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Wild things in June: Stinging Nettle

Well it’s June, and Butter and I have a new Wild Thing for you. One that I’m very excited about: stinging nettle.

Stinging nettle might be the first plant I ever learned to identify. The second was the dock leaf that grows next door, which alleviates the pain of the sting. These two plants, hand in hand, in many ways initiated me into the world of plants. And because of that, nettle holds a very special place in my heart. In fact, when I moved into this little house, the first thing I did was plant some nettles out by the kitchen door. They’ve now grown into a huge patch that is constantly sending out leaves and seeds, much to the chagrin of unassuming neighbours and workmen.

The flavour of nettles is often compared to spinach, but I disagree- I think it’s much more meaty tasting than spinach, and much more like lambs quarters in flavour. However if you like green things and haven’t tasted them before, I say give it a try, as they’re delicious. The sting, which can be oh-so brutal, is neutralised in cooking, and I’ve had no problem with being stung after blending them raw, or when drying them.

Sting-ability varies. My back garden nettle will leave welts on my arms for about 2 days, whereas I’ve picked some local varieties that only sting for a couple of hours (but then also had numb fingers for a day or so from other local ones). The sting is harmless, albeit annoying, slightly painful, and often ugly. And it’s often useful, as I’ll explain shortly.

The medicinal properties of nettle are numerous and varied. To make things easier, I’ll split it into three parts- the leaf, seed and root.

Urtica spp: Nettle leaf

bitter, cold, dry, salty, astringent

Nettle leaf has been used as medicine for millenia. The most useful thing to remember about it is its high mineral content- according to Paul Bergner, “An ounce of nettles contains more than the minimum daily requirement of calcium, two-thirds of the requirement for magnesium,

and more than a third of the requirement for potassium.” Because of this it is unbelievably nutritious, and invaluable for deficient people, ex-vegetarians, current vegetarians, anemics, those experiencing adrenal fatigue, and a whole host of weakness-related issues. Think of how a deficient person would look- weak, pale and tired- and you have a pretty good picture for nettle infusions

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Other symptoms that fit this deficient picture are low blood pressure, chronic diarrhea (I’ve had no success using them for acute, and no opportunity to use them for chronic cases, so I cannot say whether I know this to be true or not), concentration issues, foggy head, hair loss, thin hair, lax tissues, swollen tongue and general tiredness and the feeling that one is dragging ones feet through life.

It it through this nutritive effect that nettle also acts as an alterative, and so is often used for ‘detoxification’. I like the appalachian description of ‘bad blood’, even though it technically has nothing to do with the blood- but bad blood is basically an accumulation of toxins in the extracellular fluids of the body. I picture the waterways of the body as being bogged down with crap: this is the kind of picture that alteratives are good for. Symptoms of bad blood can range from simple sluggishness to eczema, allergies, acne, constipation, swollen glands, tumours, foul discharges, arthritis, chronic fatigue, psychological imbalances.

Nettle acts on this extracellular fluid, helping the body remove waste products. Because of this it is also highly effective for gout- something I have had a few opportunities to try on people quite successfully (often combined with dandelion). And it’s also used frequently for asthma (I have not tried this yet though).

Another thing that nettle is great for is the hair. Rinsing the hair with nettle infusions strengthens the hair, and makes it thick and shiny. I’m too lazy to keep up with this on a regular basis but I do notice a nice difference when I do it for more than a week at a time, and have heard stories of amazing hair growth from nettle rinses.

Nettle seed

Nettle seeds are great for restoring worn out adrenals and kidneys. Many people find the fresh seeds too ‘speedy’. I don’t- I do find they give me an almost immediate energy boost though, and I can often plough through my afternoon required nap time if I’ve eaten a teaspoon or so of nettle seeds. Dried, they do not have this effect, and are a fantastic tonic. According to Kiva Rose, they promote “a sense of clarity, wellness, heightened energy levels, reduced stress and seemingly increased lung capacity” when eaten.

Nettle root

Nettle root has been used for edema, kidney and bladder infections, and recently has started to be used for BPH (swollen prostate). I haven’t had opportunity to try this, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Nettle sting

Flogging oneself with nettle leaves reportedly relieves arthritis pains. Nobody will try it- maybe if you get arthritis you can, and then let me know?

I’ve used the sting on burns, after cleverly searing my lower arm on hot oil, I’d just been reading about using urtica homeopathic for burns, so I ran out and flogged my arm with nettle leaves. I don’t necessarily recommend this at home- I think a vinegar compress would be less painful and heroic looking, but I tell ya. I was blistering, it looked bad, and after being covered in stings and welts, the blistering went away and the arm was just red for about an hour, and then that went away too. The welts stuck around for 2 days though…


Preparation and dosage:

Leaf: For the nutritive effects, nettle leaves are best eaten or taken in an infusion, though a tincture will work in a pinch. To make an infusion, put one cup of dried leaves in a quart jar. Top it up with boiling water and let it steep for at least 4 hours, then drink it over the course of a couple of days.  They need to be drank on a regular basis- so drinking it once won’t have the desired effect. Make drinking infusions a part of your daily routine (I often brew mine at night, and in the morning decant it into a giant water bottle that I tote around with me. People sometimes ask me what the hell is in my bottle. And sometimes I reply that it’s urine and walk off. Then they avoid me and I wonder why I have no friends *sigh*), and you’ll start to notice a difference in your energy levels. It could take a few days or a few weeks, everybody is different. By the way, if you hate the taste like I do, you can add some mint or ginger. I find that a tablespoon of mint makes them much more palatable.

Seed: You can make a seed tincture and it will work, but they’re really best just eaten plain. I really like the taste of them, especially fresh (picture a nut and a green thing had a baby), but many people don’t. I read a great way to get around that on The Herbwife’s Kitchen blog: grind up your nettle seeds with some salt, and throw the whole lot in a salt shaker. I keep my nettle salt on top of the stove and add them to almost everything I cook now. Dosage can be anything from a pinch to a tablespoon per day.

 

Cautions and contraindications:

Nettle leaf is a diuretic and can be highly drying, especially to those folks living in the Southwest deserty areas. Exercise caution if taking diuretic drugs. If you find them too drying you can add a pinch of licorice or mallow to your infusions.

Nettle seed can be too speedy for some. Start slow- with a tiny pinch- and work your way up to a dosage that suits you.

 

Sources:

Kiva Rose’s lovely monograph on urtica

Matthew Wood: The Earthwise Herbal (497)

The Herbwife’s Kitchen blog

Paul Bergner lecture notes

 

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Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup

I have a thing for wild mushrooms. I’m pretty sure that everyone who is into foraging does. See, at least for me, they’re elusive. Earlier this year, I was out looking for chanterelles every day. I’d found them in this spot last year, so as far as I was concerned it was a no-brainer. Well, let me tell you. I found a whole bunch of plants that were very interesting (lemon balm gone feral- yes please!) but not a single chanterelle. For weeks.

And it can be treacherous business, shuffling through the trees like that. Jamie had brought me home this cat hat that I was completely in love with. I’d been wearing it everywhere. So I’m snuffling in the undergrowth with this cat hat on and the next thing I know there is a very big, very unleashed dog barking and running at me at full speed. I panicked. My feet wouldn’t move. When it was about 3 feet from me I yelled “DON’T BITE ME!” and it’s owner called it off, having not realised that there was a person in the woods. I don’t think my heart settled back down for about an hour. But I did find a mushroom that day.

And we have weird weather down here, and a weird climate, and so I just don’t know if we get the same mushrooms everyone else talks about. I’ve heard of a random patch of morels in a vacant lot in Culver City. I’ve heard of white boletes growing in the Sierras (a 4-5 hour drive), but wild mushrooms, save chanterelles when I can actually find them, evade me.

So I bought them at the market instead. A whole bag of mixed wild mushrooms. Jam gawked at the price. I gawked at the price. But we bought them anyway. And I’m so glad we did.

Mushroom soup, made with wild mushrooms, is unbelievable. It’s nothing like canned mushroom soup, and everything like a group of mushrooms are having a party on your tastebuds.

Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup

2 tb olive oil

2 tb butter

3 cloves garlic

2 cups various mushrooms (mine were a combo of hedgehogs, morels, black somethings and a few others I didn’t recognise), chopped. I used about 1 1/2 plus 1/2 cup rehydrated dried mushrooms.

2 tb herbs de provence (or a local herb mix of your choice :D)

2 cups chicken stock

1 tb arrowroot powder

1/2 cup white wine

1 cup water

1 cup heavy cream

chopped parsley

salt, pepper to taste

 

 

In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the butter and olive oil, and add the garlic. Add the mushrooms, salt, peper and herbs, and cover for five minutes or so, reduce the heat, and allow to ‘sweat’. Stir in the arrowroot and then the white wine. Simmer for a couple of minutes more, then add the stock and water. Cook for 15 minutes, until all the mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat and stir in the cream.

Using an immersion blender, blend until the mushrooms are in small pieces. Stir in the parsley, and serve.

 

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Blackberry-Elderflower Galettes

I will not complain about this weather.

I won’t. A month ago I wrote something on Facebook about how I hated the heat. How I was eating a watermelon in my underwear and sweating and was in a very very bad mood about the whole thing. Then a friend on the East coast said that she’d just had yet another snow storm. And I realised that I was being a brat. So I went out into the garden and lay out in my bikini and fell asleep at a weird angle and ended up with a red stripe down one half of the front of my body that looked more like a chemical burn than anything that could happen to someone who fell asleep in their garden. And then I went and got my hair cut and Casey brushed all the tiny bits of hair off my neck and I thought I was going to punch him in the face (raw neck + rough towel= pain). Hot weather puts me in a bad mood.

So I prayed for a cold front. And the cold front came. It’s been raining on and off ever since, and we’ve put the heating on three times. And my bones feel cold. And I will not complain.

Did you ever play those games when you were a kid. The ‘would you rather’ games. Where you’d ask yourself if you’d rather be too hot or too cold for the rest of your life? Someone once asked me if I’d rather go to the toilet out of my mouth or have my mouth look like a dog’s bottom. Really. I still think about it sometimes, and then, thankfully, remember that we don’t ACTUALLY have to make these decisions in life. Anyway, I choose cold. You can always turn the heating on or put on an extra layer of clothes. You can’t remove your skin to cool off. I’m sure that there are arguments for both sides, but I’ve always been a winter girl. I love the silence of it all, the solitude, the darkness and the depth. I love to ski. I love to look out over a white-washed landscape. I love snow days, even though grown-ups don’t get them. And in Southern California, I love standing on an empty, rainy beach, looking out to the stormy sea, while my skin is pink with cold and the water feels warm in comparison. Salt water splashing into my face never tastes so good as those winter days.

And maybe it’s because I moved to Southern California, where it’s summer that feels like death. Where the heat makes everything wither and die, but I dread the summer. Everything grinds to a halt, and the air hovers in that almost mirage-like cloud and the pavement feels like it’s going to crack to pieces like a dried up river bed. These last few days of spring, rain and freezing cold included, I want to savour for as long as possible. To sink into my sweaters and keep that extra blanket on the bed for as long as I can. Because I know what’s coming, and that I’ll hate it, and complain about it. Be warned, dear reader, the next few months of watermelon recipes will be accompanied by a subtle undertone of “whyyyy”, and you might start thinking me a little annoying. I promise I’ll come up with some good recipes to compensate.

In the meantime, here’s a recipe to help hold on to the spring.

Elderflower and Blackberry Galettes

1 portion tart crust

1 cup fresh elder flowers

1 cup heavy cream

3 tb sugar

1 egg

2 egg yolks

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cornstarch

blackberries

 

Make the pastry and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours. Meanwhile, make the custard. Put the elderflowers in the cream, and heat to just below boiling. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Reheat, strain out the flowers, and pour the cream back in the pan. Add the sugar and vanilla. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then add a cup or so of the hot cream mixture and whisk it all together- then add the eggs back to the cream. Turn the heat on to medium, add the cornstarch, and heat the mixture gently, stirring constantly with a spatula so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. When it starts to bubble, heat and stir for another minute or so, then remove from the heat. If it’s lumpy you can strain it, but I usually skip that step (More clean up? No thanks.). Allow to cool.

Roll out the pastry into a few large circles. Into the centre of each pastry circle, place about two tablespoons of the custard, then a handful of berries on top. Fold up the pastry around the mixture and transfer to a baking sheet. Do this with the remainder of the ingredients, then cook at 350 for about 30 minutes- or until the crust is golden brown and you cannot restrain yourself any longer. Serve with cream.

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Salted chocolate cake

It was Simon’s birthday. But when I found out that it was actually on Monday and not next month like Jamie said, I went into panic mode because I couldn’t find what I wanted to get him anywhere.

And it would have been a really cool present. He spends most of his life traveling around. Every summer he usually decides that he’s moving to LA for good, and by December he is sick of LA and moving back to Europe. Every time he moves back to LA, he stays with us until he can find an apartment. And this was when I discovered that he likes girly smelly stuff. Because I walked into the bathroom one day and the air smelled like Origins ‘Jump Start’ shower gel. I mean, it’s not weird. Just because it smells like flowers, it’s not like it’s women’s UNDERWEAR or anything. But he’s such a manly guy that I was confused. I called Alysa who was my boss at Origins when I worked there. “Oh yeah,” she said, “the guys loved that stuff– they’d find something they like and wouldn’t care if it was for chicks, they would buy it every month for years on end. Girls are way more fickle than that.”

I went to Origins to buy some for him. But it turns out they’ve stopped making it. I scoured Ebay to no avail and, while I was sitting in a dejected state, Simon mentioned the best chocolate cake he’d ever had, in New York. A salty chocolate cake, he said. One that he’s thought about for years since first having it. The best cake in the entire world.

And then I thought that maybe a salty chocolate cake would be cheaper and easier to find than a discontinued product. Plus, if I made it good enough then I could replace the ‘best cake in the world’ (*snort*) with MY cake and then I’d be the best cake-maker in the world and then maybe I could sleep at night in complete contentment.

The recipe is barely adapted from Saveur (maybe they are the best cake-makers in the world instead). It’s a chocolate cake that only has 2 tb of flour, so it’s dense, like a baked chocolate mousse. I made a salted caramel custard to pour over the top, but I’m sure cream would be almost as fine if you’re feeling lazy.

Please excuse my atrocious photos- I couldn’t think of a single way to make brown cake and brown sauce look good late at night after a beer and a half. I regret it now. But you can pretend that it’s gorgeous, for me, please.

 

Chocolate cake with salted caramel custard

For the cake:

14 1/2 tb high fat butter (I use Kerrygold)

3 tb flour (I use 3 tb gluten free flour blend + 1/2 tsp baking powder)

7oz bittersweet chocolate

2/3 cup sugar

5 eggs, separated

1/2 tsp vanilla

black salt (or any rock salt) for sprinkling on top

 

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9″ cake pan, and dust with flour.

In a heavy-bottomed pan, over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate together. When melted, remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla, sugar and egg yolks.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff-peaks, and then gently fold into the chocolate mixture. Pour into the cake pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

Remove from the oven, and put on a rack to cool. Sprinkle with salt while it’s still warm, if you’re going to do that.

 

For the custard (which can be made while the cake is baking):

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

3 tb butter

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups cream

1/2 tb salt

 

In a saucepan, heat the sugar until it melts. This could take up to ten minutes. Stir frequently and keep heating until it turns golden caramel colour, and starts to smoke slightly. Immediately turn off the heat, add the salt and butter. It’ll bubble like crazy. Don’t worry, keep stirring. Add the cream. The caramel might harden, it’s ok- keep stirring. If the caramel stays hard, then turn the heat back on and heat gently until it’s melted.

Next, beat the eggs and egg yolks in a separate bowl, and add a cup or so of the caramel mixture, mix it together, then pour it all back into the saucepan together. Turn the heat back on, and heat gently, stirring constantly, until it forms a custard consistency. If not using immediately, it can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

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Wild things in May: Elder Flowers

Our Wild Thing for the month of May is the lovely, faerie-like elder flower. Now, I’ve never actually cooked with them, so this is going to be a fun adventure…

Look on almost any roadside in the late Spring, and you’re sure to see an elder bush. They’re ubiquitous in the US and in Europe, and when I was wandering around India I saw them everywhere too. Medicinally, they’re one of the most useful plants to have around, so it’s probably a good thing that they’re everywhere. Of the plant, Culpepper says “I hold it needless to write any description of this, since every boy that plays with a pop-gun will not mistake another tree instead of elder”, but he wrote that a few hundred years ago, and although I’d love to assume that everyone knows what elder looks like, if you don’t, hop on over to Hunger and Thirst where the lovely and talented Butter has given a great guide to finding and identifying it.

Although elder grows everywhere in the UK (and is a mythical plant that is very much tied to British folklore) I wasn’t really introduced to it until I started studying with Kiva (who is more than a bit infatuated with it). Once I started looking for it, I saw it everywhere. On roadsides, in the woods, hanging on the edges of cliffs, and across the street from the beach all the way through Malibu. In fact elder berries were the first medicinal thing that I harvested from the wild. It introduced me to a new world. And so it’s kinda fitting that elder is steeped in mythology about being on the border of different worlds…

Medicinally, this plant is an entire pharmacopeia in itself. The flowers, berries, leaves and bark are all usable, though I have the most experience with the first two.

Note: use black elder. I have never seen or used red elder, but it is toxic. I think that the only difference is the colour of the berries, so if you’re not sure, wait until it fruits.

Sambucus nigra spp.  (here we use S. Mexicana).

Energetics: Cooling. Drying.

Elder flowers always make me think of the skin. I think this is because they are such a good diaphoretic, bringing circulation and moisture to the surface of the skin, but also because they have many uses in folk medicine as a skin or eye wash. According to Matthew Wood, the flowers are a diaphoretic that bring “the blood to the surface, strengthening the periphery, and bringing forth a sweat in pale, bluish persons with weak peripheral circulation.”

And indeed you can see that blueish tinge on some peoples’ skin- especially on the inner arms and legs, but when it’s really pronounced it shows on the face too. Wood goes so far as to say that when you see a mottled blue effect on the skin it’s an indication for elder berries, no matter what the symptoms are.

But back to the flowers.

It is a relaxing diaphoretic- relaxing the surface tension to open the pores of the skin, to cause sweating and release of heat. Think of it like venting a house that is too hot- you need to open the windows. This relaxing aspect of it also makes it suitable in situations where there are muscle spasms and coughs, especially as it has a slight expectorant effect too. So it’s perfect for use in fevers that have respiratory or sinus issues.

For the immune system, elder is fantastic- both as an immunomodulator and as an anti-viral.

Elder flowers clear heat and soothe inflammation- especially in those with fever and hot-type skin rashes who don’t sweat very easily. It’s also great externally on skin issues like rashes and acne, and also on hot dry irritated eyes as an eye wash.

 

Personal experience:

Like most people who use elder for colds and flus, I’ve seen it reduce the length of these things dramatically. It’s usually the first thing I reach for whenever I see somebody with a compromised immune system for that reason.

I’ve given elderflower to people for skin issues before, but the most dramatic experience I’ve had was actually with myself. I get these weird heat rashes on the front of my arms from time to time when I get really hot or stressed out. A few months ago it started to look like eczema or something- flaky and dry, but an angry fiery red. It was itchy, and it sure looked nasty. I was chatting to a naturopath friend who took a look at it and said “that’s ringworm, for sure, you need to go and get anti-fungals or it’ll spread everywhere”. I wasn’t 100% convinced. Not because it was unlikely– I mean I have a cat who I sleep with every night, and nap with in the afternoons– but because it just didn’t strike me as fungal. That and I share a bed with someone who is rash-less, and do yoga with it 6 days a week and it still hadn’t spread. But I figured that a naturopath probably knows better, and so I tried a herbal anti-fungal mix. By day 2 the rash looked even more red and angry, and started weeping and getting crusty. I know that it’s really common in heroic circles to say “it’s going to get better before it gets worse” and refer to healing crises and such. But this wasn’t getting better, it was being aggravated. So I changed tactics, figuring that I was burning up inside and didn’t have any real outlet for that heat, since I don’t sweat too much. I took a combination of elder flower (2 parts), sage (1 part) and burdock seed (1/2 part), and bathed it in cold elder flower tea. It was gone in 4 days.

 

Formulas:

For use as a diaphoretic, I’ll combine it with either stimulating or relaxing diaphoretics depending on what’s needed. If the patient is chilly and the fever hasn’t quite gotten going yet then they need warming up in the middle (stimulation) so throw in a bit of  ginger, garlic honey, thyme, cinnamon, or orange peel, to get the body to heat up some more. If there is already a strong fever, I’ll use relaxing diaphoretics to cause the pores to open to let sweat out. Mint, sage, yarrow, and bee balm all work great.

For the immune system in general, I make an elixir of elder flowers and berries, throwing in other herbs depending on what’s most prevalent- for example this year there’s tons of respiratory stuff going around, so my last few batches have had mullein and licorice, but really it all depends on where you are and what’s going on. If I lived in the north East and had more moist boggy cold stuff going on, I’d use more ginger and thyme. I’m out on the edge of a desert, so I usually have cooling and moistening things like marshmallow and licorice. Play around, or just use elder flowers and berries- you really can’t go wrong with these two on their own as they’re so powerful (and yet gentle enough for kiddies).

For hot, dry skin issues, you can make a strong infusion of the dried flowers (I use 1:2 volume), either on their own or with some rose petals or leaves, wait for it to cool, then strain and just sponge it on, or put it in a spray bottle and use as a mist. Same goes for the eye wash, though I find it easier to just soak a cotton ball in the infusion and drip it into my eye, than mess around with eye cups or droppers.

 

Sources:

Kiva Rose’s fantastic monograph on elder

Jim McDonald’s fantastic monograph on elder

Matthew Wood’s “The Earthwise Herbal”

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California Lamb

I never knew how much I loved silence until I moved to Los Angeles. From Palm Desert where I’d lie on the floor of my favourite canyon and just listen to the desert hum, to LA where, for the first few months, I’d sleep with ear plugs and a pillow over my head because the noise was just so intense.

Silence. I love it. Crave it actually.

So I go gathering plants- where I get to walk for hours without encountering a single person, and to hear the birds and the bugs and the wind without hearing voices or cars or sirens. These things make me insanely happy. I’ll bring a snack, and find somewhere nice to have a picnic (usually on top of a nice rock or up a friendly tree), and then take my bag of goodies home and spend a few hours processing- hanging things to dry, stripping bark, making tinctures, whatever is in order.

Have you ever been walking in the mountains of Southern California in the spring? We have all of these insanely fragrant plants- the salvias and the artemisias and wild cherry blossoms and grapes, and redroots, and it all mixes together into this heavenly, heady perfume. You can get high on the smell of spring- believe me, I’ve done it. And it occurred to me while I was out walking that this is where regional cuisine comes from. When I was walking around in India, some of these herbs that we pay a fortune for were just growing there by the side of the road. Same goes in France or in Italy– in fact that’s why the different regions of these different countries have such varied food traditions. They were the original foodies, these people who couldn’t travel very far, and made do with what they had. Regional cuisine comes from the weeds that grow around you. I think that’s kinda cool.

I’ve written about this before, a long time ago, but I can’t for the life of me find the post. So I’ll rephrase for those of you who haven’t read your way through my archives. Before this country was a melting pot of people from different cultures who wanted to recreate the dishes from the places they grew up in, there was a culture of people who had their own regional cuisines. Land-based ones just like everywhere else. I’m not suggesting that we go and appropriate Native American cuisines now (since that would be kinda silly), but that we build our own food cultures based on what we have.

I’ve been making this herb mix lately. It’s a lot more hassle than, say, going to the store and picking up a jar of Herbs De Provence, but I tell ya, there’s something magical about the process of gathering and drying, and eating something that tastes like the mountains you love. I’ve called it ‘Herbs De Californie’, because I’m unoriginal. But it’s amazing- black sage, white sage, lemonade sumac berries, rose petals, and, when I have it on hand, bee balm (it only grows in one spot in California, and my garden supply is low). And I’ve been using it on everything- chicken, steak, lamb chops, and just as a tea because it’s that yummy on its own.  And a few days ago, I roasted a lamb shoulder.

And, please excuse my language, but this is the shit. One 3 1/2 lb boneless lamb shoulder– it’s a pretty cheap cut as far as lamb goes. Full of delicious fat, and enough for 4 hungry people. I made it with lentils, but you can always just reserve the cooking liquid for something else.

California lamb and lentils

1 3 1/2 lb boneless lamb shoulder

6 cloves garlic

1/4 cup herbs (I use Herbs De Californie. You can get creative with your own combination of local herbs or, if you’re booorring, just use Herbs De Provence, though I guarantee it won’t blow your mind nearly as much ;) )

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

3 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup beef stock

 

2 cups french green lentils

1 onion, chopped

1/2 bunch parsley, chopped

juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tb olive oil

 

Make little incisions over the lamb, and insert the garlic cloves whole. Then, sprinkle all of the cracks and crevices with your herb mix, finishing by patting down the outer surface with what’s left. Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the top.

Preheat the oven to 250. In a casserole dish, warm the oil, and sear the roast on each side until golden brown. Discard the cooking oil, and place the lamb back in the pot, with the stock. Cover and cook for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, pour the onions and lentils into the cooking liquid (which should be plenty- if there’s not much you might need to add some water, or less lentils). Re-cover, raise the temperature to 350, and cook for another hour.

Remove the lid, and check the lentils. Are they tender enough? Remove the lamb and set aside (covered in tin foil, to rest), and put the pot back on the stove top on high to evaporate off the rest of the liquid. Once finished cooking, stir through the chopped parsley, and drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil. Put the lamb back on top and serve, or slice and serve separately.


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Wild Things in April: Dandelion

The Wild Things Roundup for the month of April is here. Many thanks to Butter for doing all the hard work, and we’ve got a ton of recipes for you to enjoy :D. Here’s Butter:

The Wild Things Round Up was created as a celebration of the magic and power of wild edibles.  As your hosts, Bek of Cauldrons and Crockpots and Butterpoweredbike of Hunger and Thirst, we want to share our own delight at walking on the wild side, in creating inexpensive and effective herbal medicines, and nourishing and tasty meals, all with the wild herbs that we find within striking distance of home – regardless of whether we are country mice or city mice.

Isn’t it lovely how dandelions, the featured herb for April, announce the arrival of spring with their cheery blossoms?  Since I caught the foraging bug, springtime cannot come soon enough each year.  Which is not to say that I don’t thoroughly enjoy winter.  But I do so miss the rush of hunting down, identifying, and picking plants.  Who would’ve thunk that wildcrafting could be so thrilling?

This month, we’ve got all sorts of delightful entries in the Wild Things Round Up – recipes using all parts of the plants, from the roots, to the greens, to the flowers.  If you’d like to learn more about the many medicinal benefits of dandelion, I really encourage you to go back and read Bek’s original post about dandelions.

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1.

Marcy of the Backyard Patch Herbal Blog, who lives in Illinois is well acquainted with power of the dandelion.  She made Sauteed Spicy Dandelion Greens . Also check out this page, where she has a few more recipes (including Dandelion Salad with Fresh Goat Cheese, yum!) and a few of her medicinal dandelion formulations.

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2.

The Sneaky Magpie, who lives in England made a charming Dandelion Jam, which was inspired by the River Cottage Crew (one of my favorite sources of inspiration as well).  This recipe includes directions for making a homemade fruit-based pectin to set the jam.  I very badly want a jar of this in my pantry.

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3.

Robin, who has a fantastic foraging blog called Eat Weeds, and also lives in Britain, contributed a recipe for  Dandelion Vinegar which is made from both the leaves and roots.  He says that dandelion vinegar is a zesty addition to salad dressings. I think I’d like to try dandelion vinegar as part of a marinade.

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4.

AnkeB, of the blog Herbology, who lives in Australia came up with a really unique tribute to dandelion greens with her Chicken and Dandelion Soup.  It’s hearty and rustic, with both meatballs and slices of chicken.  This is the kind of dish that would be equally at home served in a fancy restaurant or in a cozy kitchen.

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5.

The Dyhanaverse is a creative soul after my own heart.  She utilized roasted dandelion roots to make this Spring Cake.  If your family is gluten-intolerant, you’re in luck, as this recipe is gluten-free.

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6.

Katie had a wild adventure this month.  Not only was she lucky enough to harvest dandelions, but she also found morels (who me?  jealous?  why yes, very much so).  She used these choice forages to make a stunning quiche.  For those who are still uneasy about eating dandelion greens, I think using them in a quiche is the perfect introduction to their taste.

Morel and Dandelion Quiche

Ingredients:

16 dandelion blossoms, sans stem
16 small morel mushrooms, halved
1 roma tomato, hollowed and diced
1/4 cup of milk
8 oz. shredded cheese
4 eggs
1 tablespoon Bragg’s liquid aminos (optional)

Soak dandelion blossoms and halved morels in saltwater for at least 30 minutes, dandelions no longer than 1 hour. Rinse well, and let dry as much as possible before continuing. Mix eggs, milk, cheese and liquid aminos in a bowl. Pour half of mixture into pie crust (you can make your own or buy one in the frozen foods section). Place tomatoes and morels on top of the mixture, and then lay dandelion blossoms, facing up, on top of the tomatoes and morels. Pour remaining egg mixture over the blossoms. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes @350, or until the top is a nice golden brown. Let cool before cutting.

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7.

Brooke has a little foraging helper in her family.  From their harvest came Dandelion Flower Vinegar, which is both delicious and medicinal.

“My daughter loves picking dandelion heads and wants to pick some for pancakes. I’ll get back to you about that. Anyways, the dandelions all popped today and she couldn’t resist picking. So I had a quart of Apple cider vinegar with the mother and lots of dandy flowers.”

1 Quart Apple Cider Vinegar with the mother
20 Dandelion flower heads freshly picked

You might have to store a 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar in another container due to the space that the flowers will take up. Place a dandelion head at the top of the bottle and use a chopstick to push the flower heads into the apple cider vinegar. Let it steep for a couple weeks and use in regular recipes. Its a good way to get some of the benefits of dandelion.

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8.

Alex, of the blog A Moderate Life, who lives with her family in New York loves Mark Bittman, and also loves her leafy greens.  So, it’s only natural that she chose to make Dandelion Greens with Double Garlic, one of Bitty’s recipes.

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9.

Herbalist Darcy Blue lives a bit further north than a lot of us, but spring arrived in her neck of the woods just in the nick of time for her to make this fantastic and easyDandelion Walnut Pesto.

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10.

My co-host Rebecca, of King’s Road Apothecary and the blog Cauldrons and Crockpots, who operates out of LA is a genius at knowing how to make a recipe sparkle.  In this case, she added a few raisins to lift up the flavor of her dish, Dandelion and Fennel.

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11.

Butterpoweredbike (that’s me!), a child of the Rocky Mountains, came up with a recipe to use dandelion buds and a little lacto-fermentation magic to create Dandelion Bud Mock Capers.

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12.

Butterpoweredbike, of the blog Hunger and Thirst, turned dandelion flowers into a crispy crunch yummy with her recipe Batter-Fried Dandelion Flowers.

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13.

Butterpoweredbike took advantage of the coffee-like taste of roasted dandelion roots to create a Roasted Dandelion Root Rub for Meats, which she used on dove breast.  But this versatile rub can be used on any strongly-flavored meat, from beef to game.

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14.

Butterpoweredbike completed her tour of the dandelion plant by using the leaves to makeDandelion Green Soup with Roasted Garlic and Parmesan.  This is a simple, yet boldly flavored soup.

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Thanks to everyone who was inspired by, and participated in, the Wild Things Round Up.  Can’t wait to walk on the wild side with you next month!!!!

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Dandelion and fennel= yum

Oh jeez. I’m sorry, I’ve been the worst blogger ever. I’ve been working my you-know-what off trying to launch a website (CSS and web design are WAY harder than they look!), and then I went to Korea with some friends, and only really got back yesterday.

Korea was amazing; I wish I’d had longer than a week there. I’d always had this strange attraction to it, and then this unexplainable love for Korean food (that for most people takes a few shots to get used to). My dad and I were discussing it one day and he told me that I was conceived there. And in our strange logic that completely explained why I love Korean food and why I have Asian alcohol syndrome (really, one drink and I’m blotchy and red and way too drunk for my Scottish roots). So I was super excited to finally go, and it was all thanks to my friend Soo. Soo moved to America from Seoul about a year before I did, and we ended up at the same high school. She went to university in San Diego and then moved back to Korea much to the dismay of all her friends. But it worked out for the best because she got married last week, and we all got to go and visit ;).

It was only a week, which wasn’t nearly enough time to actually see the city. We had a few amazing meals (including the best Korean barbecue meal of my life) and got to see some really cool markets and herb stalls, and then it was over!! A whirlwind trip, really. But it was worth it. Except for the man next to me on the flight out there who twitched in his sleep bringing his hand terrifyingly close to my face, it was worth it.

When I got back I was craving sleep, and craving food that wasn’t laden with MSG. So I went and stole dandelion leaves from my neighbour’s garden. I know, I’ve been lecturing everyone else about not stealing from peoples’ gardens, but dandelion leaves are different: nobody wants them (except us weird folk who like wild things) so I don’t think it’s such a big deal.

Fennels are growing wild everywhere in California right now. They’re getting a bit too big to harvest, but I’m getting my last few in, and then they’re available at farmers markets and supermarkets for months to come. The raisins add a pop of sweetness and the dandelion leaves balance it all out with that hit of tangy bitterness. Yummy for a side dish, or ust for lunch, if you’re me.

Dandyfennel yum

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp butter

1 big fennel bulb, sliced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 small handful dandelion leaves, cut into 2 inch pieces

1 handful raisins

salt

pepper

1 tbsp chicken stock

1 tbsp white wine

1 tsp your favourite herb mix- I use my own personal ‘herbs de Californie’ blend, but you can use herbs de Provence, or even a collection of local things that catch your eye!

 

Heat the oil and butter on medium, add everything except the dandelion, and cook for around ten minutes, until the liquid is evaporated. Add the dandelion, wilt, and serve immediately.

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The loveliest sprout

I can’t believe I’m doing this to you. I mean, I hate sprouts. Really truly think they smell like socks and dirt and they make you fart to boot.

It’s all Jamie’s fault. We were getting our weekly shopping and he saw brussels sprouts and started jumping up and down with excitement. Anybody who gets that excited about something that most people hate really deserves to be given a chance, don’t you think?

Well it turns out that he has a special way of cooking them. Which means that it’s not his fault at all, it’s his step-dad’s fault. Gary, who taught Jamie how to work hard and to wash dishes and to cook brussels sprouts. Gary’s dish-washing technique, by the way, is one that Jamie has tried to teach me repeatedly. I am unteachable. I leave streaks on my dishes, and sometimes there’s still food there. This is because I learned to wash dishes from my dad, who was on a boat most of the time. Washing dishes on a boat is not about getting them as clean as possible, it’s about using as little water as possible, thus our cleaning routine went something like “run under water, rub with hand, turn off water and dry”. The look of horror on Jamie’s face when he first saw me doing this (granted, he’d been eating off my dishes for a while) was almost funny. Funny because I am pretty much forbidden to do the dishes in our house now. But not quite funny because I really had no idea I was doing it wrong in the first place.

So anyway, after hearing about Gary’s great dish-washing technique for so long (and never quite being able to master it; I think impatience plays a role here), Gary came to visit us for a couple of days. And he asked for a glass of water, and then I went to get it and there were no clean glasses. And with Gary standing right there I had to wash a glass.

Let me tell you, I actually broke a sweat. I mean, here was Gary who knows how to wash dishes so well that he actually has a technique, and me who knows how to wash dishes so badly that she’s not allowed to do them very often, and Gary wants to drink out of a glass that I will be washing. My hands were shaking as I tried to remember the fold-cloth-over-lip-and-press-hard thing. He didn’t look horrified. Good sign. Then he actually accepted water and drank it. Double good sign. I think he probably wondered why this weird girl was shaking while doing dishes.

I was chatting to my friend Mark last week when he mentioned that he was force fed brussels sprouts as a kid. He hates them so much that BS to him does not mean bull poo. Nope, it means brussels sprouts. I thought this kind of funny. My hatred really didn’t run that deep, I just found them kinda pongy. But I have been converted. And it’s not just me. My 13 year old sister who HATES anything cabbagey, who told me dubiously that she’d try it but only because she’ll try anything once, actually loved it so much that she made it herself the next day. Yes, I converted a teenager to brussels sprouts land. If that’s not enough to convince you then you’re obviously too hard a sell.

Sprouts, the good way

1 lb brussels sprouts

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

2 tb butter

2 tb olive oil

 

Slice the brussels sprouts into thin strips, about 1/8″ wide. Get a skillet nice and hot, then reduce to medium, add the oil and butter, and throw in the sprouts. Sprinkle over the salt and pepper, and then let them sit there for about 2 minutes. With a spatula, start to move them around a little– they should be golden brown in places. Then let them sit another minute or so. Then move them around again. They should be browning in some places, and bright green in others. After about 5 minutes total, remove from heat and serve.

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Wild things in April: Dandelion

So our Wild Thing for the month of April is the common dandelion. Which, if you’re like me, probably thought something like “are you kidding me? They’re so BITTER!” But then Butter cleverly pointed out that they’re NOT actually bitter when they’re young, and the flowers aren’t bitter, and the roots are much more like coffee when roasted (which just opens up a whole bunch of recipe ideas, don’t you think?). And the cool thing about them is that they’re everywhere except maybe the very northernmost parts of Siberia. Though I must admit if you live in the very northernmost parts of Siberia you may have a few more problems than just finding dandelions. For the rules and intro to the Wild Things roundup, click HERE. And to read more about identification, and the lovely things that Butter has to say (including her first recipe…which makes me feel like a total slacker) click HERE. Here’s the quick version: find it, make stuff with it, use it and experiment, then email us the results to wildthings.roundup@gmail.com :D.

Dandelion, known by its botanical name, Taraxacum officinale*, is a really valuable medicinal herb. In fact if you look in almost any modern herbal, there will be a description of this plant and what it does.

DANDELION ROOT.

Botanical name: Taraxacum Officinale

Properties: cooling, drying

Taste: bitter, salty

I’m pretty sure that the dandelion doesn’t need very much description. Bane of most gardeners, lovechild of most folk herbalists, and to everyone in between, I’m sure as a child you at least know somebody who reveled in blowing the seeds off the ‘clock’ to tell what time it was (to the horror of all gardeners who saw it, most likely). As a wild-thing-slash-herbal-terrorist, I take great pleasure in blowing those little seed heads all over the place, so really the practice need not be relegated to childhood games. Though I wouldn’t trust their time-telling skills, especially if you have an important meeting to get to.

Dandelion is one of those plants with what seems like a gazillion different properties that are too numerous to remember. The main areas that it works, however, are on the liver and those things affected by it; on digestion; and on the urinary system.

Dandelion as liver tonic:

Dandelion stimulates bile production and overall liver function. Culpepper says that it is “of an opening and cleansing quality, and therefore very effectual for the obstructions of the liver gall and spleen, and the diseases that arise from them”. This would explain why it’s most commonly toted as a ‘blood purifier’, as it’s the liver that filters most of the crap from the blood. And when thinking of ‘toxins’ in the blood, it’s not just things like fast food. The liver also filters hormones and stores glucose and helps the body break down fats, among numerous other things.

Dandelion is great for hot, inflammatory conditions that are related to the liver– acne, eczema, red burning eyes, headaches (specifically those involving tense neck), arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis. Matthew Wood has even used it for inflammatory mental conditions such as manic depression and schizophrenia (Do I need a disclaimer here? Don’t be an idiot. If you or someone you know is on medication for one of these things and want to see if dandelion will help, see a professional.). And believe it or not, all of these conditions are related. In Appalachian herbal medicine there’s a commonly used term: bad blood. Which sounds silly now, since we know what blood is and that it’s not bad. But before the days of dissection and knowing what a blood vessel was, ‘blood’ was the fluid in the body, and ‘badness’ was it being full of crap. Now, I guess it would refer to things like the portal venous system, and interstitial fluids of the body. When the liver is not functioning properly, the portal vein, which carries all the waste to the liver to be processed, backs up. The liver cannot filter out all the crap so it stays in the blood stream. The cells cannot get rid of all of their waste products into the blood stream, so it hangs out in the fluids in the spaces in between, and this can cause a multitude of symptoms which seem completely unrelated but in fact all have a similar root cause. The term used for a herb that affects this is ‘alterative’.

So dandelion is an alterative that helps the liver with detoxification, which in turn helps with hormonal irregularities; menstrual imbalances such as PMS , swollen breasts and cramping; blood sugar irregularities (hypoglycemia), and mood imbalances, most of which are often caused by sluggish liver function. According to Susun Weed, it is of great use in situations where there is “swelling, torpidity or congestion; stress from pregnancy, rich food, chemotherapy, and other chemical exposure; damage from alcohol or drug abuse; jaundice, and hepatitis.” Torpidity and congestion need not mean serious conditions like hepatitis and jaundice either– feeling sluggish, like your limbs are heavy, like your brain is foggy, and you have high cholesterol, this is congestion, and ‘bad blood’ too.

Dandelion as digestive tonic:

There’s a common phrase in Chinese medicine: “Eat bitters to avoid a bitter life”. Or something like that, except in Chinese. It’s something that we avoid in the Western world, where our taste buds are pampered by a constant influx of sweetness. But bitters are eaten world wide as a digestive and blood tonic. In the spring in most cultures, bitter herbs are eaten– take, for example, Passover, where bitter herbs are eaten as ritual. Imagine,  if you will, that you lived in a place where there were no grocery stores. After you’ve recovered from the shock, imagine how you’d feel after a long winter of eating nothing but animal fat and potatoes. And then imagine how you’d feel seeing the first greens poking up through the ground– dandelion, nettles, poke. These plants clean your blood, clean out all the sluggish crap that you needed to get through the winter. And they stimulate digestive secretions and get your digestive fire going again.

Dandelion as a source of minerals:
As well as helping the body’s detoxification process, dandelion is also a fantastic nourisher– jam packed full of minerals like iron, manganese, potassium and phosphorous. Especially the leaves.

Dandelion as urinary system tonic:

The leaves of dandelion are rich in potassium, and are a strong diuretic. But unlike most diuretics, because of their high mineral content, dandelion helps to nourish the urinary system while helping it flush itself. For this reason dandelion is of great use in all kinds of kidney and bladder diseases. According to Culpepper,  it is “vulgarly known as piss-a-beds” which refers to its diuretic qualities.

The flowers:

Dandelion flower infusion is a great skin toner, helping to smooth uneven complexions and get rid of zits and dry spots. They are also, infused in oil, great for muscular soreness.

Dosage:

The roots act more on the liver and as an alterative. The leaves are much more diuretic and high in minerals. And the flowers act on the heart. The great thing about dandelion is that, despite all of the amazing things it does, it’s surprisingly gentle. So it can be used in small to large doses: From 1-100 drops of the tincture (root, leaf or both), and up to 2 cups of the infusion a day.

To increase its alterative effects, I’d combine with mahonia as a base for a formula. To enhance its effects on the urinary system, add gallium or arcostaphylos or monarda, depending on the situation (and if it’s a UTI I skip the dandelion and go straight for the monarda or arcostaphylos usually).

Cautions and Contraindications:

Since they are highly diuretic, caution must be used in people with kidney disease. That is, if using for these things, please do so under the watchful eye of a practitioner with experience. They are also very drying and cooling, and thus can aggravate cool, dry conditions.

Resources:

Wood, Matthew: The Earthwise Herbal

Weed, Susun: Healing Wise

Buhner, Stephen: Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers

Culpepper, Nicholas: Culpepper’s Herbal