Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Herb Lore

Alternate title: Suburban Sage, or Druid with a Driveway

Last year, I made a resolution to forage for at least one comestible item per week, during the appropriate seasons, that is.
Last year, I made a resolution to, when possible, forage for a least one comestible item a week. I kicked off the spring foraging season by harvesting some stinging nettles (wearing heavy gloves), common plants which are covered in stinging hairs, which inject a cocktail of pain-inducing chemicals such as formic acid and histamines into the skin when brought into contact. Nettles have traditionally had a medicinal use (arthritis sufferers sometimes use nettles for their condition). Urtica ferox, the tree nettle of New Zealand has apparently killed at least one person. When boiled, though, young specimens of the common North American stinging nettles can be quite tasty (they have a pretty intense herbal flavor), and make a decent substitute for, or an addition to, spinach. I have used them in omelets, added them to spanakopita, and have cooked them with beans (in the same fashion that I'd use escarole). Harvested with care, and boiled well, nettles make a great, free addition to one's springtime culinary repertoire.

I was also able to gather Japanese knotweed, a pernicious invasive weed in the NY Metro Area, is also edible when harvested young. The plant looks like the offspring of an unholy union between bamboo and asparagus, and is distantly related to buckwheat, rhubarb, and sorrel. Peeled, the stalks of young knotweed have a pleasantly sour flavor... once again, Steve Brill is the go-to guy for knotweed facts and recipes. One caveat, though, is that knotweed, being a pest, is often sprayed with herbicide, so caution must be exercised in finding patches that are not periodically sprayed. Of course, the weed being edible, the promotion of knotweed consumption should be a goal of all local Parks, Reacreation, and Conservation Departments.

Nettles and knotweed would be a good name for an RPG in which players take on the roles of herbalists or horticulturists.

In the early summer, I found mulberries in profusion in my neighborhood. In the course of a stroll along the local multi-use path, I scarfed down so many mulberries that my hand appeared as though I'd proxy-voted for a small Iraqi village. I also had the great good fortune to find wild raspberries in abundance, so there was always some free fresh fruit to be had.

Now in midsummer, Lamb's quarters plants grow in profusion in my neighborhood, and they are comparable in taste to Swiss chard (I merely parboiled some cuttings, then sauteed them with garlic and bacon). I have also located an abundance of purslane, which I tend to consume raw, without accompaniment- it has a succulent texture, and a pleasantly sour flavor. Known as verdolagas in Spanish, purslane is prized in Mexican cuisine, often stewed with pork. Cooked, purslane has a texture much like green beans, but I usually can't prevent myself from scarfing down the purslane as soon as I wash it. Here's a link to a site with a vegetarian verdolagas recipe, with the added bonus of a song about la verdolaga.

Surprisingly, the common thistles in my region of the country are edible, with a taste comparable to their domesticated relatives
artichokes and cardoons.

Wild grapes also grow in abundance, while it's too early for their pea-sized fruits (sweet, but each bearing two seeds), their leaves may be
stuffed to wonderful effect.

The fuzzy red fruits of the staghorn sumac are also coming in this time of year, and can be soaked in water to make an excellent substitute for lemonade. The sumac "berries" are also dried, and powdered, and used as a spice in several cuisines.

No comments:

Post a Comment