Nature Photos

Tasty Treats Wandering Into My Woodland Realm

Today I figured I’d share a collection of just a few things that have decided to make my yard and surrounding area ‘home’.

First up we have a ‘hare’ raising photo. There are a bunch of these around. I’ve identified at least four separate individuals. The largest of which will likely be in the stew pot come fall.

(Note: All pictures can be clicked on for a full sized version!)

Rabbit

Second, we have a rather snarky looking groundhog that loves to meander about and eat the tops off of my orange hawkweed. Considering those are my wife’s favorite flower, she has a special vendetta out for this creature and has made it known to me in no uncertain terms that the beast shall not survive the winter, even if she has to get out her bow and do it in herself. πŸ˜‰

Groundhog

Next up we have a slither. Why did the slither cross the road? To end up battered and fried!

Eastern Rat SnakeEastern Rat Snake 2Snake and Wild Garlic

Also, being a bit of a wildlife haven, my yard tends to attract some of these fine folks:

Deer

They are always welcome on my property. Get fat, eat well, and come winter time they are a resource if I need them, right outside my back door.

Also not too far away, I found some of these the other day:

Geese 2

I love geese. Both on the table and as an animal in general. They’ve got personality. My favorite goose I ever had was named ‘squeaky’. He was awesome. I raised him from a tiny gosling swimming around in my bathtub to a full sized gander. He never once hissed at me and was very protective. He was also the only goose I couldn’t bear to eat. Had it been life or death survival, I’d have eaten him of course, but as it stands this was about ten years ago and availability of other food sources wasn’t an issue. This picture is of course just for illustrative purposes, as you can’t take deer, geese, and the like without all the proper permits, paperwork, and all that modern nonsense. Thus the geese were not on the menu, sadly. One would almost think that it was deliberately engineered to make it nearly impossible for you to find and dine on your own free wild food…

These however, were on the menu, and were taken from the same waters. (Yes, legally, proper licenses and all.) And they fried up lovely. First is a Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), and below is a Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatum). Most people are confused as to what a Black Crappie is. A Black Crappie will have black SPOTS . A White Crappie (Pomoxis annularis) has stripes, or ‘bars’.

BluegillBlack CrappiePanfried Bluegill
I also have a full on herd of squirrels in my yard. They wouldn’t sit still long enough this morning to get a proper picture though. The idiot neighbor’s idiot dog likes to chase them to hell and back so they’re very skittish and they bolt at the slightest sound. (Such as the sound of a window opening to get a clearer picture…)

UPDATE: I finally got one to sit still for half a millisecond!

Squirrel

So, what’s in YOUR neck of the woods? πŸ˜€

Categories: Animals, Fishing, Food Health, Foraging, Green, Hunting, Nature, Nature Photos, Organic Meat, Uncategorized, Wild, Wild Cookery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I Dream of Blueberries

I woke up this fine June morning thinking about blueberries. Those lovely crown berries of deliciousness that make the perfect compliment to a bowl of cream, or the perfect addition to everything from cereal to muffins, to eating out of hand.

As such, I figured I’d go take a walk into my back yard and see how they were doing since I hadn’t checked on them in a few weeks.

Northern Highbush Blueberry – Vaccinium corymbosum

Blueberries 1

Blueberries 2

Blueberries 3

All crown berries are edible, and with 35 or so different varieties in North America, there’s sure to be one near you.

They are far from ripe yet, but they soon will be in the next month. And when they are, I’ll have to fight the birds to get them, as always. Or maybe I’ll just eat the birds. πŸ˜€ Double win.

But not just blueberries are on my mind today.

Also, some black raspberries that were seeded by birds a few years ago seem to have a bumper crop coming as well. I intentionally dropped most of the berries the last two years into the soil, and was rewarded with loads of new canes coming up.

Black Raspberry – Rubus occidentalis

Black Raspberry 1

Black Raspberry 2

These are absolutely loaded with berries this year. I’ve included a few pictures of both close ups and further out so you can see what the plant looks like. You can click on any picture to make it larger.

Black Raspberry 3

Black Raspberry 4

As you can see, the berries are very happy this year, with the brambles being the clear winner volume-wise. Those with keen eyes will be able to pick out a slew of other edible plants amongst the canes as well.

Pear – Pyrus spp.

Pyrus

I did see a few pears on my pear tree, but only a few. It’s to be expected. Last year was a bumper crop, so this year will have very few, and then next year should be a heavy harvest again. We’ve also not had nearly as much rain this year as we should have had, and spring came very late to Pennsylvania. Whilst not ‘berries’ they are still quite tasty when in season, if a bit hard. They are much better cooked and cut up in something like oatmeal.

Categories: Education, Food Health, Food Storage, Foraging, Green, Nature, Nature Photos, Organic, Plant Photos, Uncategorized, Wild Cookery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fishing for Food

I went fishing yesterday from about 3 PM to around 8:30 PM, and got home right before dark.

I do enjoy the actual act of fishing, but this isn’t recreation or leisure time. This is absolutely serious ‘foraging’ time. Coming home empty handed means no meat for dinner. It’s very different from what most people I know do…Β  going out and wasting a few hours with a pole in the water, and not caring if you catch anything or not. Heck, most people will throw the fish back if they only catch a few, thinking it’s ‘not worth their time’ to clean them unless they have a bunch. This mindset is alien to me.Β  I fish for one reason only: food. I never, ever, fish for ‘sport’.

When I arrived at the fishing location, the road was totally blocked by some dingus in one of those monster sized pickups, doing gods know what. (I think that people with trucks bigger than a small house, that have no real off-road function, are definitely compensating for something…)

So, I went to the first turn off instead of my usual spot. It’s a nice area, I’ve just never caught a single fish there. Ever. I’ve seen other people catch them. I’ve just not done so. It’s not a very sheltered area, and the wind whips in pretty good. Most of the folks that I’ve seen catch fish in that spot use a boat, and then fish IN towards land in the little nooks and get fish that like to hang out around the root structures and such. If I only had a canoe or kayak or some such, that’d be me. But I can’t stand motor operated watercraft. The noise and the endless disruption grate on my nerves, not to mention the fact that the gas powered motors kill loads of fish. If they banned all motor driven watercraft from this lake, I’d be very, very happy. People get a motor boat and think they’re all of a sudden uber-fishers.

The first three hours I didn’t get a single nibble, using any bait. Then I got a few tiny nibbles, and it was the itty bitty fish that like to harass and steal your bait without biting the hook.

However, I did see quite a few geese. They’d pass within only a few feet of me. Oh damn our twisted society and it’s idiotic rules and regulations! Here, passing within spitting distance, was breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the wing. For a week. For a whole family!

Geese 4

(And just for record and to be clear for all the legal beagles and fluffybunny ninnies, and so called ‘sportsmen’ that read this, I’d never take any wild game out of season or without the proper legal ‘permits’, ‘licenses’ or other BS nonsense that one now needs to have in order to do what people and animals have been doing since the dawn of time: eating.)

Thus, no goose for me. Though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want one.

I do like geese though, and not just for eating. I think the goslings are cute and squeaky. I’d still eat one though. I absolutely love goose. Never had a gosling though. I think it’d be like a tender young chicken, but goosey flavored.

Geese 2

I finally moved somewhat close to my usual fishing spot. It was a less-favorable spot (in my opinion, and for what I was fishing for) than my favorite fishing spot. It was also closer to the boat ramp, which meant that literally every 10 to 15 minutes, someone was load or unloading a boat. There was also trash littering the beach, in great quantity, and I mean that in more ways than one. Unfortunately my favorite spot was taken up by two white boys, only a bit younger than myself,Β  who apparently thought they were inner city gangstas. At the very least, they certainly talked like it. And for the love of everything precious and good, they just would not shut the heck up! I got regaled at full volume on such topics as football, basketball, baseball, rap music, boxing, as well as listen to two supposedly best friends ‘cut’ on each other (verbally) the entire time. If there was any other decent fishing spot, I’d have moved. Such was the fun fishing next to ‘Joey’ and ‘Mario’. They were about 60 yards away and I listened to their BS for three and a half hours before they finally left (in a Lexus SUV of all things!)Β  And, as it was getting cold and dark, I left soon thereafter.

However I did end up catching 6 fish at that spot, all bluegill.

Here’s one of the bluegill I caught. It is a female.

Bluegill

As I was leaving, a nice fellow about my age who’d been out on a boat asked me what I was fishing for, and I said ‘Bluegill’. He asked me if I wanted a crappie, as he caught only one and was going to throw it back. I said β€œAbsolutely!” It was a very nice sized black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) I thanked him heartily for the unexpected fishy gift. Which, by the way, was the largest by far of all the fish in my bucket. Though to be fair, crappie tend to be bigger than bluegill most of the time.

In case you don’t know, black crappie have black spots. That’s what nigromaculatus means White crappie have 8 to 10 vertical stripes. Most fishermen seem to call the black crappie ‘white crappie’, because no one has explained the simple difference to them.

Black Crappie

One of the fish expired, so I cleaned it when I got home. But the others were still alive and flippy, so I left them in the big cooler overnight. Unless I’m in a hurry, I prefer to let them expire on their own accord vs having to deal with them whilst they’re all flippy.

When I woke up, they were all dead on the bottom of the cooler. I expected as much. They probably expired sometime in the wee hours of the night. I put them in a bucket of ice cold water, and there they shall sit until I finish eating and typing this. After which, I’ll clean them, scale them, gut them, and behead them, and into the fridge they will go for supper tonight.

Categories: Fishing, Foraging, Nature, Nature Photos, Organic Meat, Survival, Wild, Wild Cookery | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spring Greens Medley!

Springtime means fresh Spring greens. And fresh Spring greens means FOOD!

I did make a smaller dish a few days earlier, but this is the first real, substantial, spring greens dish of the year, so I went all out and gathered a nice medley to mix and prepare for the family, and to share with you.

The following went into my Spring Greens medley.

(Click pictures to enlarge.)

Wintercress – Barbarea vulgaris, is a member of the Brassicaceae family.

Wintercress

Raw, they are a bit bitter and so-so. Cooked, they become absolutely mouthwatering. This was definitely the champion green of the dish. Everyone raved about it. It really does become a foundational green when boiled, but with a very delicate and delicious flavor.

Garlic Mustard – Alliaria petiolata, is also a member of the Brassicaceae family.

Garlic Mustard 2

Raw, they are a bit meh, in my opinion. Cooked they become less meh. Good, but not as good as Wintercress. πŸ˜‰ The stems can be stout and a bit stringy as they grow, so take only the first few top inches of the stem. Unless of course you don’t mind the stringy aspect. It all cooks down fairly well when boiled for a few minutes.

This is the amount of Wintercress and Garlic Mustard I collected to use for the meal I made. A lovely mess of greens, isn’t it?

Mess of Greens

Wild Garlic – Allium Canadense.

Wild Garlic

I like to use the greens from these more than the bulbs. The bulbs will grow new greens, and I rotate the area I collect from so as to be sure to never over-harvest. As such I’ve maintained (and expanded) my patch of wild garlic exponentially over the past few years. All the garlic taste you love, with none of the commercial product’s signature ‘garlic breath’.

Dandelion – Taraxacum Officinale

Dandelion

What wild spring greens dinner would be perfect without a little bit of dandelion? I gathered a whole decent sized plant from the tip of the root up, and it was enough to impart it’s goodness to the whole dish. Every part of the plant was used and later chopped up. Leaves, buds, crown, and a tiny bit of the root. Delicious!

Thistle – Cirsium spp.

Thistle

An ‘unknown’ but delicious thistle made it into my Spring Medley. I say unknown, although that’s really not the case. I’ve been eating it for over 30 years, and my father ate it for 50 years before that. I just don’t have the stupid Latin name for it pegged as of yet. More on that later.

So, the wifey and I took a nice little walk and collected these greens as we went. It’s mighty handy to carry a plastic grocery bag in your pocket, and a folding pocket knife. You never know when you are going to run into wild food that you want to bring home with you!

This is a picture of all the greens that went into the dish:

Greens Board 2

The greens (sans wild garlic) were boiled for a few minutes. I boiled them longer than I would have since they were a ‘mixed’ greens, and some were more bitter than others. Probably about 10 minutes, tops.

The garlic greens were chopped and sauteed first, and then the boiled greens were also chopped and sauteed in some olive oil, and given a dash of ancient sea salt and cracked black pepper. The meat was given identical seasoning in it’s own separate pan. The key here is to not overcook the meat, and to use a lid so that it comes out nice and tender.

I call this dish, ‘Brassica and Bambi’.

Brassica and Bambi

Delicious was not even the word for it. It has to be one of the top five meals that I’ve ever prepared, in any medium, wild food or otherwise. Mouth watering delicious. Almost better than sex, delicious. Yea, it was that good.

Total cost? About $1 worth of rice and 75 cents worth of salt, pepper, and olive oil. And that’s to feed three people. Otherwise, free. The bambi was donated by a friend specifically to give this dish a more ‘wild’ aspect. Thanks M! πŸ™‚

Thistles, Continued.

For those who are interested, regarding the prior unknown thistle, read on. Otherwise, the article ends here. Thanks for reading! πŸ™‚

When is it OK to eat an ‘unknown’ plant? When the only way that it’s unknown to you is that you don’t have it’s specifics tacked down, but in which there are no non-edible or toxic family members or toxic look-alikes. In other words, if the whole family of plants is ‘safe’, then it doesn’t really matter much, now does it?

I’m not ashamed to say I haven’t really cared enough to narrow this thistle down to a specific species. Mostly because I truly don’t care. Not even a little. It’s food. End of story. I have bull thistles in my yard (Cirsium vulgare.) This isn’t one of those. I originally thought that it could be a Cirsium edule, but those are supposed to be confined to the West Coast, and now that I’ve actually found pictures of what the leaves look like, they look nothing like Cirsium edule. Pictures of anything other than a bull thistle are very hard to come by. It could be what they call a ‘pasture thistle’, but the bottoms of the leaves aren’t silver, just kind of green and shiny. Oh well… It would be much easier to ID if it actually bloomed, but it’s kind of hard to tell when the idiot city comes along and mows them all to the ground before they have a chance to flower. (They tend to grow along the SIDES of the fields, not so much IN the fields proper, around where I live…) However, all true thistles are equally edible, and this is a true thistle. Beyond that, the specifics are strictly academic and don’t really interest me. That might be an odd statement for a forager to say, especially from one who is usually interested in the academic end of things, but it’s absolutely true.

Basically, I think we tend to over complicate things when it comes to foraging. As I’ve always said, the Indians didn’t differentiate between different edible plants of the same species unless there was a real need to do so. If it was edible, that was that. Maybe one was choice and one wasn’t, and they’d certainly have had a preference if that was the case. And they’d know if one was ‘toxic’ and to avoid that one.

But they would not have cared one whit to differentiate between thistles that were all equally edible, and in my experience, pretty much all taste quite similar.

So, who am I to do so? Unless something is going to damage me in some way, I don’t care about the useless nuances.

Let me give you a modern example:

Do you really give a rip about the differences between a Fiji, McIntosh, Granny Smith, Red or Golden Delicious apple at the store, other than perhaps the difference in taste? No, you don’t. You don’t give a rip about it’s Dead Latin hoity toity name. In fact, not one in a hundred thousand of you could tell me that apples are Malus and pears are Pyrus. You know it’s an apple, and all apples are edible, and that’s about as far as your caring goes.

Doesn’t sound so strange when you look at it from that point of view, now does it? πŸ˜‰

However, if anyone actually knows what this thistle is, I’m all ears. Or eyes, as it were.

(And I’m talking about actually KNOWS from hands on, REAL, personal knowledge and experience, not looking it up and best guessing using some friggin’ ‘key’ and saying… ‘Gee, I THINK it kind of looks like this one…)

So, if you’ve been eating this thistle, and know for sure what it is, send me a line. I suppose that finally knowing the official name for this thing would probably be better than calling it ‘unknown thistle’, as I tend to use it quite a bit, and it does grow quite prolifically around here.

Categories: Food Health, Foraging, Nature, Nature Photos, Organic, Organic Gardening, Organic Meat, Plant Photos, Preparedness, Recipes, Survival, Wild, Wild Cookery | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Janos’ Plant Profiles, Part I: Spiny Sow Thistle

The full profiles will be posted to, and updated, on the Wild Cookery Forum. I have planned to do these for at least the past year, but have never quite gotten around to it. So without further ado…

Janos’ Plant Profiles, Part I: Spiny Sow Thistle

Common Plant name: Spiny Sow Thistle

Hoity Toity (Dead Latin) Name: Sonchus asper

Classification: Choice Edible Plant

Identification: This plant, a member of the Asteracea Family, has spiny, serrated leaves that curl along and around the stem of the plant. When in bloom it has yellow flowers which look dandelion-like superficially. It’s quite spiny, and prickly to the touch, and you may mistake it for an actual thistle if you aren’t familiar with the two plants. But it’s spines are softer and nowhere near as rigid as a real thistle. The spines are also part of the leaves, and not separate from it and detachable such as with an actual thistle. You can eat the smaller leaves raw without any problems. The older ones however, may be prickly enough that they need to be trimmed or cooked before consumption.

Juvenile Plant Photos

Here are some little guys:

Sonchus asper - Young Juvenile

Sonchus asper – Young Juvenile

Sonchus asper - Juvenile

Sonchus asper – Juvenile

Sonchus asper Juvenile comparison

Sonchus asper Juvenile comparison

Sonchus asper - Juvenile plant in nature

Sonchus asper – Juvenile plant in nature

Flowering Plant Photos

(Pictures to be added when in season)

Plant in Seed Photos

(Pictures to be added when in season)

Uses: You nom it of course! The leaves, buds, flowers, new shoots, and upper part of stem are all edible. Young and tender here is much better than old, tough, and rank. Especially on latex exuding plants. The leaves can be eaten at any time equally well, though younger is typically more tender and less bitter. I like to get the flower buds before they open and use the top section of the plant as kind of a ‘sonchusparagus’ I’ve also cooked and eaten small roots before along with the greens, but can’t officially recommend that as I haven’t been able to find any reference material on it’s use.

Nutrition: Sonchus asper are quite rich in Fiber, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Copper, and Manganese. Equal to, or more so than most common domesticated vegetables.*

Preparation: Typically I’ll boil these, no matter what part it is, for 15 minutes or so, drain, and then use like any other foundational green. In fact one of the spring delicacies my family looks forward to every year is fresh spiny sow thistle greens mixed with wild garlic greens and mushrooms over rice. It’s a seasonal spring treat that everyone raves about.

Preparation Photos

Sonchus asper and Dandelion leaves

Sonchus asper and Dandelion leaves

Wild Greens Noodle Medley - Two kinds of sonchus, dandelions, wild garlic, chicory, plantain, thistle, dock, and sprinkled with ox-eye daisy petals

Wild Greens Noodle Medley – Two kinds of sonchus, dandelions, wild garlic, chicory, plantain, thistle, dock, and sprinkled with ox-eye daisy petals

Cautions:

There are some unreliable sources that classify this plant as a ‘Noxious Weed’. That’s fair enough, as I classify those sources as pretty darn noxious myself.

I’m sure it’s possible to get a rash from this plant. Maybe even a severe one if you’re that one in a million who has such an allergic reaction. But let’s interject some reality here. Will it likely happen to you? Probably not. You’ll probably be struck dead with a micrometeorite first, or hit by lightning. I collect these barehanded, and even eat them raw from time to time. Guess what? Nothing happens. If someone has issues, they are probably also allergic to other ‘milky’ latex exuding plants, such as dandelions and wild lettuce. I highly doubt most are allergic to this plant in particular.

But that doesn’t mean that one in a zillion people won’t be affected by something like this, so use caution.

There’s the token safety disclaimer. Use caution when picking if you are allergic to other latex exuding plants. Some people are allergic to peanuts too. For the rest of us, it’s a fantastic nutrient dense wild food.

The vast majority of all people will find this plant to be delicious and nutritious.

References:

* Dr. John Kallas, PhD, β€œEdible Wild Plants” – Pps 358 – 359.

Categories: Food Health, Foraging, Green, Janos' Plant Profiles, Nature, Nature Photos, Organic, Organic Gardening, Reclaimed Edibles, Wild, Wild Cookery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter’s Dying G(r)asp

Cross-posted at the Wild Cookery! Forum.

Well I woke up to Winter’s last gasp this morning.

Winter in March

Last year this time we had mid 70’s weather and I was picking 6 inch wild garlic greens, along with dandelions and some plantains.

This year? Well the ground was ALMOST unfrozen when I walked on it yesterday. Almost. Kinda almost, but not quite, squishy, yet still frozen crunchy. Well, today it’s frozen solid again. But now it’s supposed to warm up to a high of 36 before creeping back down to a low of 25 overnight.

Currently, it’s a balmy 33 degrees.

With a several inch glazing of fluffy snow.

There’s supposed to be even more snow on the way. We’ll see I suppose.

In my walk yesterday I saw that my hyacinths were barely poked up as were the daffodils, but only in the planter right next to the house, where it’s warmer. The ones in the main yard are still not even above the lawn yet.

There is a very marked difference from year to year. Which is why I always and very strongly encourage people to get used to paying attention to their weather when it comes to wild plants. Screw what your foraging book says about ‘time of year’ on the plant tables. Pay attention to what your local weather is doing.
As I said, last year, I was harvesting half a foot tall wild garlic greens and decent sized dandelions in 70 to 80 degree days. This year? Everything is still winter-purple colored as the alcohol in the leaves hasn’t changed back into sugar yet. You don’t want those over-wintered leaves anyway. Leave those for the critter. What you want is the new spring growth, and that simply hasn’t happened yet. AT ALL. Not even the wild mustards or the garlic mustards have poked their heads up yet. (Other than the garlic mustard that have over-wintered, which is normal, but again, you want the new and rapid spring growth.)

Snow over the Dandelions

My pet dandelion on my windowsill is looking out into the yard, with sad leaves and yearning for sunnier days. It’s hard to see a size comparison from the photo, but the leaves are about eight to nine inches long, and he’s survived fine all winter on the windowsill. I grew him from a tiny little root shard from a dandelion that I’d collected about two years back now. He hasn’t bloomed yet, just puts on very nice looking leaves. I don’t eat this one. It’s my winter ‘greenery’ to look at and enjoy, when all else in the world is dead and frosted over.

So, here’s a toast to winter’s dying g(r)asp, and may all of us in the northern areas finally have some green to forage soon! Slainte Mhor!

Categories: Foraging, Nature, Nature Photos, Plant Photos, Wild, Wild Cookery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looks Edible But Isn’t, Part I: Tartarian Honeysuckle

This is the first installment in a little series that has been a long time coming. I originally had another plant slated for the first article, but I found the pictures I’d been looking for on this plant, so here it is.

Tartarian Honeysuckle – Lonicera tatarica

Tartarian Honeysuckle berries (Lonicera tatarica) are NOT edible.

The ripe fruit is a red cherry colored hue, and will bear DOUBLE fruit. They will be side by side and a bit merged with each other..

The Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) is a woody shrub.

Tartarian Honeysuckle – Lonicera tatarica

It is found all over my local area, and is strangely somehow confused by some people with the autumn olive. This is strange to me as Tartarian Honeysuckle berries are double fruit and look nothing like an autumn olive. But then again, it is an unfortunate (and dangerous) tendency amongst some beginning foragers that they make things ‘fit’ the description they have in their head instead of what is before their eyes.

Tartarian Honeysuckle – Lonicera tatarica. Close up of double berries.

I haven’t read anything about the fruits being overly toxic per se, with the most that they’re going to do is give you some digestive issues.Either way, I wouldn’t eat them.

I’ve also noticed that the birds totally ignore them. And birds eat plenty of things we can’t, and plenty of things we can, such as cherries and other fine berries. But if the BIRDS won’t eat it, there’s a sign to leave it alone. As with everything in foraging, when in doubt, don’t eat it.

Categories: Foraging, Looks Edible But Isn't, Nature, Nature Photos, Plant Photos, Wild, Wild Cookery | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Joys of Foraging

Ah foraging. Yes, foraging…

That most wondrous of activities that allows us to share in nature’s bounty whilst at the same time being a part of (as opposed to distinctly removed from) nature.

Though, I haven’t been foraging anything for quite a few months. Foraging Pennsylvania in the wintertime is not exactly a pleasant activity. It’s possible, if need drives such a thing. Just not very ‘joyful’. Hunting on the other hand, is wondrous in Pennsylvania over the winter. I haven’t hunted for years, but there is a plethora of big and small game here that is a hunter’s dream come true.

But we are slowly nearing the end of winter.

Springtime is just around the corner. Though most here wouldn’t believe it. We’re still getting snow and twenty-degree weather here at night, and the ground is still frozen solid.

But like the slow march of inevitability, Spring must finally break, sooner or later.

Two months from now the forest floor will be carpeted in verdant greenery like one reads about in fairy tales and stories of olde.

Forest Floor

Life shall spring anew from the dormant soil, and shoots will push up through the now frozen ground to breathe new life into a world now in stasis.

And during this time of rapid growth, is perhaps the best time to be learning about, and foraging for, wild plants. Especially greens. There is nothing in the world like fresh spring greens, both in quality and quantity. They are typically more tender and, depending upon the plant, much less bitter, than older plants. Remember: rapid growth = tender and delicious when it comes to edible plants. Spring greens are no exception.

For me, there is nothing in the world like that first dish made with fresh spring wild garlic (Allium canadense), dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), and dock (Rumex crispus/obtusifolius). It’s a yearly spring ritual at our house. All fried up in olive oil, with a dash of cracked black pepper and ancient sea salt, and served over a nice bed of rice.

There are few culinary pleasures that it can compare to after being frozen solid for typically five months from late November to mid to late March or April.

But those first delicious wild garlic greens are likely still two months off.

What will come up first are the garlic mustard. (Allaria petiolata)

Garlic Mustard Groundcover

As well as the mustardy wintercress greens (Barbarea spp) and other Brassicacea. Whilst nowhere near as delicious, in my opinion, as the wild garlic, they do provide some much needed spring nutrients after a winter of dormancy and being cooped up in the house all season long. So, even though less delectable, they are still very highly desired.

Brassica 2

As spring unfolds here in the Frozen Northlands, I’ll be sure to post some pictures as things thaw out and provide that first delicate snack of the season!

Brassica 1

A field of Brassicacea as far as the eye can see. Unfortunately by the time the flowers have opened they are super bitter. If you see a sight like this, remember where they are for next year and get them before the flower buds open!

 

Categories: Food Health, Food Storage, Foraging, Green, Nature, Nature Photos, Organic, Plant Photos, Preparedness, Survival, Wild | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Garlic Mustard Madness

Ah, the humble and sometimes hated Garlic Mustard…

Known in the hoity-toity world of Latin based taxonomy as ‘Alliaria petiolata.’

Garlic Mustard GC

I just love Latin taxonomy names. Especially since I learned all the plants the old fashioned way from my father who never referred to this plant as an ‘Alliaria petiolata’, and would have wondered what the heck I was talking about if I’d called it that and not ‘Garlic Mustard’. Yep, Latin names. Just love them to bits. And they make oh-so-much sense. Oh well, it gives me something to do in the second half of my life. Maybe if I work really hard at it I’ll sound like an official ‘expert’ in the next few decades. πŸ˜‰

But ‘Alliaria petiolata’… It’s one of those Latin names that I forget quite often, (right up there with Hypochaeris radicata), but know it instantly again whenever I see it written in text. Allaria is a reference to the garlic family, and petiolata is a reference to being long stemmed. This is one of those rare exceptions where the Latin name actually makes sense.

This oft reviled plant is actually one of nature’s powerhouses of nutrition. It’s eaten and adored in Europe, and we spend all kinds of public funding here to eradicate it by spraying and burning, and herbicides. No one seems to bother with the logical solution. Eat it!

The leaves, stems, and even roots of this plant are edible. In fact, it’s one of those lovely plants which, like a dandelion, are edible 100% of the time of year. Even the seeds and seed pods are edible if you really want to eat them.

So, what does it look like in depth, and how do we identify it?

Let’s take a leisurely tumble through the tasty realm of the humble and hated garlic mustard.

One can find many pictures of this plant on the net, some good, some not. But rarely will you actually find anything that shows you the plant in it’s younger and less identifiable stages.

I strive to use my own pictures for everything, and try to include ones that have some manner of clarity towards the parts of the plants that are in the most need of accurate identification. I hope they help.

This plant is definitely a Brassicaceae (also genus Brassica), as you will see if you are even passingly familiar with the ‘mustard’ family of plants.

Garlic mustard starts life as a little guy, who soon forms a basal rosette.

Garlic Mustard 1st Year Oct

At this stage it can be hard to identify if you aren’t familiar with garlic mustard, as it looks like any number of other green little plants.

Garlic Mustard Leaves 1st Year Oct
However, note the root and the sharp upturned ‘L’ like way the main root curves?

Garlic Mustard Root 1st Year Oct
That’s pretty prominent in any garlic mustard that I’ve ever dug up, and it’s also a good aid in identifying the plant.

The young basal leaves of this plant look quite different from the mature leaves, which have a more pointed shape. All are easy to recognize once you’ve seen the plant through all stages of it’s life-cycle, you’ll begin seeing this plant everywhere. Which, if you are in a temperate forested area like I am, will indeed be darn near everywhere, on the side of the road, near any forested area.

This is what the plant looks like in the ‘wild’. Though in this case, it’s outside my back door near my planter. No, I didn’t plant it there, it just grew there. I’ll harvest it before it goes to seed this year. This picture was taken in January and shows how big the plant is already having just grown from seed the previous fall and how it’ll bolt up in the spring.

Garlic Mustard - Back Planter

I found a large second year plant last spring that was still in a bushy basal rosette, and brought it into captivity so I could photograph it as it grew.

Pet Garlic Mustard 2

Here is the plant when it bolted. It did so quite quickly, and grew to a large size very rapidly.

Pet Garlic Mustard 3b

Here is a picture of the close up of the soon-to-be-blooming stem. Notice how the leaves are vastly more arrow shaped versus the original rounded or kidney shaped leaves of the basal rosette.

Pet Garlic Mustard 4b

Also, this plant can grow to a very large size. Here one of the mature basal leaves is almost as big as my hand.

Pet Garlic Mustard 5

Unfortunately, even though this plant did grow quite large, it didn’t bloom from lack of sunlight in it’s location in my nearly lightless garage, so we’ll have to go back to the wild do show you some blooms.

Garlic Mustard Blooming 1
The older name for the genus is ‘Cruciferae’ “Cross-bearing”. An allusion to the way the flower petals of this genus form a cross. This also makes them very easy to identify when in bloom.

The flowers have four petals in typical mustard fashion. The petals are very strikingly white. It will have six stamen. Four longer and two shorter, like all members of Brassica.

Though you won’t really need that detail to identify this plant in bloom. The arrow shaped leaves and white cross flowers should be enough.

The leaves along the stem are very arrowhead shaped in comparison to the lower basal rosette leaves which tend to be rounded or kidney shaped.

Garlic Mustard 2nd Year Bolt
As the plant matures, it gains the very prominent long signature seed pods with tiny black seeds that mustards are famous for, and which in other mustard varieties are made into the common condiment we call, not surprisingly, ‘mustard’.

The plant is prolific. Mostly because it exudes a chemical into the soil that kills off mycorrhiza in the soil as well as most competing plants. [1] Thus, enabling it so slowly take over. It’s a nasty little bugger. But it’s also delicious when properly prepared. And it’s pure nutritional dynamite.

I like to briefly boil (5 minutes) then fry the leaf greens with something fatty, such as bacon, or with olive oil and then serve over whatever you like. In my case, rice.

The upper several inches of the stem can be made like asparagus. Just snap it off where tender on the stem, and cook the whole thing. Even though it’s called ‘garlic mustard’, I don’t find it to have any real kind of ‘garlic’ taste. Thus, I like to pair mine with some fresh wild garlic greens to spice things up!

The roots are also edible, and quite spicy. Think horseradish, but not quite. Though I haven’t used these for much, they are edible. (I’m not a huge fan of horseradishy flavored things.)

If you eat this plant, many people will thank you. Or at least they would if anyone cared about the forests becoming a monoculture. Eat all you can find, and worry not. Nature will make more.

This plant can really take over, and has done so in many northern areas, such as Pennsylvania. Apparently the seeds need a freezing component to germinate, which would explain why it’s advance south has been somewhat halted.

As far as I have seen, and ever read, there are no toxic lookalikes [2], but do your homework and research and be sure of the plant you have. It’s pretty hard to misidentify this plant, but I’ve seen it done before.
If you ever mis-identify this plant, it’ll probably be for young Ground Ivy or another of the Mustard family of plants. Maybe even a violet. If you’re drunk. Or don’t know your plants very well. πŸ˜‰ None of which are harmful and are also edible.

There are also much better ways to control this plant than simply trying to physically eradicate it [3], and the one I like is perhaps the most simple. Eat more of it! Or start eating it, if you aren’t eating it now. Though I do highly recommend the linked references below for identification purposes.

I don’t typically do references, as I don’t typically write from anything other than my personal experience. I find that to write about things which one does not have direct experience with to be disingenuous, and dangerous, especially where edible and toxic plants are involved. However, I’ve included some references for your further reading enjoyment and education.

References

1. “Edible Wild Plants” Dr. John Kallas, PhD pps 231 – 248

2. ‘Wildman’ Steve Brill. http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Plants.Folder/Garlic%20Mustard.html

3. Janet Van Sloun Larson. Natrual Resource Specialist, City of Minnetonka, Natural Resources Division. http://www.eminnetonka.com/public_works/natural_resources/restoration/documents/garlic_mustard_presentation.pdf

* Also be sure to check out Green Deane Jordan’s site:Β www.eattheweeds.com It’s my favorite source for all things wild, edible, and delicious

Categories: Food Health, Foraging, Nature, Nature Photos, Preparedness, Wild | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Sink Full of Cinquefoil

Creeping Cinquefoil – Potentilla reptans

Creeping Cinquefoil - Potentilla reptans 1
Every now and again I run across something that I’ve literally been trodding underfoot for decades. Something that I *knew* was useful in some manner, but had never personally used. Most of the time I’ll even know the common name for such things, but haven’t bothered to research an actual use for them, as I did in the case of the Creeping Cinquefoil. It tends to grow prolifically on my property near the woodline with my wild strawberries. It helps that it spreads by runners, so it can spread itself out pretty quickly.

Creeping Cinquefoil - Potentilla reptans 2

Well it turns out that both the leaves and roots of the plant are both edible, and the root has some pretty impressive historical medicinal uses as well. Whilst I can’t speak to that aspect, all the reliable sources that I can find insist that both the leaves and roots are edible.

Creeping Cinquefoil - Potentilla reptans 3

Creeping Cinquefoil – Potentilla reptans is a lowly plant that you wouldn’t much notice until and unless it’s in flower. The flowers have five petals, and the plant has five leaves.

Creeping Cinquefoil - Potentilla reptans 4

They look quite akin to strawberry leaves in a way, and many people do indeed mistake them for strawberry. They always catch my eye though, as things with multiple leaves and serrations tend to stand out to me, whether they are in flower or not.

Creeping Cinquefoil - Potentilla reptans 5
This is a plant that I haven’t eaten as an adult, but I plan to this spring. Both the leaves and roots are on the menu, and I’m sure I’ll have enough of both to go around!

Not only that, it tends to grow in the company of some fine friends. Look at this last picture. Just glancing at it I can spot clover, plantain, and violet as other wild edibles which are growing right next to it.

As I don’t like reporting heresay on things I haven’t personally eaten, I’ll cut this short. Once I’ve eaten some of the leaves and prepared the roots this spring, I’ll do a follow up report. πŸ˜€

Categories: Foraging, Green, Nature, Nature Photos, Plant Photos, Wild | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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