3 Herb Mamas

WEDNESDAY’S WEEDS: DANDELION

Image

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Yes, it was inevitable that I would include this most maligned of all common wild plants. I find myself in a very small minority of admirers when I dare to voice my appreciation for this food, medicine, soil fertility enhancer, friend to bees and other pollinators, and “doctor plant” especially for ailing shallow-rooted plants. I actually had to restrain myself from making it the first entry in my Wednesday’s Weeds posts. There is so much to love about this plant and so little reason to dislike it that I can only marvel over its ubiquitous image on the labels of practically every weed-killer and herbicide that lines the big box lawn and garden centers. If you are a Dandelion hater then probably nothing included in this blog post will change your mind…but I can still hope. ūüėÄ If you are already a Dandelion lover I hope you will find some new facts, recipes and uses for an old friend. If you’re sitting on the fence, come on down and enjoy a stroll among the sunny blossoms and give it a try. When I do weed walks I always ask how many recognize this plant. Almost without exception, every hand shoots up. But when I follow it up by asking how many use the plant, the opposite occurs. Almost no one raises their hand. Familiarity breeds contempt perhaps? Yet there are so many ways and reasons to appreciate it.

Dandelion is irrepressible, the Polly-Anna of the wild plant world as it interfaces with humans. All summer they will be popping up in lawns, fields, and meadows. Many a ¬†lawn-scaping weekend warrior is suiting up now for another season of battle. Guido Mase in THE WILD MEDICINE SOLUTION: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter & Tonic Plants sums up the situation humorously as he describes his attempt to keep his vegetable and medicinal plant garden pristine from interlopers like Dandelion: “I had to acknowledge that the entire situation was now out of my control. That’s a good thing to do sometimes.” [My emphasis added.] He goes on to add, “Mow them down and they simply flower closer to the ground. Pave them over and they will find and expand any cracks. Poison them and, in the end, you only succeed in poisoning your own children, for the dandelions only adapt, resist, and continue to spread. But just as you can’t keep a good rebel in chains, you can’t keep a good idea down either. They are like that thought that nags at the back of your conscience, the one you keep dismissing because it is too challenging, too risky, too ugly to entertain. It keeps waving its little flag for a reason: it is the best medicine for you right now. And so I feel it is with the dandelion: the weed we love to hate is perhaps the best catalyst to deliver us from the bondage of perpetual, hypnotic, addictive sweetness.”

Fresh DandelionWhole Dandelion bouquet harvest ready for tincturing this spring.

DANDELION NUTRITIONALLY & CULINARY 

All parts of the Dandelion plant are edible and nutritious and, if handled properly, delicious. The leaves and roots are rich in vitamins A, B, C, and E as well as the minerals iron, phosphorous, potassium and calcium. The bitter components in Dandelion are a digestive stimulant. Europe has a long history of using digestive bitters for health but sadly that was a tradition that has not been carried to America on a large scale. Adding chopped leaves to other mild and sweet salad greens dramatically improves the nutritional value, especially if you are in the habit of using basically nutrient-free iceberg lettuce. No need to replace all other greens with 100% Dandelion greens; just add a little each day and you will get the boost they provide.

Wild Salad

Wild Salad heavy on the Dandelion greens. If you are not accustomed to the bitter bite of Dandelion you should start slowly with just a few chopped leaves added to your other greens. I have a taste for bitter (think extra dark chocolate and espresso) so I rather enjoy them but you can derive the benefits just as easily by going light or using other preparations.

Hortopita

Our family’s take on the traditional Greek Hortopita. These delicious, flaky “weed pies” are filled with wild greens, including Dandelion, rice, fresh herbs, cheeses, and onions.

Dandelion Jelly

Dandelion Jelly…a.k.a. home canned sunshine!

If it is impossible for you to eat fresh Dandelion greens try making a tincture of the whole plant in early spring to derive the benefits.

Tincturing Dandelion

Fresh, whole Dandelion, washed and chopped is now ready for tincturing. I often use pure grain alcohol for tincture making and follow the ratios of water to alcohol in Richo Cech’s MAKING PLANT MEDICINE, but simply using 100 proof vodka to cover your fresh or dried plant material works fine.¬†

Dandelion Tincture

Dandelion Tincture: fresh whole plant, cleaned and chapped, placed in a clean jar and covered completely with alcohol, labeled and dated. Add patience as it sits and steeps for 4-6 weeks (shaking daily optional) and it’s really that simple. 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. in a little water or straight up before meals for an excellent liver and digestive tonic.¬†

Flowers can be added to salads as well. Remove the bitter calyx and the yellow flowers (The entire cluster we often refer to as a flower is actually a composite grouping of many, many individual flowers often mistakenly referred to as petals.) are sweet, tasty and add a bright touch of color.

Dandelion flowers

Dandelions free of the green bitter calyx.

Dandelion calyx and flower

To remove the flowers from the calyx twist one to the left while twisting the other to the right. They usually pop right apart.

Dandelion Flower Plucker's Fingers

Dandelion Flower Plucker’s Fingers…the jelly is worth it.¬†

Roots can be dug, scrubbed, chopped, dried, roasted, ground, and brewed like coffee. Roasting the roots sweetens them by breaking the inulin polysaccharides down into fructose. You can further sweeten your freshly brewed beverage by adding local honey or maple syrup. Add some raw cacao or cocoa powder for  delicious natural mocha. These a fabulous with cream served hot or chilled. Here is a photo essay of one of my favorite specialty drinks:

Cleaned whole Dandelion

Cleaned whole Dandelion destined for tincturing but the roots are what I would chop and use for “coffee”.

Roasting Dandelion roots

Chopped Dandelion roots can be dried and stored for roasting later or dried and roasted to use right away. Although it can be done in an oven, I prefer to roast roots in a dry cast iron skillet, while stirring. They can be roasted as light or dark as you prefer. 

Dried Dandelion roots: un-roasted on the left and roasted on the right. 

Ground roasted Dandeion

Freshly ground roasted Dandelion root. It can certainly be roasted even darker to suit tastes.

Dandelion and Cacao nibs

Roasted Dandelion roots with Raw Cacao nibs in a French press ready for brewing. 

Dandelion Mochas brewing

Dandelion Mochas brewing.

Dandelion Mocha

Delicious Dandelion Mocha. Yumm!

Is this quicker, easier and cheaper than picking up a tub of coffee at the grocery store? Definitely not. Or possibly so if you factor in the time involved in earning the money to buy the coffee, the time and fuel spent driving to and from the store, and so on. Is it healthier for you, your family, and the planet? Decidedly, yes. I enjoy dark roast coffee as well as Dandelion, and they even make a delicious combination that boosts your liver’s health. It need not be an either/ or proposition.

DANDELION MEDICINALLY

Dandelion is a powerhouse for our health. Although I honestly could never pick just one plant, when I am asked (as I often am!) what herb or plant is my favorite, I often say, “Dandelion!” There are a variety of reasons but one of the main ones is because it answers to so many needs and is widely available almost everywhere on the planet. Unless you find yourself on the Arctic tundra you can probably find some. It is food but it is also potent, effective medicine. Below are just a smattering of the findings from scientific studies on Dandelion. These are taken from Timothy Lee Scott’s excellent¬†INVASIVE PLANT MEDICINE: The Ecological Benefits & Healing Abilities of Invasives.¬†(Highly recommended for those interested in such things!)

*Dandelion has shown antimicrobial effects in vitro against Staphylococcus aureaus, B-hemolytic streptococcus, Diplococcus pneumoniae, Diplococcus meningeitides, Corynebacterium diptheriae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Bacillus dysenteriae, and Salmonella typhi.

*Water extract of Dandelion leaf decreased the growth of breast cancer cells and blocked the invasion of prostate cancer cells in vitro. Extracts of Dandelion flowers and root appeared to have no effect on the growth of either cell line, yet the root blocked the invasion of breast cancer cells.

*120-180 grams of Dandelion herb in decoction was given to 88 patients suffering with acute tonsillitis in a Chinese study. 82 of the 88 experienced relief.

*Dandelion was found to have an inhibitory effect on pancreatic lipase in vitro (literally “in glass” or in lab tests) and in vivo (in living organisms) and was determined to be of use as a natural weight loss agent.

Dandelion’s actions are antibacterial, antiviral, antiparasitic, immune enhancing, hepato-protective (liver protective), diuretic, and cholagogic (promotes bile production). It is an excellent kidney tonic that acts as a diuretic but, unlike pharmaceutical ones, it is rich in minerals rather than depleting them, especially potassium. Because it blooms so early and late in the year when most other flowers have either not begun or have ceased to bloom, Dandelion is extremely important to bees and the honey industry.

Dandelion’s long taproot enriches and enhances the soil fertility by bringing minerals like potassium, phosphorus, calcium, copper and iron from deep in the subsurface up to a level that more shallow rooted fruits and vegetables can benefit from. I often leave some Dandelion around my Blueberry plants for this reason. Dandelion has been successfully used in phyto-remediation programs to remove heavy metals such as lead from contaminated industrial areas. (For this reason I would take care to be sure that the land where you gather Dandelion…or any other plant you plan to use as food or medicine…has not been sprayed with toxic chemicals, dumped on, or otherwise polluted.)

Dandelion Latex

Most parts of the Dandelion will exude a white sap, or latex, when cut. This has traditionally been applied daily to treat warts and we have found it to be effective for this use.

This brief blog post is just the tip of the iceberg of all there is to learn about Dandelion. I hope it is enough to whet your appetite and sharpen your curiosity to learn more. From fritters to wine, there are gathering baskets more to explore.  ~Leenie

Dandy

1 Comment »

WEED WALKS RIGHT OUTSIDE YOUR DOOR

Image

Stone steps leading to my little greenhouse…perfect spot for a weed walk!

Probably my favorite herbal activity is sharing “weed walks” and teaching about wild edible and medicinal plants. A weed walk is simply a little nature trek ranging anywhere from a few steps to a few miles with the goal of identifying the green life all around us and gaining a greater appreciation for plants that are undervalued and overlooked. Although there are certainly an abundance of valuable plants throughout the deep woods and hills, I find that my main passion in sharing about these primary food plants lies closer to home. Sometimes folks show up for my weed walks decked out as if we are headed into the wilderness for a week. It is a surprise when they discover that we often never lose sight of my home. In fact, we’re often right outside my door.

This little stone step area is a perfect example. I could easily do an entire weed walk on just the plants in the photo…Photo Frame Weed Walks, now there’s a fresh idea! And so I think I will. Join me as we explore the food and medicine of my greenhouse steps and see how simple integrating the wild can be.

Image

 Stonecrop (Sedum album, S. Rosea. & other species throughout our region)

A lovely and delicious wild edible, this formed the basis of my morning salad pictured at the end of this post. The flavor is lemony and fresh and the texture is crunchy like celery without ribs or like a fresh, crisp cucumber. It grows abundantly all around these stones, coming back year after ¬†year. It started from a gifted 2 inch homemade cloth pot from a friend’s garden nearly two decades ago but it can be found growing wild, along with other Stonecrops around many of our favorite hiking spots nearby. ¬†This small succulent plant is from the same plant family as the popular nursery plant ‘Hens & Chicks’ (Sempervivum). ¬†White Stonecrop can be eaten raw or cooked and can be used medicinally for its mildly astringent and mucilaginous qualities for minor burns, abrasions or insect bites. ¬†Thomas Elpel (Botany in a¬†Day)¬†says it is a safe laxative for children.

Stonecrop makes an excellent no maintenance planting for around stony, difficult, poor soil areas.

Young¬†Queen Anne’s Lace/Wild Carrot¬†(Daucus carota)

When I do weed walks I always slow way down when we come to this plant. Many people excitedly exclaim, “Oh, that’s Wild Carrot!” and are eagerly ready to start digging up the delicious roots. This plant is one that highlights the importance of accurate and absolute identification before consuming. The root is the wild ancestor of all cultivated carrots like you buy in the grocery store but there are distinct differences. The long taproot is white rather than the more familiar orange. Unlike the garden varieties, it contains a woody center that needs to be removed before cooking…unless you have beaver teeth. The scent when you dig the root is sweet and absolutely carrot-like. Another challenge is that you will want to gather first year roots of this biennial plant to get optimum size on the edible part of the root and it can be tricky to tell first year from second year plants, especially early in the season. It can grow lushly to a couple of feet tall or taller and forms lovely white umbels (think
umbrella-shaped) of flowers. These can be pressed and dried to use to decorate holiday evergreen trees and gift packages and cards, looking, as they do, like starry snowflakes.  *EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!* There is a poison look-alike for Wild Carrot. Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is also a biennial plant with a white, carrot-scented taproot that grows at least a couple of feet and up to 6 feet tall with feathery leaves and umbels of white flowers. Eating even small amounts can result in paralysis and death. There are distinct differences between the two plants, which highlights the importance of paying attention to details. Wild Carrot has fine hairs along the stems, whereas Poison Hemlock has smooth, stout stems that are hollow and grooved and have purple spots or blotches along them. Wild Carrot often has a red or purple flower at the very center of the umbel of white ones while Poison Hemlock does not.

Here is a useful, short video that shows the differences between the two. Because both plants are young in the video you cannot see the splotches along the stem yet. I like his identification tip: “The Queen has hairy legs!” ¬†http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5mLUG9cnaM

poison hemlock stem

Wild Carrot stem

Top photo: Poison Hemlock stem

Bottom photo: Wild Carrot stem

Wild Carrot flower

Wild Carrot flowering umbel (note the one red flower in the center)

Poison Hemlock flower

Poison Hemlock flowering

Although I would personally consume this plant I caution everyone, including myself, to be absolutely certain of identification of any plant before ingesting, especially Wild Carrot/Queen Anne’s Lace.

Calendula (Calendula officinale) seedlings among the sprouting Wild Carrot

These little Calendula seedlings are volunteers. Although Calendula ¬†is both edible and medicinal I will wait to share about this plant later in the season when it is in full, blooming glory. I included it here because it is a member of the little stone stairway plant “tribe.” Here is a lovely image of it’s sunny brightness to come later in the season:

calendula-flower-openCalendula blossom

DandelionDandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

There is so much to say about this plant that it deserves a post all its own. Check back this Wednesday when it will be highlighted in Wednesday’s Weeds to learn all about her healing charms and delicious delights!

Purple Dead NettlePurple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Both edible and medicinal, this plant is abundantly available right now. I threw some leaves in my salad but later I found this video recipe for Mushroom Onion Dead Nettle soup…I think a search for Morrel mushrooms and gathering some Wild Onions is order while the Dead Nettle is on. I might even make it a little creamy with some fresh goat milk.¬†http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xYivHjW49I

Red CloverRed Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Red Clover, like Dandelion, deserves its own post and will certainly get it as the season progresses. Gather the blossoms throughout spring and later in the fall. It tends to go dormant during the high heat of summer. You can identify it by the pale chevron at the center of each of its three leaves. The blossoms and top leaves are rich in B vitamins and have a long history of use as a tea for treating various tumors and abnormal cell growth. The blossoms are sweet and delicious sprinkled over a salad, eaten raw hand-to-mouth, or brewed into a tea. Bees love the lovely blossoms, too, so leave plenty for their good work. This is an expensive herb to buy dried and I have found the quality to be generally low commercially. Mountain Rose Herbs carries excellent quality when you can get it but why not gather your own locally? Here is what it will look like in bloom:

Red Clover

Red Clover blossom

Violet

Common Blue Violet (Viola papilionacea)

I am sure this plant needs a blog post of her own as well. What a beautiful sight to come upon a sweep of these is ¬†shady spot in the spring. It prefers quiet, shady damp spots but years of tromping back and forth to our favorite violet-gathering spot, “Violet Valley” (named by my kids many years ago) has resulted in it growing abundantly right up to our door step. The flowers are sweet and tasty eaten like candies or sprinkled over a salad. They can be made into a syrup for homemade sodas or made into a lovely violet colored jelly. The heart-shaped leaves are edible as well. Both leaves and flowers make an excellent tea for sore throat.

So there is a mini weed walk that took less than half a dozen steps from my door and resulted in a wonderful breakfast as I move into the Eat-Something-Wild-Everyday season. This is what my breakfast bowl gathering basket looked like from the gleanings of the greenhouse stone steps:

Wild primary foods (“weeds”) in the gathering bowl and rinsed and ready for chopping.

Breakfast Wild Salad

Wild Breakfast Salad with Goat Milk Yogurt & Honey Dressing

Yes, I eat salad for breakfast, especially when the wild greens are on. What better way to start the day than with a little barefoot walk ¬†and a gathering basket. I used Stonecrop, Dandelion leaves and flowers, Violet leaves and flowers, and Purple Dead Nettle…about a heaping cup. To this I added some garbonzo beans for some protein and made a dressing by combining a couple of tablespoons of homemade goat milk yogurt, a spoon of local raw honey, and a dash of stone ground mustard. Later in the season I would have added fresh raw sweet peas from the garden and maybe some wild or cultivated berries. Tossed it all together and topped with a few more Violet blossoms. Scrumptious! ~Leenie

 

6 Comments »

Wednesday’s Weeds: GROUND IVY

Image

Ground Ivy (Glecoma hederacea)

Other delightful common names include Alehoof, Cat’s Foot or Cat’s Paw, Gill-Over-the-Ground, Haymaids, Turn-hoof, Hedgemaids, Lizzy-Run-Up-the-Hedge, Robin-Run-in-the-Hedge, and Creeping Charlie.

It’s the time when some new plant species is making it’s first appearance of the year nearly every day. I won’t be able to keep up with a post a day or I’ll end up indoors all summer. Instead, I’ll make it a goal to post one wild plant each Wednesday. Many are primary food, some are medicinal plants, and others are simply integral to the overall ecosystem even if they are not primarily useful to humans. This could easily be a starting point for learning the common plants around your home and neighborhood. By the time the first frost hits at least 25 plants will have been presented. Taking the time once a week to go outside, identify, maybe gather a little and either prepare something using that week’s plant or even just drawing, pressing or studying the details (and learning some botanical terminology in the process) will serve as an enjoyable introduction to the science and art of wild-crafting.

Image

This is a Ground Ivy specimen I gathered this morning just outside my front door, where it forms a nice ground cover, along with Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis) and a little Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis), around the base of a Cherry tree. You can study it to learn some of the botanical terms used to describe this plant. Learning and applying these terms is a FAR more accurate way to identify a plant than looking a color photos or line drawings alone. The leaves of Ground Ivy are opposite and stalked and the plant root is perennial. The plant forms long, trailing, unbranched square stems (a trait of Mint, or Lamiaceae, family plants), which root at intervals and bear numerous, kidney-shaped leaves of dark green and are somewhat downy with regular rounded indentations on the margins. The flowers are purplish-blue and two lipped with small white spots on the lower lip blooming from April throughout the summer. It is a low-growing plant and you can get a sense of the scale in the photo above. (By the way, BOTANY IN A DAY by Thomas J. Elpel is a great place to begin learning hands on botany but most field guides provide definitions and line drawings of the basic terminology in the front and back cover pages.)

The scent of the plant is¬†balsamic and pleasant, the taste¬†bitter. Due to this bitterness, Ground Ivy is most often used as a¬†tincture, that is, extracted and preserved in alcohol. Historically, it was the principal plant used by early Saxons up until the time of Henry VIII to clarify beer before Hops was introduced according to¬†M. Grieve in¬†A MODERN HERBAL. It improved the flavor, keeping quality and clarity. Interestingly, the term “gill”, as in Gill-Over-the-Ground, comes from the French¬†guiller¬†meaning¬†to ferment.

The whole plant can be gathered in May when the flowers are at their peak and tinctured for use later. The plant’s actions are¬†diuretic, mildly astringent, tonic¬†and¬†gently stimulant.¬†M. Grieve says it is useful in kidney and digestive disorders, for coughs and nervous headaches. Useful in pulmonary complaints where a kidney tonic is called for. The expressed fresh juice is¬†diaphoretic, diuretic,¬†and¬†astringent.¬†Combined with Yarrow and Chamomile, she suggests using it as a¬†poultice for abscesses and tumors. It was traditionally used as a preventive and treatment for lead poisoning (“painter’s colic”) and herbalist David Winston has shared case studies that bear this use out. It has been used for hot, damp respiratory problems. That is, yellow, green or bloody mucous with fever. It increases bile secretions and, combined with Celery seed and Parsley leaf, is said to be effective for treating gouty arthritis.

I’ve eaten leaves of Ground Ivy and tried an infusion of the plant. They are not extremely unpleasant, but then I rather like bitter plants like Dandelion and Yellowdock. I will be gathering and tincturing some this year and experimenting with it a bit more. Only small doses are needed according to my research, in the range of 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. Even if you opt not to use the plant medicinally or in home-brewing, it’s nice to know some of the qualities and attributes of this lovely, little ground cover.

Image

Some early Ground Ivy creeping along the edge of one of our garden beds.

~Leenie

Words in BOLD are common botanical or herbal terms that it is best to learn and apply. You can look them up in any good herbal, field guide and botany text or use an online dictionary. The site below has a  free complete hyper-text version the classic, A MODERN HERBAL by Mrs. M Grieve, which is a wonderful reference even if it does reflect conventional wisdom of nearly 100 years ago. 

http://botanical.com/

It is my habit to confirm all information about a plant I plan to ingest or use on my own body with at least 3 different sources, not just 3 books by the same author. 

Leave a comment »

WILD & WEEDY “PESTO”

There are finally enough wild greens up around my home to start using them in the kitchen in earnest. After attending an American Herbalist Guild sponsored webinar given by herbalist David Winston (“The Worst Weeds Are Your Best Medicine”…loved it!), in which he praised Garlic Mustard pesto so thoroughly that my mouth was watering, I had to go see if I could find enough wild greens to make the season’s first batch of pesto. Although everything is relatively small, most of the plants popping up are mild and tasty. I’m still eating Dandelion raw, hand-to-mouth style. Another week of warm sunny days and I will need to get more creative or simply enjoy the bitter bite this wonderful liver tonic offers.

This “recipe” will be one I use over and over all summer into fall. It freezes well for use through the winter. I really don’t measure anything but I have given approximate measurements below. Pesto is traditionally made with only fresh Basil leaves, as Pistou is made with Parsley. ¬†Neither of these herbs is available to me yet as mine are all still in the tiny seedling stage in my greenhouse. Actually, I did throw in little bits of Parsley, Oregano, and Tarragon from leaves I pinched back off my seedlings but it probably didn’t total even 2 tablespoons among all the other wild greens. I’m sharing photos of some of the wild primary foods (a.k.a. “weeds”) that I gathered, so it forms a bit of an impromptu “Weed Walk” as well.

Image

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

This plant, like many of the others I use, could be said to put the “pest” is pesto since it is much maligned and hated as an invasive weed. I won’t go into that here but I will say that I purposely planted this “invasive” weed around our home nearly 20 years ago when we built. I planted it all around the woodland edges so that it could naturalize and, while it comes back, I generally only have enough to gather for a few salads and/or a few batches of pesto or other dishes such as quiches or green lasagna. I have also read that that it inhibits the growth of other plants around it. I can only ponder, then, one of its British common names, “Jack-by-the-Hedge,” as well as my own experience of a couple of decades where it seems to continue to grow well in mixed wild communities. (I note 5 different species of plant in the photo above.) I do USE Garlic Mustard frequently so perhaps this is part of the reason it has not proven to be a problem around our home? At any rate, this is the plant I gathered the largest quantity of for our pesto. According to ethno-botanist Ellen Zachos in¬†Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat,¬†“This plant is insanely nutritious, higher in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc than either spinach or kale. It’s also very high in calcium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.”

ImageImage

These are just two of the thriving mixed communities (also called “wild plant guilds” in permaculture circles) from spots where I originally planted and have gathered for decades. Along with the tender delicious bundles of Garlic Mustard in these two photos I can see Red Clover, Mullein, Ground Ivy, Sheep Sorrel, Cleavers and many seedlings too tiny to identify but I suspect are Lamb’s Quarters.

Image

Chickweed¬†(Stellaria media) peeking around the edges of¬†Lamb’s Ear¬†(Stachys byzantina).

I added the little bits of sweet, mild Chickweed that I could find to the pesto greens. Soon I will be able to gather it by the basket full and it will form the base of all our spring salads. It’s crunchy like Romaine and as sweet and mild as Iceberg…only way more nutritious and delicious.

Image

Dandelion (Taraxicum officinale) and Nettles (Urtica dioica)

I added a fair amount of both of these. I don’t use gloves to gather the (stinging) Nettles but I do take care and stay focused on my task as I pinch back individual leaves and bundles between my thumbnail and index finger. The stinging hairs are easy to spot and avoid so long as you don’t grab by the handful. In any event, I find the “sting” to be mild and fleeting. It is a tingly feeling like when your hand or foot falls asleep. It is gone, in my experience, in about 15-20 minutes with no lasting effects. If you are very bothered by the sting, I have effectively used crushed Jewelweed or Yellowdock leaves as a poultice to remove the sting immediately for others. Why bother with such a plant? It contains 35% of our daily need for vitamin A, 12% for magnesium, 8% of our iron needs, lots of B-vitamins and a whopping 42% of our daily calcium needs in a mere cup. Oh, and it tastes deliciously green. The stingers, by the way are deactivated when cooked, dried or pulverized (as they are for making pesto).

Now, on to the pesto making…

Image

These are the basic ingredients for my not-so-traditional pesto, which I will be making in endless variations all summer. I had about 2 quarts (8 cups) of mixed wild greens along with a little handful of cultivated herbs and greens thinnings from the greenhouse. I only had regular Olive oil on hand, which I use for soap-making, but I generally use extra virgin Olive oil (or EVOO) for pesto, salads, and cooking. I use up to 1 cup of this oil in a batch of pesto. About a half cup each of some sort of nut (Pecans were used in this batch.) and Parmesan cheese. I use whatever type of nut or seed I have and have used everything from pumpkin seeds to walnuts. A couple of cloves of Garlic, to taste.

Image

In the food processor I grind the nuts and Garlic cloves until they are just short of turning into nut butter.

Image

Now I give it a whirl with the addition of the Olive oil. Soupy nut butter!

Image

Then I feed in my washed greens while the food processor is running. I like pesto thick but you can make it as thick or thin as you like. What a verdant, lovely green celebration of spring in the kitchen!

Image

Parmesan cheese is the last thing to go in. I have used nutritional yeast in place of Parmesan for a vegan pesto as well.

Image

Finished Wild & Weedy Pesto!

Kids may like to lick the bowl after mixing up batter for cake but my husband has dibs on the pesto “snickies”. I hand him a couple of pieces of French bread, a pita or some crackers and the food processor container comes back clear. We had some of this batch as a sauce over cheese tortellini along with a salad and some chapati. (Ethnically, this meal was all over the place but gastronomically it was home-sweet-home!)

In a nutshell, that’s my pesto recipe. I do it over and over all summer with whatever herbs and wild greens are available. I often use up to half fresh basil along with wild greens for a slightly more traditional flavor but this recipe is open to endless variations. Use mostly Dill and tangy, lemony wild Sorrel for a perfect fish or poultry sauce. Or try a heavy hand with Tarragon and Marjoram for a French take on sauce. Some ways we enjoy pesto is simply spread on French bread, used in place of tomato based sauce on homemade pizza, as a pasta sauce, in lasagna, stirred into vegetable soup, thinned down for use as a salad dressing, in various cold salads like cous-cous, pasta, or tabouleh. It freezes and thaws beautifully. My kids grew up loving pesto and it was the main way they enjoyed greens. Even when they were not so fond of a plate of steamed kale or spinach, they would gobble this treat up with abandon.

Happy Spring! ~Leenie

3 Comments »