In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Shut Up and Eat Your Weeds

Well, I’m not dead so I am thrilled to announce: I ate weeds and they didn’t kill me.

Specifically, I harvested milkweed flower buds to serve with dinner last night. Rather than just posting photos of weeds I “could” eat, I decided it was time to put my wildflowers where my mouth is. Um. Literally.

Milkweed Flower Buds

Milkweed Flower Buds

I found a milkweed patch that seemed safe-ish for foraging. Close to a road, but a small one which only gets local traffic; near a farmer’s field, but it hadn’t been sprayed in months. It only took two adults 15 minutes to harvest enough for a side dish. (Imagine one gallon-sized freezer bag full).

Note: if you try this, you have to choose whether to pluck the flower buds off with your fingers, or use snips. The fingers are faster, but you get sticky white sap all over your hands. Also, don’t pick all the flower buds. Take only one or two per plant, and not every plant. Leave enough for flowers and seed pods later, plus some for the plant to propagate next year’s crop. This is especially important given the dependency monarch butterflies have on common milkweed for their life cycle.

Remember, as you read the following – I am no foraging expert. Perform your own research and use all due prudence if and when you decide to try wild food. Some guides recommend boiling milkweed-anything in several changes of water. In my world, boiling most vegetables even once produces inedible mush … which defeats the purpose of harvesting wild edibles in the first place!

I washed the flower buds thoroughly. As you can see in the photo below, the white milky sap did not come off.

Milkweed flower buds, washed and ready to cook

Milkweed flower buds, washed and ready to cook

I steamed the flower buds in a steamer basket over simmering water with a dash of lemon juice. I started checking tenderness around 10 minutes; they probably cooked for 15 minutes overall. I think they cooked longer than really necessary. Once I removed them from the heat, I dressed them with melted butter mixed with lemon juice to taste.

Milkweed steaming in a pot

Milkweed steaming in a pot

Will I die because I didn’t actually boil the buds? It was time for the true test.

I am here to tell you, I ate steamed milkweed flower buds, and lived to tell the tale.

The flavor is mild and sweet, though not as sweet as peas. The buds were very tender (like I said, I probably overcooked them). They seemed remarkably, well, vegetable-like, with not a single hint of bitter flavor.

Milkweed. It's what's for dinner.

Milkweed. It’s what’s for dinner.

The kids’ reactions were predictable. “Ew, what’s that?”

I replied, “They’re milkweed flower buds. You know, unopened flowers? Like broccoli.”

“Why can’t we just eat broccoli?”

I might’ve been frustrated at this point. “Because I can never get broccoli to grow nice in my garden no matter how much work I put into it, and milkweed grows whether I do anything or not. Shut up and eat your weeds!”

I would love to say we all lived happily ever after. At least no one died from eating weeds (although you would’ve wondered, watching the faces my kids made…but that’s just what they do when they eat veggies.)


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Future Foraged Fruits, Week Ending 6/3/2018

It’s early June. The air is drenched with humidity and honeysuckle fragrance.  Between the sticky heat and afternoon thunderstorms, the last thing anyone wants is to spend time outside. But now is the time to start locating the fruits that will feed us this summer and into the fall.

Blackberries (Rubus spp.) carpet the edges of meadows with white flowers. Last fall I also found black raspberry canes closer to these woods. Unfortunately, in late spring the thorns, ticks and poison ivy are so thick I couldn’t get closer to check on them.

Blackberry flowers

Blackberry flowers blanket the horizon.

Japanese wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius) are an invasive cane species that are also flowering now. Unlike blackberries, which flower and ripen over a period of several weeks, wineberries ripen all at once, and then they are gone.

Japanese wineberries

Japanese wineberries

Wild roses (Rosa spp.) rub elbows with the blackberries and wineberries; they are equally thorny. Most of the local varieties I have found produce small rose hips, barely worth harvesting in the fall and winter, but still a good source of vitamin C in times of need.

Wild roses

Wild roses

Now is also the time to scope out wild grapes (Vitis spp.). They can be harvested young for verjuice – not this young obviously – or allowed to mature for eating, juicing or jelly making.

Wild grapes

Wild grapes

Mulberries (Moraceae spp.) are starting to ripen, but due to the erratic weather this spring the flavor is… um… lacking? Definitely worth continuing to check as the weeks go by. Mulberries grow around this area like weeds, so there are plenty to be had if you just keep your eyes open.

Mulberries

Mulberries

Back in the forest, mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum), which we saw a few weeks ago, are setting green fruit – just one per plant. The fruit will be ripe when they turn yellow, hopefully in a few more weeks.

Mayapple Fruit

Mayapple Fruit

This very afternoon, I found a new-to-me berry at eye level behind large, glossy leaves. Curious, I crept in closer for a few photos. Turns out … THIS IS POISON IVY (Toxicodendron radicans)! Luckily I didn’t brush any leaves aside to take the photo (I think).

Don’t eat the poison ivy.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy Berries – DON’T EAT THESE

(I didn’t really need to say that, did I? Please tell me I didn’t.)

The one photo I don’t have is a fruiting serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.). Its berries ripen in June which is why the shrub is also called juneberry. I have been unable to find any of these wild, so I bought one of my very own at the Mother Earth News Fair in Frederick this past weekend!  Hope to have pictures to share next year!


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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!)

Upland cress (Barbarea verna) – used raw, it makes a tasty, peppery addition to salads. Bonus: high levels of vitamin A and vitamin C.

Upland Cress

Upland Cress

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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Foraging Fails, Week Ending 5/20/2108

It’s late May and irises and peonies are coloring the landscape. The early spring foraging season has drawn to a close, and to celebrate, here are a few things I failed to find this year.

First and foremost: morels (Morchella spp.).  While yellow morels grow in this area of Maryland, I was unable to locate any. Which is not so surprising. People go entire lifetimes hunting, and not finding, morels.  I don’t often forage for fungi since I’m less confident in identification, but hey. If you’re in the woods in spring you might as well look for them.

Next: ramps (Allium tricoccum), also known as wild leeks. Another of the delights of early spring woodlands. Like spring beauties, ramps are “spring ephemerals” which means they flourish until the leafy canopy fills in, eclipsing the plants on the forest floor below.

Last on my list: fiddleheads from the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). Well that’s not 100% true. I did find a few at the perfect age. Unfortunately they were part of our landscaping, and I was informed (in no uncertain terms) they were off limits. I took a picture to show the papery covering that helps identify the fiddlehead of the edible ostrich fern. Other ferns have edible baby fronds as well, but this is the one I’m most familiar with.

Fiddleheads (osterich fern)

Fiddleheads – do not eat the landscaping

If you find fiddleheads, do not endanger the ferns by taking too many from any one plant. They get by with a little help from their fronds.


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And Then There Were None

I woke up one morning and the dandelions were gone.

No, it wasn’t a dystopian nightmare of manicured suburban lawns sprayed into submission until they glittered the perfect grass green.

The dots of sunshine that littered my yard had transformed into the puffballs of every child’s delight. I had missed the window for dandelion wine.

Too late for dandelion flowers.

And then there were none.

Dandelions enjoy a huge surge of flowers in the spring, followed by occasional blossoms the rest of the year. And there were some dots of yellow hiding here and there among the fescue. Just not the staggering quantities one needs for wine.

We’re talking a gallon of flowers, and for best flavor that entails pulling off the bitter green bits. Who’s got time for that? Picking apart a gallon of dandelion flowers would take forever. Maybe next weekend… or the weekend after that… oops?

It’ll be OK though. I have a backup plan: my slacker approach to dandelion liqueur! Yes, dandelion liqueur is a Thing. Here’s my (very unscientific) method. In a glass jar, place petals (technically ray flowers – yes, that is scientific). Cover with vodka. Continue collecting petals when they become available, and continue covering with vodka when needed. Allow to steep until … well, until it tastes dandelion-flower-y. (Test tasting is my favorite part.) Once the infusion has steeped long enough, strain the petals and add simple syrup to sweeten (also to taste).

I’ll get started on that dandelion liqueur… next weekend… or the weekend after that…


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Wonderful Weeds, Week Ending May 6

Dogwoods are in bloom and spring is truly underway in central Maryland, although the weather is still moody. Three days in a row last week, the temperatures skyrocketed into the upper 80s and lower 90s. Today, I’m bundled up against the damp chill appropriate to early April. Except it’s now May.

Only one new edible weed development this week – I finally found cleavers (Galium aparine) growing in a location where I felt it was safe to harvest – my own yard!

Cleavers

Cleavers

I have seen cleavers growing along roadsides for over a month, so it is not a “new” plant this week like most of my previous posts have showcased. But I avoid gathering plants from locations where they might have been exposed to exhaust fumes or leaky liquids from passing cars.

While cleavers are edible, my one nibble wasn’t that great. Cleavers are more known for medicinal rather than food uses, and now I understand why! I opted to make tea from the handful I collected.  Mild in both flavor and color, cleaver tea has a reputation as a tonic and alterative. (An alterative is a medicine that helps restore normal, healthy functions – yes, I had to look up the definition. And no, I don’t know if the tea restored any of my functions, normal and healthy or otherwise!)