Eclectic Edibles

Fireweed

We have entered the season of plenty.  So much to write about, but all of my time is being taken up with hikes and gardening.  Here are a few bits and peices of information to chew on.

By now, mature dandelions are too bitter and tough to eat.  But, if you look in your gardens, the seeds from the spring dandelions are sprouting.  Let them get a bit bigger (if you dare) and you’ll be able to take advantage of this versatile plant.  There are a couple of spots in my veggie garden that are empty (due to slugs, bad weather, or bad timing), so I am planning on hiding my mistakes by letting them fill in the bare spots, and harvesting for summer salads or winter freezing.

Rose flower

I have also noticed lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) in some of my veggie gardens and on paths.  Look for “goose foot” shaped, greyish-green leaves growing on upright stems.  The leaves look dusty and feel like they have small sand on them.  This amazing plant is related to spinach, but is even more nutritious.  Some foragers even call it wild spinach since it is very similar in taste and uses.  Young leaves can be used in salads, or all leaves and tender stems can be harvested and used as you would spinach.  Stems with flower buds can be harvested when still in tight bunches and used like mini-broccoli or rapini.  Tasty, nutritious, and most parts are edible throughout the summer, this is one of those versatile wild plants that I will also let fill in those bare spots in the garden.

Native and introduced roses are in bloom.  Take advantage of the plentiful petals which can add amazing flavour to baked goods, teas, jams, and jellies.  All rose petals are edible, but petals from scented roses are the most flavourful.

 

Fireweed flowers

Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) is another one of those multi-use plants.  These single stemmed herbaceous plants, with numerous narrow leaves are currently in flower.  They grow in disturbed areas, and are usually found following forest fires (hence the name).  There is a nice field of them by the visitor centre on Signal Hill.  Flowers and unopened buds can be used in salads.  Flowers can also be collected and made into teas, jellies, honey, or even ice cream!  Mark the spot where you see patches of fireweed now, and return in the spring for a bountiful harvest of greens.

Crowberries

I was recently on a hike and had the pleasure of quenching my thirst with black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum).  These low growing shrubs (10 – 15 cm tall), form mats along coastal areas and barrens.  While they don’t have much flavour, they can be used with other berries in jams, made into wine, or just eaten for a crisp and juicy snack.

Bakeapple

I also recently noticed people in fens along the highways with beef buckets, indicating that the bakeapples (Rubrus chmaemorus) are ready for the picking.  The ones that I have seen were not quite ripe (like the one I took a picture of this past weekend).  But as they are not one of my favourites, I never really looked that hard.  These are best picked when translucent and are a juicy treat for those who like them.  Jams, syrups, wines, in pastries, meringues, and on cheesecakes…there are many ways to serve this  “amber jewel of the bog.”

This is a busy time for gardeners and foragers.  Many of us are busy harvesting, foraging, and shopping at the local farmer’s markets.  We are filling our pantries and freezers with the freshest foods possible, to ensure a winter supply of tasty and nutritious foods.

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11 comments to Eclectic Edibles

  • I’ve recently discovered that Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is edible. There’s a lot of it on my property, and I noticed that the flowers looked like brassica flowers, so I looked them up. Sure enough, they’re brassicas, and the flowers are delicious. I’ve been putting the flowers in salads (they’re the only part of the salad my two-year-old actually eats), but I’m also letting some go to seed so I can collect the seeds for winter sprouting.

  • Maria H

    Identifying wild edible plants is a lost art. Do you know of anyone – anywhere – offering guidance on field trips? Going by pictures alone is rather difficult. Thanks.

  • CK

    Sounds tasty! Flowers can have such complex flavours that they are worth exploring. Some are sweet like roses, or spicy like nasturtiums.

    Maria, you are right that sometimes photos aren’t enough. Perhaps I need to start adding lengthier descriptions. There are many plants which are poisonous and can cause great harm. The MUN Botanical Garden has an upcoming workshop in September:

    http://www.mun.ca/botgarden/group_prog/garden_workshop_2011.php

    Todd Boland is one of the most knowledgeable people in this province when it comes to plants and their identification.

  • Jenny Bee

    Wow, very inspiring article! I agree with Maria when she mentioned that this is a lost art. This is a great skill to have, and am looking forward to hearing Todd Boland at the workshop. I’ve started to question the use of the word “weed” for plants such as dandelion and fireweed, among others.. I wouldn’t mind letting a few of those fireweeds growing in my backyard, if they already aren’t there.. :)

  • CK

    It turns out that there is a free presentation as part of the Seed to Supper festival on August 13:

    http://www.mun.ca/botgarden/events/Seedstosupper.php

  • Chloe Edbrooke

    Hello, what a wonderful blog post! I have a question: the other day I went foraging for Chuckley Pear, but all the fruit was infected with orange fungus that I hear is common. Do you know of any non-fungussy Chuckley Pear in St. John’s?

  • CK

    Yes, that fungus is a bit of nuisance. I was planning on doing a post on Chuckley Pears/service berries/Saskatoons in a couple of weeks. They are definitely an over looked fruit! The only place I have ever seen them without fungus is along the Manuals River trail. Other than that, I just pick through them and try to avoid the ones with fungus.

  • I agree, It really is difficult to write anything while all our time is spent outdoors foraging and then indoors canning. We just joined a mushroom society, and spend every Sunday out on a foray, where some truly experienced and educated people pass their knowledge to us newbies. It is wonderful to find a mentor, we have been lucky to find 3 people in New England whom we have taken multiple classes and walks with: Wildman Steve Brill, Russ Cohen, and Blanche Derby. Keep searching them out, they are just as enthusiastic to teach as you are to learn!

  • Rick Kelly

    I don’t know anything about that fungus but I do know that there are supposed to be a lot of Saskatoon berries on the trail around Mundy Pond…

  • Faeterri

    I have been studying wild edibles for about 6 years and like to share that knowledge with others. If anyone on the southwest coast is interested in going on wild edible walks, let’s see how we can get together.

  • Cindi

    CK, did you know that you can make “capers” with unopened nasturtium buds? :)

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