In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Delighting in Daylilies, Week Ending 6/23/2019

Daylilies are a forager’s delight, and early summer is a great time to enjoy these beautiful wild edibles in central Maryland.

Generally speaking, in this area tawny daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) grow along roadsides whereas yellow daylilies (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) are more likely found in yards as part of landscaping. Daylilies can be harvested for different types of food at different times of the year. Right now, the focus is on flower buds and flowers.

Tawny daylily

Tawny daylily

Daylilies are not “true” lilies, which have leaves going all the way up the flower stalk; lilies are blooming right now too, so make sure you find and eat the correct plant!

Locally daylilies are considered invasive, but you still want to make sure you’re not encroaching on somebody’s property. Also be careful foraging along busy roads – the usual disclaimers apply about pollution, chemical run-off and cars driving too fast!

Yellow daylily

The early spring shoots can be harvested when they are just a few inches tall. I have not actually tried this myself yet because I have spent this year trying to make sure I knew where the stands of daylilies are, so I can return for the shoots next spring. I’ve seen plenty of photos, but still wasn’t 100% confident I was looking at daylilies rather than, say, irises like Yellow Flag.

Daylily shoots in spring

Daylily shoots in spring

Apparently the flower stalks are edible, but I haven’t tried that either for fear of preventing flower buds which are my favorite part of the daylily so far. Don’t pick all the buds though, because then there won’t be any flowers!

Daylily flower buds

I enjoyed the flowers stuffed last year, but the buds are tasty too and so much less work to cook! I harvested the buds that still felt relatively firm when squeezed. If the bud seemed to separate into the three sepals (which look like petals once opened), I passed over them. Some authors say to harvest the buds when they are still green, but they much smaller at that point.

Daylily buds cooking

Daylily buds cooking

The immature flower buds are phenomenal sauteed in butter with light sprinkle of sea salt.

The buds which are closer to flowering are dried and used in Chinese cooking as “golden needles”. You can purchase golden needles in Asian grocery stores. They are used in dishes like mu shu pork and hot and sour soup. If you have an abundance of daylilies, you could try this as a way to preserve the bounty for later in the year.

If you are worried about harming the natural beauty of this plant, consider collecting the open flowers in the evening. They only open for one day (hence the name), so the flower is already spent anyway. In addition to stuffing, the flowers can be used as a colorful garnish on salads or cooked dishes.

Daylilies have underground tubers which are also edible. If you know of someone with a patch who plans on thinning it in the fall, this is a great opportunity to help them and gather some edible tubers at the same time. I have not tried the tubers yet, but hope to once the colder weather returns.

Some people experience digestive upset when eating daylilies. There doesn’t seem to be a clear pattern as to who has trouble or when. Some authors say you must habituate yourself to eating daylilies – a few small servings to get use to them before you have more. This practice is repeated yearly. On the other hand, one author says there is a genetic mutation, undetectable by looking at the plant, which makes certain plants more likely to cause gastric distress. As with all new foods, remember to try a small amount to see if you have any reactions before tucking into a giant helping!


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Who Speaks for the Bugs? Week Ending 6/16/2019

I know I already mentioned this podcast by Chris Martenson titled Living with Integrity.

I was struck, not just by the analogy of eating spoonfuls of oil, but his observations about dramatic declines in insect and bird life in his area. It made me reflect on how unaware I am of what’s “normal” here in central MD. I’ve never paid attention to birds and bugs before, beyond railing against Japanese beetles killing my plants…

Japanese beetle laying waste to crops

Japanese beetle laying waste to crops

…and the cardinals destroying my blueberries.

Blueberry damaged by a sharp beak

Blueberry damaged by a sharp beak

Then just a few days later, I read Chapter 10: The Myth of Nature from 33 Myths of the System. All of Darren Allen’s writing is powerful, and this was no exception. But I was surprised by the claim of 75% of insect life gone.

Seventy five percent? Really?

Today I was rummaging through the milkweed in the farmer’s field across the street. Good news! I actually have permission to forage here now, and the farmer hasn’t yet mowed. I am hunting for milkweed buds to eat as vegetables, and some milkweed flowers for a batch of liqueur.

Milkweed flowers for liqueur

Milkweed flowers for liqueur

Harvesting the flower parts should be “okay” from a ecological perspective because the farmer will probably mow this field in the next few weeks, before these plants could set seed anyway. No milkweed cheese for me this year! Even if my own modest patch manages to produce flowers, I wouldn’t harvest them (as flowers or young seedpods) to make sure I could plants more milkweed so the monarchs have something to eat next year.

Milkweed flowerbuds

Milkweed flowerbuds

So I creep through the tall grass in the field, harvesting milkweed flower buds and flowers, getting sticky sap all over my gloves, trying avoid any poison ivy and praying there are no ticks. I approach each plant carefully, tenderly, so I don’t disturb any caterpillars happily munching on the leaves. In fact, I might even relocate a few to my own yard, to make sure some survive the inevitable mowing of the field.

Only… there’s no monarch caterpillars.

Milkweed flowers

Milkweed flowers

Everywhere I look, the leaves are smooth and untouched by little caterpillar mandibles.

At long last, I find one. One singular monarch baby.

Poor lonely monarch baby

Poor lonely monarch baby

I carefully evacuate it to my yard, and hope I can find more in a few days … and that rain postpones the inevitable mowing further to buy me more time!


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Missing the Mulberries, Week Ending 6/9/2019

As we cleaned out the side yard over the past year or so, we uncovered a mulberry tree (Morus rubra). Well, we actually discovered many mulberry trees because they are practically weeds in our area, much like black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia).

Now the mulberry is a proud member of my growing food forest. Carefully mulched and with the weeds cleared away, I am finally getting a bumper crop of mulberries … sort of.

The black mulberries are ripe and ready to eat

The black mulberries are ripe and ready to eat

The easiest way to find mulberries this time of year is to look down, rather than up into the trees. Especially where branches hang over roads. The pavement will be smeared darker than usual, as the blackest, ripest berries fall to the ground and passing cars crush them. Many people find mulberry fruit to be a nuisance. I find them to be delicious, especially in this lull between the end of the strawberry crop and blueberries finally ripening.

The problem / challenge / opportunity is leveraging the mulberries in my yard. Yes, I love it when the ripe fruit falls to the ground… but then it’s a hassle to scoop up the berries from the grass and the dirt. So, following advice I found online, I spread a blanket under the tree to catch the berries. Well, a floating row cover as the case may be. I worried a blanket would smother the grass.

A failed attempt to catch mulberries as they fell

A failed attempt to catch mulberries as they fell

But that just made it easier for the birds to find and eat the fruit too! And because the blanket was on a slope, the slightest breeze blew the fruit right off. After a few hours, there weren’t many berries so I left the blanket. Then forgot about the blanket. A few days later, when I tried to collect the blanket, the handful of fruit I “harvested” had molded and stuck to the fabric. Ew. I threw the whole thing away, grateful it was “just” a row cover and not an actual blanket.

My mulberry tree is young enough I can reach a few of the lower branches on my tip-toes. But even with diligent effort, I could barely harvest enough berries for any use besides eating right then and there!

A sad, small mulberry harvest

A sad, small mulberry harvest

What would I do with the mulberries if I ever gathered enough to “do” anything? I don’t know! I will cross that bridge if and when I actually reach that point!

(There are also white mulberries (Mora alba) growing wild in central MD as well. They are considered to be invasive in this area.  I don’t know how the flavor compares to our “regular” mulberries, but it must be nice not getting your fingers and face stained purple from eating them!)


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Burdock Adventures, Week Ending 6/2/2019

Common burdock (Arctium minus) regularly infiltrates lawns and fields in central MD. I first noticed burdock in our yard last year, and once I knew what to look for I saw it everywhere.

This year, we cleared out an area in our yard choked with weeds and overrun by poison ivy and honeysuckle. In the midst of this mess, I uncovered several second year burdock plants. I carefully marked them with flags so they wouldn’t “accidentally” get mowed with the other weeds.

Since burdock is a biennial, these burdock plants were already large and have since grown even bigger. They would make nice show pieces in an edible landscape, if they weren’t randomly located in our front lawn! In late spring, the second year roots are too big and tough to harvest for food. Plus, with the size of these plants I can’t fathom how big the roots must be. When we harvested first year plants for roots last year, we invested a lot of effort for the amount of food we got out of it.

First Year Burdock Roots

First Year Burdock Roots

(I apparently never posted about eating burdock roots, oops? Rest assured, the julienned roots nicely complemented the other flavors in a stir fry.)

Like other biennials, second year burdock sends out flowering stalks. Before they flower, the immature stalks can be harvested and many sources said they were the best part of foraging burdock – no digging required! Timing is everything; as you wait, the stalks get bigger, but as they grow they become more tough and bitter.

Second Year Burdock Patch

Second Year Burdock Patch

Apparently, when you topple the flowering stalk, the burdock plant sends up a new one to try producing flowers and seed. I’ve read that one plant can produce as many as three harvests of immature stalks. Sounds like a great food source to me!

Each flowering stalk had several side-shoots as well. I wasn’t sure if they were worth collecting too, so I harvested everything to be sure. Since this little experiment – just a few days ago! – I read that if a burdock stalk has laterals, it is already past its prime. Oops again?

Burdock leaves allegedly have medicinal properties, but I know even less about foraged medicine than I do about foraged food! I just composted the leaves I cut from the stalks.

Harvested Burdock Stalks

Harvested Burdock Stalks

Honestly, I struggled to efficiently and quickly peel the stalks. I used a paring knife and kept working until I only had the smooth insides. The fibrous outer portion seemed to take forever to clean away.

A cross section of a large burdock stalk

A cross section of a large burdock stalk

The smaller stalks from the side shoots were easier to peel, but had a much smaller core for the amount of effort required to get to it.

A cross section of a small burdock stalk

A cross section of a small burdock stalk

I eventually gave up on peeling these smaller pieces.

Also, the burdock ended up staining my hands slightly brown. None of the resources I’d researched on burdock mentioned this side effect. Not as bad as black walnut, mind you, but still noticeable. You can just see the stain on my fingers in the pictures above.

At long last, we had a side-dish-worth of burdock stalks. It didn’t add up to much!

Finally... Peeled Burdock Stalks

Finally… Peeled Burdock Stalks

I microwave-steamed the stalks with two tablespoons of water for six minutes, stirring partway through. I dressed the stalks with butter and salt. The flavor was OK, but nothing remarkable. Certainly not worth all the attention they garner as a wild food. One book I read compared the flavor to cardoons, but I have never eaten a cardoon – I actually had to research what a cardoon even is – so I cannot offer an opinion there.

One of my kids bravely nibbled a bite, and claimed it tasted like artichoke hearts. And so it did! In this family, steamed artichokes are enjoyed with mayonnaise – hey, don’t judge! – and indeed we all enjoyed the burdock stalks a lot more after dipping them in mayo.

The real question is: would I do it again? I only harvested what I thought we would eat, so several stalks linger in my yard. Plus, the three plants who sacrificed their stalks ought to produce new ones as well. Maybe I will try slightly younger stalks next time… stay tuned!


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Flavorful Foraging, Week Ending 5/26/2019

There’s so much going on wild-food-wise right now in Maryland! I could fill this blog with pages and pages of photos of the amazing bounty out there, in the woods and in the fields.

However, I am realizing more and more that knowing “what” is edible is useless if you don’t know what to actually do with it. It’s one thing to say, “Hey, not only can you eat garlic mustard, but you really should eat it to remove this exotic invasive species from delicate native ecosystems.”  But what does one do with this knowledge? Not much, without knowing how to eat garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

A lot of foraging books toss out suggestions, but few actually provide recipes. Garlic mustard pesto gets mentioned frequently, so I decided to give it a try.

Garlic Mustard Pesto

Garlic Mustard Pesto

Luckily the internet provides recipes that the books don’t. I used the recipe here as my starting point, substituting toasted hazelnuts for the walnuts since that is what I had. Plus, I am actually growing hazelnut trees (although I still have years to wait before they produce nuts) and I like to adapt recipes to use as much of my own harvest as possible.

Also, rather than using leaves from the second year stalks as in the original receipt, I used first year plants.

Garlic Mustard Pesto In Progress

Garlic Mustard Pesto in Progress

Wait, haven’t I written previously that first year garlic mustard isn’t worth eating?

One key to harvesting garlic mustard greens is timing. In Nature’s Garden, Samuel Thayer shares the secret: the “meristem”. The meristem is the part of any plant where growth occurs. Because it is growing, the meristem is often lighter colored, softer, and milder flavored compared to established parts of the plant. In other words, it’s the most edible part.

Delicate, tender garlic mustard in the spring

Delicate, tender garlic mustard in the spring

Which explains why first year garlic mustard leaves are unpalatable in fall – they have finished growing for the season, and the leaves are tough and bitter. In spring, however, new first year plants are coming up, with young tender leaves that are much more enjoyable. To some people anyway. Others will find garlic mustard to be too intense no matter how early you harvest it!

Personally, I found the garlic mustard pesto a delightful change from the typical basil-based version. Although if you are serving it to guests, you should warn them to sample a small amount before diving in!

Three more notes:

  1. If you really want to enjoy garlic mustard pesto but the flavor is still too pungent for your taste buds, next time substitute 1 cup of the leaves for a milder-flavored green. In the photo above, you can see young lambsquarter (Chenopodium album) in the lower left corner. That’s a great candidate, and adds a nutritional boost as well. Spinach would also work. I wouldn’t recommend another plant with a strong flavor – like basil, for instance – because it could clash with the flavor of the garlic mustard rather than simply taming it.
  2. If you really want to enjoy garlic mustard pesto but just … you know … never eat crackers or toast to put the pesto on, blend two parts pesto to one part white wine vinegar. Poof! Instant pesto vinaigrette to enjoy on a salad.
  3. If you really want to enjoy garlic mustard pesto but don’t seem to eat very much at a time, you can always freeze the leftovers for later.


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The Forager’s Dilemma, Week Ending 5/19/2019

This year, I missed the window for milkweed shoots.

I noticed the milkweed (Asclepius syriaca) coming up in the field across the street from my house a few weeks ago. Milkweed is one of the darlings of foraging, because it has so many edible parts through so many different seasons: shoots in the spring, flower buds in the summer, flowers in the late summer and edible seedpods if you catch them early enough (also in the late summer).

The milkweed patch, for as long as it may stand

The milkweed patch, for as long as it may stand

But you see, I already know what will befall the milkweed plants growing surreptitiously among the meadow grass and other “weeds.” In a few weeks, the farmer will mow his field to the ground, just like last year, and I – and all the monarch butterflies – will be deprived of this amazing plant.

Well. I can drive to the grocery store for food. This year, I am also “all in” on my garden, which will (baring any weather related catastrophes) will help keep me and mine fed. (Although the children will protest it, I’m sure.) The monarchs butterflies, though… that’s all they have. And they won’t have it for very long as it is.

Which is why I’ve decided to experiment with “reverse foraging.” I adopted this phrase from author Sara Bir, and I suspect most serious foragers have done something similar. The idea is straightforward enough: intentionally encouraging and even propagating wild edible plants. It can be as simple as ensuring optimal habitat is available for the plants – even just not mowing part of the lawn – or as complex as re-seeding ramps in a woodland patch getting bare. OK, I can’t actually do that because I still haven’t discovered ramps in the woods near me. But I can (and did) scatter milkweed seeds among the wildflowers I planted in my side yard to see if they would grow.

Baby milkweed

Baby milkweed