How to Make Dandelion Coffee, Cook Poke Salad Shoots & Other Wild Tips

This is the only photo I have left from one of my hiking-foraging trips.  These are ingredients to a lunch soup, which includes oyster mushrooms.

This is the only photo I have left from one of my hiking-foraging trips. These are ingredients to a lunch soup, which includes oyster mushrooms.

A few years back, I was reading an article by Thomas Elpel, author of Botany in a Day and several articles and books on all kinds of primitive skills.  He’s a true master.  But he had attempted to make dandelion coffee, and it didn’t turn out for him and he was disappointed with the results.

The reason is, he had tried to make it in a drip coffee maker.  I thought of writing him and telling him how I do it, but figured he is the expert and I’m just a little hobby forager, so decided to let it go.

Poke salad shoots

Poke salad shoots

The dandelion root coffee that I have made is rich, mellow, smooth, complex and has chocolate undertones.  It’s truly a superb beverage.

The way I did it is to dig the roots with a weed digger. (You probably know that you can’t pull them up!)  Then I scrubbed them, put them on a baking sheet, and put them in a 250 degree oven for 5 hours.  At that point, you break a couple of the roots to make sure they are a rich, dark brown inside.  Then you “grind” them in the blender.

This type of wild lettuce is very mild without a hint of bitterness.

This type of wild lettuce is very mild without a hint of bitterness.

Dandelion roots do not grind properly!  You will end up with some powder and lots of irregularly shaped chunks.

To properly prepare dandelion coffee, you need to use an old time stove top percolator.  But once when I was visiting my sister in Florida, I was going to make some for her but she didn’t have a percolator.  So I took a pot, lined a large sieve with a coffee filter, then added the dandelion coffee, and made sure it was submerged in the water.  I brought the water to a boil, then simmered it until the coffee was the strength I liked.

This is another type of wild lettuce.  It's slightly bitter and is best mixed with other greens.

This is another type of wild lettuce. It’s slightly bitter and is best mixed with other greens.

And that’s how you make real dandelion coffee!  Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of that operation to share with you.  Maybe I’ll do another tutorial with photos in the spring.

Today I’m going to post a lot of photos because this will be my last wild edible post until spring comes.  I plan to not only take photos of wild plants, but show you how I use them.  That will be a lot more useful than just pictures of plants that I’m posting now.

Another wild edible that has been a staple to people during hard times, particularly in the Deep South during the Depression, is poke salad.  Poke salad is a highly nutritious vegetable, but care has to be taken in its preparation.  The poke plant is poisonous.  The roots are deadly poisonous.  But the young shoots, and the leaves while they are a bright, translucent emerald green, are easily treated to remove the toxins, resulting in a safe, healthy edible.

This is called an Indian strawberry.  It is sometimes confused with a wild strawberry.  Its fruits are a dark, cranberry red and its seeds are held out from the fruit on tiny stalks.  It won't hurt you, but it will certainly disappoint you!

This is called an Indian strawberry. It is sometimes confused with a wild strawberry. Its fruits are a dark, cranberry red and its seeds are held out from the fruit on tiny stalks. It won’t hurt you, but it will certainly disappoint you! Unfortunately, it’s very aggressive and is wiping out the wild strawberries in my yard.

To prepare the poke shoots, bring a separate large pot of water to boil.  Fill a smaller pot with some of the boiling water, add the poke shoots, and simmer for 5 minutes.  At that time the cooking water will be reddish and cloudy.  Pour off that water, cover with more boiling water, and cook another 3 minutes.  This time the water will only be slightly cloudy.  Pour that water off, fill the pot with boiling water one more time, and simmer a few more minutes.

At this point, the cooking water will be perfectly clear, assuring you that all the water soluble toxins have been safely removed.  Dip the poke out of the water, discarding the water, and serve with butter and salt.  Do NOT pour cold water over the poke shoots in the pot or you will set, rather than remove, the toxins.

For comparison, here's a real wild strawberry with its scarlet fruit and seeds embedded on the surface of the fruit.

For comparison, here’s a real wild strawberry with its scarlet fruit and seeds embedded on the surface of the fruit.

In spring, I will do a picture tutorial for you.

Delicious raw.  I have found that the purple greenbrier shoots do not have the slightest hint of bitterness like the green ones sometimes do.  I don't know if it's a different variety of greenbrier, or if the new shoots are purple because they are in the shade.  Cooking will toughen these and ruin them unless they are added to a soup at the last minute.

Delicious raw. I have found that the purple greenbrier shoots do not have the slightest hint of bitterness like the green ones sometimes do. I don’t know if it’s a different variety of greenbrier, or if the new shoots are purple because they are in the shade. Cooking will toughen these and ruin them unless they are added to a soup at the last minute. I don’t believe it is a bullbrier (also edible) because the leaf shape is wrong.

Here's a green greenbrier shoot.  Often they are tender and sweet without a hint of bitterness, but sometimes they are a little bitter.  That's great in a salad where you like a contrast of flavors.

Here’s a green greenbrier shoot. Often they are tender and sweet without a hint of bitterness, but sometimes they are a little bitter. That’s great in a salad where you like a contrast of flavors. To pick, break the stem off at the point where it snaps off easily without flexing. The entire stem and leaves are eaten.

Common plantain.  It is edible when the leaves are young and tender before the leave veins get tough.  It can be eaten raw, but I don't like it raw.  I do like it cooked.

Common plantain. It is edible when the leaves are young and tender before the leaf veins get tough. It can be eaten raw, but I don’t like it raw. I do like it cooked.

These are sassafras leaves.  One winter camping trip, a group of us dug us sassafras roots and made a huge stockpot of sassafras tea.  I can't imagine anything more delicious on a cold, winter day.

These are sassafras leaves. One winter camping trip, a group of us dug us sassafras roots and made a huge stockpot of sassafras tea. I can’t imagine anything more delicious on a cold, winter day.

Solomon's Seal.  Note the way the double flowers (and later berries) hang down below this plant.  That distinguishes Solomon's Seal from False Solomon's Seal.  The roots aren't delicious and I have never cooked them long enough to get them tender, but they are a nice addition to a wild edibles soup.

Solomon’s Seal. Note the way the double flowers (and later berries) hang down below this plant. That distinguishes Solomon’s Seal from False Solomon’s Seal. The roots aren’t delicious and I have never cooked them long enough to get them tender, but they are a nice addition to a wild edibles soup.

The birds-nested seeds of wild carrot.  I just love this picture.  If you are new to wild edibles, avoid the carrot family as there are some fatally poisonous members in it.  When they bloom next year, I'll post good photos showing you foolproof ways to identify wild carrot.

The birds-nested seeds of wild carrot. I just love this picture. If you are new to wild edibles, avoid the carrot family as there are some fatally poisonous members in it. When they bloom next year, I’ll post good photos showing you foolproof ways to identify wild carrot.

One more photo of tender greenbrier leaves just because I get such a kick out of picking them and eating them right off the plant.

One more photo of tender greenbrier leaves just because I get such a kick out of picking them and eating them right off the plant.

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16 Comments

  1. Camilla

     /  January 4, 2013

    Guess I’m going to have to go out in the woods…

  2. I’m in awe … and truly amazed. what a calling you have…neato! I must say I’m a bit intimidated I fall over sick with these concoctions but love the force of edible nature. So so cool…keep them coming. These posts are outstanding…xoxox

    • Not exactly a calling! Just love learning new plants and using them and needed something to blog about since we’re not camping. Glad you are enjoying the posts. 🙂

  3. Great post again. Learning a lot of good things here thank you

  4. Elizabeth in NC

     /  January 5, 2013

    I will be coming to read what you have to share with us about eating wild!! I understand that the reason my dad’s family ate better during the depression was Granny knew what to harvest wild and could make good food from it. They lived in the Missouri, Kansas, Arkansaw area…but sadly none of that knowlege was passed on. As kids we harvested 3 kinds of plants and ate them (our parents likely did not know much of that…and fortunately we were choosy!!) I remember sucking the honey from the honeysuckle flowers (my dad was upset we got rid of ALL the flowers that way) and also had wild onions in the grass and ate those…cannot remember what the 3rd one was…

    • Elizabeth, I also remember sucking the honey out of hibiscus flowers! I remember being surprised at how much nectar was in each flower.

      We also loved chewing on sourgrass, which I later learned is the flowering stem of sheep sorrel!

      Dock is another staple green. There are several kinds. I was surprised to discover some of that is actually good, if you like greens like turnip greens, mustard greens, etc.

      It will be a fun project to document all that on my blog next year. Combined with camping trips, it will be an enjoyable read, I hope! 🙂

  5. lynne

     /  January 5, 2013

    Great post!
    I am interested in the sassafras tea…did you bake the roots and grind them the same way you made the dandelion coffee?

    Hope to taste some dandelion coffee in the future!

    • No, we just scrubbed the freshly dug sassafras roots, threw them in a pot, and boiled until the taste was right! The roots can be reused, too, several times.

      If I get around to digging dandelion roots before I see you next, I’ll make you some coffee.

  6. Elizabeth in NC

     /  January 7, 2013

    My dad MADE us drink Sassafras tea every winter…we HATED it…I must have put a half cup of sugar in mine…so doubtful it did us any good!! Heh…

    • Too funny! I guess anything your parents make you eat or drink is going to taste nasty.

      To me, it was a rare treat!

      But Mom made me eat green peas and I hate them to this day!

  7. Whenever I am out on a hike, I find myself wishing I knew more about the plant life. Your post inspires me to learn more! Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned. I always enjoy reading what you have to post!

    • I’m so glad you enjoy it! I’ve been spending the past several days immersed in my books and have realized that I have already found some serious food sources — just didn’t know enough at the time to recognize it. So the learning never ends… but it’s just fun to learn a few so you can enjoy trail nibbles along the way. 🙂

  8. Tamara

     /  June 10, 2013

    I’ve been picking the tender greenbrier shoots for years and loving them! It’s nice to see other people appreciating them, too.

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