In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Backyard Foraging, Week Ending 8/5/2018

Today’s post showcases four weeds I haven’t covered previously, or only in passing. I’m also trying to include more recipes to help bridge the gap from “Hey, you can eat this stuff!” to successfully incorporating wild food into meals.

Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis) is a sprawling annual with edible stems, leaves, flowers and seeds. The easiest way to gather them is to bend along the stem, starting either near the ground or from the tip. Where the stem easily snaps off (like with asparagus) the rest of the plant to the tip is tender to eat. Snapping off the ends allows the plant to continue to grow, so a patch of asiatic dayflower can produce food for months.

asiatic_dayflower_hedge

Asiatic dayflower plants have been prominent in my yard for many weeks now, but the flowers are now on display so they are much more photogenic! Each flower only sticks around for a day, hence the name “dayflower”.

Asiatic Dayflower Flower

Asiatic Dayflower Flower

Asiatic dayflower can be eaten raw, but I prefer to steam or lightly sautee the greens. They can also be served creamed. In fact, I thought I had posted previously cooking asiatic dayflower stems, but can’t seem to locate it now.

Lady’s thumb (Persicaria maculosa), also sometimes called redshank, allegedly earned the name because the leaves feature a dark thumb-print-like shape on each leaf. I have encountered this marking only occasionally, but there is no mistaking the pink column of flowers on this backyard weed.

Lady’s thumb is one of those weeds people just seem to hate, despite its pretty pink flowers. I saw some growing in a friend’s yard, and I complimented her on it.  “That weed?” she replied. “I hate it.” When I pointed out it was edible, her terse response was, “Don’t care, I still hate it.”

Lady's Thumb Flower and Leaves

Lady’s Thumb Flower and Leaves

The flowers and most tender leaves can be used raw in salads; the leaves can also be cooked for a spinach substitute. I will admit I have tried the leaves raw, and found them bland and uninteresting. Maybe they could be used as a filler if you were short on other greens for a recipe.

Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) provides both edible greens as well as seeds. According to Samuel Thayer, amaranth leaves are among the most widely eaten cooked greens in the world. But the seeds are trendy (because they are gluten free, and gluten free is trendy) so you are more likely to encounter seeds in recipes and grocery stores. Amaranth seeds are sometimes marketed as “grains” because they have a similar nutritional profile and can be cooked in a similar fashion. It’s sometimes called a “pseudocereal”. Wild amaranth seeds are brown or black, as opposed to the cream colored seeds in the grocery store.

Amaranth Flowers

Amaranth Flowers

This is the same wild amaranth plant from last week’s post, by the way. It is now as tall as me – almost five and a half feet.

While the amaranth leaves can be eaten raw, the texture improves with cooking. It can be cooked in any recipe that calls for spinach or kale. One option is stir fry. I am contemplating “amaranth chips”, since baking kale into chips is one of the few ways my kids willingly eat greens. Collect the most tender leaves from the tips of the plant. I haven’t tried amaranth greens yet because I’ve been blessed with so much lamb’s quarter to enjoy. (Lamb’s quarter is also known as pigweed, just to keep it confusing. I recently removed my six foot tall lamb’s quarter tree because I needed the bed for fall vegetable planting … RIP lamb’s quarter tree. You were a wonderful weed.)

RIP Lamb's Quarter "Tree"

RIP Lamb’s Quarter “Tree”

Ground cherry (Physalis spp), also known as husk cherry, is a shy, unassuming plant closely related to tomatillos. You can buy ground cherry seeds from specialty company companies that focus on heirloom and heritage plants.

Ground Cherry Flower and Leaves

Ground Cherry Flower and Leaves

The berries are protected by a papery sheath, which is one of the easiest ways to identify the plant. The wild ground cherries have fruit which is much smaller than their domesticated counterparts. The fruit will ripen late summer at the earliest. The husk dries and turns brown, and the fruit turns yellow;. sometimes the fruit falls to the ground with its husk before it ripens.

Ground Cherry Husks

Ground Cherry Husks

I haven’t tried ground cherries yet because I missed the harvest window last year. According to some descriptions they are both sweet and tart, with an almost pineapple-y flavor. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and used in both sweet and savory dishes. I will probably go with something simple when mine are finally ready… eventually… much later this year… like this husk cherry and goat cheese salad.

Last but not least: an update on a previous foraging fail. Remember a month ago when I lamented the untimely end of “my” milkweed patch? Looks like the milkweed has the last laugh!

Milkweed - The Resurgence

Milkweed – The Resurgence

Unfortunately, this late in the year I doubt we’ll see flowers or seeds on these plants. However, they are at a good height (again) to use for shoots (minus the huge leaves, of course), lightly steamed or sauteed like you might cook asparagus. Or wrapped in pancetta and roasted at 400 degrees for 20 or so minutes … ok, now I am hungry!


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Welcome Weeds, Week Ending May 27

I’m not going to debate climate change with you.

Either you believe that the earth is warming, leading to increasingly erratic global weather patterns – in which case I don’t have to convince you.

Or you don’t believe it – in which case nothing I can say will make you believe otherwise.

After all, the climate change debate inspires more devout and feverish faith than dietary preferences. (And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, make some room for me under that rock of yours!)

What I do know is that the Maryland weather this spring has had more mood swings than my 15 year old daughter, which REALLY says a lot. April averaged cool and dry, punctuated by occasional days with temperatures in the 90s. May brought with it more warm and muggy temperatures – it was like we skipped straight from late winter to summer – complete with flooding and a hailstorm that shredded everything green and leafy in my yard.

To be blunt, my spring garden is in shambles. Which is why today, I am showcasing the weeds to which I find myself turning in the absence of the vegetables I should have been harvesting by now. (Yes, I’ve covered many of these before, but it doesn’t hurt to showcase them again!)

Yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris) – used raw, it makes a tasty, peppery addition to salads. Bonus: high levels of vitamin C.

Yellow Rocket

Yellow Rocket

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is just starting to come up. Yes, in my garden beds. No, I will not remove it … yet. Purslane is also an excellent salad edition – leaves stems and all – and is a great plant source for omega 3 essential fatty acids.

Purslane Seedling

Purslane Seedling

New colonies of chickweed (Stellaria media) continue to crop up around my garden despite the heat, and continue to find their way into my salad bowl.

Chickweed

Chickweed

Lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium album) (or lambsquarter if you prefer) – another nutritional powerhouse. Currently my go-to green for cooking, since something fluffy, brown and hopping decimated the kale that managed to grow despite the weather.

Lambsquarter

Lambsquarter

And of course, spring’s dandelions seeds (Taraxacum officinale) find their way into any available space. This little guy is small enough to still enjoy raw, but I might let him grown a little longer to use in sauteed greens.

Dandelion

Dandelion

Hopefully the weather calms down some … hahahahahahahaha! OK, I couldn’t type that with a straight face. What I meant was, hopefully wild edibles will continue to adapt to the crazy weather faster than I and my garden can, so there will still be local, fresh vegetables to enjoy!


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Weekly Weed Roundup, April 29

Just kidding! I would never use Roundup on my weeds. As I learn more about “weeds”, I am increasingly amazed that anyone would rather have a pretty green grass lawn instead of the natural bounty that surrounds us when the land is left to its own devices.

This week, broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) has become very prominent in my yard. For some reason, this is the only plantain variety around my house. The narrow leaf or ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is very common in the mid-Atlantic… just not at my house.

Broadleaf Plantain

Broadleaf Plantain

While plantain leaves are edible, I find them unpleasant and stringy when they get much larger than shown in this picture. (Hopefully the grass leaves give you some idea of scale – the whole plant is only about five inches across right now.) The leaves can also be made into tea, and are rumored to help with seasonal allergies. If my allergies act up this spring, I’ll try it and share the results with you. (All three of you!)

I recently identified a burdock (Arctium minus) in a overgrown area of my yard. Normally, I struggle to distinguish between burdock and various other large-leaved plants such curly dock (Rumex crispus). But the pale green woolly undersides of the leaves help indicate this is, indeed, burdock.

Greater Burdock

Burdock

Greater Burdock - Pale Woolly Underside of Leaf

Burdock – Pale Woolly Underside of Leaf

Burdock leaves, roots, and young flower stalks are edible. You can even buy burdock seeds in some boutique garden catalogs. I decided to let this one hang around so I could photograph the flower stalk if this is a second-year plant. (Like many plants which are productive this early in spring, burdock is a biennial; it flowers in its second year of life.)

Speaking of wild things you can also grow in your garden… It was challenging to photograph this little guy among last year’s dead grass, but there is no doubt that this is a wild carrot, aka Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota). If they are growing now, in the wild, then conditions are ripe to plant the D. carota sativa in your garden as well.

Wild Carrot, aka Queen Anne's Lace

Wild Carrot, aka Queen Anne’s Lace

This carrot is still too small to bother eating, of course, but the roots are edible as long as you harvest before the plants form the white flowery umbrellas most people think of when they hear “Queen Anne’s Lace.” (Carrots are also biennials, like burdock.) The hairy leaves and stem provide one way to know this is “just” a carrot and not its toxic relative, poison hemlock (Conium maculatum).

I have been working in the garden, as well as foraging. Any day the weather is warm and sunny, you’ll find me outside! I was weeding one bed, when I realized – as I was pulling teensy seedlings up, roots and all – that the “weeds” were in fact the choicest possible species: lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium album).

 

Lamb's Quarter Seedling

Lamb’s Quarter Seedling

Lamb’s quarter features sparkly – almost fairy-like – leaves at this early stage. Based on the reading I have done to date, they appear to be one of the healthiest greens a person can eat, and they have a long edible season as well. (Unlike dandelions or wild lettuce, for instance, which get more bitter as the summer sun and heat intensifies.) Needless to say, I left the rest of the seedlings be! They are welcome to grow here … until I get hungry later!