In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Cress Fallen, Week Ending 3/24/2019

Last week I briefly mentioned that I had two cresses available for local foraging.

Since then, I discovered I was wrong about one of them. Yes, really, in one week. I will go back and fix that previous post. You know, eventually.

Yes, there are two types of cresses still. One is yellow rocket, which is also known as wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris). The leaves and flower buds are edible, although not everyone loves their intense flavor.

Yellow Rocket Leaves and Flower Bud

Yellow Rocket Leaves and Flower Bud

An extremely unscientific study of a very small sample size bore this out. I thought the raw leaves tasted just fine, but my husband couldn’t stand them. Yellow rocket leaves are best mixed with other greens if eaten raw or sauteed; boiling them apparently removes some of the pungent, bitter intensity. I plan to test this method at some point when I am the only one around to eat the results!

I thought my other cress was Barbarea verna, known variously as Belle Isle cress, upland cress, or even “early yellow rocket.”  I drew this conclusion after buying seeds for Belle Island cress in 2017 for a winter garden crop. I mean, the weed looked a lot like the drawing on the seed packet!

Belle Isle Cress ... or is it?

Belle Isle Cress … or is it?

Turns out that Belle Isle cress has yellow flowers, and these little plants – with similarly shaped leaves arranged in a basal rosette – definitely have white flowers.

Meet: hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta).

Hairy Bittercress

Hairy Bittercress

See? Still a cress! So my statement last week about two local cresses still stands true.

Wintercress isn’t mentioned in every foraging manual, possibly because not everyone enjoys the flavor. Hairy bittercress gets even less publicity, although I’m not sure why. Maybe the name puts people off. It is definitely edible though. Honestly, since I misidentified the plant from the beginning, I have been nibbling on its leaves for over a year now.

FORAGING SAFETY NOTE: THIS IS DUMB. Do NOT ingest anything you “think” is an edible plant. Always make 100% sure of your identification before you pop a piece of a plant in your mouth. In this case, if I had researched the color of the flowers more carefully, I would have known I had the wrong plant. I lucked out this time, but you can’t always count on that!

Hairy bittercress grows, weed-like, everywhere in my garden. It has a milder flavor than wintercress, and is pleasant raw. (At least, in my opinion.) Now that I really know what it is, I may attempt watercress recipes with hairy bittercress, since that seems like a closer flavor match than wintercress. Although since each plant is so small, it remains to be seen if I can harvest enough to actually use for a recipe. If all else fails, I can add it a mixed salad!


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Weed Walk, Week Ending April 8

Not that kind of weed, people! Wrong blog!

I’m starting a new series to highlight what is growing wild and edible in the piedmont Maryland region. “Weed Walk” will feature backyard plants many people will recognize; “Forage Finds” by contrast, will go off the beaten path.

As always, please be 100% sure of your identification before eating something you’ve foraged! Even if you are confident in your harvest, introduce wild foods slowly to your domesticated digestive system.

Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) in a shady spot in my yard. Note the line of teeth on the underside of the leaf’s rib.

Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa)

Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa)

 

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Wild Lettuce – Underside of Leaf Rib

 

Violet (Viola papilionacea). Pleasant mild leaves – a great salad addition. The flowers are edible too. Some people (not me) dip the flowers in egg whites and then sugar as an edible cake decoration. I was very sad when working on this post to find numerous websites advocating ways to eliminate this “difficult to control weed”. I love violets in my yard.

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Violet (Viola papilionacea)

First year leaves of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Not only invasive, but downright dangerous. Do your ecosystem a favor by pulling these up, even if you don’t intend to dine on them.

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Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Chickweed (Stellaria media). Literally my favorite wild edible, especially this time of year. So crunchy and juicy in salads.

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Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella). Adds a sour tang to dishes. Most foraging resources warn of its high concentrations of oxalic acid so I will as well. But then, so does rhubarb and it does not feature disclaimers in the produce section of supermarkets. Double standard much?

Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)

Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)

Field garlic (Allium oleraceum). I minced the field garlic and sheep sorrel and mixed both with butter to baste a chicken I roasted for dinner.

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Field Garlic (Allium oleraceum)

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). I’ve never actually eaten this, because most accounts suggest it is bland and boring. My tastebuds have better things to do.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum). I haven’t eaten this either because I’m miffed it’s not the much more famous and charismatic stinging nettle.

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Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Pretty sure this is wild mustard (Sinapis arvensis). (So of course I haven’t eaten any. Right? Gotta follow my own rules.)

Wild Mustard (Sinapis arvensis)

Wild Mustard (Sinapis arvensis)

An extremely cheerful yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris) . Most of the ones I found were too diminutive to bother with. Unfortunately only this one was worthy to eat, and one plant is not enough to bother with.

Upland Cress (Barbarea verna)

Yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), the king of the jungle… er, yard. This is the best time of year to enjoy the leaves raw; soon they will need extra prep to cope with the bitter flavor.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)