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Wild Food Holiday Feasts

General Posts, Recipes
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Late fall nettles growing around our compost container

Late fall nettles growing around our compost container

There’s still lots of wild food out there (well, depending on where you live)…here are some ideas on how to incorporate it into your holiday meals.

In Western Pennsylvania, you can still find oyster mushrooms, perhaps hen of the woods (though it’s a bit late…but maybe you still have some around you recently harvested), nettles, dandelion greens, burdock root, chickweed, recently harvested black walnuts and hickory nuts and more. There are lots of ways to incorporate some of these yummy foods.

These days our meals tend to be vegan or vegetarian and gluten-free. So here are some ideas:

  • Add burdock root to lentil sweet potato stew.
  • Make candied black walnuts to top this raw cranberry sauce, you can find the recipe for this dish here.

Raw Cranberry Sauce in Orange Halves, topped with Candied Nuts

Raw Cranberry Sauce in Orange Halves, topped with Candied Nuts

Wild Mushroom Stuffing (gluten-free, vegan)

  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 2 cups wild mushrooms (oysters or maitake/hen of the woods)
  • 2 stalks chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped nettles (sure, why not! If you don’t have it you can omit or add spinach or parsley instead.)
  • 2 cups cooked rice, quinoa, or cut-in-little-pieces gluten-free bread
  • salt, pepper
  • dried sage
  • dried thyme
  • olive oil
  • optional: nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese (not vegan)
  • optional: grated cheddar cheese (not vegan) or grated vegan cheese like Daiya brand, which usually melts.
  1. Saute onions, garlic, mushrooms and salt in olive oil until soft, at least 5 minutes.
  2. Add chopped celery and saute a few minutes more.
  3. Add nettles until wilted.
  4. Add pepper, sage and thyme and rice (or quinoa or bread. If adding bread you may need some water.)
  5. Stir all together over heat, adjusting seasonings, adding nutritional yeast or Parmesan cheese if you prefer.

My favorite way to eat this stuffing this fall is in baked squash: either delicata or acorn squash.

To bake squash: Cut in half (lengthwise for delicata) scrape out seeds (and save seeds to roast: we are foragers! we do not throw away the seeds! We may save some to plant next year…but the rest we roast!) Rub squash with olive oil and place face down on oiled baking pan, baking at 350 for 20 - 40 minutes until soft.

  • Put stuffing in squash, top with cheese (optional) and reheat in oven until cheese melts.

To roast squash or pumpkin seeds: wash off squash debris, coat with olive oil or melted butter, add salt, spread on baking tray and bake while squash is baking 10 -15 minutes, stir up, spread again and bake 5 to 10 more minutes, until dry and crispy.

Enjoy your holidays!

Stay safe, stay wild.

~ Melissa and the folks at Food Under Foot

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Save Money and Enhance Health with Wild Foods

General Posts
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Organic greens like spinach or kale can be pricey at the grocery store or farmers market. Add a pint of fresh berries and an omega 3 supplement like flax or fish oil, and your grocery bill rises further still. Throw in some fresh tropical fruit, organic nuts and wild mushrooms and it’s difficult to afford to eat healthy whole foods these days. Yet all of these foods are available at your doorstep for free, even if you live in the city.

Wild foods are abundant all around us now, in summer and fall. Wild greens like lambs quarters (Chenopodium alba) can be substituted for spinach in any recipe or salad, eaten cooked or raw. This green has a mild flavor all season, never turning bitter like dandelion greens. It is high in protein and has more calcium than kale. A good field guide such as Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods by Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman, can help with positive identification.

Lambs Quarters

Lambs Quarters

Growing through the cracks of city sidewalks and popping up in empty planters is another green which is in abundance now: purslane (Portulaca oleracea). This succulent green has appreciable amounts of omega 3
fatty acid, which is the same beneficial oil as in fish and flax oil supplements. Add wild purslane to a salad or smoothie daily to get your dose of omega threes.

Wild Purslane

Purslane

In many places of the country blackberry brambles are considered an invasive weed. Right now their thorny branches are covered with large juicy berries. American Paw paw trees contain tropical fruit native to this country,
and grow as far north as Michigan, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. These fruits look like champagne mangoes yet their flesh tastes like banana custard and is closely related to the cherimoya.

Paw Paw Tree and Fruit

Paw Paw Tree and Fruit

In the midwest and northeast black walnuts and hickory nuts are getting ready to fall from the trees in great abundance. These can be gathered, hulled and dried to be cracked and eaten year round. All across the country
acorns are falling from oak trees yet few people realize that acorns are edible. Many of them are bitter from the high concentration of tanins, but these can be easily boiled away. Crack the shell to remove the acorn meat, then boil, changing the water as it turns brown until it no longer does. The nuts can be dried in the oven and ground into flour as the Native Americans did. If one has access to a creek or spring, simply tie the acorns in a cloth and set in the running water. In a day or two the bitter tanins will have washed away and the nuts can then be dried in a dehydrator.

Acorns in White Oak Tree

Acorns in White Oak Tree


While gathering acorns check the base of the oak tree for a wild mushroom called Hen of the Woods. This delicious edible mushroom is sold in specialty stores. It is also known by its Japanese name Maitake and is used to treat cancer and enhance health. Tea and supplement from this mushroom is also sold at stores. Growing on the ground are the yellow chanterelle mushrooms, another expensive find at specialty stores. These mushrooms are distinguished from the poisonous Jack O’Lantern because chanterelle grow singly from the ground and found in larger groups, while the Jack O’Lantern grows in clusters on wood. Before eating any wild mushroom, identification should be verified in person rather than from a field guide. Check the North American Mycological Society for a mushroom group near you. If you are in Western Pennsylvania, definitely check out The Western PA Mushroom Club.
Chanterelle mushroom growing in grassy lawn

Chanterelle mushroom growing in grassy lawn


This is only a sampling of the delicious healthy food that grows wild all around. Wild food is high in nutrition and cannot be priced out of reach or otherwise restricted. It is worthwhile to learn to identify these and other plants to take control of our budgets and health.

Be Well!

Melissa Sokulski, Acupuncturist, Herbalist
Food Under Foot
Birch Center for Health

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Backyard Edibles: The Food Under My Feet

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Peaches

Peaches

In my small urban backyard which is only twenty feet by sixty feet, I am able to identify and collect over 80 edible plants, especially if I walk down my street and make use of other plants in the neighborhood.

Most of these plants are literally wild and grow there by chance. Others I have transplanted to the yard, and they now return year after year. Some, like Japanese Knotweed, are quite invasive and I am happy they are not in my yard, but I can easily harvest them around the neighborhood. And some food, fruit bushes and trees like peach, fig, blueberry and blackberry, I have planted.

The following is a list of wild plants, separated into categories, of what grows in my tiny yard (and these are only the things I identify and use! There are plenty of other plants which I don’t know or do not know how to use hanging out as well.)

Totally Wild in My Yarddandelionflowers

1. Dandelion
2. Yellow Dock
3. Chickweed
4. Lambs Quarters
5. Amaranth
6. Quickweed
7. Lady’s Thumbprint
8. Garlic Mustard
9. Broad Leaved Plantain
10. Narrow Leaved Plantain
11. Red Clover
12. White Clover
13. Sorrel
14. Wood Sorrel
15. Shephard’s Purse
16. Cress (Peppercress)
17. Purslane
18. Wild Carrot/Queen Anne’s Lace (though we don’t use this as a rule, because of its resemblance to hemlock)

Transplanted to my yard, but considered a wild plant

Oyster Mushrooms

Oyster Mushrooms

1. Nettles
2. Comfrey
3. Blackberries
4. Black Raspberry
5. Oyster Mushrooms
6. Lemon Balm
7. Violets

In my neighborhood, an easy walk from my front door

1. Burdock
2. Black Walnut
3. Acorns
4. Japanese Knotweed
5. Chicory
6. Mulberries
7. Wild Cherries, Tart and Sweet
8. Maple (Maple Syrup, if I were to tap them)
9. Cleavers
10. Thistles
11. Sumac
12. Wild Grapes

Plants I use only as medicine (most of the plants above are medicinal as well as edible, but the following I use only as medicine or herbs)

Feverfew...This one's in a pot, there is more in the yard

Feverfew...This one's in a pot, there is more in the yard

1. Mugwort
2. Mullein
3. St. John’s Wort
4. Motherwort
5. Catnip
6. Feverfew

Food Plants Which I Have Added To My Yard

1. Grapes/Grape Leaves
2. Fig
3. Strawberries
4. Peach Tree
5. Plum Tree
6. Cherry Tree
7. Kale (3 Varieties)
8. Beets
9. Carrots
10. Radishes
11. Tomatoes
12. Arugula
13. Spinach
14. Zucchini
15. Broccoli
16. Collard Greens
17. Chard
18. Fennel
19. Cucumbers
20. Pepper
21. Asian Pear Trees…3 trees/varieties
22. Blueberries

Edible Flowers

Calendula Flowers

Calendula Flowers

1. Calendula
2. Nasturtiums
3. Borage
4. Day Lily
5. Squash Flowers
6. Violets
7. Pansy
8. Sunflowers (Seeds)

Cultivated Herbs (if not mentioned above)

1. Basil
2. Rosemary
3. Thyme
4. Lemon Thyme
5. Peppermint
6. Spearmint
7. Apple Mint
8. Oregano
9. Sage
10. Cilantro
11. Dill
12. Parsley
13. Chives

What do you have in your yard?

Enjoy the harvest!

Melissa

Birch Center for Health
Food Under Foot

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Many Weeds Are Powerful Chinese Herbs

General Posts
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Many wild plants - which we consider weeds - are actually very useful as food and medicine!

The weeds above were found right here in Pittsburgh, and they are all in the Chinese Materia Medica and considered very powerful herbs.

Why buy expensive supplements from overseas with questionable ingredients, when you can find your medicine (and food) at your doorstep?

~ The Folks at Food Under Foot

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It’s Walnut Season!

General Posts, Identification
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If you’re hiking in the woods, and you come upon what looks, at first, like a tennis ball, look more closely, because you may have found one of my favorite wild edibles: black walnuts!

Black Walnut (In Its Green Hull)

Black Walnut (In Its Green Hull)

Black Walnuts are a delicious relative of the English Walnut, which is the kind we buy in the store. The Black Walnut has a distinctive taste, however, that sets it apart.

Collect them when they are on the ground, still green, and hull them immediately. We take the green hull off by stepping on it, and pressing our foot down. The hull is easy to remove, but it’s best to be wearing gloves because the yellow stain you see will turn black and will stain your fingers!

Foot Pressing Down On Walnut Hull

Using a bag as a make-shift glove to gather hulled walnuts

Then let the nut dry - I just lay them out, but inside the house so the squirrels don’t get them! They will turn black because of the dye, but once it dries it won’t stain your fingers anymore.

The green hulls can be collected, too. They are used as a remedy against parasites. You can tincture them by covering them in a jar with alcohol such as 100 proof vodka for 6 weeks. The liquid will turn black. It is usually taken with wormwood tincture and cloves tincture to destroy parasites. (Wormwood can be dangerous taken internally, so be careful and follow the suggested dosages on the bottle.) Please talk to a health care practitioner or visit a local health food store for more info!

Below is a picture taken looking up at a Black Walnut Tree. You can still see some walnuts growing in the branches, and can get a good look at the leaves.

Black Walnuts Still Up In The Tree

Black Walnuts Still Up In The Tree

In this recent post, you can watch a video I made last year about how to crack open the walnuts once they are dry. We use a hammer or a rock, with the nut on concrete. They are not easy to get into!

Enjoy!

~ Melissa Sokulski, L.Ac.

Food Under Foot
(and Birch Center for Health)

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Raw Food Potluck and Wild Edible Walk Sunday

General Posts, Raw, Recipes
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If you are in the Pittsburgh area and interested in raw foods as well as wild edible plants, please join us in Schenely park this Sunday, October 4 at noon (the Steeler game is not until 8:20 pm this Sunday, so you won’t miss a thing!)

Using our feet to remove the green hull from the Black Walnut - we'll likely see Black Walnuts Sunday

Using our feet to remove the green hull from the Black Walnut - we'll likely see Black Walnuts Sunday


This event is sponsored by the Pittsburgh Raw Food Meetup Group, so if you’d like to attend (it’s a free event), please join the meetup group (there is no charge to join) and RSVP on the meetup invitation page. This way you will be contacted if there are any last minute changes (weather!), and given the full information about the whereabouts and who to contact with questions. We hope to see you there!!!

If you are new to raw foods: this is a potluck, so please bring a dish containing only raw (uncooked) fruits and veggies…a simple fruit salad is always welcome (no canned fruit, though, only fresh.) If you are feeling adventurous, check out some of the many raw recipes on sites like www.goneraw.com or the wonderful recipe page of the All Raw Directory. If you are really inspired, you may want to check out some of the raw “cook” books we recommend in the raw food section of our bookstore.

Here is a simple recipe I am preparing tonight:

Garden Fresh Tomato Salad

5 Garden Tomatoes, chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed (or finely chopped)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil (or you can use fresh thyme or oregano)

Mix all ingredients together well and serve…delicious!

Hope to see you soon!

~ Melissa

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Autumn is Here!

General Posts, Identification, video
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Autumn is here! And with it come two of my favorite wild edibles: Black Walnuts and Paw Paws! We were lucky enough to find both yesterday (and me without my camera!), but I’ll get some pictures and post them as soon as possible. (Below are some pictures of the paw paws we found last year.)

For now, please enjoy the video below from last year, which shows Ella and me cracking (and eating) black walnuts. The walnuts in the video have already been hulled (they have green hulls, when you find them on the ground, they really look like tennis balls at first glance) and dried.

To hull them, step on the walnut with your foot (wear shoes!) and then take the walnut out. You’ll want to wear gloves! The yellow stain will turn black and will stain your hands and anything else you get it on. (We’ll post pics of how to do this.)

Sometimes you’ll find worms under the hull, I usually discard these walnuts! Also, get the hulls off when they are still green - they’ll turn black eventually and give the walnuts a bitter taste.

Then, just set them out to dry, but don’t leave them outside or the squirrels will make off with your stash!

When they’re ready, you’ll have to crack into them and eat them, and that is what you’ll see below.

Enjoy!

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