The following is a “guest” post from my hubby- the guy who really knows his plants around here. We recently thought we spotted elderberries at a friend’s house- but Tim’s discerning eye second guessed our initial identification. Read on to find out how to distinguish these two look-alike plants from each other.
Foraging for plants in your neighborhood. Fermentation and bubbling jars. Homemade concoctions and kitchen experiments. Community. Joy! Can the combination get any better?
I received a free copy of the Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
If you’ve been reading for the past few months, you may know that I was gradually working my way through the Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course from Herbal Academy. Today, I wanted to follow up on my previous posts and sum up my experience with the course.
My husband and I rarely see weeds as mere yard infestations. Usually he’s the one asking, “Can we eat it? Make something from it? Use it for some medicinal purpose?” It’s no different when dandelions begin popping up everywhere in the spring.
(By the way, the violets in this picture are edible too.)
Dandelions are one of the most common intruders creeping into yards everywhere. While many people spend time, work, and money trying to keep their lawns free of the brightly colored visitor, others spend just as much time and work (though rarely money) to find uses for the golden weed.
Dandelions have been used for human consumption in many different ways. Dandelion leaf salad, dandelion root tea, and dandelion wine are just a few examples to get you started. Today, I will share a recipe with you that my good friend Alexis taught me how to make: fried dandelion heads.
They taste very much like fried chicken cutlets- only the “meat” inside is free from your yard!
- About 2-3 C Dandelion heads
- White Vinegar (just a splash)
- Olive Oil as needed (try starting with about ¼ C)
- 1 Egg
- About 1 C Plain Bread Crumbs
- 1 Tbsp each Garlic, Italian Seasoning, & Parsely (or to taste)
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Unfortunately, the above amounts are just estimates. Depending on how many dandelion heads you have, you may need to alter this recipe accordingly. The nice part about breading & frying is that you can always add more oil to the pan or more bread crumbs & seasonings to the mix if you run out.
1) Collect and Wash Dandelion Heads! This is a great time to get your kids helping you. J loves it when I send him on flower-picking assignments.
* Make sure that you haven’t been spraying your yard with anything toxic if you’re out foraging for weeds!
Pick just under the bloom, where the head easily snaps off. Rinse them off well through a colander if you’re not into eating bugs.
2) Coat your dandelions. First, mix your dandelions with a splash of white vinegar. Next, set up your assembly line for coating. Beat egg into one container. Combine dry ingredients in another. It should look something like this:
3) Fry ‘em up! Carefully place the dandelion heads into the hot oil using tongs or some other such tool. (Or jump back as you drop them so you don’t get splattered.)
Turn them partway through frying to get both sides nice and golden brown. This step won’t take more than a couple of minutes if your oil is good and hot, so watch them carefully to avoid burning them.
You’ll most likely keep popping them til they’re gone. If by some chance you don’t finish them, it’s always fun to pack leftovers for lunch and relish in telling your co-workers you’re eating fried weeds. And besides, they’re yummy, I promise! Hope you give them a shot. 🙂
Spring Gives, We Forage
I have to be honest, I haven’t been thinking about the land since the fall. I have been so involved in other projects that I STILL have not given more than a fleeting thought to planning our garden.
But, no matter how negligent I may be, spring calls me now. It has wooed me back to the land, and I know now that the problem was truly me–not it.
I have foraging on the mind once again, though I feel a bit rusty after a winter in the damp, dark tool shed of my own isolation. Seeing green popping up and out all over has reminded me that I need to be present among these growing things, that I need to learn what they are, what they have to offer, and how our family can best use them.
Spring gives, we forage.
But, before we do, we recall three simple foraging rules: correct identification, minimal harvesting, and safe, legal picking.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) has done much to draw me out of my wintry malaise. When I first noticed it peeking out from beneath our slumping retaining wall, I suddenly felt the urge to tour our yard and greet all the new plants bursting up. We love this plant in our household–stings and all.
Identifying Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle is fairly distinctive. Like any plant it looks different at different times of the year. At certain points it may be easier to identify than others, but stinging nettle has three distinguishing attributes all year long that make it pretty easy to ID. There are a few other varieties of nettle that it can be confused with, but if you pay attention to the following features, you can be pretty confident of a correct identification.
First, the leaves. They are mostly oval or slightly heart-shaped and heavily toothed or serrated at the margins. They come to a point and are covered with fine barb-like hairs. The leaves are heavily veined and the undersides tend to have a purple hue between the veins.
Compare this leaf to some of the older leaves in this image from the USDA, which are more distinctly heart shaped:
Next, the stem. The stem of a stinging nettle, just like the leaves, is covered in small, barb-like, stinging thorns or hairs. And the leaves attach to the stem opposite one another.
Finally, the sting. If you touch a plant that looks like nettle and gives you a noticeable sting, it is probably stinging nettle. The sting is not excruciating, but it is real, and the pain from it does hang on for some time–from a few minutes to hours. The small hollow hairs contain the chemicals that cause the sting, so to avoid the sting, avoid breaking them–handle with care. A UK chemistry teacher writing at the blog Compound Interest has done a great job explaining some of the chemistry behind nettle’s sting. Check it out for more info. (Note also that the sting is removed during cooking.)
Of course there are other things to pay attention to if you want to be absolutely sure of your identification of stinging nettle, but out of the many plants you can forage, stinging nettle is pretty distinctive because of the thorny, hairy, toothed stinging leaves. For help distinguishing it from the other nettle lookalikes, I heartily recommend this article at Identifythatplant.com.
Stinging nettle lives up to its name, so if you want to avoid the sting, either:
- Wear decently thick gloves, or
- Carefully fold and grab the leaves while pulling toward the leaf tip. The goal here is to avoid breaking the hollow barbs off in your skin–that’s when you get stung. Here is a video demonstrating this technique:
With both of these techniques, you can–and perhaps should–use scissors or some other suitable cutting tool, though you may gently pinch the leaves off as well.
Following the simple foraging rules, remember to be sure that it is free to harvest. Are there critters living in it? Is it on your grouchy neighbor’s property? And be sure to harvest no more than 1/3 of the plant. Leave some for it to thrive and propagate.
The young smaller leaves, which emerge from the very apex of the stems, are usually the most tender and palatable. Choose those over the older ones, unless you don’t mind a more robust experience. Don’t harvest the stems. It’s not that they will poison you, they are just not very palatable. The stems are apparently useful for making rope because the fibers are so strong. If you’re interested in doing that, have at it.
The best time to harvest it for eating is now–in the early spring when they first start to emerge, and especially before they flower. Some believe that after nettles have flowered, consuming them in great amounts can lead to kidney stones. Which is ironic because they are also used as a prevention against kidney stones… But, to be safe, if you mean to eat it or drink a tea made from it, harvest nettle before it flowers.
In case you are wondering, it looks like this when it flowers:
Since nettles are best in the spring, you’ll want to preserve some to enjoy year round. Nettles can be preserved by:
- Dehydration: We simply dry nettle in our food dehydrator, but any other method for drying herbs will work.
- Freezing: Blanch and freeze whole nettle leaves in freezer bags. Alternatively, you can freeze nettle pesto in an ice cube tray, or nettle soup in glass containers.
Uses and Recipes
You may be wondering about the sting. Why would you want to consume something that leaves you tingling? Surely that must be unpleasant. Be assured that cooking removes the chemical compound that causes the sting, and nettle leaves are perfectly safe to consume once prepared.
Nettle is highly nutritious and can be enjoyed as a fresh or dried tea, a pesto star, in a vinegar, or even as medicine. Give it a try! Here are some recipes & resources to get you started:
- Stinging Nettle and Sharp Cheddar Omelet (Nourished Kitchen)
- Stinging Nettle Chips (Learning and Yearning)
- How to Make Nettle Pesto (Marblemount Homestead)
- Nourishing Nettle Soup ( The Nourishing Gourmet)
- Stinging Nettle: Weekly Weeder– includes a recipe for nettle used as a rennet substitute. (Common Sense Homesteading)
- Making & Using Nettle Powder for Nutrition & Health (Healing Harvest Homestead)
- How to Use Nettle for Seasonal Allergies (Schneider Peeps)
- Herbal Teas You Can Grow or Forage Yourself (They’re Not Our Goats)
- DIY Detox Herbal Infusion (Untrained Housewife)
- Stinging Nettle Recipes for Spring Eating (Herbal Academy)
- 12 Nettle Recipes to Add to Your Cookbook (Herbal Academy)
- 17 Uses for Wild Greens (They’re Not Our Goats)
Have you harvested stinging nettle? How do you like to use it? Leave us a comment and let us know!
To me, herbal homebrewing conjures up images of a hipster with a man bun tinkering away in his home kitchen laboratory. He sniffs at delicate green herbs and tastes worts with care and refinement. He pours carefully from carboy to bottle, and shares generously with his skinny jean wearing friends.
Happily, brewing herbal ale is for anyone who is interested in reaping the benefits of plants in their beverages. You don’t have to be a hipster, a drunkard, or a pinky-in-the-air connoisseur to learn the craft. (Dear hipster friends, I love you and I’m not really making fun of you!) Though I warn you, you just might develop a kitchen laboratory by the time you’re done. 😉
This post contains affiliate links. I received a free copy of the Herbal Academy’s Herbal Fermentation Course in exchange for my honest review.
One stereotype that homebrewing usually isn’t associated with is the alcohol-obsessed, “give-me-more-beer,” drunken and foolish brand that we are all too familiar with. Generally speaking, the people you find foraging for edible weeds and thoughtfully crafting them into a fermented beverage are not the same people looking for Bud Light and hot girls at a party. In fact, most folks who are specifically interested in herbal homebrewing are interested in the nutritional and medicinal properties of the drink.
Most of us recognize that many herbs are wonderfully beneficial ingredients in home cooking and home remedies. According to the Herbal Academy Herbal Fermentation Course, fermenting herbs also means making them more bio-available to your body. So quite literally, creating an herbal ale means creating a powerhouse for nutrition and health.
Foraging has become one of my passions over the last several years. Although I still consider myself a novice, I get quite the thrill out of hunting for wild food. Fermenting has also become a favorite pastime– so the idea of putting the two of them together? It’s almost more excitement than this 30-something mama can take at one time. 😉
Note: The Herbal Academy prefers to use the term beer instead of ale. The course instructor feels that “ale” has nose-in-the-air connotations, but beer, by contrast, speaks of community and every-day accessibility. I’m using the term “ale” in this post because that’s what it technically is called when brewing with herbs, but I’m all for community too.
So here I am, experimenting with adventures in herbal home brewing. I want to share the basic process with you, but please know that I’m new at this, and I’m learning right along with you.
- Find tasty, edible herbs or plants. You can purchase bulk herbs online, or you can hunt for them yourself in the wild. Just be sure to know your plants and follow basic foraging safety and ethics. A quality guide to wild edibles is a must when you are learning to identify plants.
- Make an herbal tea. This can be done via an infusion (pouring boiling water over the herbs and letting them steep) or a decoction (simmering the herbs in water for a longer period of time). The method depends on which herb you have chosen. The tea should be made in a non-reactive container. I’m using (you guessed it!) two half-gallon mason jars.
- Add sugar. You need about a pound of sugar to make a gallon of ale. (Don’t worry, all that sugar will be eaten up during fermentation.) The type of sugar you use will affect the end flavor of the ale. Generally, you can use malt extract, brown sugar, white sugar and 2 tablespoons molasses, honey, maple syrup, or straight molasses.
- Add the yeast. Different yeasts will behave differently, so it’s a good idea to read the instructions on the package!
- Install an airlock and let it ferment. I use Fermentools airlocks– and I love them because they work with mason jars! Alternatively, you can opt for a traditional fermenting vessel and accompanying airlock. Your ale should ferment until it stops bubbling and the ale is clear- and maybe a few days past that. (Make sure the fermentation is complete so you don’t create a potential explosive inside the bottle later on!)
- Bottle the ale & perform a second ferment. Using clean bottles, put 1/2 tsp of sugar in the bottom of each 12 oz bottle to start a second ferment. Pour in the ale through a funnel and cap the bottles.
- Let the second ferment complete & monitor bottles. Let the ale sit at room temperature in the bottles for another week or two to create carbonation. During this time, watch to make sure there is no increasing air space in the bottle. If you see this, it’s an indication of increasing pressure, and you may have a potential bomb on your hands! However, this can be avoided by making sure the first fermentation was complete before bottling.
- Enjoy! Move to the fridge, and/or keep in cool storage for up to year. If you keep your ale at room temperature, do so in a sheltered location to avoid the possibility of a a sudden temperature change that could re-introduce the danger of explosion.
For full instructions, helpful videos, answers to FAQs and a more experienced teacher than me, consider purchasing the Herbal Fermentation Course from Herbal Academy! You’ll also get units on herbal mead, herbal kombucha and water kefir, and lacto-fermentation of fruits and vegetables- starring herbs, of course! I am having an absolute blast with the course and recommend it to anyone interesting in playing with herbalism and fermentation.
I’ll be sure to come back and update/write more posts as I learn more! Stay tuned. 🙂
Last month, I was enjoying our family reunion in Vermont. Clear skies, clean highways, miles of wildflowers and green mountains, and (atypical for this Pennsylvania girl) not a billboard in sight. I loved it.
Along with picturesque scenery and extra free time came foraging. It seemed like everywhere I looked there was a wild edible or medicinal. Even my nephew and son were delighting in how much wood sorrel there was in the yard by our rental.
“You guys know a lot about this stuff,” marveled Uncle V. “That’s cool, man,” he said with a nod.
In reality, as we assured our uncle, we still have a lot to learn. While I frequently make use of friendly neighborhood weeds in homemade medicines, teas, and meals, we still are amateur foragers at best.
If you, like us, find yourself wishing you knew more about foraging, take heart. You can still enjoy feasting upon even the most mundane of wild-harvested oddities (i.e., dandelion greens) while you learn how to improve your foraging skills safely and sustainably. Here are some basic rules of foraging to abide by.
1)Know thy plants. Buy a guide to wild edibles. Ask the great Google for plant descriptions and photos. Learn about poisonous lookalikes and companion plants. Pay attention to details of leaf shape, seasonal changes and growth, fruit arrangements, etc. Know when you can eat a plant, what parts of the plant you can eat, and how it is best consumed.
If you aren’t 100%, double checked, absolutely sure what a plant is and how to use it, don’t pick it. An innocent misidentification could lead to topical rashes, stomach upset, nasty side effects, or even death.
Now that I’ve scared you, you should know that foraging is generally quite safe as long as you’re well-researched and sensible. Just don’t start sticking everything in your mouth at once, okay?
2) Pick only what you need. If you pick all of the plant in one go, it won’t have a chance to come back the following year.A general rule of thumb is to harvest no more than 10% of the total plants available, and no more than 25% of any one individual plant. For example, let’s say there are 100 nettle plants in my goat field– I should only harvest about a quarter of the leaves of each individual plant, and make sure that I don’t take more than about 10 plants in total.
If there’s only one or two plants in the area, then it’s better not to pick at all. If you leave them to their own devices, hopefully there will be more the following year to return to and enjoy more fully for years to come.
And of course, take only what you need. You want to leave the plants there to help promote a thriving ecosystem. Remember that it’s not just you that enjoys eating plants!
3) Pick in legal and safe locations. If you suspect that the wild apple tree on the side of the road is on private property, do be sure to ask permission from the property owners before claiming a bushel. Also, double check with the rules of your local parks before making off with an abundance of a precious resource that is actually protected for ecological reasons.
And of course, avoid areas where pesticides, roadside fumes, or toxic run-off could be compromising your plants.
While these guidelines may seem like no-brainers, it’s easy for a newbie forager to become overzealous and forget to use common sense. Remember these simple rules as you traipse about searching for wild edibles, and you will ensure a safe and principled foraging expedition.
I love, love, love foraging for wild greens from spring til fall. It makes my heart so happy to hunt for backyard edibles, then use them in delicious recipes that unknowing tasters think are delicious. It’s like fermentation or bread baking for me— I get on a foraging kick and just can’t stop!
My yard is currently a feast of dandelions. (One of my favorite early edibles!) Dandelions + egg surplus+ a foraging mama/daughter team= dandelion quiche, of course.
Little V and I set on a trek about the yard and gathered up many dandelion heads for dinner. We also gathered up a small assortment of violet greens, plantain leaves, chives, and hosta leaves to fill out our bowl. (These additions are totally optional.) After collecting a packed cup full of foraged goodies, my two- year old took the opportunity to use the colander properly:
It makes a very fashionable hat, don’t you think?
A note on foraging: Make sure you only take what you need, get permission if you’re on someone else’s property, and be sure that no pesticides/weed killers/etc. have been sprayed in the area you are collecting from. And ALWAYS make sure you’ve properly identified a plant before eating it. (Thankfully, dandelions are pretty easy! 😉 ) Here’s a great article on foraging ethics that you should definitely read if you’re new to foraging.
On to the quiche! Here’s what you need:
- Single pie crust (You can try my lovely lard pie crust– make half now and freeze the other half for later use. Or use your own favorite recipe!)
- Bacon grease or butter
- 1 green onion, chopped
- 1 C packed dandelions and additional greens (optional), chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt & pepper
- 8 eggs, beated
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cup shredded cheese- i used half mozzerella, half cheddar
Gather up dandelions! I took just the heads for this recipe, though you are welcome to use the greens if you feel so led. Just be forewarned that they can be quite bitter later in the season. Wash ’em up and prepare all your ingredients.
Make your crust recipe of choice. Roll it out, lay it in a 9″ pie pan, poke a couple holes in it with a fork, and bake it at 425 for about 6 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat bacon grease or butter in a skillet. Add green onion, dandelions, garlic, and salt and pepper. Cook for just a couple minutes, or until greens are wilted.
Beat eggs, milk, and additional salt together in a large bowl. Stir in cheeses and dandelion mixture.
Pour egg mixture into hot pie crust. Lower the oven temperature to 400 and bake for about 30 minutes, or until set. A sharp knife inserted into the center of the quiche should come out clean.
My kids were suspicious of this quiche at first, but both ate healthy servings, my son exclaiming all the while that it was “really good!” My husband ate nearly a whole piece before knowing what was in it- though he enjoys foraged food just as much as I do.
If you make it, let me know how you like it!
For other delicious ideas, try these posts:
I had the privilege of joining Susan of Learning and Yearning (local master gardener and author of The Art of Gardening) on a real-life foraging expedition last week. I got to learn about some new area plants and their uses during the hour and a half expedition. How fun!
One of the things I love about foraging is that it really makes you look at things. You notice little details about a plant: the shape of the leaves and the pattern of their veins. Are they compound or simple? How do they come out from the stem or plant?
You begin to see the differences in how the fruits are arranged- are they scattered throughout the bush, or do they hang in clusters?
You get to know flowers- petal shapes and patterns, the way the stamen lie, when they are opening and when they are dying.
Once you begin to confidently identify a plant, you start to notice it everywhere. That mullein you just saw on the trail? It’s now repeating everywhere along the highway sides. It pops up during your family evening walks. (You might even start seeing it in your dreams.) You can’t get rid of it!
You begin to take note of the changing of the seasons more. You know when it’s too late to harvest nettle, but also when it’s the perfect time to keep your eyes out for wild grapes. Violet harvesting time is only around for a week or two in the spring, but you have to wait til late fall to dig up sunchoke roots. (Which I’ve never yet had success with, by the way.) And you begin to notice the habits of other plants too- besides just the edibles!
Foraging is great for food. It’s wonderful to obtain fresh, varied nutrition through local plants free for the taking. But more than that, it opens your eyes to the beauty in the world around you. There is a rhythm to nature’s cycles, and foraging helps you to take part in it. You get to partake of God’s good gifts- and you get to see how many there really are!
Open your eyes. Look around you. What do you see today?
When I first took interest in foraging, I would just sit and nibble little bits of dandelion leaves or wood sorrel in the yard. I didn’t really know where to go from there. How to cook wild greens or pair flavors with other ingredients still remained mysteries to me. But I didn’t want to merely remain a rabbit forever.
While I am certainly no expert in this field, I have begun collecting and trying different recipes for wild greens (among other foraged goods). Without further ado, I present to you:
Seventeen ways to use wild greens!
- Add them to soup as a green, or turn them into the main ingredient for soups. French-style sorrel soup is a popular forager’s option (from Hank Shaw), and Susan of Learning and Yearning suggested making wild greens the star of your favorite cream soup recipe (instead of boring old broccoli. 🙂 ).
- Make them a pizza topping. Why not?
- Add them to your egg dishes.
- Make them the green part in your green smoothies.
- Add them to salad, or make them the main ingredient in a salad. (Try this milkweed and radish salad from One Acre Farm for starters.)
- Put them on a sandwich (like my garden sausage sandwich), wrap, or burger.
- Roast them. (Try roasted wild mustard buds from Little Fall Creek!)
- Make them into pesto. I’ve heard of both dandelion pesto (Learning and Yearning) and nettle leaf pesto (my sister-in-law’s sister’s idea).
- Pickle them, like these pickled wild onions in honey-rosemary brine featured on The 104 Homestead. (Doesn’t that sound exotic?)
- Saute them as a side dish- this pairing of greens, salmon, and sweet potato sounds delicious and different (Letters from Sunnybrook), or perhaps this mix of wild mustard greens, dock, and onions? (Little Fall Creek.)
- Try adding them to polenta. (Little Fall Creek.)
- Turn them into sauces and seasonings, such as sorrel sauce from Mother Earth News. (My brother-in-law also enjoys using sorrel as a garnish/edible bed for fish, in lieu of lemons!)
- Use them as a dolma wrapping- Hank Shaw uses mallow leaves for this, and Botanical Arts Press has a bunch of ideas for stuffing wild grape leaves.
- Substitute them for spinach, like in this recipe from Herbal Academy of New England.
- Make them into vinegar, dressings, and marinades. (Herbal Academy.)
- Drink them like a coffee or as a tea. (Also from Herbal Academy.) We love drying plantain and stinging nettle for tea leaves alongside our more common herbal teas. Seriously.
- Use them for skin care remedies. (Have I mentioned how much I’ve been digging Herbal Academy?)
Always remember to check and double check your wild plant identification before you eat it. This blog post isn’t meant to be a complete field guide to identification. Once you know what you’re looking at, gathering from your yard isn’t so scary- but make sure you do your research first just to be safe. 🙂
I hope this list has inspired you to try something new. We just gave the dandelion pesto a whirl last week! Go get picking and cooking, and let me know what you come up with. 🙂
This post was linked up at The Homestead Blog Hop.
Well, it’s late April- and it’s snowing here as I type this. Sigh. But I’m not complaining. No, I’m not. Because soon I’ll be a largely pregnant woman
roasting glorying in the heat of the summer sun. 😉
This week, we finally have enough green in our yard that I’ve been able to really start foraging spring greens! I’ve been so excited that I find I’m looking for excuses to go out snipping dandelion greens, nettle, chives, and plantain. Delicious!
Easiest Homemade Yogurt- A yogurt that cultures at room temperature with no extra steps? Now I have no excuse not to make my own yogurt, ever. Thanks, Make It Grow It, for this genius method!
Solar Cooking 101– How cool is this? Trayer Wilderness has a bunch of ideas and recipes for how to cook food in a solar oven. I’ve seen kids making mini-solar ovens out of pizza boxes for a science project- and guess what? Adults can too. Here’s instructions for making your own inexpensive backyard solar oven.
Gardening with Kids– I LOVED this post from Turner Farm Living. J has always enjoyed helping out in the garden, and he’s working on his own little plot this year. I really resonated with a lot of the principles in this post.
Ultimate Homemaking Bundle: I bought the Ultimate DIY Bundle last month, and it is great! This month, the folks at Ultimate Bundles have another fantastic, fast-moving deal: For only two more days, you can get a whopping 99 e-books, e-courses, and bonus offers for only $29.97. One of the courses, A Parent’s Guide to Natural Remedies, is worth $99 alone! I’m still working my way through all the awesome resources in the DIY Bundle, but if you are remotely interested in improving in homemaking areas like cleaning, DIY, faith, finances, cooking, homeschooling, marriage, organizing, mothering, working from home, self-care… you name it- this bundle has something in it for you. Snag yours before 11:59 on Monday, April 27th.
The Essential Oils Revolution– I’ve used essential oils on and off for years now, but I’ve recently developed renewed interest in learning how to best make use of what I have. This event, much like the Homegrown Food Summit, is a free online educational event discussing various aspects of essential oil safety, information, and health-care. Sign up to register and attend from May 11-18.