nature may also help to explain its effectiveness in relieving arthritic complaints.23)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

With conventional pharmaceuticals, as the body flushes out water, it’s also flushing out our supply of potassium. This can be rough on your heart and cause problems for anyone with a heart condition.24)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. Dandelion, on the other hand, is so rich in potassium that even while it flushes out the body, it still provides a net gain in potassium.25)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016. This makes it an ideal diuretic herb for people with heart issues.26)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

For Skin Health

The natural latex in its sap is helpful in getting rid of warts.27)Gladstar, Rosemary. The Beginners Guide to Medicinal Herbs 35 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use. Storey Books, 2012. However, this is not a quick process. The sap must be applied several times a day for 2 to 3 weeks. Direct application of the sap can also help with moles, pimples, canker sores, and other skin blemishes.28)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014., 29)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.

To Fight Cancer and Harmful Bacteria

Dandelion may have anti-tumor/anti-cancer properties, though it is not clear whether this would be from a direct action or indirectly through its ability to cleanse and support normal body function.30)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.,31)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. Dandelion also appears to have selective antimicrobial properties, supporting healthy gut bacteria while discouraging unhealthy ones.32)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.,33)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.,34)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. It even helps prevent plaque buildup on teeth.35)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.

Other Medicinal Uses

Dandelion is also cooling and drying, and can be used as a fever reducer.36)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. It’s a mild laxative and has an alkalizing effect on the body.37)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.,38)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.,39)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. Dandelion may also help some people with allergies and food intolerances.40)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

In animal studies, dandelion has been shown to have hypoglycemic activities.41)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. This may make it a helpful plant for those with diabetes, but could be a contraindication for those with hypoglycemia.42)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.,43)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.

Medicinal Formats and Dosages

You can use dandelion via any of the normal methods: fresh, dried, tincture, decoction, infusion, etc. The dried leaves make an excellent addition to green powders.

Outside of some very specific circumstances, dandelion is widely considered to be safe. Recommendations vary from herbalist to herbalist as to how much you should take.

I will present some amounts that I think are reasonable, but you should view them as suggestions, rather than rules. Other quantities/frequencies could be equally valid, depending on your situation.

Root Tincture

1:5 ratio in 60% alcohol. Use 2.5–5 ml, 3 times daily.

Root Decoction

Use 2–3 tsp of root material in 1 cup of water. Simmer for 10–15 minutes. Drink this 3 times a day.

Leaf Tincture

1:5 ratio in 40% alcohol. Use 5–10 ml, 3 times daily.

Leaf Infusion

Pour boiling water over ½ tsp of dried leaf and allow to steep for 10–15 minutes. Drink this 3 times a day.

Long Live the King!

Dandelions are so impressively versatile that I could never fit everything into a single article.

For example, did you know that the sap can be used as glue, or that the stem can be fashioned into a working flute?

What else did I leave out? What’s your favorite recipe or medicinal use? Do you have any dandelion stories (or horror stories about the bitter flavor)? Are dandelions really the king of weeds, or should that title belong to a different plant? Let me know in the comments!

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Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

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References   [ + ]

1. Perennial: Any plant that lives for more than 2 years.
2. Basal Rosette: A circular arrangement of leaves at ground level.
3, 32. Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
4. Peterson, Lee Allen, and Roger Tory Peterson. A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.
5, 25. Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.
6, 9, 10, 28, 33, 35. Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.
7, 12, 27. Gladstar, Rosemary. The Beginners Guide to Medicinal Herbs 35 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use. Storey Books, 2012.
8, 14, 21, 37, 42. Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.
11, 13, 15, 19, 23, 24, 26, 30, 38, 41. Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.
16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 31, 34, 36, 39, 40. Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.
29, 43. Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.

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Growing Kale: The Ultimate Guide To Growing Your Own Superfood

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The post Growing Kale: The Ultimate Guide To Growing Your Own Superfood is by Lorin Nielsen and appeared first on Epic Gardening, the best urban gardening, hydroponic gardening, and aquaponic gardening blog.

In recent years, it’s gotten a reputation as a superfood. Leaf cabbage, also called kale, is a brassica species which really packs a punch. But growing kale isn’t something a lot of people consider doing. They should! Vitamin-packed kale (Brassica oleracea) is considered to be among the world’s healthiest foods. Rich in Vitamins A, C, … Read more

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How to Not Die While Wildcrafting: 15 Rules for Foraging Safely

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Walking out into the forests or fields and coming back with an armload of food and medicine is a rewarding experience. With every new plant you learn to identify and use, you become more empowered to care for yourself and your family. You also become less dependent on—and less vulnerable to—big, corporate entities. But this expanding freedom also comes with the responsibility of ensuring your own safety.

Poisonous plants exist. Some of them look like the good plants. Some plants are good or bad, depending on the quantity. And even the safest plants can harm if harvested from a contaminated environment.

I want to help you maximize your rewards while minimizing your risks. That’s why I am presenting you with 15 rules for safe wildcrafting. The more experienced you become, the more you’ll see exceptions to the rules and know when to ignore them. But I advise the novice to follow them all, because nobody wants to become a cautionary tale.

 

1) Go Slowly

The No. 1 rule with any new plant is to go slowly. You can have allergies and intolerances to wild plants, just like you can to conventional foods. The first couple of times you sample a plant, use a small portion. Also, you should only try one new plant at a time. This way, if you have a reaction, you’ll know which plant caused it.

2) Talk to a Local Expert

Local experts will often know little tips and tricks that the books and websites won’t mention, and they will have specific knowledge about how the plants look and behave in your area.

If you can’t find an expert in your area, books and websites are an acceptable way to learn wildcrafting. However, they can’t warn you if you’re about to make a mistake. Use caution and consult multiple sources to minimize your risks.

3) Don’t Eat a Plant Just Because Someone Said It Was Okay

I really hope this one goes without saying. If you watch someone harvest it, prepare it, and eat it—and if they’re still alive the next day—then maybe you could try a little.

4) Know Your Environment

Physical hazards include thorns, holes, ledges, wild animals, moving vehicles, quicksand, and volcanoes. Just keep your eyes open and don’t stick your hands and feet anywhere you won’t be able to see them.

Chemical hazards can be a bit trickier to detect. Don’t wildcraft from locations that get sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. (If you don’t know, ask. You don’t want to eat that stuff.)

Avoid foraging beside busy roads. When it rains, the ditches are irrigated by vehicle-waste runoff. Many municipalities will also spray herbicides along the sides of rural roads. Apparently, this saves money compared to running the mowing trucks. But it also ruins many lightly trafficked areas that I would otherwise love to forage from. Areas around trash storage, treated wood, and industrial waste should also be avoided.

Only harvest plants from pure waterways. Streams and rivers can carry dangerous waste for miles.

Respect private property. Don’t go foraging around someone’s house after dark. Getting mistaken for a burglar and shot would just ruin your evening. And why were you foraging in the dark, anyway?

Lastly … you know what poison ivy and poison oak look like, right?

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Poison Ivy

5) Use All of Your Senses    

How does the plant look? What patterns do you see? What colors? What’s the overall shape? How does it feel? (Rough? Smooth? Fuzzy?) What does it smell and taste like? (Ideally, you would be reasonably sure it wasn’t poisonous before tasting it, or even touching it.) Does it have a peculiar sound? Yes, plants can have telltale sounds.

6) If a Plant Doesn’t Match, Don’t Use It

Sometimes you’ll come across a plant that looks ALMOST right, but something doesn’t quite fit. You may have found a subspecies or variation. Then again, it might be a dangerous look-alike. It’s best just to leave that one alone until you can get a firmer identification.

7) Avoid Plants With White Sap

This one has a number of exceptions. Some plants, like dandelions, are perfectly safe. Others might be safe once they’ve been correctly prepared. But as a general rule, if a plant has white sap, leave it alone.

8) Avoid Plants With White Berries

This rule has almost no exceptions. Plants with white berries are plants that do not mess around. Don’t even touch them.

9) Be Humble With Umbels

If you see a plant with umbels,1)Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped, or umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers. you’d better be 110% sure of what it is before you harvest and use it. Elderberry, yarrow, and carrots all form umbels, and they’re great. Poison hemlock has umbels, too, and it will render you in the permanent past tense.

Unfortunately, a lot of these plants will look very similar. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever wildcraft them, but you should probably build up your skills on safer plants first. When you’re ready for the umbels, double-check their characteristics every single time.

No matter how smart you are or how much experience you have, anyone can poison themselves if they get cocky or careless. Do yourself a favor and be humble with the umbles. 

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Umbels

10) Be 115% Sure About Mushrooms

Mushrooms take the term “poisonous” as a personal challenge. Some of them, like the death cap mushroom, reportedly taste good. To make things worse, mushroom look-alikes can be very tricky to tell apart.

On the flipside, mushrooms are delicious and a lot of fun. They can be wildcrafted safely, if you choose the right type. Some mushrooms, like morels and puffballs, are reasonably safe for beginners to gather. Just exercise due caution, research their appearance and look-alikes, and go out with an experienced guide until you get the feel for it.

11) If It Looks Like an Onion AND Smells Like an Onion, It’s an Onion

This rule works for garlic too, but the plant you find has to both look and smell oniony or garlicy. There are some dangerous look-alikes, but none of them are also “smell-alikes.”

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Wild Onion

12) All Mustards Are Edible

You can find mustards (Brassicaceae family) all over the world, and they’re all edible. Great. So what does a mustard look like? The surest way to identify them is by the bloom. All mustard family plants have 4 petals and 6 stamens2)Stamen: The pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower. (4 tall and 2 short). The flowers are often small, so you may need a magnifying lens. Some members of this family may be too spicy to eat in any quantity.

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Mustard Family Bloom

Read More: “Mustard Greens: What You Need to Know Before You Grow (With Recipe)”

13) If It Looks Like a Mint AND Smells Like a Mint, It’s an Edible Mint

Mints (Lamiaceae family) usually have square stems and opposite3)Opposite: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear in pairs, on opposite sides, of a stem. leaves. These leaf pairs will rotate back and forth 90 degrees as they move up the stem. If a plant looks like a mint, but doesn’t smell minty, avoid it. It might be fine. It might not.

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Lemon Balm

14) Seeing an Animal Eat It Does Not Make It Safe

Animals can eat a lot of things that would make us sick or dead. They usually know what’s good for them. They don’t know what’s good for us. Don’t copy the animals.

15) Experience Trumps Theory

It may be very helpful to watch a video or read a book about wildcrafting. But until you’ve actually gone out to harvest and use a plant yourself, you can’t rely on that skill. Issues will often come up that books and videos can’t prepare you for. Theory is great for laying a foundation of knowledge, but experience is the ultimate teacher.

Whether the grid goes down or you just have a kid with a tummy ache, do you want to know that you’ve read about it in a book or that you’ve successfully harvested and used these plants before?

Conclusion

Hopefully, this guide has encouraged you, rather than scaring you off. Wildcrafting is a wonderful way to empower yourself, and it’s just a really fun way to spend an afternoon. If you follow the rules, and use a bit of common sense, you’ll come back in one piece.

What are your favorite plants to wildcraft? Do you have any tips that I missed? Let me know in the comments, and we can get a good plant talk going.

 

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Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

_______________________________________________________

 

References   [ + ]

1. Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped, or umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers.
2. Stamen: The pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower.
3. Opposite: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear in pairs, on opposite sides, of a stem.

The post How to Not Die While Wildcrafting: 15 Rules for Foraging Safely appeared first on The Grow Network.

Pokeweed: The Weed, the Myth, the Legend

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This article on pokeweed is part of a series on weed gardens and identifying and using the plants you’ll often find there. For other articles in the series, please click here.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a milestone plant for many foragers. It’s the first plant that many of us eat that could also kill us.

Don’t get me wrong. Correctly prepared, pokeweed is absolutely safe. It’s also highly nutritious and delicious. But it’s a rare person who doesn’t feel at least a little trepidation when cooking and eating it for the first time.

Pokeweed = Poison?

My most vivid memory of pokeweed isn’t from painting with the berries as a child, or from the smell coming from the boiling pot in my grandmother’s kitchen. It’s from just last year. Our (then) 2-year-old came up to me with a big purple-stained grin on his face.

“Have you been eating elderberries again?” I asked him.

He shook his head and led me to a tall pokeweed plant. I saw that berries were missing. Lots of them. One of us might have said a swear word. I’ll let you guess who.

It’s funny how panic will totally wreck your ability to think. My mind was racing to recall everything I knew about pokeweed, but all I was getting was the word “poison.”

I took several slow, deep breaths to calm myself. Gradually, my brain started to work again. The berry is the least poisonous part of the plant. The juice from the berry is safe. It’s the seed that’s poisonous 1) http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2. The seeds are designed to pass safely through the digestive tract so that the plant can spread. So unless he chewed up the seeds, any poisons would likely remain safely locked away. And at this age, our boy was more of a gulper than a chewer.

My wife and I decided to wait and see if any symptoms developed. As it turned out, he was fine. He never had any problems with the pokeberries at all.

That day, two things happened:

  1. One was that I cut down all of the pokeweed plants in our yard.
  2. The other was that I became skeptical of the oft-repeated claims of 10 berries (or even 1 berry 2)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.) being enough to poison a child.

One study tried to determine the lethal dose of pokeberries for mice. What the researchers found was that it was impossible to give the mice a large enough dose to kill them. After three doses, one per hour, of as much as the mice’s bellies could hold, some finally died. The equivalent amount for an adult, male human would be about 45 pounds (20 kilograms).3)http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf Just for the record, 45 pounds of water would also kill an adult, male human.4)http://www.nleomf.org/officers/search/search-results/james-c-mcbride.html

Of course I wouldn’t recommend you eat a big bowlful of the berries. Humans may not be very much like mice. But this study does give credence to some people’s claims of having eaten pokeberry pie.

Let’s Eat Some Pokeweed!

Our grandparents would have thought all this caution and fear was far overblown. For them, pokeweed was a mundane food—a staple of spring. But at some point that familiarity with our wild, native plants began to dwindle, and now pokeweed is something of a daredevil food for aspiring foragers. Let’s take back our horticultural heritage and eat some pokeweed (after preparing it correctly, of course).

This video should help:

Plant Identification

Adult plants are the easiest to identify, so let’s start there. Mature pokeweed (also called poke salad, poke sallet, pokeberry, and others) stands 5–10 feet (1.5–3 meters) tall.

Pokeweed leaf close

The leaves are alternate,5)Alternate: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear back and forth or in a spiraling pattern on a stem. large (4–10 inches or 10–25 centimeters), toothless, oval- or lance-shaped, fairly succulent, somewhat wavy along the edges, and prominently veined.

They also make a neat, rubbery sound when you rub a handful of them together.

The flowers are white, pink, or green; grow on a pink stem; and form a drooping, finger-shaped cluster. Flowers appear in spring through summer and turn into glossy, deep purple-to-black berries toward the end of summer and into fall. The berries are about the size of a pea and are flattened at the top and bottom. A mature pokeweed stem is red or magenta, darker near the base, and has a mostly hollow core.

Pokeweed has a perennial root, with the aboveground parts dying back every winter. The dead stalk can remain through the winter and are one of the easiest ways for beginners to safely ID young plants. Mark the location of a dead stalk and come back in the spring to harvest the new stalks growing where it stood. Once you do this several times, you’ll start to recognize the young leaves by sight even without the older stalk to give it away.

Look-alikes

Overall, the mature plant is very easy to identify, though it might be confused with elderberry. Elderberry does not have alternate leaves, and the berries grow in an umbel,6)Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped or umbrella-shaped cluster of flower. rather than a spike.

The berry clusters resemble wild cherries, though cherries don’t have that garish stem color, their leaves are toothed, and they grow on a tree.

Some people say that pokeweed is a grape lookalike. I don’t see it, myself. But if you’re having trouble, remember that grapes grow on a vine. Pokeweed does not.

Where to Find Pokeweed

Pokeweed is native to the U.S., growing throughout most of the contiguous states, except for in the Rocky Mountain States and North and South Dakota. It can also be found in the eastern provinces of Canada and has been naturalized in the Mediterranean region.

It prefers damp woodlands and open area.

Birds help spread the seeds in their droppings, as well. You can often find pokeweed shoots beneath popular perches. Try fence rows.

Harvesting Pokeweed

The conventional wisdom is to harvest leaves and stems from young plants, no more than 6-10 inches (15-25 centimeters) tall.7)Peterson Field Guides. Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America. Lee Allen Peterson.

Pokeweed young plant

Berries can be harvested whenever they are ripe, from summer into fall.

I do not recommend harvesting the root, as it contains the highest concentration of poison. (However, those who do opt to take the risk typically harvest the root in the fall, after the main stalk has died back.)

Some people harvest from taller plants, even taking the newer growth from mature pokeweed. Depending on your level of sensitivity to the plant and your level of experience, this might or might not be a good idea.

The Pokeweed Boogeyman

And this would probably be a good time to talk about the pokeweed boogeyman.

In my opinion, the poisonous nature of pokeweed has been exaggerated. People tend to repeat warnings about poisonous plants without verifying them. This can cause errors or exaggerations to be perpetuated until they assume the rank of “fact.” This seems to be what has happened with pokeweed.8)http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf

Don’t misunderstand me. Pokeweed is poisonous and has killed people. You have to respect it, and you have to use it correctly. But the level of fear exceeds the reality.9)Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012.

To further muddy the waters, some people are more sensitive to the toxins in pokeweed than others.

  • For example, the plant juice causes dermatitis in some people (like my wife) and not in others (like myself).
  • Some people get a stomachache if they boil the leaves only once, while others may have no ill effects and always boil once.
  • I’ve even seen a man claim that he saved the cooking water for use in soups. That one’s a bit much for me, but you can see how the claims of pokeweed’s relative toxicity might get confused.

A Common-Sense Caution

So what’s a forager to do?

Go slowly.

Just cook a little bit your first time, and use one of the longer boiling methods described below. The next time, you can cook more.

Just use your own wisdom, listen to your body, and don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. In all likelihood, you’ll be fixin’ a big mess of greens in no time.

Culinary Uses: Cooking and Eating Pokeweed

Nutritionally, pokeweed is a powerhouse plant. It’s a dynamite source of vitamins A and C, and a good source of calcium and iron, too.10)http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2 But how do you get to that nutrition without poisoning yourself?

Poke leaves are boiled before eating. Opinions differ as to how long they must be boiled and in how many changes of water. This is how I do it:

  1. Boil the leaves for 1 minute.
  2. Pour out the water and bring new water to a boil.
  3. Now boil the leaves for another full minute.
  4. Change out the water and boil for 15 minutes.

The whole process looks like this:

Boil 1 minute –> Change water –> Boil 1 minute –> Change water –> Boil 15 minutes

Remember, your timer doesn’t start until the water reaches a full boil. You can keep a second pot of water boiling so that you don’t have to wait for the water to heat up every time.

If you want to err on the cautious side, you can always boil it longer. Two boils of 15 minutes each, or three boils of 10 minutes each, are common cooking protocols.

Serve with salt, pepper, and butter. Some people like to add vinegar or olive oil, as well. I like to add a pinch of brown sugar. My way isn’t the healthiest, but it gets the kids to eat it. Another popular option is to toss the cooked pokeweed into a pan and scramble it with eggs. I like to add barbecue sauce. (Try it, then tell me if I’m crazy!)

Young shoots can be peeled, breaded in cornmeal, and fried. Some people boil them first, but many (including myself) don’t. Another option is to boil and then pickle the stalks. I’ve never tried this one, but it sounds tasty.

Medicinal Uses: Properties and Contraindications

Used correctly, pokeweed is a powerful medicinal plant. However, the margins of safety are smaller than with most popular herbs.

The berry is the safest part of the plant to use medicinally. The root, while a very powerful medicine, is also the most poisonous. Use caution, and get in touch with an experienced herbalist before experimenting with it yourself.

Pokeweed has a wide variety of medicinal uses, both traditional and modern. Most of these likely stem from its antiviral, lymphatic, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Properties

Pokeweed has terrifically potent antiviral properties against a wide range of viruses, including SARS and coronavirus. Pokeweed is a powerful lymphatic-system stimulant, helping to prevent cytokine storms.11)Cytokine Storm: A potentially fatal, hyper-inflammatory, immune response often linked to certain viruses. Isolated compounds from the pokeweed plant have even been used to inactivate the HIV virus in rats, rendering them HIV-negative.12)Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013. That’s a lot of antiviral potential.

Pokeweed is also strongly anti-inflammatory, and has a long history as an arthritis herb.13)Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000. Some people take 1 berry a day to ease their symptoms. Others use the root in powder or tincture14)Tincture: A preparation in herbal medicine wherein the medicinal components of a plant are pulled into a solution of alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin and administered by dropper. form. One suggested dose of root powder is 60–100 milligrams.15)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008. A 1:5 tincture of the dried root in 50% alcohol has also been suggested with a dose of 5–15 drops up to 3 times a day.16)Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012. 

Again, use caution and seek a trained expert before putting any of this into your body.

Contraindications

Pokeweed has the potential to interact with drugs that have sedative properties. Possible side effects include lowered blood pressure, confusion, weakness, blurred vision, nausea, difficulty breathing, and death.17)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008. Pregnant women should not use pokeweed.18)Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000.

If you’re looking for similar effects from safer plants, try skullcap or cleavers as alternatives.19)Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013. Red root also has some similar properties, though it has safety issues, as well.

Hopefully I’ve scared you just the right amount—not so much that I scared you away, but not so little that you jump in with abandon. Pokeweed is a powerful, nutritious, delicious plant that is safe when it’s given proper respect, and dangerous when it’s not.

What are your experiences with pokeweed? Were they good or bad? Have any of you every tried pokeberry pie and lived to tell the tale? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments.

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_______________________________________________________

Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.
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The Grow Network is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to provide a means for our team to earn fees for recommending our favorite products! We may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, should you purchase an item after clicking one of our links. Thanks for supporting TGN!

 

References   [ + ]

1. http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2
2. The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.
3, 8. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf
4. http://www.nleomf.org/officers/search/search-results/james-c-mcbride.html
5. Alternate: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear back and forth or in a spiraling pattern on a stem.
6. Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped or umbrella-shaped cluster of flower.
7. Peterson Field Guides. Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America. Lee Allen Peterson.
9, 16. Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012.
10. http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2
11. Cytokine Storm: A potentially fatal, hyper-inflammatory, immune response often linked to certain viruses.
12, 19. Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013.
13, 18. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000.
14. Tincture: A preparation in herbal medicine wherein the medicinal components of a plant are pulled into a solution of alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin and administered by dropper.
15, 17. The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.

The post Pokeweed: The Weed, the Myth, the Legend appeared first on The Grow Network.

Henbit and Purple Deadnettle—The Mischievous Twins

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This article is the second in a series on weed gardens and identifying and using the plants you’ll often find there. For other articles in the series, please click here.

How long does it take for weeds to invade a garden? Not long. But in a weed garden, that’s a good thing!

Checking back in on the weed garden, we find that it’s mostly still a patch of bare soil.

Weed Garden Henbit Deadnettle

But upon closer inspection, we can see several guests starting to invite themselves in. It’s a bit too early to tell what they are at this stage, though I expect the larger leaves to be pokeweed.

Weed Garden Henbit Deadnettle

Plant Identification

While we’re waiting on the weeds to properly introduce themselves, let’s take a look at two weeds that have probably welcomed themselves into your gardens: purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). The name deadnettle comes from the fact that the plant resembles a nettle, but does not sting. Thus, it is a dead nettle. The name “henbit” comes from farmers watching hens eat it.

These two jokers love confusing people. Like a pair of mischievous twins, they’re often mistaken for one another. I’ll help you put an end to those shenanigans by showing you what they have in common and how they’re different.

Purple deadnettle and henbit are both members of the mint family, with the characteristic square stems and opposite leaves.

Aromatically, they aren’t very well-behaved mints, having no distinct minty smell. They do have an interesting earthy scent, however, that reminds me of Easter Sundays as a child. Your nostalgia may vary. Both also have small, pink-to-purple, tubular blossoms with two lips on the bottom outside edge.

Characteristics                                                                                                                                

Being mints, they naturally want to take over the world, but they’re hoping we won’t notice because they’re fairly low to the ground and have such pretty little blossoms. You can find them all throughout the U.S., as far north as Greenland, and through their native home of Eurasia.

They love cool, spring weather and rain. If you have that, there’s a good chance you have henbit and deadnettle.

Both plants love rich, moist soil … and people, too. They’ve long followed humans around with the intent of moving into any soil we happen to disturb.

Purple deadnettle has triangular leaves with petioles (leaf stems). It has a fuzzier texture than henbit, and the entire top of the plant tends to be shaded purple. Henbit has scalloped, heart-shaped leaves with no petiole, and it’s not noticeably hairy.

Weed Garden Henbit Deadnettle

Toxic Look-alikes

They have no toxic look-alikes, though ground ivy (edible in moderation) is fairly similar. Ground ivy differs from our plants by having larger flowers and by rooting at nodes along the stem.

Culinary Uses

All aboveground parts of purple deadnettle and henbit are edible raw or cooked. The best-tasting bits are the blossoms, which are tender and sweet. I’m not a huge fan of either plant raw, but I love them chopped fine on weed pizzas or mixed in with a stir-fry. They’ll also mix well with a salad, and I’ve snuck them into stews a few times.

Henbit has the superior texture and taste, in my opinion. Both henbit and purple deadnettle are good sources of iron, vitamins, and fiber. 1)http://www.eattheweeds.com/henbit-top-of-the-pecking-order/

As a sidenote, stews are great for introducing people to eating weeds, or for hiding a plant that you’re still trying to build an appreciation for. The weeds in question just disappear into the mix and become part of a happy fellowship.

Medicinal Uses

Medicinally, these weedy relatives have a fair bit of overlap, though purple deadnettle is better known and more widely researched. I’ll be focusing on purple deadnettle here, both to avoid any confusion, and because I have more practical experience with it as a medicinal plant.

Lab tests have confirmed that purple deadnettle has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, comparable to Vitamin C.2)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292812877_Antimicrobial_and_Free_Radical_Scavenging_Activities_of_Some_Lamium_Species_from_Turkey3)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037887410800189X

This helps to validate its traditional use as an arthritis herb.

Purple deadnettle can also be used to stop external bleeding and has been shown to have moderate antimicrobial properties.4)http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/l/lamium-purpureum=red-dead-nettle.php5)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292812877_Antimicrobial_and_Free_Radical_Scavenging_Activities_of_Some_Lamium_Species_from_Turkey

Chew up the fresh leaves and make a spit poultice, as you would with yarrow. I assume this would work with dried leaves as well, though I’ve never done it that way. I’ve always had yarrow at hand.

Read More: “Drying Herbs the Easy Way”

A decoction of deadnettle is also said to be effective for any type of bleeding (internal or external)6)http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/l/lamium-purpureum=red-dead-nettle.php

I’m more familiar with yarrow in this regard, but for people allergic to plants in the Aster family (which includes yarrow), purple deadnettle could be a good alternative plant to try. (But, as with all edible wild plants that you’re trying for the first time, remember to start slowly, in case you have an unexpected sensitivity to it.)

One of the more interesting properties of purple deadnettle is its ability to ease allergy symptoms. This might be linked to its anti-inflammatory properties, or perhaps to its flavonoid constituents. Whatever the reason, it really seems to work.

I don’t have much trouble with allergies myself, but I’ve given dried deadnettle to other people. I’ve got a “plant buddy” (client) using it right now. She tells me that when she drinks a cup of deadnettle tea (1 heaping teaspoon with 1 cup of water) before bed, she wakes up with clear sinuses and no drainage. But on the days that she forgets, she’s wakes up stuffy and coughing. And if she goes ahead and makes a cup, she’ll dry right up. If you want to try it, I recommend adding a little cream and sweetener.

So go gather up some henbit and purple deadnettle, and put these powerful spring weeds to work for you before the weather gets hot and they disappear again!

Do you use either of these plants for something I didn’t mention? Do you have any good deadnettle or henbit recipes you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below.

_______________________________________________________

Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

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References   [ + ]

The post Henbit and Purple Deadnettle—The Mischievous Twins appeared first on The Grow Network.

Growing Cucumbers: The Ultimate Guide To Cucumis Sativus

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The post Growing Cucumbers: The Ultimate Guide To Cucumis Sativus is by Lorin Nielsen and appeared first on Epic Gardening, the best urban gardening, hydroponic gardening, and aquaponic gardening blog.

Once the warmth of summer comes on, cucumbers are a favorite addition to summer salads and sandwiches. Growing cucumbers at home is surprisingly easy, and you’ll find that the ones you grow are far superior to anything you can buy at the store. Whether used to make pickles, eaten fresh from the garden, or used … Read more

The post Growing Cucumbers: The Ultimate Guide To Cucumis Sativus is by Lorin Nielsen and appeared first on Epic Gardening, the best urban gardening, hydroponic gardening, and aquaponic gardening blog.

Grow a Weed Garden! Identifying and Using Chickweed

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“Why in the world would I WANT to grow weeds?” That’s what you were just thinking, right? Either that or, “Is this about marijuana?”

As it turns out, I’m writing on the former. And if you’re still with me after learning that this article isn’t about cannabis, let me answer your question with some questions of my own.

Are you interested in growing your own herbal medicines? Grow a weed garden! Many common weeds are also powerful medicines.

Do you want to grow your own highly nutritious, homegrown food? Grow a weed garden! Most wild edibles are ridiculously nutritious; often much more so than the foods you’re already growing in your garden. (I will admit, however, that a potato is much more user-friendly than stinging nettles.) Plus, you’ll know for sure that these weeds haven’t been sprayed with any (gasp!) weed killer.

Are you cursed with gardening failures? Grow a weed garden! Unless you’re growing it inside a chicken coop or downstream from a glyphosate factory, you literally cannot mess this up. Those weedy little boogers are a hale-and-hearty crew, just chomping at the bit to take over any scrap of substandard, underwatered, compacted, nutrient-poor soil.

Are you preparing for the electromagnetic-zombie-pandemic-peak-water-financial-collapse apocalypse? Grow a weed garden! Looters might make off with your tomatoes, but they’ll never think to steal your thistles. Actually, I think I’d like to see them try that. But my point is that these are food and medicine resources unknown to the majority of the population. You can think of them as your backup-backup food supply.

Getting Started With Your Weed Garden

So I’m going to assume that you’re all fired up and ready for a weed garden, or at least not starkly opposed to the idea, and I’ll move on to the “how to” section. Making a weed garden is stunningly easy. At bare minimum, all you have to do is point to a part of your yard and say, “This is my weed garden.” Done! I’ve got a whole bunch of them out back. I’ll leave it up to you to convince your significant other that it’s time to sell your lawn mower. I mean, who mows their garden, right?

But let’s say you want to be a bit more official.

Sure. I knew I liked you. You want to grow weeds the right and proper way. Good for you.

For a “real” weed garden, do the following:

  1. Prepare a garden bed as you would for any other plant.
  2. Stop.

That’s it. Just loosen the soil, because even weeds like fluffy soil, and remove any pre-existing weeds to give everybody a fair chance to compete.

This is especially true of grasses. If you want a really good weed garden, get rid of the grass. No-good, dirty, rotten, grass (grumble, grumble). I’m slightly prejudiced, in case you couldn’t tell.

This is zero maintenance. No need to fertilize, water, weed (apart from the initial weeding), or sow seeds. Trust me. The seeds are already there, just waiting for their chance to shine.

Here’s a before-and-after picture of a weed garden I just set up:

Weed garden - pre weeding
My Weed Garden, Before

 

Weed garden - post weeding

My Weed Garden, After

This was formerly an experimental garden, set up a few years back and eventually surrendered to the grasses. A morning of TLC with a digging fork and an audiobook brought it back into fighting condition. During the clean out, I discovered a goji berry stem that had snaked its way through the sea of grass and was setting out roots where it contacted the soil.

Weed garden - goji

Goji

I couldn’t bring myself to uproot such a tenacious survivor, so it got to keep its place. Also, I added a wood chip border, because, “by golly I’ve got a big pile of wood chips, and I’m gonna use it!”                                                           

Now let’s take a look at the weeds in the… Oh, right. This is day one. Even weeds don’t pop up that fast. Okay. We’ll come back to this later on. For now, let’s take a look at one of the weeds that was growing in that maelstrom of grass before I cleared it out.

I give you … chickweed!

Weed garden - chickweed

Chickweed

Chickweed is a sweet little plant with a love for cool, wet weather. It can be found in every state in the U.S. and throughout much of the world, even growing as far north as the arctic circle.

Where I live, in the Ozark Mountain region of Arkansas, you can find chickweed in the early spring and often again in the fall. The further north you go, the more it can stretch toward summer. Further south it leans more toward winter. If you have just the right climate (or microclimate), it can grow year-round. If you’ve got cool, pleasant weather, you’ve almost certainly got chickweed.

Chickweed tends to pop up in yards, gardens, pastures, and along the edges of paths. It likes rich, moist soil, and doesn’t seem too particular about sunlight. It must really like people, too, because it grows around us a lot. You’ll also occasionally find large patches growing in entirely the “wrong” place, because plants never read a plant book.

This is a great early plant to identify in your weed garden. First, it’s delicious. Some compare the taste to lettuce or corn silk, though I would describe it more like a snap pea. It’s also highly nutritious. Chickweed is a good source of beta-carotene, ascorbic-acid, magnesium, niacin, calcium, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, copper, and Gamma-linolenic-acid.1)http://www.eattheweeds.com/chickweed-connoisseurs-2/ It also has more iron, zinc, and potassium than any of your garden greens.2)Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. John Kallas, PhD. Gibbs Smith. 2010 It can be used in salads, soups, fritters, and almost anywhere else you want something green. I’m partial to homemade weed pizzas, myself.

Do yourself a favor. Mix up some freshly rinsed chickweed with flour, salt, and pepper. Form it up into patties and fry it in coconut oil. Then dip the resulting crunchy goodness in honey mustard or barbecue sauce. Delicious!

Identifying Chickweed

By this time, I’m sure you’re practically salivating for some chickweed. And who could blame you? So let’s move on to identification.

Note that I’m focusing on common chickweed (Stellaria media). There are other varieties of chickweed, such as mouse-ear chickweed, that will match some, but not all, of these criteria. For more information on other types of chickweed, you really should look at a more exhaustive guide or talk to a local plant expert.

Common chickweed is a thin-stemmed plant with small (¼” to ½”), opposite leaves. The leaves vary a bit in shape, but are usually oval, and always have a tiny point at the tips. She’s usually a small plant, but can grow stems more than a foot long when conditions are right. The sap is NOT milky. If you pluck a stem and discover white sap, you’ve got the wrong weed. The bloom is white with 5 deeply notched petals, which will look like 10.

Weed garden - chickweed flower

It has two more dead giveaways. One is a single line of hairs growing down the stem. This line will switch sides after every pair of leaves.

Weed Garden_Chickweed Hair Line Arrows

The hairs are tiny, and you may need to either hold it up to the light or use a magnifying lens to see them. The other telltale sign is an inner core. It takes a little practice, but you can bend the stem back and forth, and twist slightly, to break apart the outer stem, revealing a slightly elastic inner stem.

Weed Garden_Chickweed Broken Stem

All of the aboveground parts are edible. On younger plants, the entire stem is tender. As they age, the lower stems become tough and stringy. You can chop them up, if you’re desperate. But I prefer just cutting off the last 2 or 3 inches at the growing tips.

Medicinally, chickweed is no slouch, either. Its primary claim to fame is in skin care. Owing to its wound-healing, soothing, and cooling properties, chickweed is an obvious choice for various skin irritations. It can be used in poultices, sprays, and creams—both as a beauty aid and for the treatment of rashes, bites, burns, and blemishes. It is also a digestive aid, helping to relieve excess gas in the intestinal tract.3)Reference: The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. Katrina Blair. Chelsea Green Publishing. 2014

I hope I’ve gotten you interested in the idea of a weed garden, or at least in trying out some chickweed. Next time, we’ll check back in with my weed garden to see how it’s coming along and choose a new weed to feature.

Meanwhile, let me know in the comments section: What’s your favorite way to use chickweed?

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References   [ + ]

1. http://www.eattheweeds.com/chickweed-connoisseurs-2/
2. Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. John Kallas, PhD. Gibbs Smith. 2010
3. Reference: The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. Katrina Blair. Chelsea Green Publishing. 2014

The post Grow a Weed Garden! Identifying and Using Chickweed appeared first on The Grow Network.

Planting a Native Edibles Food Forest

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Planting a Native Edibles Food Forest The move to replace invasive species of plants with natives is a very interesting one. Its an admirable goal that makes a lot of sense. Its beneficial to the environment and the wildlife.  I think we are going to see an incredible uptick in people and businesses pushing for …

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Leeks: Everything You Need To Know To Grow And Harvest Them

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The post Leeks: Everything You Need To Know To Grow And Harvest Them is by
Lorin Nielsen and appeared first on Epic Gardening, the best urban gardening, hydroponic gardening, and aquaponic gardening blog.

Luscious, delicious leeks! They’re on every fine chef’s menu somewhere. In the UK, they’re a staple part of the daily diet, and they appear heavily in Asian cuisine as well. Leeks are found in the most elegant dishes and at the finest restaurants. But they’re also in the finest of gardens, too. Today, we look … Read more

The post Leeks: Everything You Need To Know To Grow And Harvest Them is by
Lorin Nielsen and appeared first on Epic Gardening, the best urban gardening, hydroponic gardening, and aquaponic gardening blog.

Milkweed Is Edible? Yes, And It’s Super-Easy To Prepare, Too

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Milkweed Is Edible? Yes, And It's Super-Easy To Prepare, Too

Photographer: Steve Nubie

August, September and early October are the prime months for milkweed pods in many parts of North America. The pods range in size from 2 to 4 inches and grow in clusters of 4 to 8 pods.

They’re typically a light green color and filled with a combination of seeds and soft, silky floss. I’ll usually collect about 20 or so pods and head to the kitchen or camp.

In early to mid-summer, the milkweed shoots first emerge, and they taste great when gently boiled, shocked and sautéed in butter or olive oil. We’re going to start with the pods because they’re in season now, and cover the spring shoots later.

Prepping the Pods

Milkweed Is Edible? Yes, And It's Super-Easy To Prepare, Too

Photographer: Steve Nubie

Raw milkweed pods are quite bitter and the white, milky sap is not exactly appetizing. It is also very sticky. They have numerous seeds and a stringy, silky floss inside of the pod. In order to remove the bitterness and the sap, they must be boiled in water and shocked in ice water, and then boiled and shocked again. (The duration for boiling is 10 minutes and then a shock in ice water followed by another 2 minutes in boiling water and a final shock in ice water.) This is done for any milkweed pod, regardless of its size.

Discover More Than 1,100 Homesteading Tips And Tricks!

Prior to the boiling water/ice-water shock, the seeds and silky floss need to be removed.

This can be done by gently pulling the seam apart with your thumbs on the curved back of the pod and pulling out the silk and the seeds.

Milkweed Is Edible? Yes, And It's Super-Easy To Prepare, Too

Photographer: Steve Nubie

There is also a tough, inner lining or membrane that needs to be removed. This is easy to do after the first boil and shock by gently pulling the tough membrane from the pod.

Large pods up to 4 inches are the best for stuffing. The best cooking methods involve baking or sautéing.

One thing you’ll notice during the first boil is a lot of bubbles and the white sap floating to the surface.

That’s good news, and you don’t have to skim the surface. The ice-water shock will rinse them.

Milkweed Is Edible? Yes, And It's Super-Easy To Prepare, Too

Photographer: Steve Nubie

After you’ve chilled them for a few minutes in the ice water and you’ve removed the tough inner membrane, boil them again for 2 minutes. You shouldn’t see any more sap or bubbles. You’re just giving them a final rinse and finish to clean the now-exposed inner membrane of the pod, and they’re ready for stuffing.

Baked and Stuffed Milkweed Pods

Larger milkweed pods up to 4 inches are the best for stuffing. You can stuff them with any combination you like, but I prefer a mix of chopped vegetables and a cheese-like mozzarella or cream cheese. However, you can use any cheese. I’ve also tried some variations with chopped fruit. Here’s a sample recipe with the cheese blend and the proportions if you want to give it a try.

Ingredients:

  • 24 to 30 large prepped milkweed pods, about 3 to 4 inches in length.
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese or 8 ounces of shredded mozzarella.
  • 2 tablespoons of onion, finely diced.
  • 1 jalapeno finely diced or two tablespoons of sweet bell pepper.
  • 3 tablespoons of crispy, diced bacon.
  • Bread crumbs or corn meal.
  • Salt and pepper.

Directions:

  • Milkweed Is Edible? Yes, And It's Super-Easy To Prepare, Too

    Photographer: Steve Nubie

    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Combine the cheese in a bowl with the diced pepper, diced onion and bacon; salt and pepper to suit your taste and combine everything with a large wooden spoon.
  • Stuff the pods until they’re full, but not so much that you can’t close the seam in the side of the pod. You can either stuff the whole pod, or cut them in half to create a half-shelled pod and simply spoon the stuffing on top.
  • Coat the seam with some bread crumbs or corn meal to help seal the pod during baking if you’re using a whole pod, and you can also sprinkle some on top of the half-shelled pods.
  • Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the crumbs or corn meal are browned.
  • Serve warm or cold with your favorite dip, or eat them plain.

Sautéed and Stuffed Milkweed Pod Halves

The large 3- to 4-inch pods also can be sautéed. Prep the pods the same way you would for baking, but break or cut them in half so they’re a half-shelled pod. Stuff them and sauté on the bottom of the pod only in 3 tablespoons of oil and 3 tablespoons of butter. Sauté for 4 to 5 minutes until they turn a golden brown.

Other Ways to Eat Milkweed Pods

  • Unstuffed small pods. Small pods up to 2-inches in length can be eaten unstuffed with the immature seeds and immature floss. You’ll still need to remove the inner membrane. so gently remove the immature seeds and silk and give the small pods the hot water treatment for 10 minutes before removing the membrane. Repeat for 2 minutes in the boiling water, followed by the ice water shock. Once they’re prepped, re-insert the immature seeds and silk and bake or sauté. The immature seeds and silk actually have a creamy texture. Don’t boil the pods with the immature seeds and silk inside. They’ll dissolve in the boiling water.
  • Salad or soup. Give the pods the boiling water/ice-water treatment and chill them in the refrigerator. Chop them and add them to a salad or soup.
  • Milkweed chips. Chop the prepped pods into larger chunks and sauté or deep fry them for milkweed chips.
  • In sauces. Dice the prepped pods and add them to a sauce like a marinara or chili.

Milkweed Shoots

Milkweed shoots show up in the Spring. They are surprisingly tender and not bitter. They look similar to dogbane shoots which are very bitter, but dogbane has pointy leaves and a smooth surface while milkweed shoots have a velvety leaf like sage and rounded leaves.

The best way to prepare milkweed shoots after you wash them is to remove the leaves from the stem and chop the stem into pieces about 2- to 3-inches long. Boil them for 3 minutes in salted water and then shock them in ice water. Drain the leaves and the shoots and sauté them in butter or olive oil. Sometimes I’ll add a little garlic.

They have an asparagus flavor note and the boiled and shocked leaves and stems also can be frozen for future use. A variation is to sauté them in rendered bacon fat and then top them with crumbled bacon.

Storing Milkweed Pods

Milkweed pods can be kept in the refrigerator and will have a shelf life similar to other produce in the fridge. The prepped pods also can be frozen and should be good for up to 3 months.

Milkweeds are easy to harvest and easy to prepare. Give them a try and who knows — you may really like them and try them again and again.

Have you ever eaten milkweed? Share your tips in the section below:

Ornamental Edibles: Vegetables That Can Beautiful Your Landscape AND Feed You

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Ornamental Edibles: Beautify Your Landscape With What You Eat

Image source: Pixabay.com

Busy homesteaders do not have much time to devote to aesthetics. Those of us devoted to raising our own food and leading an independent way of life usually need to stay focused on practical endeavors — spending the warm seasons growing and preserving vegetables and fruit, milking dairy animals, tending other livestock, and shoring up infrastructure. With all that going on around my place, sometimes it’s all I can do to get the lawn mowed, much less plant and tend ornamental plants.

The cost of ornamentals is a consideration, as well. Purchasing flowers, greenery and shrubs—along with the borders and decorative mulch around them—can add up to real money.

But that does not mean that the curb appeal of homesteads cannot be attractive. Instead of carving time and money out of the food-growing budget for beautifying the front yard, why not choose plants that can do double duty?

Ornamental edibles are the perfect solution. While homestead gardeners always see the beauty in a well-tended plot of corn or a field of potatoes in bloom, some vegetables are so attractive that they can be planted in the front yard and admired by passers-by.

Leafy Greens

Some of the easiest solutions to mixing good looks with good eats are leafy greens. Selections like kale and Swiss chard grow quickly and are super hardy to a wide variety of conditions. They can be planted early in the season and grow into large lush plants, making them an excellent option for garden beds up close to the house where people typically plant vegetation adequate to cover the foundation of the house for an overall manicured appearance.

The All-Natural Fertilizer That Can Double Your Garden Yield!

Swiss chard comes in a variety of bright colors and displays large showy leaves which would rival most ornamentals. Kale, collard greens, and other leafy vegetables grow into large impressive plants, as well, and all are easily planted from inexpensive seed. Another great thing about leafy greens is that they can tolerate—and in many cases prefer—partial shade or limited hours of summer sun, making them the perfect alternative to standard shade-loving plants that are not edible.

Ornamental Edibles: Beautify Your Landscape With What You Eat

Swiss chard. Image source: David Fisher/Flickr / Creative Commons

Most leafy greens will last all season by continuing to sprout new growth after harvesting, depending upon climate and siting. Even in places where leafy greens cannot survive the heat of high summer, careful succession planting can keep greens growing most of the time.

A Few That Might Surprise You

Other types of vegetable to consider planting for their looks as well as their edibility are those which spill out into a large pleasing shape. Think summer squash, which grows quickly into an enormous plant but does not send spreading runners all over. A big beautiful zucchini planting is the perfect choice for sunny spots to cover a lot of bare ground without getting out of control.

And don’t forget flowers. I know that sounds confusing, because I have been telling you about planting vegetables instead of flowers, but you can have both in the same plant. Remember that most of what we call “vegetables” are technically “fruit,” because they come from the fruiting part of the plant. That means that before peppers and tomatoes and cucumbers and peas become food, they must blossom—and “blossom” is another name for flower, of course.

Some vegetable flowers are more visually appealing than others. One of the most stunning is okra, with its deep yellow hibiscus-related blooms. Many eggplant varieties have lovely blossoms, as do most summer squashes. An added bonus to summer squash blossoms is that they can be eaten while in the flower stage; be sure to choose male blossoms so as to avoid diminishing fruit production—along with other edible flowers such as nasturtiums or daylilies.

Don’t Forget Containers!

Containers can dress up vegetables, too. Window boxes are a good place for shorter vegetables, either alone or mixed in with ornamentals, and aromatic selections such as basil or other herbs add an extra pleasing punch. Gardeners can create attractive locations for vegetables by upcycling reclaimed vessels and materials, building raised beds out of cordwood masonry, and using artistic shapes for beds. The sky is truly the limit here, and just about anything is possible. As an example, I was able to acquire a small homemade canoe from a custom boat maker. It was a failed experiment on his part, but it looks wonderful in my yard. I drilled holes in the bottom for drainage, filled it with soil, and the summer squash I planted in it is flowing gracefully out over the gunwales.

Ornamental edibles need not be just annuals. Consider highbush blueberries with their lovely fall foliage, miniature crabapple trees, hazelnut bushes, grape arbors, borders of high-climbing hops, and even rhubarb beds.

There is no need to divert precious time and money from food production for the sake of curb appeal. Instead, choose dual-purpose plants for practical eating and decorative appeal.

What edibles would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Testing For Edible Plants.

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I will eat berries that are known to me, other flora I will test first before eating. Personally I would not bother testing for edibility unless (a) I was in urgent need of food, or (b) there was a lot of a certain plant around & I needed to find more edible plants to add to my diet.


Testing For Edibility: 


Don’t Throw It Out! Even When You See Mold, These Foods Are Still Edible

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Everyone has had the unfortunate experience of throwing out spoiled food. It’s a sad experience that we all share. You opened up your fridge to grab a snack, only to find that it’s riddled with small moldy spots, and is exuding a funky smell. However, what isn’t shared is the reaction to that situation. That’s because there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who respond to the sight of moldy food by grimacing and immediately throwing it away, and those who wonder if that food can be salvaged.

So which is the correct decision? That’s highly dependent on what kind of food you’re dealing with, according to the FDA. The government agency has released a handy guide to determine which foods should be avoided when they begin to grow mold, and which foods can be saved by scraping off the mold.

According to that guide, the main thing you need to consider is how mold grows in certain foods. In some cases, it only resides on the surface of the food. In other cases however, the mold has roots that burrow deep into the food, and can’t be seen. When that happens, you can’t simply cut the mold away. Once the mold is visible, it’s probably burrowed into everything.

So which foods are most likely to promote this kind of deep-seated mold growth? It’s mainly foods that have a high moisture content, such as:

  • Leftover meats, lunch meats, bacon, and hotdogs
  • Casseroles
  • Cooked Pasta and other grains
  • Yogurt and sour cream
  • Jams

You also should avoid eating soft fruits and vegetables that have become moldy, such as peaches, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Hard produce however, such as carrots and bell peppers, have a much lower water content. If they become moldy, you can simply cut it away. The FDA recommends cutting out at least an inch of material below the mold.

Cheeses have a similar recommendation. Mold on hard cheeses can be cut out; again by removing an inch of material around the mold in every dimension. Soft cheeses, like brie, camembert, cream cheese, and cottage cheese, should always be thrown out.

However, there are some items that don’t have a high water content that should always be thrown out. Bread in particular, tends to grow mold with deep roots, despite having very little moisture. And though they don’t produce mold with deep roots, Peanut butter, legumes and nuts should be thrown out as well.

The only moldy meats that you can eat, are salami and dry cured hams. When these foods grow mold, it’s almost always restricted to the surface. Unlike hard cheeses and produce, you don’t have to cut away a huge chunk of meat to remove the mold. You can just scrub it off of the surface.

Of course, there’s a lot more you can learn about dealing with foods that have mold. Check out the rest of the FDA’s article, which contains an abundance of information on mold, and how to protect yourself from it.

Joshua Krause was born and raised in the Bay Area. He is a writer and researcher focused on principles of self-sufficiency and liberty at Ready Nutrition. You can follow Joshua’s work at our Facebook page or on his personal Twitter.

Joshua’s website is Strange Danger

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Emergency Foods from Wild Plants

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cattails_food_edible

dandelion_edible_forageMany people start learning about wild foods from common field guides focused on the subject.  There are often plants mentioned as wild foods that are not abundant enough to supply much of a harvest (such as Spring Beauties, or Fairy Potatoes), not nutritionally rich enough to offer much to survival situations (such as the many greens, which have few calories), are not very tasty (such as bitters like Dandelion), or are difficult to harvest and prepare (such as tree bark).  Further, the limited season of many nutritious edibles (like Cattail pollen and acorns) keeps them unavailable for much of the year.  The forager naturally sorts through plants as he learns about them, more-or-less forgetting many while focusing on the “choice” edibles.  (Mushroom hunters in particular refer to the best edibles as “choice”.)

By Nathaniel Whitmore a Contributing Author to SHTFBlog and SurvivalCache

For those who are learning about wild edibles to add to their daily diet or to harvest for restaurants, it only makes sense to focus on the best.  For the sake of preparing for end times, survival situations, and emergencies in the woods, however, one should learn as many edible plants as possible.  Perhaps many are not tasty or are time-consuming to harvest and/or prepare, but while these are very legitimate obstacles for every-day life in the “normal” world, you will likely enjoy even strange flavors when you are starving. The gathering of calories might turn into your top priority when there are none at hand.  In order to prepare for emergencies, it is well worth learning about the wild plants that the field guides deem “trailside nibbles” or “survival foods”.

Tree Bark

elm_treeA very important survival food is the inner bark of trees.  It is a common belief that the work “Adirondack” means “tree eaters”.  Maybe this is originally from the Mohawk word for porcupine, or maybe it was mostly derogatory referring to bad hunters (who had to, therefore, eat tree bark) but the truth is that Natives of the woodlands ate many tree barks.  My favorite is Slippery Elm.  I have prepared much of the powdered bark available through commercial herb distributors.  Cooked with Maple syrup it is a delightful breakfast “cereal” from the trees.  It is worth considering the powdered bark for emergency storage as an edible and medicinal.  Learn to recognize Elm trees and learn where they grow for emergency use and because they host the famous Morel mushroom. In my area they are found mostly along rivers.

Another tree I have consumed a bit of is White Pine.  While I was stripping bark from the logs for my log cabin, I chewed on the inner bark and prepared it as a “tea” (decoction- material is simmered, not just steeped).  I did not get around to grinding it to prepare as meal, as the Native Americans did with many of the barks they used as food.  It was enough work for my spare time to drag logs through the snow and carve notches in them.  Plus, I am still trying to figure out just how much of the evergreen trees are safe to consume.  Pines and their relatives have been important survival foods as well as winter foods, providing many medicinal and nutritional benefits.  However, there is concern regarding ingesting too many of the thick, resinous compounds in the pitch.  These agents give the evergreens many of their medicinal properties, but can gum up the kidneys if over-consumed.  Perhaps Native Americans knew things about preparing these barks that have been lost to the modern world.  When the end times come, however, we might be wishing we did our research.

Many other trees have edible inner bark, such as Poplar (though it was probably more often used to feed horses so that more desirable food could be hunted) and Ash.

Additional Foods From Trees

It is much more common today to consume the needles and small twigs of the evergreens by preparing as a tea, than to strip the bark and prepare as gruel.  By steeping the needles we can extract the vitamin C and many of the aromatic constituents.  For survival situations, I am sure thicker inner bark has more to offer nutritionally.

Read Also: Five Best DIY Toothache Remedies 

black_walnutMany other parts of trees can be used as food and should be mentioned here, such as the leaves of Basswood (American Linden).  Of course, one of the most important wild foods from trees is nuts, such as from Hickory and Black Walnut (which is another important medicinal, being used for parasites and fungal infections).  We also have acorns from Oak and many lesser-known seeds such as Beechnuts from Beech.  Many don’t realize that sap can be made into syrup from more than just Sugar Maple, including other Maples as well as other trees like Hickory.  It is clear that the survivalist has much to learn about trees in preparation for emergency.

A major consideration for emergency food, are the winter caches of wildlife.  Squirrels and other critters store piles of acorns, nuts, and seeds, which can be found by digging through leafy brush piles and other areas conducive to storage of such foods.  

Roots

evening_primrosePlants store energy in two distinct places- roots and seeds.  There are many roots that are generally overlooked as edibles, but could prove life-saving in emergencies.  Evening Primrose, for instance, was once a staple vegetable of Natives.  Today, it is common to find along roadsides and is worth getting to know for roadside emergencies.  Like many edible roots (including Burdock and Wild Carrot), Evening Primrose is biennial and best harvested in the fall of the first season or the spring of the second.  During the second year the plants develop their flower stalks and the roots become tough in order to support the stalk and because they are on their way out (they will die after seed is produced, while the autumn of the first year they store energy for the next).  

Garlic Mustard, because of its pungency, is usually used as a condiment (like Horseradish) more than a vegetable.  When push comes to shove, however, you might overcome the bitter, pungent flavor, or figure out how to reduce it through cooking.  Yellow Dock is similar in that it is avoided largely because of its intense bitter taste, and because being perennial it will get tougher with age.  Yellow Dock species are quite common and I am very often told by budding wild food foragers that they began eating the greens.  Usually I assume that if someone is eating Yellow Dock they have not learned about the other, more palatable options, and I tell them so.  Often, when seeing them at a later time I am informed that they moved on from Yellow Dock to tastier greens.  However, concerning survival, Yellow Dock might be an option.

Strong flavors generally indicate that the plant is not suitable for consumption in large amounts.  Bitter, pungent, and sour flavors are commonly indicative of constituents that shouldn’t be consumed in large amounts.  There is a reason we appreciate these flavors in relatively small doses.  Likewise, there is a reason we like the sweet flavor – it is the mark of calories (food energy).  All our macronutrients are sweet, which includes carbohydrates, proteins, and fat.  Roots that are relatively bland or sweet, such as Evening Primrose and Burdock, are generally more edible.  Wild Carrot also has a bit of pungency, and although Carrots are staple food, many members of the Carrot Family (Apiaceae) are quite toxic.  It should not be assumed that because something tastes good it is edible.  It is said that Poison Hemlock tasted quite good to those who were able to tell us so before they died.  Cattails produce very starchy roots (rhizomes) along with many other edible portions.  

Cattail

Cattails were called “Nature’s Pantry” by Euell Gibbons, one of our nation’s first famous wild food experts.  The rhizomes store much starch, which can be easily extracted to used for porridge or baking.  The young shoots are edible as are the bases of younger leaves.  The best vegetable portion is the young flower stalk, including flower, while it is tender and still wrapped inside the leaves.  The pollen can also be gathered, which is very nutritious.

Because starch is very water soluble and due to the structure of Cattail rhizomes the rhizomes can be pounded in a bucket of water.  The starch is then suspended in the water making it possible to strain out the fibrous strands, joints, and peel.  It can then be left to sit so that the starch settles to the  bottom.  Maybe not the ideal form of carbohydrates to the modern man, but an abundant source of nutrition in a survival situation.  

The vegetable portion can be nibbled off the bottoms of leaves that are young enough to have a tender portion intact.  The young shoots at the end of the rhizomes can also be harvested.  In my opinion, one of the best wild vegetables is the flower stalk.  Many old books refer to treating it like corn on the cob.  This has led to the misunderstanding that one should eat the flower (the “cat tail”) off of the stalk.  However, it is the stalk itself, when tender, that is the delicious vegetable.  It can be found by peeling the coarser material away to reveal the tender part.  You can develop an eye for the ones with flower stalks developing by the way the plant elongates upward during growth.  It resembles corn on the cob because it can be cooked in the same way, which is also why it is a very convenient camping or survival food.  Simply pick the whole above-ground/water plant by pulling straight up so that it separates from the rhizome.  You can confirm that is has a flower stalk by observing the base.  If there is no stalk, you will only see the crescent-shaped overlapping leaf bases.  If it has a flower stalk you will see it’s round base.  Then throw the plants, green leaves and all, directly onto some hot coals.  Turn them until thoroughly cooked.  When done, simply peel back the tough parts to reveal a tender, cooked vegetable within.  

The pollen is gathered after the flowers emerge above the leafy portions by shaking the yellow powder from the plants into some kind of container.  It is very nutritious and should be considered an important emergency food and nutritional supplement.  Many other pollens, such as Pine, can be harvested as well.

Seeds

I have already mentioned seeds from trees above (in the section “Additonal Foods from Trees”).  Here we will consider seeds from shrubs and herbaceous plants.  Perhaps the best-known staple of our Northeastern woods is the Hazelnut.  Although, because wildlife love it Hazelnuts are often hard to come by.  Still, the survivalist should learn to identify the shrub.

Amaranth seeds, though small and covered by a tough outer layer, are edible and very nutritious.  Plus, the young plants are good as cooked greens.  Likewise, Lambsquarters, one of the best cooked greens from the wild, can also provide nutritious seeds.  

Jewelweed, which is well-known as the poison ivy remedy, has edible seeds.  They pop from the ballistic seed pods when ripe and disturbed (by wind or animal).  Pinched just right, the seeds can be released into your hand.  Small, but they taste just like Walnuts.  The young shoots of Jewelweed have raised concerns regarding their edibility.  I used to eat them when a few inches tall and after cooked, but I have not done so in years.

Vegetables

There are many wild vegetables.  It is worth learning the lesser-desirable species as well as those commonly sought after.  However, vegetables are not the focus of this article because in emergency survival situations we are often more focused on calories.  Although greens are nutritious, they are not calorie rich.  Still, in survival situations there might be need to focus on certain nutrients that are available from vegetative plant parts.  Many greens are high in nutrients that would be cooked out of other plant foods.  For this reason, it is important to include some lightly cooked or raw vegetables in the diet.

Related: Choosing the Best Survival Tools for Your Bug Out Bag

Dandelion, in spite of its strong bitter flavor, is a safe source of edible leaves.  They are high in calcium, iron, and many other nutrients.  The flowers are also eaten.  The root is too bitter to be a common vegetable, but is often dried and/or roasted for tea. Sorrel, including both Wood Sorrels and Sheep Sorrel, are edible and tasty, but shouldn’t be eaten in large amounts because of the oxalic acid content.  Oxalic acid binds easily with calcium making the calcium unabsorbable and potentially leading to other problems, like kidney stones.  Lambsquarters (mentioned above) is also quite high in oxalic acid, as is Purslane.  One should be aware of these things, as it very well may come into consideration in a survival situation.  Purslane has many nutritional benefits, most notably that it is high in essential fatty acids for a vegetable.  

milk_weedMany of the important vegetables must be cooked before consumption.  Those mentioned above with oxalic acid can be cooked to reduce the acid content.  (The old fashioned parboiling that is looked down upon today as destroying nutrition has its place here.)  Plants like Pokeweed and Milkweed are put through a couple changes of water to render edible because of their toxic properties.  Ironically, when this is done they become two of the best wild foods.  Some greens need to be cooked to a lesser degree, such as Winter Cress (Yellow Rocket or Wild Mustard).  It doesn’t require changing water, but it should be cooked thoroughly.  

Conclusion

The plants listed above are only a few of the many options in the wild.  There are choice edibles – those few species we seek after as even superior to domestic veggies.  There are the deadly poisonous – some so much so that one bite can be fatal.  Then, there is a large spectrum in between.  The vast majority of plants are somewhere between choice and deadly, and the vast majority of them are not consumed.  In an emergency that includes a food shortage, it could be very useful to know obscure edible properties of plants.

The survivalist should learn to identify the two ends of the spectrum first.  Obviously, anybody at all interested in the subject wants to know about the best edibles.  It is perhaps even more important, however, to first learn the most poisonous (watch for another article).  If you know the handful of deadly plants to avoid, you can more safely explore your options in an emergency even if you don’t know everything about all the plants at hand.  Then, the survivalist can continue to explore the vast world of wild edibles in order to prepare for any situation.   

Warning

In this article many wild plants are mentioned that might be toxic if prepared improperly, might have toxic parts even if other parts are edible, or might produce very real problems if consumed as part of a dramatically imbalanced diet (such as what might occur in a survival situation).  I only mention them here.  If you want to eat wild plants, ensure that you are thoroughly educated beyond what can be gleaned from a short blog article.  Read books, attend walks, and seek out knowledgeable foragers.

jumpingrabbit_foodFurther, this article contains speculation regarding possible survival foods.  Details regarding the situation, including climate, health conditions, and other aspects of the diet might make certain foods more-or-less inappropriate.  Several plants have been mentioned with some toxic or possibly some toxic properties.  If over-consumed as part of a diet deficient in essentials, some of these plants might be harmful, even if they can be regularly enjoyed as part of your regular diet.  Consider rabbit starvation, during which what many consider to be good meat (rabbits, for instance) possibly becomes worse than not eating at all.  The ideas expressed above are done so in the spirit of researching for possible survival scenarios.  At the brink of starvation it might just make sense to wander into the gray area of wild edibles and to risk consuming things that are not usually consumed.  In everyday life, however, it is best to avoid eating in such risky territory.

Photos Courtesy of:

Rich Bradshaw  
Julie Falk  
All other photos are in the public domain. 

How to Collect Pine Nuts

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How to Collect Pine NutsDelicious and good for you

Here is a digger pine cone I picked up off the ground

The other day while out looking for edible plants, I came across some cones from the digger pines, also sometimes called gray pines. These cones were still intact and had not dropped their seeds, often called pine nuts.

I spent a bit of time and opened one.  The digger pines have one of the harder cones and you will need a hammer or a big rock to open them.  However, it is worth it you can get a good handful of nuts from one cone.

The individual seeds or nuts then need to be removed from their shell. This is a bit of work and a good pair of pliers will be a big help. If you don’t have the right kind of pliers, I used a Gerber Multi-tool I had with me and this worked just fine. Unshelled pine nuts have a long shelf life if kept dry and refrigerated. Shelled nuts (and unshelled nuts in warm conditions) deteriorate rapidly, becoming rancid within a few weeks or even days in warm humid conditions

About 1/2 the nuts from a medium size cone

There are about twenty species of pines that produce seeds large enough to be worth harvesting. In North America, the main species are three of the pinyon pines, Colorado Pinyon , Single-leaf Pinyon, and Mexican Pinyon. Eight other pinyon species are used to a small extent — the Gray Pine or digger pine, Coulter Pine, Torrey Pine , Sugar Pine and Parry Pinyon.

The following information on how the Native Americans collected pine nuts is from this website, Pine Nut.

  • The pine nut is large and an excellent food source. It is, however, relatively difficult to harvest and requires a substantial group effort to do so. The pine nut harvest began in the late summer and lasted into the fall. It was essentially the last big food-gathering opportunity of the year before retirement into winter lowland quarters. It occurred at intermediate elevations in arid upland hills where junipers and pinions tend to grow. It was a significant social occasion, and most Great Basin people held these regions to be sacred ground. If you don’t happen to live near a source of pine nuts, you can buy them in bulk.
  • Over the last two thousand years, the pine nut sustained these peoples. The pine nuts required substantial processing and, then, they could be stored for later use. Utilization of pine nuts required technological innovations. While nuts can easily be picked from the ground-fallen cones of the pinyon pine (pinus monophyllia), they are rarely good for human consumption by that time and the crop has been substantially reduced by insects and small mammals.
  • The pine nut came to be a useful staple food because only after the people learned how to harvest the nut prior to the final ripening stage of the cone. The technology for achieving a pine-nut harvest was messy and complex, and it was practiced communally. In fact, pine-nut harvest defined the great social time of the year, being the greatest gathering of the people in the concentrated areas of sacred lowland pinyon forest. People went to the forests in the early fall before the cones had fully ripened and dropped. They began with “first fruit” celebrations that confirmed the sacred significance of the food and established their respect for the forests.
  • When harvest began, the men pulled cones from the trees using tools made from large willow branches equipped with a sturdy V-shaped hook at the end. Women and children piled the cones in burden baskets (usually large conical wicker baskets carried on one’s back with a cordage band across the forehead). At this point, the cones were just at the point of opening and were usually full of pine pitch.
  • In camps surrounding the forest harvesting grounds, the pine cones were processed. This began by roasting the pine cones around hot coals, turning them often, to cause them to open up. Then, the cones could be beaten lightly to cause the nuts to fall out. When a supply of nuts was available, these required further processing since the nuts were covered by a soft brown shell. Cracking this shell would be difficult and would injure the fruit inside The nuts were processed by placing them on a basketry tray with hot coals from the fire. Once introduced together, the whole mass was kept in constant motion, throwing them up and swirling the tray, until the shells were roasted to a hard, crisp dark brown. The coals were removed at this point and the nuts were poured onto a grinding stone where they were lightly pounded with a mano until all of the shells had cracked and falled free of the inner fruit.
  • Cracked pinenuts are yellow-orange, translucent and soft. They can be eaten at this point and are delicious. Far more pine nuts were harvested than could be eaten raw so they needed to be processed further. At this point, the nuts were returned to a winnowing tray and thrown repeatedly into the air to allow the cracked shells to be carried off by the wind. When the shells were all gone, hot coals were returned to the tray and the roasting process was repeated until the nuts were dry and hard, somewhat darker in color.
  • At this point, the nuts could be stored in large basketry storage containers for later use. Dried nuts could still be eaten without further processing but the usual procedure was to make a pine-nut flour by grinding them. They were returned to the grinding stone and the mano was used to pound them lightly until they were well fragmented. Grinding was achieved with small amounts quickly so that the fine flour could be pushed off the metate forward into a bowl or onto a tray. A soap-root brush light be used to move the pine-nut flour on the tray. When enough flour was available, it could be warmed in water to make a thick paste; then the paste could be reduced, by dilution, to make whatever consistency was desired. While pine-nut mush may not sound especially appealing, addition of berries, various leafy vegetables, and/or ground meat or fish made it a feast.

Different tribes and cultures collected the nuts by different methods. Here is a small excerpt from the book, Survival Skill of Native California, by Paul D Campbell. If you live in California, I strongly suggest you get a copy of this book.

I suggest that you investigate the pine trees that live if your area and see if you can gather the seeds for food.

Howard

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7 Edible Weeds Your Ancestors Ate (And We’re Not Talking Dandelions)

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7 Edible Weeds Your Ancestors Ate (And We’re Not Talking Dandelions)

 

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of wild plants you shouldn’t eat, and some are downright poisonous. But surprisingly, there are quite a few weeds and wild flowers that are not only delicious but also nutritious — and growing in your backyard or surrounding fields.

What’s critical is knowing what they look like and what parts to eat. A good example is dandelion. The leaves, flower and roots are edible. The flower stalk is not.

Many of these wild plants have significant nutritional value on par with spinach and kale. They also present a variety of flavor profiles, from salty to sweet to citrus accents. Most are best combined with other ingredients, but some taste great on their own as a side dish or salad.

A common caution, in addition to accurate identification, is to avoid areas that may have been exposed to herbicides or other chemicals when harvesting. This often happens in many yards, roadsides, public parks and other places that appear to be “too manicured.” You may have to find a field or wild place to find some, but just as many are in your yard if you haven’t been too aggressive about “killing the weeds.”

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On that note, “weeds” is a prejudicial word. These are actually indigenous, wild plants – plants your great-grandparents and other ancestors ate. Those are plants that thrive in a certain part of the country and climate. Some have been imported over the years from various parts of the world, either intentionally or by accident, and others have been here a lot longer.

If I’m harvesting more than one kind of wild plant, I’ll often use one-gallon plastic bags so I can easily keep them separated. A mixed bag of wild plants may be a bit difficult to prepare or cook and eat because of the variety of types and uses.

You also should aggressively wash the plants in cold water with numerous rinses to clean off any dust, dirt, bugs or other stuff that have found their way onto the plant. A rinse in vinegar is not a bad idea to kill any bacteria, given that vinegar is a powerful and natural antiseptic.

Here’s the list, although it’s by no means all-inclusive. Various parts of North America present a broad variety of edible wild plants, but hopefully you’ll be able to find a few of these:

7 Edible Weeds Your Ancestors Ate (And We’re Not Talking Dandelions)

Red clover. Image source: Pixabay.com

1. Red clover. If you can’t find red clover in your yard or woods, you’re either living in the desert or high mountains. Red clover is just about everywhere, and the flowers are the primary food source — as a garnish for anything or in a soup or just a fresh snack. It has a mild flavor that is sometimes semi-sweet.

2. Wild garlic. This plant looks like a green onion and has light, purple flowers. If you crush the leaves, you’ll smell a distinctive garlic smell. That’s important because while the bulb will have a garlic smell, many other plants in the daffodil family have a garlic flavor-note in their bulbs — and they’re toxic. If the crushed green leaves don’t smell like garlic, ignore any garlic smell from the bulb. You can chop the leaves into a soup or salad or as part of a marinade or sauce, and you can also use the bulbs as garlic in any recipe.

7 Edible Weeds Your Ancestors Ate (And We’re Not Talking Dandelions)

Wood sorrel. Image source: Pixabay.com

3. Wood sorrel. The leaves, flower and tender stem when the flowers are first emerging can be used in mixed salads, flavorful pies like strawberry and rhubarb pies, and have been identified as a salt substitute by some sources.

4. Sweet goldenrod. No. It doesn’t make you

7 Edible Weeds Your Ancestors Ate (And We’re Not Talking Dandelions)

Goldenrod. Image source: Pixabay.com

sneeze. That’s a myth unless you’re hypersensitive to pollen from any plant. The flowers and young buds have a semi-sweet, licorice-like flavor. It makes a great tea and is often added to breads, pancake batter and muffins.

5. Wild ginger. This is all about the roots. The rest of the plant shouldn’t be eaten, because it’s flavorless and a bit toxic. The roots can be harvested year-round. Be careful. A variety of wild ginger known as Asarum Caudatum has toxic properties. Asarum Canadanese is the safe variety. It’s used any way you would use ginger, from grated to sliced and pickled, to candied in sugar, to dehydrated.

7 Edible Weeds Your Ancestors Ate (And We’re Not Talking Dandelions)

Lamb’s quarters. Image source: Pixabay.com

6. Lamb’s quarters. It’s commonly known as pigweed, and I have a ton of it in my backyard. It spreads like mint and the leaves are like spinach when boiled in water for three minutes and shocked in ice water. It’s a great three-season plant, from spring to fall. In the fall, the seeds are usually harvested and used in breads or as a garnish.

7. Wild grape leaves. This is my personal favorite, and I saved it for last. We have wild grape vines growing everywhere, and it’s not about the wild grapes but the leaves. There’s a classic Greek recipe called “Dolmades,” or in some cultures “Dolmas.” It involves rolling a mix of meat and rice with herbs and spices in grape leaves about the size of a stubby cigar. Here’s the full recipe in case you come across these wonderful and natural wraps:

Dolmades

Ingredients

40 to 50 large wild grape leaves

4 cups of vinegar

4 cups of water

½ cup of salt

Directions

Soak wild grape leaves in mixture of vinegar, water and salt overnight. Drain and rinse.

Filling ingredients

1 pound of ground meat. Could be beef, pork, game, squirrrel or possum

2 cups of rice. Could be white, brown or wild rice

2 tablespoons of chopped mint

1 tablespoon of salt

1 teaspoon of pepper

Directions

Brown the meat and cook the rice. Combine both with the spices. Let the mixture cool. Take the wild grape leaves and place a finger-sized piece of the mixture on a grape leaf and roll it up in the shape of a small, stubby cigar. Place the roll into a baking dish and continue until the dish is full. Add a half cup of broth (beef or chicken) to the baking dish and bake at 325 for 30 minutes. Remove to a platter and serve. You can top with a sauce if you like, including the classic Greek Avgelemono, but they also taste great a’natureal.

There are other plants, trees and flowers you can eat, but remember: If you’re not sure, just skip it. Many plants are poisonous, and just as many look the same. Hopefully you’ll find some of these good guys and enjoy them on your table someday. The best news is … they’re free!

What advice would you add on harvesting these seven weeds? Would you add anything to this list? Share your advice in the section below:

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Clover: The ‘Annoying’ Little Weed That Is Edible, Tasty, And Nutritious, Too

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Clover: The ‘Annoying’ Little Weed That Is Edible, Tasty, And Nutritious, Too

Image source: Pixabay.com

Clover is a hardy perennial that has escaped cultivation and grows wild along roadsides and in fields, pastures and gardens across North America. The tough little plant gets short shrift these days, and many gardeners consider it nothing but a weedy nuisance that pops up where it isn’t wanted — like in beautifully manicured lawns.

But if you’re tempted to pull (or worse yet – spray) this plant, consider that every part of clover is edible.

Clover: The ‘Annoying’ Little Weed That Is Edible, Tasty, And Nutritious, Too

Image source: Pixabay.com

Native Americans ate clover raw, or steamed large quantities of fresh, moist leaves between two hot stones. The roots, when dried, were dipped in meat drippings or oil. The dried seed pods and flowers were ground into powder and sprinkled on food or used to make bread.

There are several dozen species of clover with charming names like sweet kitty clover, meadow honeysuckle clove, peavine clover and cowgrass clover. But white clover (Trifolium repens) and red clover (Trifolium pratense) are most familiar. Both are edible and packed with beta-carotene, protein and a variety of beneficial vitamins and minerals.

Clover is easily recognized by its sweetly scented little blooms and three-lobed leaves. Although clover is sometimes confused with wood sorrel, it’s quite easy to tell which is which. Clover leaves are oval in shape, while wood sorrel leaves look like little hearts. Additionally, clover leaves are marked on top with distinctive, whitish-crescent shapes, and if you look closely at a clover leaf, you’ll notice that the edges are slightly serrated.

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Red clover, which is believed to be slightly more nutritious than white clover, is a robust plant that can reach a height of 24 inches. It has a taproot. White clover is a smaller plant that spreads by rhizomes.

Adventures With Clover

There are no particular tricks when it comes to integrating clover into your diet. The key is to keep it simple. For example, eat the blooms and leaves raw or dip them in a little salty water. You also can toss a few leaves or blooms into salads, soup or stir fries. Many people claim that clover (a member of the pea family) is more flavorful and easier to digest after it’s been boiled for five or 10 minutes, but you may have your own ideas. If you’re looking for a nudge to get you started with edible clover, here are a few easy ideas:

Clover: The ‘Annoying’ Little Weed That Is Edible, Tasty, And Nutritious, Too

Image source: Pixabay.com

Clover tea is nutritious, comforting and is believed to be a blood purifier that helps the body eliminate waste materials. Gather flowers when they’re in full bloom, then dry them in a warm, airy spot away from direct sunlight. When the blooms are brittle, chop them loosely and store them in sealed glass containers. Place a teaspoon or two of dried blooms in a cup and add boiling water. Let the tea steep for a few minutes and strain out the blooms. If the flavor is a bit too “green” for your liking, stir in a drop of peppermint or spearmint oil or stir the tea with a cinnamon stick.

Arrange a handful of clover greens on a grilled cheese or turkey sandwich along with sliced tomatoes, lettuce or accoutrements of your choice. The younger the greens, the less bitter they will be.

Stir washed clover blossoms into fritter batter, and then deep fat fry until crispy.

Sprinkle the tender leaves and blooms on green salads, or as a garnish to add flavor and color to your favorite meat or fish.

Saute clover leaves and blooms in olive oil, and then sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Mix a small amount of clover blossoms into cake mix or other baked goods. The blooms are reported to add a slightly vanilla-like flavor.

Be adventurous with clover. The culinary possibilities of this tasty little plant are nearly endless.

Have you eaten clover? What advice would you add? Share your clover tips in the section below:

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5 Edible, Wild Mushrooms Anyone Can Find (With A Little Help)

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5 Edible, Wild Mushrooms Anyone Can Find (With A Little Help)

Porcini mushroom. Image source: Pixabay.com

I have been gathering wild fruits, vegetables and other wild, edible plants for more than 40 years. Every walk I take into a field or forest presents me with new combinations and possibilities for something that can be consumed as a survival food or as part of great meal. However, I also find myself looking with alarm at many wild plants that I know to be toxic, if not deadly. This is especially true for mushrooms.

For a number of years when my sons were younger I was involved in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. One of the things I would do at troop campouts and jamborees is conduct field classes on foraging edible, wild plants.

This always concerned me because many young boys would quickly get the idea in their head that they could eat anything out there. As a result, I would always spend the first half of our hike identifying poisonous wild plants. I wanted to send the message that a lot of what grows in the wild knows how to defend itself, and poison is the first line of defense that many plants present.

Wild Plants Can be Poisonous

In that regard, some mushrooms top the list. So we’re going to begin with a review of the bad guys. Here’s a link to photos of the most common poisonous mushrooms. They tend to grow in the ground and often have unique characteristics in terms of coloration and shape. Unfortunately, some look common and similar to popular edible mushrooms, such as the “false-morel.”

“When it Doubt, Throw it Out”

That’s the mantra for mushroom foragers. Even experienced mushroom hunters will take a pass on a questionable mushroom. If you’re in doubt don’t even harvest it. Check it with your field guide and if you’re not sure, don’t even put it in the bucket.

This may discourage you from mushroom foraging, but don’t let it. Some edible varieties are distinctive, easy to spot and have characteristics you can easily identify. It also helps if you take your first few forays into mushroom land with a mushroom expert, but if you don’t know anyone with that experience we’ll hopefully give you some preliminary advice.

Where to Find Wild, Edible Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a fungus and as a result are ubiquitous. They’re everywhere from our backyards to fields and forests. Many grow from rotting tree stumps or composting plant concentrations. They emerge quickly, usually in the night. And they deteriorate just as quickly.

Image source: Mary Smiley/Wikipedia

Morel. Image source: Mary Smiley/Wikipedia

Typically if they emerge from the ground there is a composting source beneath the soil such as a rotting tree branch or a layer of compacted leaves and grasses. It’s sometimes hard to find ground mushrooms unless the ground is relatively clear of brush, grass and scrub. I’ve had great luck walking through stands of pine because the needles act as a natural mulch and the mushrooms will easily poke through the carpet of needles. I gathered close to 100 morels in a small stand of pines this way a couple of years ago. In the fall, many mushrooms emerge from the knots of tree branches that have died and are in some state of decay. That’s why you have to always remember to look up.

One thing you’ll learn quickly is that mushroom foraging is going to leave you turning your head and neck like a jet pilot. They grow on the ground, on trees and stumps at eye-level, and high in the dead branches of trees above you.  Just take your time and enjoy the casual pace of your hike.

The following are five mushrooms commonly found:

1. Morel

These appear in early to mid-spring after the first wildflowers begin to emerge. They are considered an absolute delicacy in many parts of North America. They tend to grow in groups and can be dried for later use, or used within a few days to a week after harvest. Pay close attention to the photos in the link and take note of the photo of the false morel.

2. Golden chanterelles

Golden Chanterelles. Image source: wikipedia

Golden Chanterelles. Image source: Wikipedia

Another very popular mushroom that grows across North America and appears from June to September is the chanterelle. They’re usually found in the woods, often in pine stands or under stands of oaks and maples.

There are two similar mushroom varieties that are not poisonous but toxic to some degree, so do your homework.

3. Black trumpets

Black trumpets are related to chanterelles but have a distinctive, trumpet shape. It’s the kind of mushroom you would typically avoid, but if you’ve found a true black trumpet they are very good to eat. They tend to grow out of rotting stumps

Black trumpets. Image source: Wikipedia

Black trumpets. Image source: Wikipedia

and deadfalls in deciduous forests.

4. Porcini mushrooms

Porcini tend to emerge from compost in the ground and can be found in fields and forests. Their color varies from a light red to shades of brown.  Make sure you use your mushroom guide or follow the link above to correctly identify them.

5. Hen of the woods

This is considered the bonanza for any mushroom forager. They have a wonderful flavor, keep well, and grow in bunches up to 50 pounds. They appear in the fall and grow on the trunks of deadfall trees and the base of stumps. The largest bunch I ever harvested was about 20 pounds and I

Hen of the woods. Image source: Wikipedia

Hen of the woods. Image source: Wikipedia

quickly called it a day after that find.

When Are Mushrooms at Their Best?

The day after first emergence is the prime time to harvest mushrooms. It may be hard to know this has occurred if you’re exploring an area that’s new to you, but their color, texture and overall appearance should look fresh, yield when squeezed and have no powdery spores present. Spores are essentially mushroom seeds and if you’ve ever kicked a mushroom in a field to reveal a puff of what looks like smoke, you know what the spores look like.

Mushroom Harvesting Tools

The tools you use to harvest mushrooms can vary from gloves and a bucket to long poles made from electric conduit with a flat blade at one end to cut the stems of tree mushrooms. Here’s a checklist if you’re going out to do some serious mushroom hunting:

  • Gloves
  • 1 to 5 gallon plastic bucket
  • Knife for slicing stems from the ground or deadfall trees
  • 1 gallon plastic bags if you want to separate species of mushrooms
  • A tree pole usually in sections and often made from thin tubes of electric conduit.
  • A Field Guide to Wild Mushrooms

If you are planning to do some serious tree mushroom hunting you might consider a net as well. This can be a fishing net or butterfly net. The reason is that mushroom are delicate and if they fall onto hard ground, branches or even your hand, they can break into numerous pieces. A net gives you a fighting chance to catch it in one piece.

Cleaning and Keeping Your Wild Mushrooms

Wild mushrooms should be refrigerated in the vegetable crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Do not wash them before packaging them in their plastic bags. Try to use them within a few days of harvest. Before use, wash them under cold, running water. Many disagree with this washing step, but as a former chef I know it has no adverse effect. Let them drain on paper towels a bit before slicing or dicing and adding to a salad or sauté pan.

You also can dehydrate wild mushrooms and reconstitute them later. Use a standard food dehydrator and if the mushrooms are large you will want to slice them before dehydrating them. If properly dehydrated, mushrooms can be refrigerated, frozen or stored in the pantry.

What mushrooms would you add to the list? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below: 

 

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