Saturday, May 26, 2012

Wild Spinach, also called Lamb's Quarters or Goosefoot – "Chenopodium Album", Annual Forb/Herb

This was a fun weekend as I went canoing with friends down the Cahawba River.  Along the way we saw beautiful scenery including Bald Eagles, beautiful fern covered soapstone banks and beautiful edible plants including Spotted Ladysthumb (Polygonum Persicaria), wild grapes, Broadleaf Arrowhead (Sagittaria Latifolia) and one of my favorites, Lambsquarters (Chenopodium Album).

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Lambsquarters "Chenopodium Album"

Lambsquarters is also commonly spelled also Lamb's Quarters.  Other common names for this plant are Goosefoot, Fat Hen and even White Goosefoot mainly because the shape of the leaves resembles  goose's feet.  The plant is in the Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot) family.

C. Album is not the only plant in the Chenopodium genus that is edible, but it is the only plant I will be talking about today.  Lambsquarters is also called wild spinach probably because its taste resembles spinach and it is also rich in oxalic acid, vitamins A,  C and other minerals and proteins making this plant a very valuable nutritional source.

Lambsquarters is located in waste places, cultivated grounds or gardens, old fields and I have seen it a lot growing along the Cahawba River.
This weekend I went with a few friends on a two day float down the Cahawba River and we had a blast.  Along the way we stopped on a few sandbars and I spotted some wild spinach right way.  Being an annual it often grows in stands together as the seeds/grains often drop near the original plant.
Here is the group that went on the float this weekend...
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We started this trip in Centerville, Alabama November 2010 traveling over 30 miles in three days.  This time the water cfs was higher and we made 26 miles in just 1 1/2 days making the final journey into Selma, Alabama.

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Beautiful scenery the entire trip.

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This was a 2' drop a couple of years ago.  The water was higher this time, but it was still fun.   However we were wearing life jackets here due to the high cfs and suck hole nature of the drop.

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There were multiple eagles following us downstream for miles.

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Can't live without a good cell phone and gps battery.  Go solar :)

So, anyway, back to the plant of the week, Lambsquarters;  It was real easy to prepare and cook.  I took a large zip lock back, so I took the leaves and minor tender stems and placed them in the Ziploc bag with some bottled water, zipped the bag and shook vigorously to clean the beach sand off the leaves.  I then drained and placed the leaves on a propane burner with some water, a little garlic, salt and pepper to boil for about 6 minutes.  Lambsquaters is completely edible raw in salads so the boiling was not to necessarily make it edible, or even more tender.  It was really about trying to get my friends to try some, and Aaron did.  Shane and Jason just aren't the "spinach eating type (I think they are meat eaters mainly).

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Wild Spinach on the campstove - Cahawba River

There was one poisonous plant that looks similar to wild spinach when "young" growing on the river banks in great abundance and that plant is cockle burr.  The younger plants are the only ones that have leaves resembling the "goosefoot" but with close inspection you'll notice the hairs and rough texture on the plant.  You'll probably look around and notice older plants with much larger and wider leaves as well.  Stay away from this plant.  There are books that say the oil extracted from the seeds are edible, but I do not know of anyone trying it, but I have read that farm animals have died from eating cockle burr.  Another poisonous look-a-like that grows in the south is nettleleaf goosefoot (Chenopodium murale), so stay away from that plant as well.

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NOT lambsquaters.  This is young cockle burr and is poisonous.

Don't let it discourage you that there are a few plants slightly resembling Lambsquarters.  Just learn your plants.  Lambsquarters has dark green leaves with a silvery underside and sometimes the upper leaves have a powdery or "frosted" like appearance.  Also, the leaves are waterproof and water should "bead" up on the leaves.

It can be boiled or eaten raw in salads.  Below is another picture of a salad I made previously combining regular lettuce, wild green amaranth (pigweed) and lambsquaters.

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Wild Pigweed and Wild Spinach (lambsquaters) salad

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Amaranth (Pigsweed) Left and Wild Spinach (Lambsquaters) Right

Without a doubt, this plant tastes good, is easy to prepare (eaten raw or boiled) and is one of my favorite wild vegetables.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Smilax and the Greenbrier Family, Perennial Vine/Shrub

The Greenbrier genus (Smilax) contains approximately twenty-five species, but for right now I will focus on the species Bullbrier (Smilax Bona-nox) and Greenbrier (Smilax Rotundifolia) in the Smilacaceae (Catbrier) family.

Be sure to read my "Disclaimer - Eat At Your Own Risk" at :

Both of these are a popular trailside nibble.  Matter of fact, it is one of my favorites along the trail.  A few things that make it so popular with me are that it they are quite tastey, very nutritious and there is absolutely no cooking required for the tender young shoots, although cooking is also good if you have the time.

Bullbrier and Greenbrier are sometimes just called Smilax (referring to the genus).  Bullbrier is also sometimes called Sawbrier or Saw Greenbrier and Greenbriew is sometimes called Common Catbrier, Common Greenbrier or Roundleaf Greenbrier.

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Bullbrier (Smilax Bona-nox)
Smilax grows in the spring, summer and fall here in the southern U.S. It is the tender young ends that are both tender and completely edible. It is the tender new growth that you eat. You will see some with tender growth over a foot long in the spring and early summer, although it's been my experience that they average 6 to 8 inches long. Just break them off like asparagus. If it does not break easy, then you tried to get too far down the stem where it starts to get hard. Simply break closer to the end.

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The tender young ends are easy to distinguish.
 Saw Greenbrier (S. Bona-nox) , Roundleaf Greenbrier (S. Rotundifolia) and other Smilax species have a long history with the Native Americans on this continent.  According to Daniel E. Moerman's research, the Choctaw and Houma Indians used S. Bona-nox roots to make bread and cakes by drying and then making flour out of the roots.  In my opinion, it would take a lot of work as the large tubers of Smilax are very large and hard.  I would be interested in knowing how the gained more calories from eating the cakes they made than they actually spent in digging the tubers up and going through the difficult process of getting the flour out of the underground them.  In reality, many foragers contend that you burn too many calories getting the starch out of the roots and you receive back in nutritional calories eaten, but I am sure the Native Americans found a very efficient way to get the starch out of the large tubers, but that information may have been long lost.

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Above is a very large Smilax tuber I recently dug up.  You can get an estimate of the size by comparing to the shovel in the picture.
As far as I know, there are no poisonous look-a-likes for smilax, but there is something that looks similar which is poisonous. If you look close and pay attention, there's no way you can mistake this plant for young Cinnamon Vine, also called Chinese Yam. Remember Smilax is a brier, which means there are thorns. Cinnamon Vine also called Chinese Yam does not have thorns and the young shoots are very different than the smilax shown below.
Here's another picture of the tender young shoot; this one with longer tendrils.

A nice little batch of Smilax shoots.  Ten minutes to gather enough for a meal.

Cut it up (or just snap like green beans) to fit in your pan

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Melt butter, add a touch of water, a clear lid and steam on low for about 4 to 5 minutes.

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Finished product.

Add a little pepper and salt if you like.  This dish is absolutely declicious.  My whole family tried some and enjoyed it.  It is nutritious and easy to collect, prepare and eat.  The closest thing I can tell you it tastes like is asparagus, but truly it has a flavor all its own.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Disclaimer - Eat at Your Own Risk

Disclaimer – Eat at your own risk and watch for snakes while you’re foraging. Well, it's not quite that simple but the fact remains there are some wild plants that will kill you and many more that can make you sick growing among the nutritious and delicious edibles but you can virtually eliminate all risk by studying and learning how to identify the thousands of edible wild plants that exist in the wild and absolutely not eating something if you aren't 100% for sure what it is.  Another tip to live by is not to forage too close to main highways or even lesser traveled roads because auto-exhaust gets on the nearby plants and the pollution is not good for you, but likewise it isn't good to plant a garden right next to a well travelled road as well.  On the other hand, there are many wild edible plants that grow along roadways and they are a great place to spot new plants and get to know them, just don't eat them.  Make sure your edible plants have not been sprayed with herbicide. Don't eat raw edible wild plants out of water in case the water's polluted or you could get a good case of upset stomach from a bacteria and that same rule applies to drinking the water. Also, keep in mind that any time you are exposed to a new food, there’s a small chance that you will have an allergic reaction to it. There are some way more prone than others and there are many who aren't allergic to anything. You probably have heard of people being allergic to peanuts, strawberries, or coconuts; many of them didn’t learn about the allergy until they tried to eat the food for the first time. Another thing is don't pick a non-edible by accident along with the edible plants you are gathering.  An example of this is that Queen's Anne Lace and Water Hemlock and even Elderberry have very similar umbels of white flowers and I have seen them all growing together.  With a little knowledge however, they easily stand apart in appearance.

You make the choice. We all know that a man (or woman) has to eat and with every type of baby food your mother fed you early in life, with each of them there was a chance you would have an allergic reaction and today, you are still alive. I suppose if your skin broke out in a rash or you got sick, she wouldn’t feed you that particular food again. Later in life you picked your own foods and you probably did alright. However, odds are someone told you that it was edible so you ate it. But when you forage, books are telling you what is edible and the pictures just aren't always that good and neither are the descriptions always the best. You may get impatient and eat it anyway before you're absolutely positive. That's like playing Russian roulette. Don't do it.  If a bird eats it, is doesn't always mean you can eat it.  If it smells good and tastes good, it doesn't mean that it won't make you sick.  Study your plants and start now.

Truth is there are a lot of books out there on the subject of edible wild plants and those books came from many years and accumulation of knowledge. Before writing was invented knowledge was transferred by word of mouth. On this continent the Native Americans gave us much information about the edibility and medicinal uses of the native growing here. Also, plants that were introduced to our continent from other countries often brought edibility and medicinal knowledge with them. Back before books, word of mouth was used and word got around pretty quickly if someone ate a plant and got sick, and got around even quicker if they died after they ate it.  Likewise word got around if they were healed.  Well, the same thing happened if a plant was found edible, especially if it tasted good, and people were hungry.

So, if you want to experience edible wild foraging, then you have to make that decision all by yourself. I will say that we take risks every time we get in a vehicle and drive down the road. I personally love to forage. I get enjoyment every time I find a new plant that I have read about. However, I know the risk, but that risk is almost eliminated if you check a couple of sources, positively identify the plant in question, and prepare it properly. The most important thing is proper identification. Plant foraging is not a hobby where you can always safely walk up on a plant that is unknown and take a bite because it “looks good” or you saw an animal eat it. It is a very fulfilling hobby if you study pay attention and properly identify the plant.

Simply, if you are not 100% certain it is the plant you think it is, then do not attempt to eat it. Don’t listen to some who say put a little under your tongue to test if you don’t know what it is. Why take the risk with an “unknown” when there are thousands of “known” edible plants; all you have to do is properly identify and prepare them.

Even if you do not eat the plants, identification can be a worthwhile hobby.  Consider two of the most poisonous plants in the country (maybe even the world) grow right here in the south.  A small piece of poison hemlock or water hemlock leaf the size of your pinkie nail can kill an adult dead within hours and there's no turning back.  One of the two plants kills you very quick, while the other takes you through hours of the most tormenting pain a person could ever imagine.  Also, one Rosary Pea which also grows in our area will kill an adult.  Would you want that plant growing in your yard with your young children?  I think you would need to know.  Likewise, why not learn about edible plants as you do not have to water them, fertilize them or pamper them like you do garden plants as they grow on their own with little or zero maintenance. 

Wouldn't it be nice to design and build your own Garden of Eden and walk in from work every day and spend five minutes to gather up supper out in the yard and eat a meal that hasn't been sprayed with herbicides or other chemicals or plants that have not been genetically engineered and are more delicious and nutritious than plants you buy at the store?  If you do, then start learning and designing now because we aren't getting any younger are we?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Daylily - "Hemerocallis Fulva", Perennial Forb/Herb

Last Saturday nights supper consisted of raw daylily, sauteed daylily, batter fried daylily, and batter fried poke stalks. 

Be sure to read my "Disclaimer - Eat At Your Own Risk" at :

The famous "Orange Daylily" (Hemerocallis Fulva) is a common plant here in the south.  So is the "Yellow Daylily" ( Hemerocallis Liliosphodelus).  Native to Asia and introduced here from Europe, it grows at old home sites, in roadside ditches, fields and wasteground in temperate climates.

As with any plant, you need an expert forager with you to help you properly identify what you are about to eat.  Some edible plants have poisonous look alikes.  The day lily is one of them.  Iris looks like the daylily and it is very poisonous.  Also, there are some "strange" hybrids out there now whose leaves resemble nothing like the native daylily.  I have found no written reference that says all hybrids are edible.   I want to briefly explain that eating wild plants is not for the inexperienced.  There are plants that look and taste good but will kill you.  There are plants that don't taste as good that are very nutritious.  However, the hobby of learning and identifying wild plants is good to have in my opinion. It is not something a person can learn over night.  There may be edible plants right in your yard and there could be a poison one such as hemlock which a piece of the leaf the size of your fingernail will kill you.  Learning to identify such plants is important.  If you have young children you would not want them playing around hemlock and that plant does grow all over the south.

However, on a more positive note, there are thousands of plants that are completely edible and safe.  Many of them even more delicious and more nutritious than our modern cultivated plants.

Daylilies are a perennial flowering plant with basal grass like leaves surrounding a central flowering stalk.  On the top of the stalk will be unopened flowers and one opened flower.  The one opens for the day then wilts allowing one of the other buds to open the next day and so on and so on.  It has edible tubers that have a nutty flavor.  The entire plant is edible raw or cooked but the older leaves have too much fiber to be palatable, so only eat the young shoots.  Also, the plant has medicinal properties.  One of those medicinal properties is it can be used as a laxative if you eat too much, so keep that in mind :)

Fresh out of the yard.

All of the daylily plant is edible.  Some sources say raw, others say the roots need to be cooked.  The young stems tender.  The older leaves are too really too fibrous to eat and some sources say the older leaves are hallucinogenic anyway and could make you sick, so stay away from them.

The roots and tubers have a "nutty" flavor.  Some sources say to cook them, I both cooked and ate raw.

The flowers can be eaten raw or cooked and have a sweet flavor.  I dipped them in egg, corn meal and then batter fried them.

The garlic came from my back fence.  Some of the wild garlics and feral garlics will grow with zero maintenance just about anywhere.  This was transplanted from an old feral stand that is over 50 years old.  It grows well without maintenance even in droughts and kneehigh grass.

A little butter to help sautee the roots, young stems and flower buds.

I mixed a little feral garlic among everything.

Fried polk stalks.  Don't try this yet as it is poisonous until prepared properly.  Prepared right it will sustain you and temp your tastebuds to eat more.

Dipping the Daylily flower buds in egg before batter frying.

An entire plate of food for free (except the one egg and a little corn meal).  It took me 5 minutes of walking outside to collect this free meal and there are at least 15 more things growing around the house that are ready to eat right now.  There will be more diversity later as some of these things become unavailable.

I mentioned poke above.  I have been eating poke for almost 25 years.  There is a special preparation used for poke leaves and stems so stay away from it until you know what you are doing.  I will do a full article on poke at some point.  It is a plant with a lot of history.  Also, keep in mind that any time a new food is introduced, there is a chance of an allergic reaction.  This goes for any food.  Some people are allergic to peanuts, some strawberries, some coconuts, so the same rule applies for any "wild" food newly introduced.  My suggestion is to not try any new food except in very small quantities at first.  Check several sources.  The internet is really not the best source as there is a lot of "missinformation" out there.

And remember, too much daylily could act as a "laxative" and stay away from the older, more fibrous leaves as they could be hallucinogenic and cause you to become  nauseous :)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Genesis of The Dewberry

The Earth is going through complicated changes like never before in the history of mankind. Tomorrow is different from today and changes are occurring at a much quicker pace than ever before in history.

God was not joking in Genesis 1:28 (NKJV) when he blessed Adam and Eve and then said "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish and the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

In just the last 50 years the earth's population has jumped from a large 3 billion people to over 7 billion. The only reason we have been able to feed that many people is because of oil which feeds the monster tractors and equipment that make it possible to both grow it and transport it.  If it were not for oil, our food crops and population would be much smaller, in my opinion not much larger than the "pre-oil era".

Take a look at the population statistic projections from the U.N. below and ask yourself why the sudden increase in population since around 1940 and then ask yourself the following questions:

1.  If projection "red" is true, can the world truly sustain that population of 16 billion people?
2.  If projection "yellow" is true, will people quit having children entirely or will wars, pestilence or disease kill them off?
3.  If projection "green" is true, what "serious" catastrophy will kill off the population to actually have it in decline.

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Notice things start tapering off in around the year 2040.  That's less than 30 years away.  Many of us will hopefully still be alive at that time so as you can see from the chart, we are living in times that are very different than every before in history.

If your mind can truly grasp the importance of this fact about our growing population, then you will realize that the concept is one of the most important realities facing our generation. To understand how significant this change is, you also have to ask yourself how many thousands of years it took to achieve a population of 3 billion people, and then absorb the fact that in just 50 years we have more than doubled that number and now it is projected that we will double again (to 15 billion people) in just another 50 years or so (looking at the red on the chart). The question arises "can our minds even comprehend such a concept; much less can the minds of our leaders even comprehend the complications that will arise in the next 50 years.

It took thousands of years to reach 1 billion people (around the year 1800), and now, in less than 200 years, we will jumped from 1 billion to 7 billion and in just another 50 years we will jump to around 14 billion "very different" people with many different backgrounds and cultures, squeezed into an increasingly smaller planet. Now, if you're intelligent and think individually instead of collectively; as I like to say "you think for yourself", then this very fact alone should come off as being one of the most profound concepts since you became cognizant of your existence as a young child. It's even bigger than puberty. For the rest of you with short attention spans, you'll move on to the next thing in your busy lives, such as checking your email, txt messages and check up on everyone on Facebook and never give this a second thought.

Please don't move on. This is very important that you wrap your mind around this idea.

I created this blog because of a hobby of mine; one of the last hobbies from childhood that has not managed to escape me: Edible Wild Plants. I needed a blog to separate this hobby from my other more political, creative and religious blogs although it's hard to separate who I am, but the focus of this blog will be sustainable living. Please don't get me started on politics or call me an environmentalist or tree-hugger. In short summary I will tell you that EPA and unfair competition has shut our factories down and opened up new government job positions. For every product you buy made in China, India or some of the other "slave labor" countries, you have contributed to shutting down a "more environment friendly" factory and put more people on welfare and at the same time you have helped open up a new and "unregulated environmental disaster" in other "developing" countries. You have also contributed to a "population explosion" in those slave labor countries and helped them and their ideals rise to power in this century. Don't get me started. This site is supposed to be about sustainable living and my favorite subject "wild plants", particularly wild food plants and I am now studying herbalism and in a life time apprenticeship program with my friend and mentor the Southern Herbalist, who learned from his mentor Tommie Bass. This blog is to try and keep me focused in those areas, although I might accidently drift into the political or religious spectrum momentarily from time to time.

I tie Genesis to my hobby for several reasons. Genesis (Eden) was the first home with edible landscaping. It doesn't get much simpler or more complicated than that. God created a garden full of edible plants, trees, animals and fish and Adam and Eve were allowed to eat "anything in the garden" except for the fruit of one particular tree. Well, you know the rest of the story. They ate the forbidden fruit and God kicked them out of the "Edible Paradise" into the world where the edible plants were far and spread out requiring them to actually work for a living and begin to cultivate crops eventually forgetting the many of the wild edibles and even weeding them out.

Genesis clearly states that God made us in His image (you feminists will say Her image, BTW, I really don't think sex or color will be an issue when we get to heaven, but water and sunscreen might be an issue if we go to the other place) and Eden was a divinely made garden of edible trees, shrubs and plants "selectively" placed there. Landscape architects would tell you, “Eden was a place that was Divinely Designed".  I say to you, start now designing your own.

In the "Foraging Community", there are lots of plants that are "off limits".  They are either unpalatable or they are downright poisonous and some could even kill you. However, there are also thousands that are not only palatable (edible), but also delicious and nutritional.  Even many of the toxic ones are incredibly medicinal.  Probably 40% of today's medicines are made from plants.

So there you have it, the scope and purpose of this blog; education, encouragement of self-awareness (or awareness of surroundings in general), independent thought, self-reliance, and freedom from the “Food Monster” (the grocery store).

Ya’ll come back, ya hear?