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Frick Park Walk

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Our first walk of the year was so much fun! We had great weather and lots of enthusiastic people. We identified at least 12 wild edibles (including Dryad’s Saddle, an edible mushroom that everyone got to take home.) Unfortunately we didn’t find morels…but join us on Saturday for our Earth Day walks and who knows what we’ll find!

discussing wild edibles at a wild edibles walk in Frick Park

discussing wild edibles at a wild edibles walk in Frick Park

We found and discussed:

Dandelion

dandelion flowers

dandelion flowers

Plantain

Plantain

Plantain

Chickweed

close up of chickweed

close up of chickweed

Japanese knotweed

Japanese Knotweed

Japanese Knotweed

Dryad’s Saddle

Dryad's Saddle

Dryad's Saddle

Purple Archangel (Purple deadnettle)

Lamium purpureum, purple deadnettle

Lamium purpureum, purple deadnettle

Violet

violet

violet

Broad Leaf Dock
Burdock

Burdock

Burdock

Nettles

stinging nettles

stinging nettles

Cleavers
Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard

May Apple

We discussed making:

Our next walks are this Saturday at the Frick Park Environmental Center for their family-friendly, free, Earth Day Celebration! The festival is Saturday April 21, 2012  from 11:30 to 4, and we will lead two walks at 1 pm and 2 pm.

Hope to see you there!

~ Melissa

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We’re back! CSF, Walks and Wild Ally

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nettles

nettles

We’re back!

As you probably noticed, we have not posted in a while…even though spring has come so early and wild edibles have been bursting forth from the ground! That’s because our computer broke (boo!) and then when we finally got a new one it would not let me do blog posts (I finally realized I had to upload and work through Mozilla Firefox instead of Internet Explorer, though I have no idea why.)

So now we’re back and like spring we are bursting with excitement and lots of information!

First: our CSF (Community Supported Foraging) is about to get up and running! Our first pickup will be Thursday April 5, ONE WEEK FROM TODAY! How exciting! We realized if we waited until May to begin we would probably miss morels, fiddleheads and all sorts of early spring treats.

Don’t fret if you missed the boat on the CSF for this year (we only offered 10 shares for our flagship year)…we are still offering wild produce locally through Green Circle Farm’s weekly produce list. (And we may even offer our very own “list” soon, we’ll see how it goes with the CSF and Green Circle Farm.)

Our friend Erika at Green Circle Farm offers a weekly abundance of all sorts of things: raw milk, raw butter, grass fed beef and other sustainably raised animals, free range eggs, produce from the Pittsburgh Public Market, she even had wild ramps this week available (and not even from us!) Visit her website to be added to her list (you get a weekly email, place your order by a certain date and then pick up at one of various locations around Pittsburgh.)

Also, we will have a weekly newsletter for the CSF-ers with info about the wild plants and recipes, and we will post those newsletters here on our blog. So you’ll get lots of yummy recipes and tidbits of info of what to do with all the amazing food and medicine popping up right under your feet all season long.

Second: WALKS!

We have heard you loud and clear: you want walks and more walks this year. We are working on our schedule, and it even includes a MOREL HUNTING WALK this year!! Oh yes we did! I hope you will all join us. The full schedule will be up soon but I will let you know this: we will be offering two walks again at Frick Park’s Earth Day celebration this year. The date is Saturday, April 21, 2012 and our walks are at 1 pm and 2 pm. Be there!! This is a super fun, free, family-friendly celebration of nature at the Frick Environmental Center on Beechwood Blvd in Squirrel Hill (Pittsburgh) PA. The festival itself is from 11:30 to 4. You will be overwhelmed (in a good way) with fun and music and arts and crafts and food and walks and more!

Third, now is the best time of year to get started on a Wild Ally!!! Did you do one last year? Pick another one for this year! An ally is a wild edible plant that you study, learn from and enjoy intensely over the course of the season. I have created a workbook of exercises for you to do with your ally. I really find this is the best way to get to know (and love) wild edible plants (and medicines!) Our workbook is STILL pay-what-you-choose, so make sure you grab one today!

As you have probably noticed, wild plants are up early and in great abundance this year! I was out yesterday and in addition to all the nettles, deadnettle, garlic mustard, onion grass, wintercress, chickweed, and dandelion that are out, I saw fiddleheads, Japanese knotweed shoots, burdock and have heard the murmurs of early morel mushrooms in the wind.

Let’s get this party started!

Coming up in this blog (I have so much for you…trying to get caught up!)

  • What to do with all this (yummy) Japanese Knotweed
  • CSF Newsletter “0″: making a Ginger Bug starter for wild sodas
  • Walk schedule, including our all new Morel Hunting Walk
  • “I smelled ‘em before I saw ‘em….Nettles”
  • And so much more!! So stay tuned my friends!

Walk with care and don’t forget to look up sometimes; there are some amazing birds out there!

Love and nettle stings,

Melissa Sokulski of Food Under Foot

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The very tasty chanterelle

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the chanterelle

the chanterelle

On our first hike with the Western PA Mushroom Club we found many many mushrooms, including edible chanterelles!

a basket full of chanterelles

a basket full of chanterelles

Chanterelles are delicious mushrooms that in the east grow in the summertime (in the west,  they are a fall/winter mushroom.)

Chanterelles are trumpet-shaped and have ridges or folds instead of gills (a gilled look-alike is the Jack O’Lantern, which is indigestible to us and will make people very sick.) The smooth chanterelle barely have ridges at all and instead have smooth sides.

the orange mushrooms are the poisonous Jack O'Lanterns

both plates of orange mushrooms are the poisonous Jack O

Chanterelle smell vaguely of apricots. They also grow alone or possibly in twos or threes, but never in a whole bunch, as the Jack O’Lanterns often do. The Jack O’Lanterns (which glow in the dark) grow from dead wood (however this can be tricky, as they could be growing from a dead root underground) whereas the chanterelles grow from the soil (but can be right next to dead wood). They both grow in the woods, look for the egg-yolk colored chanterelles under the dead leaves lying on the ground. Finally, according to the book Mushrooms Demystified (amazon link), Jack O’Lanterns will never have white flesh.

It is often recommended to dry-saute the chanterelle first to let it release the water, then adding butter and a small amount of shallot (so as not to overwhelm the delicate taste of the chanterelle.)

We dry-fried once, but the other time we sauteed it in olive oil (it released it’s water fine), added some salt and garlic, and added back a bit of water as it cooked so the pan did not dry out. Delicious!

Chanterelles sauteed it in olive oil with some salt and garlic.

Chanterelles sauteed it in olive oil with some salt and garlic.

Chanterelles (like many wild mushrooms) need to be cooked at least 15 minutes to detoxify the mushroom, making it safe and digestible.

We learned not to refrigerate extra chanterelles – keep them in paper bags outside of refrigeration and they should last a couple weeks. When refrigerated, they will turn dark and slimy, releasing water into the bag.

We dehydrated chanterelles for future use. We sliced them thinly and laid them on the dehydrator tray (or you can put them in the oven at a low temperature.) We were told they reconstitute nicely.

dehydrated chanterelles on a dehydrator tray

dehydrated chanterelles on a dehydrator tray

Finally, we’ve heard you can preserve them in whiskey or scotch, soaking them in a jar with the alcohol for a month or so, then get rid of the chanterelle and the whiskey will become chanterelle-flavored. You can do this in vodka or wine as well, and then can add to cooking to infuse the dish with a chanterelle flavor.

Here is a recipe for the chanterelle omelet we made for Ella (she ate the whole thing!)

  • One egg – cracked into a bowl and beaten with a splash of water
  • 1 Tbsp red onion
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • 2 Tbsp grated pepper jack cheese
  • 2 Tbsp sauteed (as above) chanterelles
  • In a small pan over medium high heat, saute the onion in olive oil with salt about 5 minutes.
  • Pour egg so it spreads over the bottom of pan and let it cook through until bubbles appear and it is no longer runny.
  • Add the cheese and mushrooms to one half the egg, and fold the egg over in half, omelet style.
  • Enjoy immediately.
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Seasons Change To Summer…

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I just love watching what happens to the plants around me as the seasons change!

Here in Pittsburgh, it is getting HOT, summer is here.

With it bring a whole new crop of wild edibles, herbal remedies, and poisonous plants to watch:

Here is the St. John’s Wort, (Hypericum perforatum) now if full bloom. In the picture I am demonstrating that if you crush a bud in your fingers, you get a dark red pigment, which is the Hypericin - one of the active ingredients in St. John’s Wort.

st. john's wort

st. john's wort

Now is the time to harvest St. John’s Wort to make oils or tinctures. The oil is great to soothe sore muscles, ease jangled nerves, and treat sunburns. The tincture of St. John’s wort is used as an anti-viral, and also an anti-depressant. In fact, in European countries like Germany, St. John’s wort is used to treat depression more commonly than the prescribed medications like Prosac, which are used more in this country.

Here is Queen Anne’s Lace, or Wild Carrot:

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne's Lace

Even though the greens of carrots are full of nutrition, and the root of this plant has a distinctly carrot-like smell, we do not eat this plant at all! That is because it so closely resembles the deadly poisonous Water Hemlock and Poison Hemlock, that we do not feel it is worth the risk of making a mistake. We tell everyone who comes on our walks that it is our policy NOT TO EAT wild carrot, and we strongly suggest they do the same.

Here is a poison plant: Pokeweed. It’s berries are not fully ripe yet, they will get dark purple/black when ripe. Pokeweed is eaten (mostly down south) when it is just shooting from the ground in early spring. Now it is TOXIC, and the berries are highly poisonous. It is used, however, as a dye:

pokeweed

pokeweed

Here is one of our favorites, yummy plantain (Plantago major). We love to use the green leaves of this plant in smoothies, chopped in salads, and marinated and dehydrated into yummy crisps. Here you see the stalks. In the fall (once they turn brown) we will collect the seeds of plantain and use them just like psyllium seeds (which is from another Plantago: Plantago psyllium and Plantago ovata, both of which grown in the middle east.)

Plantain

Plantain

We’ll use these seeds just as we would use psyllium seeds: as a thickener for puddings and sauces, and also added to oatmeals and breads. In Chinese medicine, the seeds are used to treat urinary tract infections.

We’ll have more on our virtual summer wild edible walk tomorrow…please stay tuned!!

~ Melissa

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Poison: Water Hemlock

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Or should I say: Extremely Poison: Water Hemlock.

poison: water hemlock

poison: water hemlock

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) literally has me trembling. This (and it’s cousin, Poison Hemlock, or Conium maculatum) are the reason we advise all on our walks (especially children) NOT to eat the edible Wild Carrot, or Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota). Look how much the flower looks like Queen Anne’s Lace:

poison: water hemlock flower

poison: water hemlock flower

Wild Carrot Flower and Leaves, picture from Wiki, Gnu Free Licensing

Wild Carrot Flower and Leaves, picture from Wiki, Gnu Free Licensing


Water Hemlock is DEADLY
and the risk of confusing the two is just not worth it.

We found Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) growing all through Schenely Park in Pittsburgh. The leaves are quite different from that of Wild Carrot:

poison: water hemlock leaves

poison: water hemlock leaves

…so they are not impossible to tell apart. Still, if one were just learning, or not paying attention, or didn’t know something deadly so closely resembled something edible, they might make a mistake.

So again, this is why we advise people not to eat Wild Carrots (it’s too risky a mistake), and why we don’t eat them ourselves.

Hemlocks don’t smell like carrots the way wild carrots do, and that is another way to tell them apart. Again, it’s not that they look/are exactly the same, it’s just they are close enough, and grow in overlapping places and the risk is just too high.

According to the book Edible Wild Plants, this plant’s toxic alkaloids can cause nervousness, trembling (it causes me trembling just to look at it!), reduced heartbeat, coma, and respiratory failure/death.

Have fun and please stay safe,
~ Melissa
Food Under Foot

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Poison: Horse Nettles

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Here is one POISON plant we find growing all around Pittsburgh: Horse Nettle (Solanus carolinese).

Poison: Horse Nettles

Poison: Horse Nettles

It is actually not related to (wild edible) nettles at all. Horse Nettle is a nightshade, and is quite poisonous. It’s relatives are the poisonous European nightshade, black or deadly nightshade and silverleaf nightshade.

According to the book Edible Wild Plants, the leaves and fruits contain an alkaloid called solanine. If ingested, they can cause vomiting, nausea, abdominal pains and other gastrointestinal complaints.

Poison: Horse Nettle

Poison: Horse Nettle

The flowers are quite beautiful: the 5 petals are white to light purple, and the center is bright yellow. The stems and leaves are hairy and thorny.

Please do not be confused by the word “nettle” in this plant’s common name. Solanum carolinese is a poisonous plant, and should definitely be avoided.

Have fun, stay safe.

~ Melissa
Food Under Foot

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Poison! Foxglove

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My walk around Pittsburgh led me to this beautiful, but highly poisonous plant:

foxglove

foxglove

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is a highly toxic plant which can be deadly. It is used today in the pharmaceutical industry, to make Digitalis, a medication that treats heart disease. The plant contains high levels of glycosides, which effect the heart, but can also be deadly. (Source: Peterson Field Guides; Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants.)

foxglove

foxglove

Foxglove is usually a cultivated ornamental, but can escape from gardens and be found growing in the wild. It is a biennial plant, and the first year it is just a basal rosette of leaves, which have been mistaken for comfrey (Symphytum officinale), and that is when deadly mistakes have been made:

foxglove leaves

foxglove leaves

comfrey leaves

comfrey leaves

The flowers of foxglove and comfrey are quite different. Once it flowers, it is much easier to distinguish the plants:

foxglove flowers

foxglove flowers

comfry flowers

comfrey flowers

Have fun, stay safe!

~ Melissa

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Onion Grass and Non-Edible Look-Alike

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onion grass growing on a hillside near our house, note the curly ends on some stalks

onion grass growing on a hillside near our house, note the curly ends on some stalks

Onion grass is very plentiful this time of year. In fact, it’s been up since March…it is one of the first things to come up, along with garlic mustard.

Onion grass is distinct: it comes up in patches in lawns and hillsides, it’s darker green and longer than the grass (especially in early spring, when grass has barely come back yet!), has a hollow stalk and a distinct onion smell and taste.

It can be used as you would use chives, and the bulb can even be dug and used like small shallots or scallions.

However, recently we were hiking along a creek bed, and came across a patch of plants that could potentially be confused for onion grass, especially because there was onion grass growing very close by.

NOT onion grass

NOT onion grass


This plant was likely a lily, so when digging it up it had very similar looking bulbs to the onion. However, looking carefully at the greens you’ll see this plant looks more like grass: flat, uniform in height, and very straight. The onion grass, on the other hand, grows rather messily: each stalk is a different height and some curl. Also, as I said before, onion is hollow, which you can tell when you break the stalk.

NOT onion grass: flat, even, looks like grass, no onion smell

NOT onion grass: flat, even, looks like grass, no onion smell

This IS onion grass: curly hollow stalk, smells like onion

This IS onion grass: curly hollow stalk, smells like onion

The final very important distinction is that onion grass smells undeniably like onion, while the imposter does not. If one were to accidently taste a bit of the imposter (which we do not recommend) it would taste awful and bitter: a sure sign the plant is not meant to eat.

Please remember:

  • use multiple senses when identifying a plant, even one you feel very sure of.
  • if you plan to eat a plant, dry it or use it in any other way internally, and feel 100% certain it is what you are after, it is still wise to taste a tiny bit of the plant to make sure it is what you seek. If it the taste is unpleasant or not what you expect, spit it out and discard it.
  • Be absolutely certain when foraging wild edibles. There are plants which are dangerously toxic, even lethal (including death camas…which grows out west and can be confused with wild onion…see below…,poison and water hemlock and foxglove, to name a couple.)

Thanks, be safe and enjoy the spring!

onion grass I harvested today: VERY oniony smell, hollow stalks, curly uneven ends

onion grass I harvested today: VERY oniony smell, hollow stalks, curly uneven ends

~ Melissa

Here is a very important comment added by Jason. (I am adding it in the text because our comment section is still a bit hard to find/understand.):

Everyone should read this post and understand it. Before you eat anything in the wild, make sure you are educated, especially on poisonous look-alikes.

I’ll add and important tie-in. DEATH CAMAS is often confused with Wild Onion and is EXTREMELY POISONOUS
.

It is in the same Order as Lilies, and also has an oval bulb that looks like wild onion. Sometimes they’ll even grow together!

As you point out, an important distinguishing feature is the lack of an “onion-smell”.

When foraging for food, if in doubt, go without.
~ Jason

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