Have you ever had a hunk of good sourdough bread with a slab of cheese, some real saurkraut, pickles and washed it all down with some homemade beer? These are just a few of the foods which have historically been fermented. These days, just about the only food Americans typically eat live bacteria in is yogurt. A sad testament to our industrialized food system, which prizes antibacterialism. Good bacteria are not only good for us, but necessary for life on earth.
Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation bubbles over with delicious history and recipes for wild fermentation. Wild fermentation is the process of encouraging wild bacteria, yeasts and fungi, already present on our foods, to transform our foods into something more digestible and nutritious for our bodies. Let alone the fact that cultures around the world have used fermentation for thousands of years to perserve food, without the use of refrigeration. The jist of fermentation is that it predigests the food, making many minerals and some vitamins more bioavailable. It also decreases many of the natural toxins found in food and is therapeutic to both our immune systems and digestive tracts. This subject is a bit hard for most people to wrap their heads around. Click here to listen to an interview with Sandor, which will give you an idea of what this dwindling food preservation technique is all about.
I have been experimenting with fermentation for a short while. One of my favorites is fermenting wild grape leaves to roll my own dolmas/stuffed grape leaves. With an abundance of curly dock (Rumex crispus) leaves popping up in my yard this year, I thought they might make for an interesting leaf fermentation. I have not tasted this recipe yet, but this gives you a general idea and starting point to begin your own fermentation experiments.
Fermented Curly Dock Leaves
2 large handfuls of young curly dock leaves
1 T salt
1 clean quart-sized mason jar
Wash your curly dock leaves well. Take a clean quart-sized canning jar and place rolled leaves into jar. Add salt to roughly 3 cups of water and pour over curly dock leaves, leaving at least 1 inch of headspace in the jar. Push leaves down to the bottom of the jar, and if they float to the top you will need to weight them down. I have done so here in the photo using a seashell. All leaves need to be submerged below liquids, otherwise mold will form! Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days, then transfer to cold storage (refrigerator or root cellar).
The other day I picked up a hitchhiker. As I was pulling out of his driveway a plant caught the corner of my eye. I jumped out and saw the sweetest little plant, one I’d only seen in books before, called miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). This little gem is delicate, light and delicious. Its cup shaped, or saucer-like leaf shape with the flower stalk pushing right up through the middle, is a very unique characteristic. Leaves and stems are edible, and easy to harvest with a pair of scissors. Although it can be cooked any way you might use spinach, it doesn’t seem right to me to cook this one. This is a plant that’s meant to shove as much as you possibly can into your mouth and enjoy its raw goodness. Thanks to Hat John for letting me come back and mine his miner’s patch.
Above is acorn hummus on blue corn chips with miner’s lettuce leaf garnish. I have also been enjoying piling up the greens on tuna melts, in salads and in raw greens drinks. Below is the recipe for the acorn hummus. The acorns are used in place of the garbanzos/chickpeas usually found in this popular dip.
1 c wet acorns
1/4 c olive oil
1 c tahini
3 pitted dates
2 cloves garlic
juice from 1/2 of a medium-sized lemon
Use processed acorns (tannins removed) that are wet. This means they have been rehydrated or boiled. Place one cup into blender, along with olive oil, tahini, dates, garlic, lemon juice and salt. Enjoy on sandwhiches, as a vegetable dip, with chips or any other way you might eat hummus. Get dippy!
I had a divine aromatherapy session yesterday. The Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) is in bloom, and it not only smells divine, but tastes it as well. Wisteria flowers are a new food for me, and although it’s not really ‘wild’ per se, it is still a fun food source that doesn’t get utilized very much. All other parts of the plant are toxic, so be sure to let children know this if you begin harvesting the flowers.
The photo above was taken by Topanga Home Grown. The large vine growing on their west side and up the Pine Tree Circle building, as well as the one on the back of the feed shop, are both wisteria. If you have a favorite cheesecake recipe, use that one and simply add a few cups of flowers to your mix, along with some for a garnish. I also enhanced the purplish coloring of the cheesecake by adding some blueberry extract/coloring. This recipe was adapted from the back of a Knox Gelatine box.
2 c wisteria flowers
2 8-oz packages cream cheese
1 t vanilla extract
1 T blueberry extract/coloring
1/2 c sugar
1 c boiling water
1 envelope gelatine
1 graham cracker crust
Put 1 cup water on stove to boil. In large bowl beat cream cheese, wisteria flowers, vanilla extract and blueberry coloring. In small bowl mix gelatine powder and sugar, adding boiling water and stirring until dissolved. Slowly pour and beat the gelatine mixture into the cream cheese mixture. Pour into graham cracker crust and let set/cool in refrigerator until firm. Garnish with wisteria flowers and enjoy!
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) is back in full force. Although not an edible, this Mint Gone Wild is a good medicinal. It is easily recognizable by its greyish green leaves and woolly whitish square stems. This is a very bitter herb, which is commonly used in cough remedies. When gathering plants you always want to harvest the part of the plant where the energy is. Right now there are many spring greens/leaves that are going through an explosion of growth. The nutrients and life force will follow that energy, so this is the time to harvest the young horehound.
One of my favorite herbal medicine books is Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs, by Gail Faith Edwards. This horehound candy recipe comes from Gail’s book. She calls for an infusion of horehound, which is really a strong tea allowed to soak for several hours. This process makes more of the plant essence, and its nutrients available to our bodies. Click here to read Susan Weed’s, another amazing herbalist, directions on making an herbal infusion. To wrap my candies I used a recycled, unbleached, biodegradable parchment paper. Click here to familiarize yourself with the If You Care brand, widely found at coops and grocery stores throughout America.
1/2 c horehound infusion
1 c honey
1 c brown sugar
1 T butter
Prepare your infusion. Put 1/2 cup infusion, honey, brown sugar and butter over heat. Stir constantly. When you drop a bit of the syrup into a glass of cold water and forms a soft ball, then remove from the heat. Pour out onto a pan or something else where it can cool enough to work with. Roll into balls and wrap in parchment paper. Store in glass jar in a cool place and start taking them when you begin to get a cold.
Last year I filmed, edited and produced a 28 minute documentary about the experiences of seven of us who ate foods grown within 250 miles of where we lived for one year. It was aired on Lakeland Public Television in the fall of 2006, and will be shown at the Northern Lights Independent and Indigenous Film Festival in April of 2007. I had never used a camcorder before doing this film, and taught myself Final Cut Pro for editing.
Video takes 3-5 minutes to load using a DSL connection, so be patient.
The resounding feedback from others is that this documentary brings eating locally down to the personal level. Many of us are familiar with the stats on eating locally, but here you get to see people going to work, feeding their families, and the day to day experiences of living a lifestyle eating local foods. Communities in Ashland, WI and Sandpoint, ID are already planning their own Local Food Challenge for this coming fall.
Please leave a comment about the film.
Ok, so both are edible…but this is about wild food plants!
I believe the little guy is a Pacific Tree Frog. You can visit Frogweb to get more information on the over 60% of amphibians who now exhibit malformations due to environmental toxins, and other reasons. Along with many other plant and animal species, they need our help in access to a clean place to live. From about 4 o’clock in the afternoon until mid-morning the frogs are singing away down in the creek at my place (view from my deck below). This post is really a tribute to the frogs. We need rain here, so keep singing guys!
Wild mints can be used in tea, herbed butter, tabouli, and more. For me, you can never have enough fresh herbs. Keep an eye out for the square stem, opposite leaves and a minty smell when you crush the leaves. There are many large stands of mint gone wild here in Topanga Canyon.
Eat Watercress and Get Wit. You might get wet harvesting watercress (Nasturtium officinale), but this Greek proverb is talking about something to give you a bit of snap in your thinking. Here’s a plant, when compared weight for weight, has more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges and more calcium than milk. Although the full study is not yet available free of charge, click here to read about the recently published (Feb 2007) study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showing regular intake of watercress significantly decreases DNA damage and significantly increases antioxidant levels in the blood. Don’t get hung up on the labels though, it’s just good food that’s good for you!
I came across this amazing stand of watercress recently. It is just starting to flower here in Topanga Canyon and was the theme of the meal I made below. Watercress soup, watercress salad and watercress herbed butter made for a delicous meal with family and friends. Click here to visit a fun British watercress website. There are lots of recipes, information on their May 13th Watercress Festival, nutrition information, and more. Although they highlight cultivated watercress, it’s still good to get an idea of this plants history with humans and ways you can use it in your life.
The waters of the earth have become very polluted. Be sure to be responsible when harvesting, both in the amount you take and that you harvest food for your body from a clean area. For this meal I wasn’t concerned with the watercress in the soup because it was thoroughly cooked, but I was worried about eating it raw. I thoroughly washed the watercress I would eat raw and placed it into a pot of cold water with grapefruit seed extract to soak for 30 minutes.
Mmmm, nettle soup is always a spring treat! Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) are well-known because of their exceptionally high amount of protein, which isn’t typically found in green leafy vegetables. They truly are a nutritive food, loaded with many other vitamins and minerals, and a delicious wild green to wake your body up after the lethargy of winter. Click here to read a study done in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, which found the leaves to have omega-3 fatty acids and carotenoids.
Anytime a plant has stinging as part of its name, one starts to wonder if this is a desperate attempt of a wild food enthusiast to get you to eat something you really shouldn’t be. Although tiny hairs on the plant do contain histamines and formic acid, they don’t pose any threat after being cooked or dried. Click here to read a nice write-up on Wildman Steve Brill’s website. He has many photos of nettle, along with look-alike plants, nutritional info and tips for harvesting.
The above photo was taken at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Coleman Family Farms have been selling amazing organic greens at their stand, and wild stinging nettles from their farm are one of them. There are two other vendors who also sell nettles on occasion. Southland Farmers’ Market Association has a fabulous website, which can help you locate a Farmers Market in Southern California near you. Click here to visit their site.
Nettles, stems removed
Use gloves to wash and clean your nettles, removing any tough stems. Boil a very small amount of water in the bottom of a pot and place nettles (adding extra spinach is also nice) in boiling water with lid for roughly 5 minutes. Add cream, fresh grated nutmeg and black pepper to taste. Use hand blender, or place soup into upright blender, to puree. Top with a swirl of cream and enjoy!
The Spring Equinox is already next week! This is the time of equal parts day and night. A time of balance and the reawakening energies of springtime. Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth highlights many of the climactic issues we are facing, regardless of whatever race, religion, or political party of which we may be a part. Gore is heading to Congress on March 21st to generate the political will we need, and to demand that Congress make those far-reaching changes to protect Mother Earth. There are nearly 300,000 people who want Al Gore to bring their voices to Congress. Click here to fill in a brief form, this will take you one minute, which Gore will bring to your representative about this issue.
On the morning of the 21st there will also be a solar synchronized 24-hour global equinox celebration. The Mayans consider spring equinox to be New Year and the first time you greet the sun in the New Year is a special occasion. Aluna Joy Yaxk’in and Center of the Sun are organizing the event, click here to learn more.
Imagine a world where people aren’t fighting invasive plants with herbicides, but rather eating those plants to improve their health and the health of Mother Earth. Peter Becker of Wiesbaden, Germany is passionate about bringing that vision to reality. He is the founder of NewTritionInk and Knotty Foods. After disgust that Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) was being so heavily doused with herbicides, he created a beautiful business plan to market food products made with this delicious wild food plant (his relish is pictured above). Although he doesn’t want to see the plant eradicated, he does plan to use profits from his Knotty Foods products to fund the removal of this invasive in Nature Reserves and Parks, where it crowds out native species.
Peter’s Bionic Knotweed Control Project has been declared a 3-year pilot project by the city authorities in Wiesbaden, as well as the Hessian State Department. He works to educate his community about controlling the plant through eating it, working with local school systems, health food stores, restaurants and recently set up a footpath where 100 wild food plants are identified. Peter hopes to take this model to the over 20 countries that aggressively spray herbicides on the plant. Hundreds of thousands of tons of Japanese Knotweed could be harvested in those countries and Peter says, “We are weakening our economies by wasting these local resources.”
The photo above shows Peter at last years Japanese Knotweed harvest. When I asked Peter why he has chosen this path he said, “In part to furnish my chemical evolution. If we are what we eat, why not become what we could be.” He shares this evolution into the future of food with his wife and two children, and feels good to set an example for his children by doing what he loves. “Your work is not just making rent, but your lever to change the world.”
Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) was introduced in the US in the late 1800’s as an ornamental. It is now found in almost every state, but is mainly concentrated on the east coast. It has the highest natural concentration of the antioxidant resveratrol. Peter semi-cultivates his plants by removing its young leaves and thereby causing the plant to produce more resveratrol. It has been touted as an anti-cancer, anti-cholesterol, weight-controlling, blood pressure and blood sugar-normalizing agent that extends life. Consider marketing wild food products made from invasive plants in your area. Click here to visit the US Small Business Administration, which offers programs, services and advice for starting your own small business.
Photos courtesty Peter Becker.