Thursday, February 23, 2012

Garlic Mustard...

Like all things in life, you can look at any situation and see the good and the bad.

Let's take this winter for example.  My son Owen is extremely disappointed with the poor sledding and snowman-making conditions.  My step son Noah is pleased the weather has been pleasant enough that the ice fishing hasn't frozen his bits off like previous winters.  He also misses the snowmen we didn't get to make this year.  As a self-professed gardening addict, I'm more than a little glad to see the days getting longer and the ground showing through the ice and snow already.

We were getting out on the lake this past family day weekend and I happened to spy some GREEN on the GROUND!

The earliest showings of garlic mustard in our own back yard!  Note the wee heart shaped leaves which will grow to 2-5" in width.  The leaves are dark green, scalloped-edged, deeply veined, and long stalked.

Of course, once you get to know what garlic mustard looks like, you'll begin to realize you've seen this plant before...EVERYWHERE.  In fact, we recognized it immediately, as we've been weeding it out of our garden for years!  What a score...that's two things we've been ripping out and throwing away for no reason.  (The other wild edible we found was purslane)

The picture above is the garlic mustard from last'll probably want to avoid it.  The taste is not great.  The texture of the plants are both frozen and thawed.  Mush....not so yummy.  Once you begin to see the new growth, you can have at 'er. 

Garlic mustard (alliaria officinalis), also called Jack-by-the-hedge or sauce-alone, is found all over North America.  It was originally brought over from Europe as a food crop.  Unfortunately, as with many imported plants, garlic mustard took over and is now considered an invasive species.  Lucky for us!  We can now feel good about harvesting as much as you'd like without the guilty feeling of if too much is picked, the plant will never grow back.

The best part is that garlic mustard has no poisonous look-a-likes.  Yay!

One of the reasons why garlic mustard is a favorite first plant of foragers is because it can be found almost all year long.  It survives under snow because it contains natural anti-freezes that lower the boiling point of water.  Steve Brill cautions in his book "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places" that you should never put garlic mustard in your car's radiator...its not that kind of antifreeze. 

Garlic mustard is listed in many herbals as having warming properties as well as stimulating digestion.  Steve Brill says in his book that "garlic mustard is antiseptic:  Juice from the leaves is used for cleansing skin ulcers and eruptions.  People also crush the leaves until moist and rub them on aching limbs for a feeling of warmth."  Instead of running out for some Rub A535...trying looking around your yard for garlic mustard and give it a try! 

Basically any plant with the word "officinalis" in the latin name is a wonder plant used by the Greeks for medicinal and nutritional purposes.  Dandelions and watercress also are carriers of the officinalis name. 

When garlic mustard enters its second (and final) year of growth, the leaves become more pungent and less bitter.  The leaf shape itself changes from a heart shape to a triangle shape.  The four-petalled, white flowers that occur in June of its second year are good for garnishing salads and pasta dishes, according to Leda McDonald (who writes for the Food Down the Road newspaper ).  Later on, in July and August, when the leaves have lost all their taste, the seeds can be harvested and used like mustard seeds.

I find it astounding that one single plant can have so many flavours.  While the leaves (when crushed) smell and taste like garlic....the seeds taste like mustard?!  Nature never ceases to amaze... 

At any time of the year, the roots can be harvested and blended into a horseradish-like puree.

Steve Brill suggests that "garlic mustard leaves are great raw in salads, mixed with more milder greens.   It's also good steamed, simmered, sauteed or in sauces.  Cook only 5 min or the leaves will become mushy."

Because Garlic mustard is such an invasive species, many areas have pulled together to make a community event out of it!  The Patapsco Heritage Greenway state park in Maryland hosts an annual garlic mustard event on the first Sunday of May.  After checking out the link, its sounds like a really fun event, complete with "Villan of the Valley" poster contests, garlic mustard pulling contests (2 hrs and judged by weight), cooking contests (winning recipes are posted on the same link), local music, kids games and historical and environmental displays.

Below is a link to a similar challenge in April in Vermont.  I just love the name of the article...sums it up perfectly..."If you can't beat em, eat em" featuring a recipe for garlic mustard pesto.  Follow the link and have a listen (its a radio show).

For even more information...check out the link below...Ontario Wildflowers

Friday, February 17, 2012

Foxy Muffins...

Ever since my family started foraging, my eyes are wide open when I walk around town. 

I see wild edibles EVERYWHERE!  I mean everywhere!

Have you ever come across a group of unsuspecting grasses like the ones below?

If you need a better shot of these shy guys...take a look below...

This is actually known as Foxtail Grass (Setaria) and it turns out you can eat these things too!  Ok, not the plant itself...but the seeds.  Think poppyseeds...

We found a bunch at the end of fall last year.  When the plants start to turn yellow, you can shake them out in a bag and use them in recipes as you would poppyseeds.  I first read about them in Steve Brill's book "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not do Wild) Places".  Mr Brill writes, "Foxtail grass, which grows in fields, disturbed habitats, and near the seashore throughout the United States, ripens in late summer and fall.  Collect when many of the seeds are dark colored, and readily fall into your hand or bag when you lightly rub the seed head." 

These grasses are also found in abundance in Canada too!

Mr Brill goes on to explain why you should have a light touch with the seed head...

"Never rub them hard, or the bristles will come off along with the ripe seeds.  What happens next defies science.  Physics recognizes four fundemental forces in the universe:  gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force and the weak force.  If you eat foxtail grass seeds along with the bristles, you'll discover they overlooked a fifth force, more powerful than the rest combined:  It attracts the bristles to the spaces between your teeth and holds them there until the end of time."  Wildman Steve Brill cracks me up!

Wikipedia has this seed grass listed as Foxtail millet (setaria italica) and says its making a come back because it is more nutritious than rice!  That being said, I couldn't find any nutritional info about it...sigh.

I had no idea these pretty, fuzzy things were actually useful!

Sadly, I found many postings about the dangers of foxtail grass seed.  If you own a dog, you don't want to get anywhere near these things, as they get caught up in the animal's digestive system causing severe problems.  As far as I can tell, there are no known problems for human consumption.

Hubbie decided to make muffins one day while I was at work.  I came home to a proudly smiling face saying "I just made Orange Foxtail Grass Seed Muffins!"  All I could say was "I'll need a shorter name for my blog post"....tee hee!

Without further ado, here is my fantastic husband's recipe for Foxy Muffins!

Orange Foxtail Grass Seed Muffins

2 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
1 cup oil
2 tsp baking soda
4 eggs
1 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup water
2 cups mashed orange segments
1 tsp salt
1-1 1/2 tsp foxtail grass seeds (dark in colour)
1/2 tsp baking powder
zest from one orange

Mix all the wet ingredients in a large bowl.
Mix all the dry ingredients in another bowl.
Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
Bake at 350 degrees C for 55 - 60 min.

Makes 15 muffins or 2 large loaves.

The results were great!  I tried one just warm from the oven with butter.  The foxtail grass seeds didn't add too much to the flavour, but they added a nice crunch to an otherwise soft baked good. 

Since we didn't even know about this wild edible until we had almost missed its collecting season, we didn't have a ton of it around.  Next fall, we'll collect a bunch more and see what other recipes we can concoct.
We had these seeds in a small ziploc bag in our pantry.  It took up little to no space.  Storing wild edibles means you can take your time with experimenting.  You don't have to rush around and eat as much as you can while they are in season. 

Something to keep in mind that when you see wild edibles in the city. 
You must know what your particular town or city's position on spraying is BEFORE you start to forage.
It takes little to no time to find that info out in advance.  Also because you will get sick and it will have been entirely preventable. 

That being said, would you try Foxtail Grass seeds?