Monthly Archives: April 2013

Milling Wheat at Home

I love being able to have any kind of fresh flour that I want – white wheat for all purpose flour, durum for pasta, soft white for pastries, rye for breads and crackers. Ok, so I’m a wheat flour sort of person. A home mill can also make rice flour, bean flour, or flour from other grains or legumes. In general, it cannot mill oily seeds, such as sunflower seed, or nuts, such as almond.

I have used many kinds of flour mills. The worst, was a Wonder Mill (very poor design, multiple problems), the best and most reliable has been a K-tec (Blend-tec), which, although it has some awkward features, has produced the most consistently fine flour, and the best and most troublefree operation. I used one heavily for more than 10 years and only had to replace a filter. It died after being dropped, for the second time.

Something about mills – there is no such thing as an “easy clean” flour mill. They are all pretty much a hassle to clean. We used a brush to brush out the flour from the milling area, and washed the bin and intake cup. You can’t get absolutely all the flour off the mill – it will never be as pristine as new, after you get it home. Just use it regularly and you won’t have a problem. If you leave it sitting where bugs can get at it, it may attract weevils if you don’t use it for a period of a few months.

Milling large batches at one time can help with the cleaning hassle. Mill enough to make it worth the time it takes to clean it. Extra flour can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 months, or in the freezer for far longer. Otherwise, it should be used within 2 weeks if left at room temperature.

Fresh flour is something special. Oh, you probably won’t notice a huge difference in flavor. That isn’t where the real magic lies. Nutritionally, it is amazing stuff. The wheat germ and oils are intact, and the nutrients have not degraded. It supplies a far more complex and usable variety of nutrients. It is also devoid of the preservatives and anti-caking agents so common to commercial flours.

Commercial flours are not truly “whole” anything. The wheat germ is separated off, and not included in the flour – the oil in the germ shortens the shelf-life, and commercial flour producers don’t like that. So you aren’t getting true whole wheat in the first place.

Flours from the grocery store shelf are also old. You didn’t think they removed that germ for YOUR benefit, did you? By the time you get it, it is already many months old, and the older it is, the more the nutrients have degraded. It is a poor shadow of what it should be.

A good mill will produce fine whole wheat flour that is a pleasure to use. None of that chunky bran stuff that gets in the way of making light cakes and biscuits, or making a smooth gravy.

I love having the right flour for the job. I tend to use more common grains, and have not branched out into triticale, spelt, einkorn, or kamut, though they mill nicely in a home mill.

Hard Red Wheat – the standard “brown bread” flour. It has a very whole wheaty flavor, and dark color. Fine milling helps to lessen it a bit, but it is a stronger flavored wheat.

Hard White Wheat – a good all purpose whole wheat. Produces a lighter colored and flavored flour. In many foods, families do not notice the substitution. It makes gravies and sauces without significantly changing the flavor, and produces bread that acts like half white half whole wheat. It is higher in gluten than Hard Red wheat, so it rises better. This is my favorite wheat, and the one I use for almost everything. If your family is having a hard time making the adjustment, try this wheat.

Soft White Wheat – makes pastry flour, with lower gluten. Does not work well for bread, but is perfect for pie crusts, tortillas, biscuits, and other foods that get rubbery if worked too much. Using a low gluten flour keeps them flaky and less sensitive to being worked too long.

Durum Wheat – the classic pasta wheat. Has a somewhat rubbery texture when cooked. The nice thing is, when you make pasta that is half whole durum, and half hard white wheat, you come out with a nice golden pasta that is only slightly darker than most commercial pastas. All durum produces a fairly golden pasta that holds together well without getting gluey. This flour can be substituted for anything calling for “semolina”. Interestingly, using whole fresh milled semolina flour gives you a yellowy pasta, NOT a brown pasta. Commercial whole wheat pastas most likely have bran added to the flour – for some reason they seem to think people will not believe it is what it is unless they alter it with chunks of nasty tasting bran. Your homemade whole wheat pasta tastes much better.

Rye – rye grain can often be purchased where wheat is sold. Fresh whole rye grain is also very nutritious, and makes a terrific bread or cracker.

If you have special dietary requirements, a home wheat mill is a wonderful asset to help you reduce the cost of specialty flours. A bag of brown rice is far less expensive than the same quantity of rice flour – and you can be certain it is both fresh, and cleanly produced.

When you mill grain, it produces quite a lot of heat, and the flour will be warm when it exits the mill. Fresh milled flour is also higher in moisture than flour that has aged a few hours. This may make it more difficult to work with, especially in bread. Freshly milled flour will rise faster, and requires less water in the recipe, by 1-2 Tablespoons per loaf. It can also sour in about half the time, so watch it carefully.

It takes about 10-15 minutes to mill a good sized batch of flour in the average mill (about 12-16 cups), including cleaning the mill and packaging the flour.

There have been times when I did not have a wheat mill, and was unable to get fresh flour. My body notices the difference, and my health improves when I am able to use fresh wheat flour instead of just partial whole wheat that is months old.

Fresh milled wheat is one of the things that helped me heal from Crohn’s. I also just really love a good fine milled light wheat flour, so I’m hooked on milling my own.

If you love good food, and have the time to mill your own periodically, a good wheat mill will prove an asset to your kitchen, and the flour it produces will provide a healthful addition to your meals.

Food Supply Blinders

 “Go to the store, and buy some vegetables.” If given this instruction, chances are, 90% of America would return with one of two things:

1. A can of corn, a can of green beans, and a can of peas, or perhaps the frozen versions of them.

2. A head of iceberg lettuce (or Romaine if they are particularly adventurous), a bag of carrots, and a bag of celery. Perhaps a head of broccoli.

If asked to get fruit, they would return with canned peaches and pears, or with a bag of apples, oranges, or a bunch of bananas.

Meats consist of beef, chicken, and pork, and seafood is a limited range of fish and shrimp.

These are the foods that commercial agriculture has determined that we need to have in abundance on our grocery store shelves, so we are conditioned to think of them as being the only things available. Sure, you think of onions, parsley, cabbage, or other similar foods that are also available, but this is still an EXTREMELY limited range!

The other day I saw a post on “What to do with the strange vegetables that come in your CSA box”. Those “strange vegetables” aren’t really strange at all! They are traditional herbs and vegetables that have been served up on the tables in regions around the world since time immemorial.

While there is some difference in regional availability of some items, our stores do not carry the wide wealth of cultural heritage that our ancestors knew. Since the industrialization of food, so many foods have disappeared from the collective memory.

Does anyone else remember eating ground cherries? I still remember the flavor. So completely unique there has been nothing else that even compares. I remember huckleberry jam. Eating smelt, fried in cornmeal. Parsnips in the soup. And the flavor of Jerusalem Artichokes – another unforgettably distinctive flavor that I can recall to mind even though I’ve not had them for more than 30 years.

Now, in a completely different cultural region from where I grew up, I am finding that the grocery store is pretty much the same here as anywhere else. But the garden potential is not!

Strangely, the gardens here tend to grow the same things as gardens elsewhere, even though there are many plants that grow here, exceptionally well, and produce better. Again, industrial agriculture has sanitized the individuality from the seed catalogs – that is, until recently. Within the last 10 years, the availability of regional foods is once again being promoted in seed catalogs, and there is an absolute wealth of foods which your grocer never heard of!

One of the great strengths of eating local is that some local farms are now returning to providing a wider variety of regionally appropriate foods. This means farmer’s markets, CSAs, co-ops, and on-farm purchasing provide access to some pretty amazing stuff.

We’ve also been conditioned to think of many things as “weeds”, when in times past, they were valuable forage crops for people. Some of them come up and produce long before your garden is ready to hand you a salad. Chickweed is a great example. It makes a very nice salad, grows prolifically, produces very early in the spring (often coming up before the snow is completely gone), and insists on growing whether you want it to or not. It is healthy and delicious. Instead of trying to exterminate it (this is the commercial ag solution – which feeds the coffers of the chemical companies, and makes you buy vegetables instead of eating the chickweed), we should be eating it! There are no problem weeds if we are eating them! And a surprising number of the most pernicious weeds are edible!

Locally, you may also be able to find duck, rabbit, pigeon, crawdad, freshwater shrimp, and other meats that you would not find in the grocery store. You may find grass-fed liver, marrow bones, and other good foods.

Look beyond the blinders of the grocery store food supply. Consider food in a new way. Look for sources for the old and traditional foods. Many of them provide the health benefits to compensate for the modern life, and hold the keys to preventing avoidable diseases. You don’t have to use them medicinally – you just have to eat a wider variety of foods!

Conditioning is a powerful thing, but breaking out of it is a wonderfully liberating feeling. We are told over and over that industrial agriculture is the key to “cheap food”, but in fact, opening our eyes and seeing what is already here, free, and discovering the things that grow best in our area with the least effort is the real key to affordable food. Small local farms, and backyard gardens can achieve this far better than large and impersonal “rule by popularity” industrial farms.

Take a look around, and see what you can find that you didn’t see before. Give it a try. There’s some amazing stuff out there, right in plain sight!

The Salvation of the Honeybee

Honeybees are under attack, suffering from something which scientists have labeled as “Colony Collapse Disorder”, where entire colonies of bees die off en-masse. Commercial apiaries may have many hives collapse one after another. The seriousness of this trend cannot be underestimated. The honeybee is under threat of extinction, and the situation worsens daily. Some farmers in China are already having to hand-pollinate crops. If even ONE farmer in the world has to hand-pollinate seasonal crops which are out of doors, there is something very wrong.

While there are other pollinators for most crops, honeybees are vital to sustaining the perpetuation of many food crops.

It appears that the bees are thin our region as well. Plants that should be dropping blossoms as they are pollinated are still filled with blossoms that have been open for more than a week. We are concerned as to whether we will have some kinds of crops this year.

It is logical to assume that both Pesticides, and GMO foods are at the heart of this situation. Pesticide use has consistently increased in the last 5 decades, and especially in the last two, as insecticide resistant insects have developed. Pesticides are not only used on commercial crops, but on lawns, landscaping, and some are sprayed both from the street and from the air, over many cities, to control mosquitoes. While a pesticide may be more or less effective on various insect types, they are harmful to all, and long term damage builds with each exposure.

GMO crops with BT genes are toxic to many insects. It is logical to assume that their pollen would also carry this toxicity, as would nectar from those plants. In addition to direct harm, insect resistant GMO crops create another round of insecticide resistant insects, which increases the problems with ever heavier applications of pesticides.

It is probable that herbicides play a role in the demise of bees, as well, because while herbicides are not specifically targeted to bees, they are poisons which target many plants upon which bees depend – many of which are considered to be weeds by the commercial food production industries.

More than that though… Commercial beekeepers are greedy. Whereas most home beekeepers are careful to ensure that the bees have sufficient honey to last through the winter, commercial beekeepers supplement more – they rob more honey, and feed more sugar syrup to offset the extra honey they’ve taken. Sugar syrups cost less than the honey they lose if the bees feed themselves – and when feed for the bees is supplemented, they will both feed from it, AND make honey from it. So most commercial honey is NOT just the concentrated nectar of flowers and plants. It is substantially inflated with concentrated sugar syrup – to be exact, CORN syrup. Corn syrup is the most commonly used supplemental feed for bees. And the most heavily BT GMO contaminated crop, is CORN. Feeding bees corn syrup that is contaminated with BT genes is tantamount to feeding them slow poison, and it contaminates their current food source, and is then concentrated as honey, and provides a concentrated contaminated food for later use.

It is important to point out, that corn syrup in and of itself is NOT necessarily a threat to bees. It is fairly certain that it is only the BT Genetic Corn, and syrup made from THAT which would pose the greatest risks.

Pesticide and herbicide residues in nectar, GMO contamination of nectar and corn syrup, result in heavy contamination of the natural and supplemental food of bees. When bees make honey, those contaminants are concentrated into their winter food. So when bees are feeding on honey, they are feeding on concentrated poisons.

I believe the salvation of the honeybee is not in the commercial beekeeping arena. I believe it is in the arena of the backyard beekeeper.

Backyard beekeepers are more solicitous of the wellbeing of their bees, and do not typically over-rob. They feed on average far less supplemental syrup than commercial beekeepers do, and home beekeepers are fairly UNLIKELY to use corn syrup. This eliminates one major risk right off the bat.

Commercial bees are also the most vulnerable to being wiped out by pesticides or GMO crop exposure due to mass exposure, because commercial bees are typically placed near crops in need of pollination – usually near a substantial acreage. A commercial honey producer wants to drop many hives at a single drop point – he does not want to have to put one here, and one there, to get sufficient crop exposure to feed the bees. Therefore, commercially owned bees tend to feed on large scale commercial ag crops. There is a high likelihood that an entire hive of worker bees, and an entire season’s production of honey, would be seriously poisoned.

The backyard beekeeper though, has bees that get a wider range of exposure, and the chance that the entire working element of the hive will be exposed to a large expanse of GMO crops, or heavily pesticided vegetation is lower. Each bee is more likely to run a gamut of exposures – with at least some of their forage being fairly clean. The hive as a whole will do the same – while SOME of the bees may die from exposure, the entire hive will not. While SOME of the honey may be contaminated, all of it will not.

Bees kept in backyards, where they are not exposed to disease from large masses of bees are also less vulnerable to other threats that can wipe out a hive. Careless beehive inspectors from government control agencies pose one of the largest threats to the health of backyard hives – because they inspect both commercial and backyard hive systems, and have, in numerous instances, spread disease from one to the other.

The future of the honeybee is currently threatened by careless agricultural practices. Keeping bees in your backyard is one way to be part of the solution to keeping our valuable agricultural partners working and thriving in the future.

We can’t control what big ag does. We can sometimes influence it, with a lot of effort, but usually our ability to do so is extremely limited. By taking a little piece of responsibility for one colony of bees though, we can make a difference to our own community, and protect that one little piece.

Many towns are now allowing beekeeping within city limits. Check with your town and see if you are one of the lucky ones. If so, invest in a top bar hive (there are several types) and a colony of bees, and begin a new adventure in helping to save the honeybee.

There is much more than honey at stake.

Frying Potatoes in a Ceramic Skillet

After seeing a friend cooking eggs in an Ogreenics skillet, I finally thought a ceramic skillet might be worth a try. She was cooking eggs, without oil. They adhered, but peeled easily away when the eggs were turned.

I cook a lot of potatoes in the skillet. And potatoes stick, in everything except teflon. Teflon wears out, fast, and bits come off in the food. Ick. Food purist or not, teflon just isn’t a good option for hard use. No matter how gentle you are with it, eventually, it peels.

Cast iron is great for a lot of things, but potatoes, and corned beef, stick, even if your cast iron is nicely seasoned. They stick to stainless steel also. Hopelessly. They stick regardless of the amount of oil in the pan. They stick regardless of the type of oil. They just stick. And you loose all that delicious crunch, because it all sticks to the pan, and you have to soak it off when you wash the pan. And really, why bother frying potatoes if you lose the very reason you fried them in the first place?

I purchased a Wearever ceramic coated skillet.

First, we cooked bacon. The skillet is so slick that you really need kitchen tongs to cook bacon. Trying to catch it any other way is near impossible. It just slides around in the pan and you can’t even get the utensil under it. But it wiped out afterward without the tiniest bit of sticky brown bits.

Then, the potato test. Diced potatoes, sausage, onion, all into the pan along with some butter. Heat on. The whole mess slid around effortlessly in the pan. Again, the problem was not with sticking, it was with sliding. Hard to get the turner under it to flip it. But at the end, the finished food slid out cleanly onto the plate.

It passed the test without even working up a sweat. I suspect it would handle reheating mashed potatoes much like it handles eggs.

Nothing sticks to this. You can’t make it. And you can use a durable metal pancake turner on it. No need to use a wimbly plastic thing.

I suppose someday someone will find some kind of health reason to not use ceramic cooking pots and pans. But until they do, I’m sold.

Wild Garlic

We were out walking the other day, and I spotted some wild garlic. Honestly, I don’t know how I knew that is what it was, I just did. I walked over and tugged on a top. I guess I kind of expected the bulb to pull out. It did not. The top broke off. Determined stuff.

Whatever, it told me what I needed to know. I was right! A pleasant garlicky smell drifted up from the stems, and stayed on my hands.

I grabbed a clump, and started working on it, trying to see if I could get a bulb up intact. It is VERY deep rooted for a bulb, so it took a bit of working. The bulbs tend to be several inches down in the ground, all tightly clustered together, with this little bulb clinging to the end. I finally managed to separate out a full plant. I toted it home and planted it in one of my pots in my container gardens.

Then I got online and did an extensive search to make sure that I did indeed have what I thought I had. The verdict? If it smells like garlic, and has tube like leaves (just like chives), then it is indeed wild garlic.

It is considered a weed, and an unwelcome one almost everywhere that it grows. This is because it can cause problems for horses, and if milk cattle consume it, it will flavor the milk (in fact, butter made from such milk was considered a specialty item in Switzerland at one time). While this means you really have to watch for patches that have been treated with herbicide, it also means that when you find good patches, no one minds if you quietly remove them. It is fairly resistant to most herbicides, so it can survive even when it has been treated.

Healthy wild garlic looks different than struggling wild garlic, and if it has been sprayed, it will most likely survive, but be less healthy. Stuff that is struggling will look kind of like anemic chives, with the leaves splayed out more, and shorter. The healthy stuff has straight leaves that stand right up, and it grows in a tight very tall cluster, instead of a floppy and spread out bunch.

I snuck out and liberated some more the next morning, and scattered it through my pots. It helps deter some kinds of pests. Since it is a bulb, it transplants easily, even if it does not have much root on it when it is moved. It should be moved before it sets blossoms – it will form a classic teardrop shaped green bud at the top of the central stalk, which will then form a cluster of bulblets and kind of odd flowers. The bulblets will scatter around it when they mature, giving rise to the next generation of wild garlic. It appears that the bulblets may be more of a seed packet than a true bulb, because they drop to the ground and grow – but the new garlic bulbs form 2-3” underground. Some of the new ones also split, sometimes into two or even three bulbs.

I gave it some time to flush out, with a few good waterings, and some time to let any contaminants from the previous location work out. Not knowing what the neighbors might have applied to the growing location, this is a good idea (though it appears they did not use herbicides – other properties did have wild garlic, but it was wimbly and pathetic compared to the lush and upright clusters that I dug). You could do that by putting the bulbs in water for a few days if you did not want to grow them.

When I was ready to sample it, I chopped about 4” of two green spears very fine, and cooked them in butter with some sausage. I made a cheddar cheese sauce and mixed the sausage and garlic into it, and put that over some rotini. The flavor was gentle, and  a little more complex than domestic garlic. It was a very enjoyable flavor. I think complements cheese a bit better than domestic garlic, which can get a bit nauseating when combined with cheese, and I think it would do better with potatoes and perhaps eggs as well.

A little seems to go a long way, though the flavor was not overpowering, nor was it sharp or hot like garlic can be if you get too much. Had I used more, or if I had used the bulbs, the flavor may have been different than it was with just the greens. I had used a similar amount of domestic garlic greens in a similar dish, and the flavor was more concentrated. The wild stuff seems flavorful, but mellower.

The wild garlic does not seem to have a strong after-taste, and it doesn’t give one garlic breath as easily as domesticated garlic.

It does have some health promoting benefits that are a little different than those of domestic garlic. Similar in the kinds of things it helps, but different in how it helps.

This is something I definitely want to have on hand for use, and as a part of my herbal medicinal arsenal. Enough to deliberately cultivate it in a controlled environment. It may seem silly cultivating weeds, but some are so valuable that I find it worthwhile to assure consistent availability.

It was a nice find, and one that I am enjoying.

Taking a Bite of Henbit

“Look at all that chickweed!” I said, as I finished showing the neighbor the ginormous patch of chickweed just waiting to be gathered. He pointed to the patch next to it and asked, “Is that one edible?”.

I glanced at it. Green leaves, vertical growth, pink flowers popping out between the layers of leaves. “I don’t know.” I told him, “But I can find out.”.

I circled the edge of the fence and came around to my front door, and went in the house. I got on the computer, and searched for “pink wildflower”. Then I went back out to memorize the features of the flower in question. Right by my door – vertical growth, green leaves, pink flowers popping out between the layers. I looked it over. Rounded scalloped leaves. Square stem. The leaves formed little pagodas up the stem, each layer smaller than the last. A spray of buds and fluted blossoms on top, and more blossoms between each layer.

Rather pretty, actually.

I went back in, to look at the search results. It took a while. But eventually I found it.

Henbit. A fairly aggressive weed that can fill entire fields with a splash of purplish color in the spring. I went back to the search engine and put in “henbit”, and dug through more descriptions and images, just to confirm and make sure of the identification. No question, there wasn’t anything else exactly like that!

I searched “henbit edible”. Sure enough. Oh, not one of the more popular wild edibles in your ordinary “I eat a few weeds around the farm” type person, but very commonly consumed among rabid wild foragers (I use that description with the utmost respect!).

Henbit on the left, Purple Dead-Nettle on the right. Purple Dead-Nettle
does not always have reddish leaves at the top.

I learned how to distinguish Henbit from Purple Dead-Nettle. People talked about the differences exhaustively, explaining the differences in the leaves, the colors, the blossoms, the arrangement of the leaves, etc. To me, the difference was simple once I saw a good picture. Henbit has rounded scalloped leaves. Purple Dead-Nettle has pointed scalloped leaves. The shape of the leaves is distinctly different. The rest of the differences may vary depending on how they are raised, the stage of growth, etc. But THAT is distinctive in each. Once I recognized Henbit, I knew for sure it WAS Henbit, and not Purple Dead-Nettle. Not that it mattered all that much, since both are edible, but I like to be certain.

I also searched the medicinal properties. Just to make sure that it did not have something that would aggravate any of my known issues. In fact, it sounded like a good match for some of them, so I gathered a little from around the door and front of the house.

Henbit is fairly chewy. I like it boiled for about 5 minutes, or sauteed in butter and garlic. When added in with spinach I can’t really tell the difference, except it takes a little more chewing. I have also eaten it in a salad – takes even more chewing. Flavor is unremarkable – just sort of green. Texture a little rough. Not hairy. I am not fond of hairy.

Over the next few days, I experimented with it and a few other discoveries.

Then today, Kevin brought home the rabbit hutch he’s been working on. He had to drop it off and then head off to do some work in another location before lunch. He and the driver dropped it off… right in the big bed of chickweed.

Just about the time I ran out of henbit on this side of the fence.

After the rabbit hutch was moved, I wandered over to survey the damage, and see if I could gather a bit of henbit to mix with dinner.

There was the chickweed – sadly crushed, but rallying. And right beside it… NOT Henbit! Purple Dead-Nettle! I recognized it even though the leaf color was green to the tops, without the characteristic red or purplish blush on the top leaves (that comes with full sun – I have long known that reddish colors in plants tend to come out with sunlight, and these were in the shade of the fence). I did do another net search to make sure that my assumption about the red color was correct, prior to using any.

It is called Dead-Nettle because it does not sting, like Stinging Nettle. Dead-Nettle is not really a nettle, rather, it is a member of the mint family, as is Henbit. Both have square stems, characteristic of that family of plants.

The leaves are fuzzy. Try as I might, I could do no more than nibble a single leaf, just to say that I had. The flavor had a bitter edge underneath, but was otherwise an unremarkable anemic green flavor. Based on how it is described by other people, I suspect the flavor may be affected by how and where it is grown. I can’t quite manage that much fresh fuzzy, so this is something I will be using only as a pot herb, or pureed to bits in a smoothie.

I had some in a smoothie later, and it imparted a bit of vegetable flavor to the drink, but was not strong enough to isolate a particularly identifiable taste.

There is less said about the edibility of Purple Dead-Nettle than about Henbit. The hairiness of the leaves seems to put people off, except for die-hard foragers.

I do like the blossoms though! They are a valuable nectar source for bees in the early spring (as are Henbit blossoms), and they taste lightly sweet. Of course, gathering  just the blossoms for anything more than a scattered garnish would be unbearably tedious. They were fun to pull out and taste though.

It was kind of cool to find the Purple Dead-Nettle, and to instantly recognize what I had not recognized mere days before – that we had two different, but very similar plants growing on opposite ends of the fence. And to recognize now that they only look similar when one is not paying attention. Once I examined them to identify the first one, I could no longer mistake the two. It took only a close look to see the many differences.

Even though I don’t consider it a choice edible, it is nice knowing that I can use it if I need, and trying it has given me an idea of what to do with it to make it tasty and enjoyable if I do have the need.

Eating Weeds – How Do They Taste?

Eating weeds is either a fascinating idea (food you do not pay for), or a repellant one to snobs who cannot see how a weed could possibly measure up to foods that you buy.

The biggest fear that I’ve noticed in people, who might want to try them, is a fear that they might taste horrid. They somehow feel that if it has been overlooked as a commercial food, that it must not be palatable. That simply is untrue.

The fact is that most cultivated foods are not cultivated because of their superior flavor or ease of growth. Some DID have a superior flavor at one time. Long ago. Before they were bred for durability. Durability and flavor do not go hand in hand. Most produce items on the store shelves are there simply because they can be shipped long distances without breaking down rapidly.

The foods listed below are all classed as weeds. But they are also edible foods. They are best when eaten very fresh – same day, or within minutes of picking. Some may be preserved by drying for later use. They don’t really pack and store very well though.

I don’t think anyone can truly answer the question of “What does it taste like?” for someone else. I can tell you what I think it is similar to, or I can tell you that I liked it. I cannot tell you whether YOU will like it.

I can, however, reassure you that I did not stick any of these in my mouth and grab my throat making gagging noises. Most are fairly bland, unremarkable, with familiar flavors that are nondistinctive, much in the same way many lettuces seem to be.

 

Clover, Trefoil

Blossoms, stems, and leaves are edible. Leaves taste bland, stems may taste tangy (pleasantly sour). Cooked, clover quickly darkens to a rather unappetizing color of dark olive green. It gets lost if you mix it with other cooked greens, and you won’t be able to taste it specifically. In a salad, the fresh smaller leaves look pretty, do not seem to have a distinctive flavor unless you run across a stem. Clover sprouts or microgreens taste similar to alfalfa sprouts. I ate clover blossoms as a child, do not remember them as being anything special, just one more thing to nibble on if you found them. They lose their color, and they go gray if cooked, and are prettiest used fresh and raw.

Clover is probably not distinctive enough to feature it in a recipe. It is pretty enough, either leaves, or blossoms, to use for garnishes and to add visual interest to fresh food. I think it is worth using, because it grows so well, is nutritious, and easy to find and harvest. And less costly than buying vegetables! It is up and thriving very early in the spring, before spring vegetables are even thinking about giving you anything to eat.

Purslane

Some people describe it as lemony – but to me, it is just that common tangy flavor of some wild greens. Tart – either mild, or strong. Some say it depends on the time of day when picked, with stronger tang in the morning, lighter in the evening (there’s a scientific reason for this having to do with how it stores and uses nutrients). Our purslane has been very mild flavored, crispy and a pleasant addition to a mixed salad. I’ve only eaten it fresh and uncooked, have not tried it in stirfry, which is the other very common way to use it.

I find this to be good enough to grow intentionally. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a succulent, but it is just really good. I eat a lot of salads, and appreciate some variety in the greens. Purslane grows so easily in such poor conditions, without any encouragement on our part, that it just makes sense to take advantage of it.

Chickweed

Can be eaten cooked or fresh, most commonly used fresh. It tastes… green. Sort of grassy. If you pick it, wash it, and store it in the fridge, it can develop a tangy edge over a few days time. Cut off sprigs, and snip them up into a salad. Or, if you want a very pretty way to dress up the top of a salad, cut just the top 1″ off the sprigs, and scatter those across the salad. I have not tried it cooked. It just did not seem to appeal to me.

This is a green that I’ll be using again and again. It grows well without help, is EVERYWHERE, and is easy to cut and toss into a salad. It tastes good and the ends of sprigs look lovely. It is very pretty with blossoms on it as well.

Henbit

The whole plant is edible, but the tops, with the flower buds, make a very nice garnish. Uncooked it has kind of a fuzzy feel which I don’t much care for. It has a rather non-descript flavor. Cooked, it is similar to spinach, but a little chewier. I like this one best with an assortment of wild greens, tossed in a skillet with some butter and a sprinkle of garlic powder, and heated until the greens wilt. The flowers lose their bright color, but the greens have the same kind of non-spicy flavor as spinach. It would also be good cooked and spritzed with vinegar, or stirred into scrambled eggs.

I don’t think this is anything special, either nutritionally, or for taste. But it is so plentiful where not much else grows, and does make a fairly good all purpose cooked green. For that reason alone, it is one that I am using on a regular basis. I’ll also be drying it for use in the winter.

Mare’s Tail

We picked just the lighter green tips from the plants that were not even close to setting flowers. You can eat this fresh, or cooked, but cooked is recommended. It has the same texture as mature blades of grass – kind of rough, but not stringy. Cooked, it wilts into a green that has a milder flavor than spinach, but remains a little chewier. It can be used in the same kinds of dishes as spinach, where a milder flavor is wanted.

This weed can spread very rapidly, and it seems to me that picking out the tops and harvesting it instead of letting it run rampant and go to seed is an excellent way to get some use out of it while controlling the spread. It is a good edible, and can be used in enough ways that it is one that I’ll continue to look for and take advantage of. It has some medicinal uses, so I’ll also be drying some for tea.

Plantain

Plantain leaves are a good cooked vegetable. Very similar to spinach, with a flavor that is pretty close as well. It can be used interchangeably with spinach.The main problem we had with eating Plantain was getting enough of it to really use. It is not a prolific weed – it does grow in poor conditions, but does not spread aggressively.

I don’t think I’d cultivate it for use unless I needed it for medicinal purposes. If I run across it on a forage, I’d happily add it to a basket, but I don’t think I’d go out of my way for it, and it really isn’t worth creating recipes around due to the small amounts gathered at one time.

Sheep’s Sorrel, and Wood Sorrel

These two wild leafy plants taste very similar, but look very different from each other. They both have a pronounced sour flavor (not unpleasant), better used as an accent than as a feature. The chopped leaves can be sprinkled over a salad to add a bit of tang, or they can be cooked as a pot herb. I have heard of making gravy with them. I have never eaten these at table. I’ve nibbled on them while playing in the woods as a child, and while hiking when I was older. We referred to Wood Sorrel as “Sour Sorrel”.

I don’t think I’d use these as frequent foods. They are fairly distinctive in flavor, and best suited to grabbing to enjoy something fresh on the trail. If I ran across them on a forage I would gather them sparingly, but not in quantity. They aren’t something you’d want to make an entire dish from.

Purple Dead-Nettle

I’ve tried one raw leaf of this rather fuzzy plant. Could not do more than that, the fuzziness of the leaves puts me off. I have also cooked it, used it in a smoothie, and eaten the raw blossoms. The blossoms were a tiny delicate treat, and I did enjoy them. The cooked vegetable has a strong green flavor, with a slight bitter edge. I suspect this weed may taste different depending on the climate, and growing conditions, because I’ve heard it described differently. Either that, or there is no accounting for tastes! It was not bad in the smoothie, just adding a green background flavor.

This isn’t something I’d go out of my way for. It isn’t nasty or anything, just not something I could say I really liked (except for those tiny blossoms). It is something I’ll use in mixed greens or cooked dishes though, just because it is plentiful and often THERE, and it is a free vegetable. It isn’t unpleasant – other than that fuzziness, which is kind of a personal tactile thing.

Wild Garlic

I love the flavor of wild garlic in mixed dishes. It is a little more complex to me than domestic garlic, and adds a nice savoriness to foods without any heat. Use it as a seasoning, and not as a feature.

I like this so well I transplanted some into my gardening pots. Not only is it good food, and has some nice medicinal effects, but it also helps deter some bugs in the garden.

Cleavers

Fuzzy clingy stuff, is edible raw, but I am just not into eating hooky velcro. Cooked, it tastes kind of green, slightly fresh pea flavored. The flavor does not seem to darken with cooking.

Cleavers also has some good medicinal effects, but it depends very much on the type – there are many many varieties of it. I’d use this again if I needed food. Not sure I’ll go out of my way for it under normal circumstances though. It gives me a bit of itch when I pick it, so I don’t like handling it.

 

I’ve eaten other wild foods – mostly berries. The particular foods listed here are remarkable because each one is considered a weed, and many are considered to be invasive pests. Eating them seems to be particularly smart – they are plentiful and free, and unwanted, so you can’t over-harvest.

There are an astonishing number of weeds that are edible, and they occur all across every country in the world. Vegetables are getting harder to afford, and knowing  just a few of those edibles can help to offset the cost of greens on the table to a significant degree. Half of the green food I’ve eaten in the last week has been weeds! That is a significant amount of food!

It is worth a try. Make sure of your identification, and then go try them out. Taste a leaf. Then sprinkle some on top of your lettuce salad, or toss some in with your spinach or collards. You can get creative and find recipes that use them if you want – they are all over on the internet – but using them in simple ways will help you know if you like them or not.

Grab your basket, and go hunting!

Another Weed Salad – Eating Chickweed

There are actually quite a large number of edible weeds. I don’t like many of them – I dislike the taste of dandelion (though I do use it as a medicinal herb), and the texture of a few edibles is less than enjoyable (mullien is just too fuzzy, thank you anyway). I like Plantain, but can’t find it growing here. I’m pretty sure the prolific weed in our flower beds is Mare’s Tail, but there are so many similar weeds that I am not absolutely sure if my identification, and not quite confident enough to toss it in the bowl or pot until I am certain.

Last night though, we walked outside our front door, and looked in an area we’d previously ignored (being hidden by our neighbor’s cars), and found chickweed. A lot of chickweed. Some of it is in an area we would not want to use it from, but there are a couple of really lush plants in the corners that I am going to transplant, and put to work. When I showed it to my neighbor, and explained what it was, she said, “I’ve been trying to kill that!”. This is actually kind of funny, because she has been trying for years to get something “edible” to grow in that spot. I suspect she may decide to serve up the Chickweed with dressing instead in the future.

Edible weeds are terrific because they are tasty, free, and they grow exceptionally well without any special care. Many are very high in vital nutrients – more so than more popular cultivated greens. Some have special properties that will aid in recovery from 21st Century illnesses.

Chickweed is just such a plant. Proliferates easily, healthy for most people, and has some special attributes.

It has long been associated with weight loss. It contains saponins, which aid the body in breaking down and releasing fat. This means that for certain people, overconsumption could be a problem. Our neighbor’s husband has difficulty retaining weight, so he’d not want to be chowing down on chickweed every day. Because of this attribute, and how the body rids itself of excess weight, people with liver or kidney ailments would need to exercise caution in consumption as well. A cup or so of fresh leaves a day is MOST likely safe, even for people with medical problems of this kind. You just don’t want to go hog wild on it and try living on chickweed salads if you have this kind of medical issue.

Along with purslane, and Lamb’s Quarters, chickweed is another plant that we’d do well to stop fighting, and start using. Every part of the plant above the ground is edible – stems, leaves, flowers, and seeds. The roots are sometimes used medicinally.

The leaves and flowers taste “green”. There is no other word for it, they just taste green! The stems are crispy, the rest has a texture more like leaf lettuce.

It is valuable not only as a food crop, but as a forage crop for animals. It is an aggressive seeder, so gathering seeds from it in the fall means you can easily toss out seed to extend the range of this friendly weed. Poultry loves it, and it is good for cattle and goats, and of course, pigs love it.

If you absolutely cannot find any near you, there are sources for seed online. It will thrive in a pot, or pretty much anywhere. It does well in poor soil (sandy or gravely, even clay), and bursts forth in lush green each time it rains. It produces tiny white flowers which are enjoyed by bees and butterflies.

Definitely something of worth, which should be rediscovered and appreciated.

Be a Good Kid and Eat Your Weeds

 

There are a surprising number of weeds that are edible. Two of the most common everywhere are Lamb’s Quarters, and Purslane.

Once you learn to identify these weeds, you’ll realize you’ve pulled them out of your gardening beds for years. I remember pulling both from the gardens as a child. If only I’d known they were good food, I’d have told my mother to let them grow and harvest them with the lettuce!

Interestingly, both of these weeds may also be known as Pigweed. They also have other common names in various regions of the world.

They are both drought tolerant, and will grow in poor soil, and heat does not make them flinch. Purslane is a succulent, and stores water in the leaves and stems (the image above is of Purslane in a pot – it grows flat to the ground and spiders outward from the center when grown on the ground, and the stems are typically more red than what is shown above). Lamb’s Quarters uses a different tactic – sending down a long and tough taproot (this makes it a valuable plant for helping to keep good deep soil condition).

Both plants are highly nutritious for both people and animals. Purslane could be classed as a superfood, for the amount of Omega 3 alone.

I scored some Purslane in a pot today. Funny thing about Purslane. If you have a garden, it will pop up pretty much anywhere there is bare ground. When you are not looking for it, it is everywhere!

But if you live where you do not have access to much bare ground, it can be hard to find. Some garden stores are now carrying it as a drought resistant ground cover, or as an edible herb, and a few online sources are carrying seed.

You won’t find anyone doing that with Lamb’s Quarters. But it seems to grow everywhere too.

Both can be grown from seed – you can save it from plants one year to seed in the next year if you feel the need. Both are such useful plants, it just may be worth it to do so.

They are both annuals, so they require reseeding each year.

Purslane will also easily root from cuttings. It roots faster than just about anything else, and doesn’t even need to be buried in soil to root! As long as it stays on top of damp soil, it will root just laying there. It will root in a few days in water. If you break off a branch to root (or eat), it will branch and come back stronger than ever.

Now, what do you do with them?

Lamb’s Quarters is edible raw or cooked – in general, the younger tender leaves can be used in salads, while the older tougher leaves make a good boiled green, just like spinach (only they need to be boiled longer – 30 minutes is recommended). This is a high calcium green.

The seeds from Lamb’s Quarters are also edible, and may be used like Quinoa (in fact, they are from the same plant family). The plant produces an impressive seed plume, similar to amaranth, but far coarser. Each plant will produce enough seed to be well worth the effort.

As an animal feed, it is also excellent. The greens can be fed to pretty much any farm animal. The seeds also make a great grain replacement for poultry. The plants can be harvested and dried, and bundled for use in the winter, either before they send up seed stalks, or after but before the seeds mature. Free animal food. It doesn’t get easier than that!

Now, what about that Purslane?

The entire leaf and stalk is edible, and so are the flowers and seeds. It is crisp in a salad, but may also be cooked, and is sometimes used in stir fry where it is just barely cooked. It has a tangy flavor, but chances are if you add it to a mixed salad you won’t even notice a difference in flavor, though you might run across a crispy piece now and again. There are actually recipes from a wide range of cultures which call for Purslane.

It is also a useful animal feed, though it is so small that it may be difficult to gather enough to make a significant difference if you have a large number of animals. Ducks and chickens absolutely love Purslane, and treat it as candy! Deer and goats also like this crunchy treat. It is good for rabbits, but they don’t seem to be as crazy about it as the ducks are.

Summer is coming, so watch for these two useful weeds, and make them work for you instead of spending all your time fighting them!

There are many other edible weeds as well. I spotlighted these two because they are so common, and so easy to recognize.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.