Dandelions with Wild Garlic for Dinner

Dandelion greens, field garlic and spicy mustard chicken

Dandelion greens, field garlic and spicy mustard chicken

Today I got my Green Dean’s Eat the Weeds Newsletter, and it inspired me to… eat the weeds!  🙂

Washing dandelion greens

Washing dandelion greens

What’s most plentiful in my yard right now are dandelions and field garlic.  So that’s what I harvested.

Right now the dandelion leaves are small with only a slight, pleasant bitterness to them.  They would be great in salads at this stage.  Later they will be very bitter and will require parboiling twice to make them good.

Field garlic bulbs

Field garlic bulbs

Dandelion greens can pick up a lot of pine straw and trash.  The best way to wash them is to cut them free from the base, then float them in a large bowl of water.  That way you can pick out the pine straw and stray plant matter, and much of the trash sinks to the bottom of the bowl.

The field garlic bulbs clean easily with a spray of water to wash the mud off them.  Then you use the little pearly bulbs.  The green leaves are too fibrous to eat.

Field garlic bulbs ready to cook

Field garlic bulbs ready to cook

I sautéed the garlic bulbs in grapeseed oil because I was out of olive oil until they were translucent and just starting to brown.  Then I added what looked like a massive amount of dandelion leaves, which quickly cooked down to a fraction of their size.  Then all I added was salt and a sprinkling of hot pepper flakes.

I topped them with leftover chicken breast chunks, tossed with spicy brown mustard, splenda and lemon juice.

The dandelion greens cooked up sweet, without a hint of bitterness, and a little chewy.

Not bad for an almost free meal!

 

 

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Correcting Some Misconceptions

The lone purple leaf of the Indian putty root plant

The lone purple leaf of the Indian putty root plant

Due to my great joy in finding and preparing wild edible plants, it dawned on me last night that I might be coming across in my blog as some kind of self-proclaimed expert.

I like being proud of things I learn and do, but I do not like the idea that I may be trying to pass myself off as something I’m not.

I know a fair number of our local plants and love learning new ones and ways to use them.  But I was reading Samuel Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest last night and it graphically demonstrated how much I do not know, and what a shallow understanding I have of the science of botany and the art of foraging.

What my plant photos, and my experiences with them, should demonstrate to you is that anyone who is willing to spend time learning a few plants and their uses can share one of the most useful, fun pursuits that I know of.

 

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.

Disappointing Foraging Day

groundnut leaves

Groundnut leaves showing thin, twining stems

I had spotted an extensive patch of groundnuts growing about a half mile from our house.  So today, despite the intermittent rain, I headed out to dig a few.

Things didn’t go well right from the start.  First of all, they were growing in heavy, damp clay that made digging very messy and difficult.

Secondly, groundnuts that I have dug in the past had thin skins with no lumps or thickened bumps except on the oldest tubers at the end of the string.

groundnut tubers

Groundnut tubers

These all had dark, tough skins.  Also, they were all small.  I am guessing that growing in the heavy clay is the reason.  And then the rain came.

So I took my handful of groundnuts home and cleaned them.

Usually I just  boil them in salted water, then toss them in butter when they are done.  They have a wonderful potato flavor, but the texture is a bit denser than potato.  The skins add a nutty flavor that tastes kind of like peanuts.

But these were a disaster.  Thick, tough, inedible skins, and fibrous, barely edible flesh.  So I threw them out.

wild yam leaves

Wild yam leaves

Growing among the groundnuts, I found wild yams.  Two kinds.  I have found wild sweet potatoes all around our area, but had never noticed wild yams before.

Just to see what the root looked like, I dug up 3 or 4 young plants with only one leaf.  Each one had a tiny, round tuber at the end.  Curious, I dug up two larger, but still young, plants.  They had small potato-looking tubers.

wild yam tubers

Wild yam tubers

I brought them home and spent several hours researching wild yams that grow in the Southeast.  Most of the information available was pathetic.  One page erroneously said that all Dioscorea with alternate leaves are poisonous.  Others said the tubers were tasteless and inedible.  But a couple of credible sounding sites said the roots were both edible and medicinal.  And many gave the medicinal uses of the plant.

After a few hours of reading, I concluded that it was safe to eat the tubers, but it probably would not be wise to eat too many of them at a time.

a different type of yam

Dioscorea villosa?

I boiled them in lightly salted water.  They were firm and tender-crunchy.  Not much taste.  I think if I were to cook them again, I would slice them and add them sparingly to a spicy dish for texture.

But I probably won’t eat them again due to their medicinal properties.  But that’s part of the fun of foraging to me — discovering new plants and exploring their uses.

Even on disappointing days. 🙂