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.

Advertisements

Wild Edible Plants & Tulip Trees

Baby wild blueberries

I walked down our dirt (gravel) road today to deliver an Easter basket to my neighbor.  Just that short distance provided me with a treasure trove of interesting (to me) photos.

The wild blueberries have appeared!  It won’t be long until blueberry dessert time!

I also found a rare (in this area) Solomon’s Seal.  A few years back I dug one up to sample the tubers.  But since I hadn’t seen any for several years, there was no

Solomon's Seal

way I was going to disturb this one brave little spray of leaves that grew along the roadside.

I also found some wild strawberry plants that are a lot larger than the ones that grow on the edges of my yard.  I wonder if the strawberries will be larger also.  They are usually so small that I eat them as fast as I pick them and never have enough left over to

These wild strawberry plants are much larger than the ones that usually grow around here--more than double the size that I'm used to seeing.

make dessert with.

The Japanese honeysuckle blooms are getting ready to open.  It’s actually a noxious weed around here, but the blossoms are so beautiful and the scent so heavenly that I love them.  I haven’t yet made tea from the flowers, although I have intended to.  This year I will finally do it!

And I couldn’t resist more greenbrier photos. I think the shoots and tender new, almost translucent leaves are beautiful.

I used to pick and cook a lot of poke salad shoots.  But an odd thing  happened

Young greenbrier leaves

to the flavor.  The ones in our area used to have a wonderful taste that was a cross between asparagus and green beans.  Last year, when I was in Florida, I picked some  to cook for my sister to introduce her to them.  But when they were done, they were completely tasteless.  I threw them out.  Then when I got home I picked some and they had the same puzzling lack of flavor.

I believe that it may have been due to all the rain we had.  Steve Brill in New York has described poke shoots as having a pungent taste.  Ours never did–they were always mild tasting and good.  So climate must have a big bearing on flavor.  I’ll cook

Young poke salad plants

some tomorrow and see how they turn out this year.

If you want to try poke salad shoots, only use the shoots with small new leaves at the end.  The mature plant is poisonous.  When the leaves lose their new green color and translucence, they are no longer edible.  Also avoid shoots that have a lot of red on them.    To remove the small amount of water soluble toxins in the young shoot and leaves, bring a large and small pot of water to boil.  After the water in the small pot is boiling, add the shoots and cook for 5 minutes or so.  Drain and pour more boiling water over the shoots and cook for two or three minutes more.  Pour that water off and cover them with boiling water once again and cook a couple more minutes until done.

Wild lettuce bolting. This one had been run over by a lawn mower.

The water from the first two boils will be reddish and cloudy.  The water in the last boil will remain clear.  At this point, you have a safe, very healthy vegetable that was once a staple food in the Deep South, particularly in the war years.   Brush with butter and salt lightly when done.

My older neighbor remembers her mother cooking poke salad for dinner.

Up North, they call the cooked greens poke salat.  Down here, it’s still poke salad.  🙂

I also stumbled upon a wild lettuce bolting.  This is the sweetest, tenderest variety of wild lettuce.  Even though it

Baby black cherries

was bolting, the leaves only had a tiny, pleasant tinge of bitterness.

The blackberry flowers are beginning to lose their petals, which means small green blackberries will be appearing soon.  And the black cherries continue to grow in abundance.  I made syrup with them last year.  This year I’ll probably make jelly.

This post is getting WAY too long, so I’ll add the rest of the photos without comment.

Blackberry flowers are beginning to lose their petals.

Red clover. Their red blossoms are nutritious in teas and recipes.

Yellow clover. When wilted, it develops coumarins, so I avoid it.

Yellow poplars (tulip trees-not edible) grow all over our property, but I had never noticed flowers on them. Today I found several fallen blossoms where branches had been knocked down. Will have to go looking for flowers on the trees tomorrow.

I don't think birdsfoot violets are edible, but wanted to post this picture anyway!

And finally, another strange, bulls-eye looking leaf parasite. Will have to research what it is. On edit - this is a maple eyespot gall. It is caused by a midge and it does not hurt the tree.

The Wonder of Morning

misty morning sun in my yard

Misty morning sunshine in my front yard. Click to enlarge.

I am not normally an early morning person.  But this morning I woke up with an overwhelming need to be outdoors.

I was rewarded by seeing patterns of dew on strawberry and blackberry leaves that I had never noticed before.  Glistening drops that bordered the serrated leaf margins.

strawberry leaf margins bejeweled with dew drops

Indian strawberry leaf margins bejeweled with dew drops

blackberry leaves with dew-jeweled leaf margins

Blackberry leaves with dew-jeweled leaf margins

The black cherry tree in the back yard is festooned with thousands of tiny green cherries.

Young muscadine grape vines are spreading rapidly, promising harvests of the sweetest and best wild grapes in nature.

I just discovered something a few days ago.  I thought when wild lettuce bolted that the leaves were all too bitter to use.  But out of curiosity, I picked a few of the leaves from the top crown that forms when the plant begins to bolt.  The tender young leaves up there were sweet and non-bitter — a delight to eat.

So I had to go back to one of my earlier photos of bolting wild lettuce and edit my caption to add that wonderful new (to me) bit of information!

Tender, sweet crown leaves of bolting wild lettuce

Tender, sweet crown leaves of bolting wild lettuce

Wild cherry tree loaded with thousands of tiny green cherries

Wild black cherry tree loaded with thousands of little green cherries. The camera made them look black already, but they are really all still very green.

wild grape vines

Young muscadine grape vines

I picked a bowlful of salad greens to eat with lunch.  Most have already been pictured in earlier posts.  However, the wood sorrel was a lot larger than  in earlier photos — still tender and bursting with lemony-sour juice.

healthy wood sorrel

Healthy clump of wood sorrel

I also noticed several evening primrose plants growing out by the road.

evening primrose

Evening primrose

I always feel like I am in a wonderland when I am outdoors.  But this misty morning was one of the best ever.

More Wild Edibles on Our Property

yellow clover

Yellow clover has killed livestock when molded leaves were mixed with their hay. It produces coumarins when wilted or molding. So I avoid it, although technically it is edible.

young poke weed plant

Young pokeweed plant. Shoots must be cooked in three changes of boiling water before eating. Highly nutritious.

wild lettuce bolting

Wild lettuce bolting. Only the tiny leaves in the center of the top are good at this stage.

baby crabapples

Young, green crabapples

japanese honeysuckle

Japanese honeysuckle. Heavenly smelling noxious weed. Can make tea from blossoms.

wild strawberries

Another wild strawberries photo. They are so photogenic!

These photos were taken Friday, Saturday and today.

They are not intended to be a tutorial — just to share with others who love finding wild edible plants as much as I do.

greenbrier shoot

Tender, juicy greenbrier shoot

bullbriar shoot

Tender, sweet bullbriar shoot

bull briar leaves

Tender, mild baby bullbriar leaves

lowbush blueberries

Young lowbush blueberries...goodness to come!

baby sassafras tree

Baby sassafras tree

white clover

I no longer harvest white clover due to its potential for developing coumarins when wilted or beginning to spoil.

Wild Edible Foods in My Yard

Wild strawberries in my yard

Delicious, sweet wild strawberries

Our land is completely surrounded by forest.  We keep the area as natural as possible, which leaves a transition area between the forest and the yard where all kinds of wild plants thrive.

Since we were out camping, the yard went a couple of weeks without mowing.   This also allowed all kinds of cool edible plants to do their thing.

Late this afternoon I took the camera out to see what had sprouted up in our yard in our absence.  I was amazed at the variety I found.

best kind of wild lettuce

This is the best variety of wild lettuce. Tender, and not a hint of bitterness.

There were all kinds of greens at their prime.  I also noticed that the blackberry bushes were covered in little green blackberries, and the blueberry bushes had tiny little green blueberries.

There were many wild strawberries fruiting.  The ones that are reddish orange are not quite ripe.  The ones that are a deep red are beyond description.  Sweeter than any domesticated strawberry with a burst of intense, fruity pleasure.

I have noticed something odd about the poke salad.  It used to have a scrumptious flavor that was a cross between asparagus and green beans.  But this year it is very bland.

I noticed that when I was in Florida, too.  I had picked poke shoots to cook for my sister to show her how good wild edibles could be.  They were so bland I threw them out, rather than introduce her to something that wouldn’t impress her.

I know that Steve Brill says poke salad in New York has a very pungent flavor.  So the taste must vary from location to location.  Maybe all the rain we have had has affected the taste.

The blog editor is  not letting me insert photos where I want them, so they will be out of logical sequence.  For some reason, it is inserting the last photos here instead of at the end.  Hope it’s not too distracting.

wild salad greens

Wild salad greens. I threw the plantain leaves out as they were too tough to serve raw.

Another variety of wild lettuce... slightly bitter

Another variety of wild lettuce. This one is slightly bitter, and is best mixed with other greens.

sheep sorrel with wood sorrel in background

Tangy sheep sorrel with lemony wood sorrel in background

unripe blackberries

Little green blackberries, soon to be fat, juicy, purple blackberries!

unripe highbush blueberries

Little green blueberries

passionflower vine

Passionflower vine promises maypops in a few months

poke salad

Poke salad

common plantain

Common plantain. A decent cooked vegetable. Also edible raw when very young, although I don’t care for it raw.

poke salad shoots ready to cook

Poke salad shoots ready to cook