In many countries, traditional foods are prepared for their medicinal effects. In most of these places, the foods prepared were wild foods, that were cheap and easy to come by. By default, they were local and seasonal. One of the problems that we see with a lot of modern ‘fad’ diets is that in order to actually follow the diet, one needs to fork out a whole lot of money. Most of us just can’t afford to do that, especially not in this economy! Not only that, but it seems mighty suspicious that, in many cases, these products that are toted as panaceas have to come from half way around the world-- noni from Tahiti; acai from Brazil; goji from China. We highly doubt that God (or a higher being of your choice) put all of the good stuff in Tahiti, and left us to fend for ourselves until the advent of globalisation. Whether food or medicine, the majority of what we need can be found locally. It might not be trendy, but it will most probably be just as, if not more effective. Wherever you are, you have within your reach an untapped resource: wild foods.
Welcome to the Wild Things Round Up*
We are Butter from Hunger and Thirst and Bek from Cauldrons and Crockpots, and we are here to show you that eating wild foods doesn't need to be a terrifying endeavour, and that our health and our diet need not be dictated by financial status or geographic location.
A few things about us and this Round Up:
1. Wherever you are, you have access to Wild Things, even if it means clandestine trips to your neighbour's yard in the middle of the night**.
2. Foraging is not only for hippies and luddites, though hippies and luddites are both very much welcome (Hi Hippie, Hi Luddite!!). It's easy to assume that everyone who eats this way lives out in the wild, and shuns the material world and/ or technology. But it's not true. This is not a club exclusive to country mice. Bek lives in the middle of a city, and Butter lives in the middle of suburbia. We're both very well adjusted modern women, who love our lives, and happen to love nature as well.
3. We are not trying to be cave people. Though there are plenty of people in the world who successfully and gracefully live a life that is more similar to how people lived hundreds, or even thousands of years ago, neither of us are that person, and we assume that for the most part, you are not either. It's easy to romanticise, but that is a difficult, hard working life. It's also not NECESSARY to remove oneself from the modern world in order to be connected to nature. And, when it comes down to it, is that not really what we all want a bit more of-- connection. To nature, to community, to other people, to a higher power. It's easy to say "well, if I lived in the woods then I'd be connected to nature, but I live in Los Angeles so I can't be." But that simply isn't true. Nature is everywhere. Life is everywhere. It's not outside of your touch, it's not only available to people who make the sacrifice of modern convenience. You do not need to give up your make-up or your latte.
A few foraging rules:
1. DO NOT EAT ANYTHING THAT YOU CANNOT 100% IDENTIFY. We cannot stress the importance of this point. People die of stupidity every day. Let's not win any Darwin awards here.
2. Learn and pay attention to your local laws about where picking is legal.
3. Respect private property. Ask permission. Most people will gladly let you pull up some weeds for them. Most people are delighted to get rid of some of the fruit that rots all over the pavement. Just ask.
4. Don't take more than you need. Never take rare plants. Learn what's in your area-- only take things that are abundant. This is important. Always think of the future, not just in terms of what you want, but in terms of the ecology of the system that you are taking from. These eco systems have been around for millenia, since long before people got there; don't be the one to change that in one generation.
Tools you will need:
2. Pocket knife
3. A local guide book-- with pictures
4. Bags to collect your food into
How to play:
Every month, at the beginning of the month, we will write about a new Wild Thing. We will give pictures, descriptions, best locations, tastes, and a breakdown of its medicinal uses. We will also list any possible toxicity issues. The plants we pick will be those with few if any toxic lookalikes, and if there are, we will give ample warnings. None of the plants we pick will have any potentially lethal lookalikes. Then, over the next month, we, and YOU, will go and find it, and play with it, and come up with a way to use it. Before the deadline, you can email us a link to your recipe, or if you don't have a blog, submit your recipe by email, and then at the end of the month we will provide a list of everyone's adventures. Sounds fun? We sure think so!
Now, we're well aware that we all live in different locations, so there are likely going to be times when what we are looking for doesn't grow where you are, or is still covered in snow while Bek is prancing around in a bikini in Los Angeles. If that is the case and you REALLY want to play that month, write to us. We can give you suggestions of possible alternatives, or help you find a solution that involves the USPS. Or, just wait till the next month.
*No association with Monsanto.
**Just kidding. We don't advocate stealing. Really, there's no need-- a knock on the door and a "Hey, I noticed that you have an apple tree full of rotting apples. I was wondering, could I take some of them, or pay you for some of them, or mow your lawn for some of them?" Most people are horrified at the thought of taking money for apples, and will drop big bags of them off on your front step for months to come.
I know that several of you out that have been anxiously awaiting the month when rose would be the featured herb for the Wild Things Round Up. Probably nobody moreso than Bek, who is completely charmed by rose as both food and medicine. And once you read her monograph about rose on Cauldrons and Crockpots, you'll begin to understand why she loves it so much. I won't give away all of the goods, but I will say that rose vinegar is a nearly magical cures for taking the heat out of sunburns.
It's usually my part of the introduction to tell you how to find the highlighted herb. I'm reasonably certain that nobody out there needs to be told how to find a rose. You can use either wild or cultivated roses. Just be completely 100% certain that your roses have not be sprayed with any chemical ick if you are harvesting from a garden.
In the last few weeks, I've collected a lot of wild roses, stopped here and there, to gather the bright pink flowers growing on low prickly bushes as I see them along the ditches. I also collected a handful of petals from a neighbor's roses. Just this morning, I went to inspect the petals, which have been drying in my pantry. I was actually a bit surprised to learn that after drying, the scent of the cultivated roses has changed - become less fragrant, and slightly putrid. By comparison, the dried wild rose still smelled utterly sweet and floral. I'm not sure this is a difference I would have picked up without a side-by-side comparison, but the difference was unmistakable.
Again, this is not to say that you shouldn't use your garden roses for cooking and medicine. But if you have the chance to harvest your local wild roses (my sweeties are rosa woodsii), then take advantage of their special qualities.
No matter what type of rose you are utilizing, fragrance matters. For both flavorful food and potent medicine, you want to use the most fragrant roses you can find. I've selected flowers from probably over 30 patches in the last few weeks, and I can tell you that the level of fragrance absolutely varies from bush to bush. Although, it seems that the more deeply colored flowers tend to be the more fragrant.
You know what they say, when life gives you lemons... you make lemonade. And this is exactly what happened to me yesterday. Literally. A friend had a bunch of naked Sorrento lemons leftover from making limoncello, and she sent me home with a bag full of them.
I wasted no time in making a big batch of regular lemonade. Easy peasy, boil 1 c. of sugar together with one cup of water to make a simple syrup, chill. Add the chilled simple syrup to one cup freshly squeezed lemon juice. Dilute with 4 c. of water (or to taste).
After enjoy a glass of regular lemonade, I spotted my jar of wild rose syrup sitting in the fridge, and had an a-ha moment. I had made the rose syrup previously by pouring hot simple syrup over dried rose petals (roughly two parts simple syrup by volume to one part dried rose petals), letting it steep for a few days, then straining and refrigerating.
To make rosy lemonade, I diluted the rose syrup with two parts water, then combined it with my lemonade. And because I've got to mess with everything, I added a few leaves of crushed tarragon. Totally optional, but tasty.
For those of you who fear an overwhelmingly floral or perfume-y taste with rose syrup, the lemon cuts this quality nicely, while still allowing the rose to keep it's identity. And the resulting drink is a stunning pink color. Be certain to serve it over a boatload of ice, and enjoy it while lounging under a shade tree.
So now it's your turn. Wild Things Round Up is a foraging recipe challenge. Take a nice walk tonight, gather some roses, cook up a fantastic recipe, then submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org . You've got until the end of the month. Ready, steady, GO!