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Foraging, Permaculture, and other things, too
Updated: 19 hours 8 min ago

Loquat: Getting A Grip on Grappa

Mon, 03/14/2016 - 09:19

The fruit ripens from tart to very sweet

Lovin’ Loquats: Eriobotryae Japonicae

Long before there were couch potatoes there were couch Loquats.

Loquats are homebodies. Most people who live beyond the growing range of the Loquat usually have never eaten a fresh one, having to settle for canned representatives. Loquats just don’t travel well. They bruise easily and loose their freshness quickly, much like a rose, its distant relative. From the tree to the kitchen is almost the maximum distance they will endure. Tree to tummy is the best. The state of Florida says they will keep several weeks in the refrigerator, but my experience is by then they look like large, lumpy raisins.

Loquat season can be six to eight weeks long. Photo by Green Deane

Although called the Japanese Plum, the Loquat is not native to Japan nor is it a plum. It’s extremely popular in Japan and has been cultivated there for at least 1,000 years. Despite the name, the Loquat is actually from southern China, where in Cantonese it is called Luh Kwat (hence Loquat.) Translated that means “reed orange” or “rush orange” or in other words it likes to grow where it is wet. That seems more poetic than true because here in Florida they grow where ever a bird drops the seed, wet or dry, hence they have become naturalized. If you have a Loquat tree, you will have dozens of Loquatlings. By the way, at least  four different species of fruit-eating bats also do their best to spread and fertilize Loquat seeds.

In Mandarin Loquat is called “Pipa”  because its shape resembles a musical instrument, the Pipa, which is pot-bellied like lute.  In Japan the same mind set held sway and Loquat is called Biwa, after the musical instrument of the same shape. Pipa/biwa, too close for pentatonic or verbal chance.

Loquat are ripening

The Loquat fruit is more like an apricot than a plum. It’s one of those inexplicable linguisticism that in English we refer to Japan’s apricot-like fruit as a “plum” but their plum –ume—we call a Japanese apricot, which it is not. That does not make a lot of sense. It makes you wonder if a couple of pages of an early botany book book were transposed. Incidentally, the kumquat and the Loquat are not related botanically, but both share an origin in old Chinese names.  Kumquat means “golden orange.”

The Loquat tree is unusual in that it blossoms in the fall or early winter, and fruits in early winter or spring.  Its blossoms were used to make perfumes in the 1950s. The quality of the perfume was said to be outstanding, but the yield was low and not commercially viable. Some individuals suffer headache when too close to a Loquat tree in bloom, the aroma from the flowers sweet and penetrating.

Loquats can bloom in the fall or early winter

My Loquat tree blossoms around Christmas and I have edible fruit by St. Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day. It varies.  Loquats were introduced to Florida in 1867 and the tree fruits as far north as South Carolina. The wood is pink, hard, close-grained, and medium-heavy. It is good for making rulers and bokkens. Bokkens? In Japanese martial arts the practice sword — the bokken — was often made of Loquat wood because it was hard but also brittle, perhaps a realistic substitute for swords which then could be brittle. Legend says a wound caused by a Loquat bokken will not heal and the victim will die. There is no report of what happen to wounds caused by a Loquat ruler in the hands of an old-fashion teacher, of which I had several.

You can make a soft, sweet wine from loquats. Photo by Green Deane

I planted my Loquat tree some 15 years ago and it has been fruiting heavily for seven years. Following the suggestion of local experts, the tree is pruned to resemble a bowl, which increases production, up to 300 pounds of fruit a season. The sweet/tart yellow pear-shaped fruit is a sign of winter, eh, or spring, depending upon which cultivar you have. Many recipes are included below, or just use apricot recipes. Botanically in the same family with apples, pears, peaches, nectarines et cetera, the Loquat‘s scientific name is Eriobotryae japonica (air-ee-oh-BOT-ree-uh juh-PAWN-ih-kuh). Japonica means Japan and Eriobotryae is bastardized Greek — read Latinized Greek — meaning “woolly bunch of grapes.”  Loquats grow on thick fuzzy stems in a cluster like grapes. There is no controversy that the fruit is tasty. The slippery seeds, however, are another issue.

Like many pome members of the rose family, the seeds contain small amounts of cyanogenetic glycosides. That’s almost as bad as it sounds.  Said another way, in the gut this can make minute amounts of cyanide that the body can tolerate. This is also known as amygdalin or laetrile, also called B17, a controversial alternative medicine treatment for cancer, usually obtained from apricot pips. This would all be an almost dismissible interesting factoid if all we did was spit the seeds out, or occasionally let an ingested whole seed go on its merry alimentary way. But, then there is flavoring with the seeds, roasting the seeds, and lastly, Loquat grappa, which is made from the seeds. I should say, Loquat grappa is homemade. I know of no commercial Loquat grappa. There are some Loquat-flavored liquors but they have a different taste profile completely. They taste like Loquats. Loquat grappa does not taste like Loquats.

Loquat grappa is made by soaking Loquat seeds in vodka or grain alcohol for one to six months and then adding sugar water to the infusion. The longer you let it sit, the darker and stronger flavored it becomes. The odd part is Loquat grappa made this way has a very strong cherry flavor and aroma. Is Loquat grappa poisonous?  That is a good question. Certain Indian tribes would leech cyanic glycosides out of seeds of related plants then eat the ground up seeds. If the glycosides can been leached out by water, then one would think vodka, which is half water, would leech it from the seeds to the vodka, and alcohol is a good solvent. Then again, it might not be chemically possible. If the toxin is an oil — an acid — it might not mix with water or alcohol. Perhaps a chemist will let us know. I can volunteer some Loquat grappa for science.  So while some toxicity would make sense in some amount, it is an unknown.  I’ve never seen more than four ounces drank at a time. It seems to be tolerated at that level, producing only expected effects.  I make two “fifths” a year of it and it lasts until the next season.  If you follow either of the Loquat grappa recipes included below and make your own, you’re on your own: No guarantees or promises of safety included. Consume sparingly. Oh, adding a section of cinnamon bark to the final grappa bottle adds some very nice flavor.

That said, the non-bitter roasted seeds are reported to be tasty — I’m not sure I would eat one but there are people who do, apparently — and some folks put a few seeds in the cavity of a chicken before roasting to impart a nice flavor. The roasted seeds when ground are said to be a good substitute for coffee. (I think I’ll pass on that, for two reasons: One is the debatable safety of the seeds. The other is every seed coffee extender or substitute I’ve ever had is awful, including the queen of substitutes, roasted ground persimmon seeds. )

Besides amygdalin, the seeds also have lipids, sterol, b-sitosterol, triglycerides, sterolester, diglycerides and compound lipids; and fatty acids, mainly linoleic, palmitic, linolenic and oleic. Amygdalin is also in the fruit peel, but slightly. The leaves possess a mixture of triterpenes, also tannin,  in addition, there are traces of arsenic. (Arsenic And Old Loquat?) Young leaves contain saponin. The leaves and seeds are also used in Chinese medicine, as is the fruit, which has vitamins A, B, and C. The Loquat is still one of the most popular cough remedies in the Orient, and is the ingredient of many patent medicines.

One other warning: Do not eat a green, uncooked Loquats. They taste awful and there is one case on record of several stupefying a five-year old for two hours.  Loquat pie made with greenish, not-quite-ripe fruit, however, supposedly taste like cherry pie….

Recipes: Loquat Grappa

Soak one to two quarts of clean, whole Loquat seeds in a tight jar with a quart of vodka for one to six months. At the end of soaking time, drain the now flavored vodka and split it evenly between two fifth bottles. On the stove create sugar water by mixing equal parts of sugar and water. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Top off each fifth with the sugar water. If you want it less sweet use less sugar, or more vodka.

 

Loquat wine

4 lbs fresh loquats

2 lbs granulated sugar

1 tsp acid blend

1 gallon water

1 crushed Campden tablet

1/2 tsp pectic enzyme

1/2 tsp grape tannin

wine yeast and nutrient

Wash fruit and remove seeds. Chop the fruit finely or roughly in a blender. Pour fruit over half the sugar, crushed Campden tablet, tannin, yeast nutrient, and enough water to total one gallon in primary, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Cover with cloth. After 12 hours, add pectic enzyme and recover. After another 12 hours, add wine yeast and recover. Stir daily, adding half the remaining sugar after three days. Ferment on pulp another four days, stirring daily. Strain through nylon jelly bag and squeeze well to extract juice. Pour remaining sugar into juice, juice into secondary, and fit airlock. Siphon liquor off sediments into clean secondary after 30 days, topping up as needed. Repeat racking every 30 days until wine clears (3-4 additional rackings). Rack once more and taste. If satisfied with sweetness, bottle the wine. If too dry, add stabilizer and sweeten to taste, adding up to 1/4 cup sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup water.  Age

 

Here is a second Loquat grappa recipe from the internet.

Dry 200g of Loquat seeds in sun for a week. Put in a bottle with 400g spirit grain alcohol, a piece of lemon rind and a piece of vanilla bean. Keep covered in sun for 1 month, shaking it occasionally. Prepare syrup of 300g sugar and 300g water. Boil, then when cool mix with spirit, filter and bottle. Keep to season at least two months before drinking.

And, Loquat Jam

1 kg loquats, seeds removed but fruit not peeled

200 ml water

Finely grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

Simmer fruit in water till soft. mash well or put it through the blender. add juice and rind and sugar; boil rapidly till a little sets on a cold saucer. Bottle and seal.

More Loquat Jam

Wash, remove seeds, and blossom ends from whole ripe fruit. Run through food chopper and measure pulp. Barely cover with cold water. Cook until tender and deep red. Add 3/4 cup sugar to 1 cup of Loquat pulp. Cook until thick, stirring constantly. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal with sterilized lids. It is best to cook small batches of no more than 5 cups of fruit pulp in one kettle.

Loquat Jelly

With Pectin

5 lbs. ripe loquats

1 cup water

1/2 cup lemon juice 1 package pectin

5-1/2 cups sugar

Gather Loquats when full size. Wash, remove seeds, and blossom ends. Barely cover with cold water. Simmer covered for 15 minutes Cook slowly until pulp is very soft. Strain juice through jelly bag. Measure 3-1/2 cups Loquat juice and lemon juice in a large kettle. if more juice is needed, fill last cup or fraction of a cup with water. Add pectin. Stir well. Place over high heat and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Add the sugar and mix well. Continue stirring and bring to full rolling boil. Boil exactly 2 minutes. Remove from fire and let boiling subside. Skim carefully. Pour into hot sterilized jelly glasses, leaving 1/2-inch space at top to cover at once with melted paraffin. (Or pour into hot sterilized jars and seal with sterilized lids.)

Loquat Jelly

No Added Pectin

Gather Loquats when full size. Wash, remove seeds, and blossom ends. Barely cover with cold water. Cook slowly until pulp is very soft. Strain through jelly bag. Drain and cook until juice is thick then add an equal amount of sugar. Boil rapidly to jelly stage. Pour into sterilized jelly glasses, leaving 1/2-inch space at top to cover at once with melted paraffin. (Or pour into hot sterilized jars and seal with sterilized lids.)

 

Spiced Loquats

For three pints of sweet pickles, wash three pounds of firm loquats and remove the stem and blossom ends; do not peel them. Drop them into the pickling syrup given below and cook until tender. Remove the fruit. Pour remaining syrup into sterilized jars. Fill almost to overflowing with the hot syrup and seal at once.

3 cups sugar

1-1/2 cups water

1-1/2 cups cider vinegar

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 tablespoon whole allspice

2-inch stick of cinnamon

Combine sugar, water, and vinegar in a large kettle. Tie the spices loosely in cheesecloth and add. Boil 10 minutes. Put in fruit and cook gently until tender. This syrup may be used for apricots, peaches, pears, apples, crab apples, plums, loquats, and kumqats

 

Loquat Chutney

Use the kiwi fruit chutney recipe, but substitute peeled, seeded loquats for kiwi fruit

 

Blanched Loquats

To peel loquats for sauce and fruit cup, blanch by pouring boiling water over loquats to cover. Add 1/4 cup lemon juice to each quart of water. Cook over low heat about 5 minutes, just until skin loosen. Drain and reserve liquid. Cool, peel, halve, and seed loquats (remove seeds).

 

Loquat Sauce for Ice Cream

Combine two cups juice from blanched loquats with two cups sugar. (see Blanching above) Bring to boil, cook over medium heat until syrup spins a two-inch thread when dropped from a spoon (230 degrees to 234 degrees Farenheit on candy thermometer), about 20 minutes. Cool completely. Add two cups peeled, halved, seeded loquats. Chill, then serve over ice cream. Makes about three cups sauce.

 

Sugar and Spice Loquats

Sprinkle seeded (peeled if you want) fruit with granulated sugar. Mix cream cheese with powdered sugar and cinnamon and put in cavity. Top with a cut piece of strawberry.

 

BLOG NOTE: I have made the follow pie without seeds and it it is quite tasty.

Loquat Pie

8  cups loquats

1/2 cup water

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ginger

1/8 teaspoon allspice

pastry for a double crust pie

Stem, wash and cut up loquats, leaving a few seeds for flavor, (When the pie is baked, the seeds taste almost like nuts and are really very good).  Cook the loquats in water, covered, for about 10 minutes or until almost tender.

Combine the sugar, flour, salt, ginger and allspice.  Stir in the loquats.  Cook, stirring, until thickened.  Remove from the heat and cool.

Pour into a pie plate containing the bottom pie crust.  Cover with the top crust and prick with a fork or put a few cuts in the top crust to allow steam to escape while baking.

Bake at 450 degrees “F” for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees “F” for another 45 minutes.

Cool and serve..  With Vanilla bean ice-cream, and a light rum sauce..

__________________________________________________________________

The following recipes come from Marian Van Atta, whom I knew in the early 80’s. She had a newspaper column called Living off the Land. She looked home-spun and back to nature long before it was posh, a portly Mom Nature. She has a book, also available at Amazon: “Exotic Foods, a Kitchen and Garden Guide.” Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1561642150/californirarefru

 

Fresh Loquat Relish

1 cup of loquats, cut in half and seeded

2 or three calamondins (quartered and seeded)

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup raisins

Put all ingredients in a blender and chop for a minute or so. Put in a covered jar and store in the refrigerator. Will last at least a week.

 

Martha’s Loquat Pie

3 cups loquats, seeded and sliced

3/4 cups sugar, less if fruit is very ripe

2 tablespoons flour.

Mix loquats, sugar and flour together. Put in unbaked 9-inch pie crust. Cover with top crust and slash for steam vents. Bank at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce to 350 degrees. Bake until crust is browned, about 35 more minutes.

 

You can also dry Loquats. Cut in half, remove seeds, prick skin with fork, dry accordingly.

 

Loquat Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion

Calories 168

Protein 1.4 g

Fat 0.7 g

Carbohydrates 43.3 g

Calcium 70 mg

Phosphorus 126 mg

Iron 1.4 mg

Potassium 1,216 mg

Vitamin A 2,340 I.U.

Ascorbic Acid 3 mg

 

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile IDENTIFICATION:

Evergreen large shrub or small tree, rounded crown, short trunk, woolly new twigs. Leaves alternate, simple, 10-25 cm long, dark green, tough, leathery, toothed edge, velvety-hairy below.

TIME OF YEAR:

Culitvars vary, some fruit in spring, some fruit in late summer or fall.

ENVIRONMENT:

It likes heat and full sun,  will survive said if watered. Naturalized in many areas.

METHOD OF PREPARATION:

Yellow fruit raw or cooked, seeds can be used to make a cherry-flavored liquor.

Swinecress, Wart Cress: Micro Mustards

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 01:10

 

Coronopus didymus, strong flavor, naughty name

   Coronopus didymus/squamatus: Smelly Pot Herbs?

Opinions are mixed on Swinecress. I think it’s a nice walkabout nibble and pot herb. I often find it in lawns in the cooler months of the year. Others think it stinks nauseatingly and you should put a clothespin on your nose while boiling it many times. Now you know the spectrum of opinions…

Coronopus Squamatus

Swinecress is yet another micro-mustard one finds clinging to life in scattered little patches. Don’t let the size fool you. It is a tenacious plant in will-to-live and flavor. Actually there are two species in North America, neither of them native. Coronopus didymus probably came from South America and Coronopus squamatus (formerly C. procumbens) came from Europe.  They both have a moderate to strong mustard flavor and are used the same way. Sometimes the C. didymus is called the “Lesser Swinecress.” No idea why. Their main separating distinction is the fruit of the C. squamatus is lumpy and has ridges where as the C. didymus tends to be smooth.

While both are found scattered in the Eastern United States, C. squamatus is scattered across Europe. It is found from Ireland and southern England over to near my ancestral grounds in Greece, the wetlands of Mt. Parnon in Peloponnisos. C. didymus is also found in Oregon, Arizona and California. In the latter two states it is a noxious weed. It’s also been introduce to South Africa and Australia

Calling these plants micro-mustards is not quite fair. When they live where they are walked on or mowed they indeed become tough little contenders. But, given all the things most plants like such as sun, water, good soil and not trod on they can grow to over a foot hight. Oddly, they take up salt in their roots, to 17 percent.  Those roots can be ground up and mixed with vinegar for a type of horseradish. Or they can be cooked an eaten. While I do not know so the roots might also be burned for the salt.

Coronopus (kor-on-OH-puss) is from Greek and means Raven/crow’s foot, presumably because the ends of the leaves look like that. Not too many people look at crows’ feet these days, or Ravens’. Didymus (DID-ee-mus) means found in pairs, a reference to the seeds, as in two testes and indeed that is what the seed pod resembles. Squamatus (squa-MAY-tus) means with scale-like leaves or bracts.

By the way, there are no poisonous members of the mustard family, just pungent.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Coronopus didymus: An annual or winter annual, low, spreading, smooth to mildly hair, stems freely branching, low-growing with upward tips, many leaves, ovate to oblong, pinnatifid, segments narrow, dentate or incised, racemes many, lots of flowers, white petals. Fruit shorter than stalks, seeds in two inflated rounded sections. Coronopus squamatus similar, more leafy, basal leaves obvate to oblanceolate, very condensed flowers.  Seeds much rougher than C. didymus which are smooth.

TIME OF YEAR: C. didymus flowers spring to mid-summer. C. squamatus flowers in summer. In Florida, Swinecress a winter annual easily found in January.

ENVIRONMENT: Old fields, roadsides, along streets, vacant lots, disturbed sites, mowed lawns, often locally abundant.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Depends on your taste and perception. Can be eaten raw. Most people boil leaves and stems in several changes of water as a pot herb. Seems excessive to me. I actually never cook it. Can be used to stuff other foods such as fish. Roots can be cooked or ground up and mixed with vinegar to be used like a horseradish. Do not add salt to the root until you taste it.

 

Christmasberry, Wolfberry, Goji

Fri, 12/25/2015 - 01:12

Christmas, Wolf, Goji, They’re All Berries

It’s called the Christmasberry even though it fruits from Christmas to April. And while it is one of several “Christmas Berries” this one happens to have a famous relative, the Goji berry of health food fame.

Wolfberries, Goji’s relative, photo by Green Deane

Botanically the Christmasberry is Lycium carolinianum (not to be confused with a couple of edible Crossopetalums also called Christmas Berry.) As for how Lycium carolinianum is pronounced is a bit of debate. Some say LIE-see-um, others lie-SEE-um. As the original word is from the Greek, λύκειον (LEE-kee-on) as in a Greek school we might argue the genus is more properly LEE-see-um.  Carolinianum means central North America and is said kar-row-linn-ee-AY-num.

For most of the year the Christmasberry is an unimpressive shrub that resembles from a distance a rosemary bush. But there are hints of more going on. Its leaves are plump and the shrub is salt tolerant, preferring coastal or inland areas of high saline content. In early winter or late spring the fruit is quite attractive and a welcomed food for woodland creatures particularly birds. Technically the L. carolinianum here in Florida fruits all year but favors the late fall and to early spring. However, I have also found them in abundance in mid-spring and late fall.

Lycium carolinianum blossom

While the foliage would not give it away as a member of the Solanaceae clan the blossoms and berries can. The blossoms look very similar to other Solanums and the berries have an ornamental pepper look, if not in color then shape. The seeds are a familiar look as well reminding one of small tomatoes or pepper seeds. Opinions on taste vary, from sweet and tomato-ish to famine food. All the ones I’ve eaten were on the sweet and juicy side, soft if now hollow but there is a bit of aromatic oil or flavor to them as well, nothing dramatic but definitely there.

While most foraging books ignore the L. carolinianum in their line up of edible Lyciums Dr. Fernando Chiang of the National University of Mexico confirms academically that the fruit is edible. Dr. Chiang is an expert on the genus and was consulted on the species for the publication of Florida Ethnobotany by Dr. Daniel Austin.  Chiang describes the berries of other Lyciums as “often edible.” At least one, L. acnistoides, found in Cuba, is toxic. In some species the berries and the leaves (cooked) are eaten. With some edible, one toxic for certain, and others unreported it is best to identify carefully.

In North America among the edibles species, besides L. carolinianum, are  L. andeersonii, L. fremontii, L. pallidum, and L. torrei. The leaves of the L. halimifolium are cooked and eaten in Eurasia as is the L. chinense. Best known, perhaps, is a Lycium closely related to the L. chinense, and that is the L. barbarum, also called the Goji (GO-gee) berry which oddly is naturalized in England. Also listed as edible is Lycium ferocissimum, which is a pest in Australia. Its native L. australe was eaten by the Aboriginals.

Also called the Wolfberry, L. barbarum is known as a powerful antioxidant and credited with giving you energy, in and out of bed, better metabolism, improved immune system response, blood pressure regulation, cardiovascular health and slowing down aging. Animal research suggest it may be effective against cancer, inflammatory diseases, macular degeneration and glaucoma. It is consumed in the form of pills, juice, dried fruit, powder, teas and the seeds eaten.

The Goji berry is about 68% carbs, 12% proteins, 10% each of fiber and fat. A 100-gram serving is about 370 calories.  It has 11 essential dietary minerals and traces of 22 others; 18 amino acids, six essential vitamins, five unsaturated fats, and five carotenoids. Specifically it is high in calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin B2, Beta-carotene, and exceptionally high amounts of vitamin C. It’s also full of antioxidants via its pigment, which I would presume to be lycopene. If your local Lycium lives up to that, it would be quite a dietary addition.

Processed fruits of various species in the genus have also been used to treat diabetes, impotence, and to retard aging. One ingredient, Physalin, is extracted to treat Hepatitis B. Another chemical, Betaine, is taken by weightlifters to bulk up.

As a food Goji berrie (L. barbarum) are usually bought dried like raisins and are cooked before eaten. But the berries are also used to make a tea. Young Goji shoots and leaves are used as a cooked green. The one medical warning associated with Goji berries is they may increase the potency of drugs like Warfarin (making you bleed more easily.) Goji berries also contain atropine in low amounts.

Clearly you cannot assume your local Lycium is as all-around edible as the Goji is. But, identify and investigate.  One would presume many of them would have similar nutritional profiles.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION:

Lycium carolinianum: Shrub to six feet, sprawling, spiny, small, succulent leaves. The four-petaled, somewhat tubular, lavender/blue flowers usually singular, red/orange berries, fleshy. Locally they are often covered with Ramalina, a hairy lichen.

TIME OF YEAR:

Fruits year around in Florida but favors mid-spring

ENVIRONMENT:

Salt tolerant, coastal areas or inland salty ground

METHOD OF PREPARATION:

Ripe berries, fresh or dried, as fruit or tea.

Chestnuts Roasting… Sequoias of the East

Sun, 11/01/2015 - 20:17

American chestnuts in the Great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina in 1910.

Chestnuts have done more than just disappear from the landscape: They have dropped out of our lives save for a token appearance at Christmas.

Chestnuts, note flat and round side.

Whether in Eurasia or North America chestnuts were a major staple. Long before the cultivation of wheat entire European populations lived off chestnuts as later populations would depend on potatoes. In North America in the Appalachians Mountains one out of every four trees was a Chestnut (Castanea dentata) which the native relied upon heavily. Chestnuts grew to towering heights often supported by a trunk that had no branches until to 50 to 70 feet up. They had boles six feet through and 22 feet around. Prior to 1900 it was the wood most houses, barns and caskets were made of. All of the original telegraph poles were chestnut as were railroad ties. So what happened?

Chestnut leaf has large teeth

In Europe the chestnut (Castanea sativa) became viewed as poor people’s food. Why? Because chestnut flour has no gluten and won’t rise when you make bread with it whereas wheat flour takes readily to yeast. Thus the poor had to eat what they called “downbread.”  A staple that sustained marching Greeks in 400 BC to nearly all Italian farmers in the 1800s simply became in time ignored. Then in North America a chestnut blight was  noticed in 1904 in the Bronx zoo, New York City. Forester Hermann Merkel, who discovered the infection, took a sample to the New York Botanical Garden across the street. There mycologist William Murrill identified the disease, Cryphonectria parasitica, aka Endothia parasitica. Within a few decades it wiped out some four billion trees leaving by 1950 only a few isolated pockets mostly in northwest United States. Like the invasive species the Water Hyacinth, the blight was probably introduced in 1876 when a lot of Japanese plants (and Asian pathogens) were imported to America for centennial celebrations.

Also note point on the bottom of the nut.

With the blight the chestnut moved into the reference notes of history. However there has been a breeding program with remains of North American chestnuts with the Chinese Chestnut  to create a 94% American Chestnut that is immune to the disease. It has worked successfully so far in Virginia and a few other areas. In another generation we might begin to know how successful that program is. The restoration website is the American Chestnut Foundation. When you consider it will take certainly a century or much more to bring back the chestnut this is a group of dedicated, unselfish folks with a long-term view. One plan is to plant resistant chestnuts on land made barren by strip mining.

Europe now provides most of the “sweet” chestnuts.

While our edible chestnuts sold at Christmas time come from Europe — which did not suffer the blight — Native Americans made much use of the native chestnut. The first record of them made in North America by a European comes from 1539 by Spaniard Rodrigo Ranjel, secretary on the DeSoto Excursion. He noted Chestnuts trees were similar to the ones back home and mentioned seeing them used in a village near Florida’s Santa Fe river. Thomas Harriot in 1590 said of the Algonquians in North Carolina: Chestnvts there are in diuers places great store: some they vse to eate rawe, some they stamp and boil to make spoonmeate, and with some being sodden they make such a manner of downbread as they vse their beanes.”

Polymath and plant guy Thomas Harriot

The now-famous Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame wrote in 1612 the Virginia Powhatans boiled chestnuts for four hours making a “both broath and bread for their chiefe men or at least their greatest feasts.”  B. Romans wrote in 1775 the Creeks had for food “dry peaches and persimmons, chestnuts and fruit of the chamaerops” (palm fruit.)  Merritt Fernald of Harvard (b.1873) probably referring to the Cherokee, said “the nuts were cooked in their corn-bread, or, when roasted, were used like coffee.” We also know the Cherokee boiled the nuts, pounded them with corn (or berries) and wrapped the mixture in a green corn husk to be boiled. Several native nations made bread out of the chestnuts.  While the chestnuts don’t have much oil (2%) it was used as a gravy.

Carolina Parakeet

Man was not alone in his use of the chestnut. Woodland creatures like them such as squirrels, mice, bear, deer, turkeys and rabbits. In Australia and Tasmania where European chestnuts thrive kangaroos, wallabies and possums can be a problem. The American chestnut was also food for two now extinct birds, the Carolina Parakeet and the Passenger Pigeon. Incidentally, the Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) was probably only one of three birds toxic to eat and the only one in North America. Like the other two toxic birds, the Hooded Pitohui and the Ifrita kowaldi, both of Papua, New Guinea, it is because of diet. The two New Guinea birds eat toxic insects which makes them toxic. The Carolina Parakeet was known to eat the toxic seeds of the Cocklebur. John Audubon himself reported cats died from eating the parakeet.

Scored and cooked chestnuts still in their shells

Chestnuts are the only cultivated and consumed nut that has vitamin C, about 40 mg per 3.5 ounce serving. They have a similar protein content as beans and similar carbohydrate amount as wheat, which is about twice that of a potato. Chestnuts also have a high amount of sugar if they are allowed to ripen (also called curing.) Just-ripe chestnuts are low in sugar but as they cure their starch changes to sugar as much as eight percent. Curing takes three days to two weeks at room temperature depending upon the size of the nut. During this time the nutmeat shrinks some and the texture changes. Half water, they dehydrate quickly when picked which also lends them to long-term storage if dried properly. Average calories per fresh 3.5 ounce serving is 180. Eating a lot of them can cause gas. Edible or “sweet” chestnuts can also be eaten raw anytime but are usually eaten after curing and cooking.  Before the American chestnut was wiped out it was a major cash crop with families taking wagon loads of them to trains in October for market in major U.S. cities.

Dr. Francis Porcher

The Native Americans also used the chestnut (Castenea dentata) medicinally. They used it for cough syrup, to treat sores, bleeding after childbirth, to relieve itching, for heart disease, colds, rheumatism, whooping cough, stomach troubles, fever, headaches, blisters, chills even as a baby powder. Francis Porcher, the well-known civil war doctor and botanist, reported in 1863 that the roots are astringent. He said a tea made from the root was good for diarrhea. When boiled in milk it was good for teething. He also said a decoction of the related chinquapin bark could be used like quinine. Chestnut trees had such a high amount of tannin that in 1900 they provided more than half the tannin used in the American leather industry.

Dwarf Chinkapin

There are several “Castanea” species in North America besides the chestnut. How many exactly is debatable because plant characteristics and name changes. Potentially there are the Dwarf Chestnut or Bush Chinquapin, Castanea pumila, also called Castanea alnifolia and Castanea nana. The Ashe Chinkapin, Castanea ashei also called Castanea pumila var. ashei. There is the Florida Chinkapin, Castanea floridana, the Alabama Chinquapin, Castanea alabamensis, the Ozark Chinquapin, Castanea ozarkensis, Castanea neglecta (which might be a hybrid between C. dentata and C. pumila) and “Castanea paupispina” which like the C. neglecta does not seem to have a common name. In fact, I doubted C. paupispina existed because I never saw it referenced any place except Wikipathetica. A learned reader wrote to tell me it is Castanea paucispina — spelled with a C not a P and is a variation of C. pumila in Texas. The misspelling on Wikipathetica has been copied throughout the internet. The proliferation of names is caused in part because the number of prickle density varies on the  C. pumila vary leading to naming variations as different species.  Castanea davidii, Castanea seguinii, Castanea mollissima and Castanea henryi are from Asia, Castanea creanata, Japan

William Willard Ash

Closely related to the American Chestnut, damage to the Chinkapins from the blight varied from at least some to badly. To my knowledge all of them have edible nuts but avoid those endangered. I’ve been fortunate enough to see one growing in North Carolina. Besides being spelled Chinkapin and Chinkquapin there is no great agreement on identification. C. pumila, for example, has also been called C. alnifolia, C. floridan, C. nana, and C. ashei. The Ashe Chinquapin a la Castanea ashei, is named for William Willard Ashe, 1872-1932, a prolific plant collector. He entered the University of North Carolina at age 15 in 1891.  During his career Ashe wrote some 167 articles and named 510 species (including a couple after his wife, Margaret Henry Wilcox, Crataegus margaretta and Quercus margaretta.)

Chestnut Soup, recipe below

In early writing the chestnut is also called an “acorn” and is related to the Beech and the Oak. How the species got its eventual botanical surname “Castanea” is a bit of a linguistic conundrum. The American version was named after the European one. European chestnuts grew east of Greece — Pontus Greece now the western Black Sea area of Turkey — and were imported west to Greece in ancient times. There is a Kastania in Thessaly, Greece, which is the agricultural heartland of that nation and where the famous Meteora monasteries are located (churches on rock pinnacles.) Kastania has soil unlike most of Greece, rocky but acidic thus favorable to the chestnut. It was planted there and the town probably picked up the eastern name of the tree. It stuck with the town and the tree. The Greeks call the nut κάστανο  (KAH-sta-no) and the tree καστανιά (kah-stah-nee-AH.) Note the shift in accent from the beginning to the end. The Bretons called it Kistinen, the Welsh, Castan-wydden, the Dutch, kastanje, and the French chataigne. Kastania in Greek became Castanea (kas-TAN-nee-uh) in Dead Latin (note the accent now in the middle.) Dentata (den-TAH-tah) means teeth because the leaves have large teeth. The English word “chestnut” also comes from the Greek word. Chestnut came from “chesten” which came the Middle English “chesteine”. That was from Old French “chastaigne” (with an S) which came from Dead Latin “castanea” which came from the Greek “kastania.”

Chestnut Weevil Larva, photo Ric Bessin

One interesting — some might say almost interesting — aspect of the chestnut blight was to make chestnut weevils nearly extinct. Without their preferred food Curculio sayi Gyllenhal and Curculio caryatrypes Boheman (small and large chestnut weevils) were close to being no more. But, folks started planting Chinese Chestnuts and saved the insects’ day. Like the weevils that infect acorns and palms they are edible raw or cooked. If you don’t want to find weevils in your chestnuts one thing you can do is soak the unopened chestnuts in 140 F. water for 30 minutes killing off the weevil eggs and or larvae. Picking up the fallen chestnuts immediately and cleaning up debris around the drip line of your chestnut tree are also important.

Longfellow’s Chestnut Chair

As one can imagine such an important tree made its way into much literature. Most famous is Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith published in 1841. Under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands… Longfellow, of Portland Maine, was the descendant of one Steven Longfellow who was a blacksmith and moved to Portland in 1745. The poem, however, was about Longfellow’s neighbor in Cambridge, Dexter Pratt. Years later an armchair was made from the very tree that shaded Pratt and presented to Longfellow. Stained black, it has a brass plaque that reads:  “This chair made from the wood of the spreading chestnut-tree is presented as an expression of his grateful regard and veneration by the children of Cambridge.”

Henry Wardsworth Longfellow c. 1855

The chair is carved with chestnut leaves and blossoms while the seat rail is engraved with lines from the poem. I’ve been to the Longfellow house in Portland, growing up not 20 miles away. It’s in the up part of town but what they don’t tell you is it used to be down on the waterfront about a half a mile away where an iron fitting company named Thomas Laughlin, established 1836, used the real location to store products. There is a plaque there now, a rather sad stone stump closeted by a chain link fence in a drab industrial compound. Longfellow was not the only name of note to mention the Chestnut. Henry David Thoreau of Walden Pond, clearly a sensitive man, didn’t like throwing rocks at a chestnut to knock down its nuts. His journal entry of 23 Oct. 1855 says:

Henry David Thoreau, a chestnut nut, c 1856

“Now is the time for chestnuts. A stone cast against the trees shakes them down in showers upon one’s head and shoulders. But I cannot excuse myself for using the stone.  It is not innocent, it is not just, so to maltreat the tree that feeds us. I am not disturbed by considering that if I thus shorten its life I shall not enjoy its fruits so long, but am prompted to a more innocent course by motives purely of humanity. I sympathize with the tree, yet I heave a big stone against the trunks like a robber—not too good to commit murder. I trust that I shall never do it again. These gifts should be accepted, not merely with gentleness, but with a certain humble gratitude. The tree whose fruit we would obtain should not be too rudely shaken even. It is not a time of distress, when a little haste and violence even might be pardoned. It is worse than boorish, it is criminal, to inflict an unnecessary injury on the tree that feeds or shadows us. Old trees are our parents, and our parents’ parents, perchance. If you would learn the secrets of Nature, you must practice more humanity than others. The thought that I was robbing myself by injuring the tree did not occur to me, but I was affected as if I had cast a rock at a sentient being with a duller sense than my own, it is true, but yet a distant relation. Behold a man cutting down a tree to come at the fruit! What is the moral of such an act?”  Thoreau wrote more about the chestnut than any other tree in his journal.

By now you know there are European Chestnuts, and there were American Chestnuts. There are also “Horse Chestnuts.” Just to make things confusing the British call the edible chestnut the “Sweet Chestnut” where as the Horse Chestnut is just called Chestnut. They should have been consistent and called the Horse Chestnut the “Bitter Chestnut.”

Horse Chestnuts

And what of the Horse Chestnut? Should the issue ever arise don’t confuse sweet chestnuts with bitter Horse Chestnuts. The latter is a different genus altogether. And while there are reports that Horse Chestnuts, Aesculus hippocastanum (ES-ku-lus hip-o-kas-StAY-num) native to Greece, and Aesculus indica (ES-ku-lus IN-dick-ka) native to India, can be made edible I would do so cautiously. From India one report says: The seeds are dried and ground into flour… This flour, which is bitter… Its bitterness is removed by soaking it in water for about 12 hours. The bitter component gets dissolved in water and is removed when the water is decanted. Other references vary. One reverses the process by soaking the seed, drying, then grinding. Another just says boil the seeds for a long time. Removing the bitterness is important because the chemical(s) destroys red blood cells in humans.

What bothers me is that both Horse Chestnuts aforementioned — Greek and Indian — are not native to North America. They were planted ornamentals. Yet we are told by many reports that the American Indians ate them. It is possible but one would think the natives would have preferred the native chestnut that was not bitter and did not require processing. I think the writers are confusing Horse Chestnuts with Buckeyes which are native and in the same Aesculus genus. We have at least one authoritative report that the Indians on the west coast of America did indeed eat the seeds of  Aesculus californicus (yes seeds, not nuts. Chestnuts have nuts but Buckeyes and Horse Chestnuts have seeds, a distinction perhaps more important to botanists than foragers.) According to Professor Daniel Moerman they pounded the seeds, leached them, then boiled them into a mush, eating it with meat. Others tribes roasted the nuts then ground them. The report from the Kashaya (Pomo) is quite specific:

(Kashaya) Pomo girl; c. 1924, by Edward S. Curtis

“Boiled nuts eaten with baked kelp, meat, and seafood. Nuts were put into boiling water to loosen the husk. After the husks were removed the nutmeat was returned to boiling water and cooked until it was soft like cooked potatoes. The nutmeat was then mashed with a mortar stone. The grounds could be at strained at this stage or strained after soaking. The grounds would be soaked and leached a long time to remove the poisonous tannin. An older method  was to peel the nuts and roast them in ashes until they were soft. They were then crushed and the meal was put in a sandy leaching basin beside stream. For about five hours the meal was leached with water from the stream. When the bitterness disappeared it was ready to eat without further cooking.”

At any rate unprocessed Horse Chestnuts are bitter. Edible chestnuts are sweetish. Edible chestnuts lay on their side. They essentially have a flat side and a round side and a pointed bottom. They are somewhat pyramidal. Horse Chestnuts are nearly round and sit vertically on their round bottom.  In their shell edible chestnuts look like green sea urchins, horse chestnuts like green, spiny puffer fish.

Horse Chestnuts might have medical uses for edema.

Unprocessed — and perhaps even processed — Horse Chestnuts will make you sick. Symptoms are vomiting, loss of coordination, stupor sometimes paralysis. Few fatalities are reported. There’s about 17 reported poisonings per year in the United States caused by Horse Chestnuts.  Juice from Horse Chestnuts, however, makes a good fabric bleach. Grind 20 seeds into 1.5 gallons. Let seep, stir then settle. Pour off the water using it for bleaching. Horse Chestnut starch was also used to make acetone during WWII. Now do you see why you should not eat Horse Chestnuts?

Hungarian Cream of Chestnut Soup or Gesztenye Leves

Ingredients:
  • 12-14 ounces cooked and peeled EDIBLE chestnuts, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 2 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons sweet or hot Hungarian paprika
  • 1/2 pound julienne-sliced leftover ham
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
Preparation:
  1. If using fresh chestnuts: Score the bottom or round side of one pound of chestnuts with an “X” and bring to a boil in a large saucepan of water. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Cool slightly and peel. Let cool completely before chopping finely. They can have the texture of soap.
  2. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt butter and saute parsnips, carrots, apples and leeks, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until vegetables are almost tender. Mix in the ham, chestnuts, paprika and cook for one minute. Stir in the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together cream and egg yolks. Temper this mixture with a few ladles of hot soup broth, whisking constantly. Then pour the tempered cream-egg yolk mixture into the soup, whisking constantly for one minute or until soup has thickened. Season to taste. Serve with sour cream, if desired.

Chestnut Nutrition

Apples, Wild Crabapples

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 01:13

Wild Apple tree in October in Pownal Maine. Photo by Green Deane

Malus sieversii, Hard-Core Apples

Wild Apples are one of the most common over-looked foraging foods. People take one taste, spit it out, and go on their way.

Because of the story of Johnny Appleseed (who was a real person) most folks think apples aren’t native to North America. There were plenty of apples here when Europeans arrived, but they were Wild Apples not cultivated apples. What’s the difference? Taste and size. Most wild apples are small and sour, domesticated apples tend to be larger and sweeter. What most people don’t know is that wild apples can be baked or roasted (as in near an open fire or in an oven) and made very tasty. While some wild apples are too bitter to eat even after cooking many are transformed into good eats.

Well-treated wild apples can be sweet.

When I was a kid foraging in the Maine woods wild apples were very common. In fact, of the eight or so feral apple trees I knew of only one had a cultivated heritage. It was a Golden Delicious, and my least favorite. The rest were usually sour raw but wonderful when roasted by a campfire (and no pots to clean.)  Unfortunately there are few if any Wild Apples in this area of Florida. It is simply too hot. They like northern climes and people liked wild apples, too. No less a person than New England native Henry David Thoreau wrote a 10,000 word essay on the Wild Apple.

Many wild apples are better cooked than raw.

The domestic apple as we know it has been around some 6,000 years and came from Kazakhstan. There apple trees growing to 60 feet were the dominant species of the forest. That is something to think about, apple trees the size of Oaks, a forest of them… Orchards there today are remarkable in that the trees are very resistant to disease, unlike commercial crops. Further, two apples from that area — the Red Delicious and the Golden Delicious — are the parents of 90% of modern commercial eating apples. The Red Delicious was hybridized into the Fuji and the Empire, and the Golden Delicious into the Gala, the Jonagold, the Mutsu, the Pink Lady and the Elstar. The Granny Smith (below right) however, came from a back yard in Australia.

One Granny Smith sprouted in 1868

It originated in 1868 from a chance seedling propagated by Maria Ann Smith (née Sherwood) born 1799, died 9 March 1870. Researchers think the now well-known green apple was a chance cross between Malus sylvestris, a European Wild Apple — perhaps from France via Tasmania — with the domestic apple M. domestica. Widely propagated in New Zealand, it was introduced to the United Kingdom around 1935 and the United States in 1972. Each Granny Smith apple today is a clone. Actually every commercial apple is a clone.  One cultivated apple that does grows in Florida is the Apple Anna, which was a chance seedling found in the Bahamas and can  withstand the summer heat. Worldwide some 55 million tons of apples are harvested annually worth some $50 billion a year. Americans eat on average, as of this writing, 126 apples a year each. Meanwhile wild apples, which are free, feed mostly wildlife.

Often a wild apple’s taste will be moderated because of hybridizing with cultivated apples. There are no hard and fast rules identifying which are edible raw. You just have to taste and experiment with each wild apple tree you find. They also usually have more cholesterol-reducing pectin than cultivated apples thus are added to other fruits and domestic apples when making jelly. Incidentally, there is no such species as a “crabapple” per se.  Crabapple, like “pearl onion” is  a reference to size. Crabapples, like pearl onions, are small and any small apple can be called a crabapple, any small onion can be a pearl onion.  The fascinating aspect of apples is that every apple seed is totally different than the parent. Something like snow flakes no two apple seeds are genetically alike thus what kind of tree each will produce is a mystery. Every named apple you eat came originally from just one seed and one tree. As mentioned above they are clones which is why it takes a long time to get a new apple into production.

Besides foraging for wild apples I used to help my father make pieces of apple wood into tobacco pipes. We’d find a suitable size piece, rough cut  and drill it then boil it for a few hours to drive the sap out of it. Then it was carved and sanded, and a bit of bass wood became the stem. I still have one of them around after more than 50 years. You can read about that here. If you are a hunter wild apples trees are a good place to find game. When I roamed the woods as a boy wild apple trees were the prime place to flush partridge in the fall and later find deer. A huge variety of wildlife like the apple, among them foxes, raccoons, bears, coyotes, opossums, rabbits, squirrels, grouse, prairie chickens, and quail.  They know good food when they find it.

Johnny Appleseed (Howe’s Historical Collections of Ohio)

Malus sieversii (MAL-us see-VER-see-eye) is the botanical title for these wild fruits. Malus is the Dead Latin word for apple, and Sieverrii honors Ivan Sievers, a Russian botanist who discovered the wild apples in 1793 in Kazakhstan but died before describing the species.  The name was given by Carl Friedrich von Ledebour, who got there in 1830. The word “apple” is also from Dead Latin and means fruit. All that said what about Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman, September 26, 1774 – March 11, 1845.) While he wore a tin pot for a hat and a burlap sack for a shirt, and went barefoot even in the winter, he was an astute businessman. He bought or got land grants ahead of settlers and started apple tree nurseries so when the settlers arrived he had trees to sell. Then he would leave his nurseries in the hands of a local and set out for the frontier again.

While I am on the topic, what about eating apple seeds? There are two things we know for certain: Eating a few at a time is fine, eating a huge amount can make you ill and possibly kill you. What’s a few? What ever seeds you find in one apple is no big deal. In fact, my mother — who died at 88 — often ate a quarter of a cup of seeds at a time but that was living dangerously. For the average person of average weight the fatal dose would be around 114 average-size seeds thoroughly chewed. And what about the story that a man saved up a cup of seeds, ate them, and died from that?

Kingsbury’s book was the standard.

The story got legs when a prominent expert on toxicology, Dr. John M. Kingsbury included it in his book Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada, Prentice-Hall, 1964. Kingsbury was an associate professor of botany at New York State College of Agriculture and lectured on poisonous plants for the veterinary college. Everyone presumed Kingsbury had proof. But in 1998 in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology there was a letter to the editor grousing about folklore and “plantlore” specifically mentioning Kingsbury. That got me interested in the veracity of the death-by-appleseed story. To be specific I wanted to know the name of the man who ate a cup of apple seeds, where, and when did he die? Basic facts. After all, Kingsbury’s inclusion in his book gave the story legitimacy and it has been quoted extensively ever since. Kingsbury’s bibliography quoted two authors more than two decades earlier: Reynard, G.B., and J.B.S. Norton in Poisonous Plants of Maryland in Relationship to Livestock. Maryland Agricultural Experimental Station, Technical Bulletin. A10, 1942. 312pp. That would make sense as they and Kingsbury had an interest in plants that were toxic to farm animals.

On page 276 of the 72-year old bulletin Reynard and Norton write about prussic acid harming livestock. (Amygdalin is essentially a sugar and cyanide molecule which is safe until digested where upon it releases hydrogen cyanide which used to be called prussic acid.) The cyanide blocks the uptake of oxygen by red blood cells causing asphyxiation. How much material, how chewed the material is, the liquid dilution of the material in the stomach, and how many stomachs you have and your size all affect the extent of the poisoning. In the listing of plants that can harm animals via prussic acid Reynard and Norton include flax, wild black cherry, wild red cherry, choke cherries, peach (kernels) plums, cherry (seeds) apple (seeds) sorghum, lima beans, arrow grass and manna grass.

Original Apple Seed Reference

They note in the last paragraph (to your left:) “Apple seeds are mentioned, not as having caused stock-poisoning, but because of the fact that one instance was recorded from personal inquiry in which an adult man was killed following eating a cup of these seeds at one time. The seeds had been saved up, apparently thought to be a delicacy in small amounts and upon being eaten developed enough of the deadly prussic acid to cause this tragic death. The instance is recorded here as a caution to others who might attempt to eat more than a few of these seeds at any one time. Previous investigators have reported that apple seeds contain appreciable amounts of amygdalin from which prussic acid is developed, but actual reports of poisoning are rare. “

So rare they didn’t or couldn’t say who actually did die from eating apple seeds if anyone ever did. Their reference — a personal inquiry — is as weak as Kingsbury’s. Without a name, a time and place it is but an early urban legend. It may be that someone indeed did died from eating a cup of apple seeds. It is theoretically possible. I say theoretically because if it did happen it was before 1942 and no one thus far in any professional paper has ever identified who it was if anyone.  The best one can come up with is a no-reference warning in a livestock bulletin 72 years ago. A 130-year search by this writer of the New York Times of 437 stories involving prussic acid revealed suicides, murders and a few accidental medicinal deaths. None by an appleseed overdose. I think that would have made the newspaper. The point is the seeds in one apple a day won’t kill an adult. To be on the safe side however, kids, because they are so much smaller, should not eat apple seeds.

For some of the above material I want to give special thanks to Stephanie M. Ritchie, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, National Agricultural Library, 10301 Baltimore Avenue, Room 132, Beltsville, MD 20705

 Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A tree seldom more than 20 feet high with a contorted and rigid crown, branches often short and spur like, thorn-like twigs, leaves alternating saw-toothed,  obvious network of veins on either side of the leaf. Quintet of pinkish or white petals, scented. If you cut the apple through at the equator you should see a star shaped core where the seeds develop.

TIME OF YEAR: Fall, if not late fall

ENVIRONMENT: Likes all terrain that is not bone dry or sopping wet, often found on the south side of hills.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Jelly, fruit, drink, source of pectin. Often they are improved greatly by roasting near a fire or in an oven.

 

Persimmon Provisions

Sun, 09/20/2015 - 01:11

Persimmons can persists after the leaves drop making them easy to spot.

Persimmons: Pure Pucker Power

About the only bad thing you can say about a persimmon is that it has pucker power, if you pick it at the wrong time.

You’ll have competition for ripe persimmons.

What most people don’t know is that the persimmon is the North American ebony, Diospyros virginiana (dye-OSS-pih-ross ver-jin-nee-AY-nuh.) There are few trees more versatile than the persimmon. The fruit, actually the largest native berry in North America, can be eaten out of hand or cooked in various ways. Its seeds can be roasted and ground for a coffee extender. The leaves are loaded with Vitamin C for a healthy tea, and the hard, closed-grain wood can be worked (often to be made into “natural” wedding bands. )

Persimmons do not like to grow in the forest or field.

Persimmons like to grow along the edges of things; fields, roads, rivers, rail roads, fences, trails. They can be anything from a spindly shrub to over 80-feet tall. I can well remember the first time I found a green persimmon fruit on the ground locally. I was hiking in the Wekiva State Park in Florida along Rock Springs Run. What was memorable about the event was I couldn’t find the tree. I turned 360 degrees and still couldn’t see a persimmon tree until I looked up, way, way up. Competing with other trees river side they were incredibly tall, and not nine inches through. They were spindly 70-foot tall trees! Very atypical.

Most of the persimmons trees you will see, especially in Florida, are only eight to ten feet tall, occasionally 15 to 20 feet. Persimmons are found in the eastern half of the United States excluding northern border states. They’re also found in Utah, California  and range into Mexico. Oddly, they are not naturally found along the Appalachian Mountains or the Allegheny Plateau.

The Persimmon’s native range.

The Persimmon is usually the last tree to leaf out in the spring and the first to lose it leaves in the fall, a strategy to thwart predatory insects.  The champion persimmon tree in the US, as of 2009, is in Yell, Arkansas.  It is 94 feet high, 12.5 feet around and as a crown spread of 78 feet. It’s been around since the first English settlers came to North America. One of them, Captain John Smith, wrote about the persimmon in 1608. He said it tasted like an apricot and by 1629 it was introduced into England. In fact that was a main part of Smith’s reason to come to the Americas, find new plants.

Persimmons get smutty but the black smut does not bother it nor us. Photo by Hillpond.org

While many authors say the ripe persimmon tastes like dates they taste like persimmons to me. Interestingly persimmons can be interchanged in any recipe with bananas, measure for measure, weight for weight. Yellow persimmons will ripen off the tree but the best ones are the ones you have to fight the ants for. There is an old saying that persimmons don’t ripen until after a frost but that’s not true according to researchers nor here in Florida where frosts show up a couple of months after persimmons fruit.   Shaking a persimmon tree is the standard way of collecting the fruit. Process them by rubbing them through a colander. The pulp can be used to make jelly, syrup, beer, wine, liquor, bread, pancakes, pudding, molasses, fruit leather, dried fruit and ink. The pulp can also be frozen and eaten like ice cream. A peanut-like cooking oil can be squeeze from the seeds. Each persimmon can have one to eight seeds. Happiness is finding a persimmon with one seed, when there are eight there isn’t much to eat. The seeds, however, were used as buttons by the Confederate Army during the American civil war.

The fruit, especially the skin, can be made into fruit leather. Photo by KerbieCravings.

Another use for a persimmon tree is reportedly as a remedy for the itch of poison ivy. Remove a few twigs from a persimmon tree, cover with water, and boil for 20 minutes. Strain and cool the liquid. Several applications are said to dry the rash. By the way, persimmon tea is not universally praised. I have a friend who describes the taste of tea from green leaves as “dirty dishwater.”  Tea from dried leaves is better. In fact, the longer the dried leaves are stored the better the tea tastes.  Dry the leaves in a slow over for two hours. To make the seeds into a coffee substitute or extender clean them and roast them in the same slow oven. You can also throw the tough fruit skins into a blender, put the slurry on a cookie sheet and dry them along with the seeds and leaves in the same oven.

As an ebony, Persimmon wood has many uses.

What Diospyros means is subject to a lot of mistranslation from Greek. The complicating factor is the distortion from Greek to Latin and the different alphabets and pronunciations. (There are five ways to represent the “ee” sound in Greek.)  Then there’s the translation into English and its use by those who don’t speak Greek or know Latin. Such is the headache with Diospyros. Briefly it can mean “what God has sown” “God’s Grain” or “God’s fire.” Making it worse, the most common translation “food of the Gods ” does not land well on Greek ears. Ambrosia means “food of the gods. Diospyros does not.

Theostratus coined the name Diospyros

In 300 BC or there abouts, Theophrastus called a local tree, the European hackberry, Diospyros.  The  fruits were astringent which ripened to sweetness and that is supposedly why Linnaeus called the persimmon tree Diospyros when he was naming plants. With that said lets tackle Diospyros. The disagreement is whether the two Greek words are “dio/spyros” or “thios/piros.”  It comes down to Greek spelling. The most common translation is the more unlikely. As mentioned, Diospyros is often translated as “fruit of the gods” or “food of the gods.” That would be very bad Greek.  Some translate Diospyros as “the fruit of Zeus” which is just plain silly. There’s also “heavenly plant”  “God’s fire” Divine pear” and “Jove’s pear.” Jove’s Pear? That’s expired poetic license.  Jove was the Roman equivalent of Zeus, or the Roman name for the top god. Where the pear came from I have no idea though in Texas the persimmon is sometimes called Jove’s Fruit.

Roasted Persimmon seeds can be used to extend coffee. Photo by Really Raw Food.

A third possibility is Diospyros meaning “God’s Fire” in reference to the astringent unripe berries of the European hackberry but that would require changing a plural to a singular which is not likely in this case in Greek. Carl Linnaeus, the fellow who started naming plants, had the right idea of calling the persimmon after the ancient hackberry because of the way it ripens.  He was not good at Greek yet his “food of the gods” has stuck. “God’s Wheat” is the closer translation for ancient Greek, which would mean the Diospyros in the modern vernacular means the “best food” or as Alton Brown says “good eats.”

Horses should not be pastured with Persimmons or they can get bezoars, as can some people.

Virginiana is of Virginia but in botanical terms it always means North America.  Persimmon is the Anglicized version of an Algonquin name that means “dry seed” or “dry fruit” referring to the high level of tannins in the unripe fruit.  That tannin is a good substitute for oak tannin.  Persimmons do, however, come with two warnings. The first one is if you do not digest food well or have had gastric bypass surgery excessive consumption of persimmons can create intestinal blockage called a bezoar. It happens more in farm animals than man but people who consume huge amounts of persimmons or who have gastric issues are at risk.

Nothing resembles a ripe wild persimmon tree.

As for the second warming. While the seeds can be roasted then ground into a black powder to extend coffee there may be reasons not to use it exclusively as a coffee substitute. See the “letter to Green Deane” below. The writer mistakenly made “coffee” out of the seeds rather than using them as a coffee extender, like chicory. It is included here in its entirety should it be important some day.

There is hardly a woodland creature that doesn’t like the persimmon. Its waxy, fragrant flowers help produce honey. The persimmon is also sometimes called “possom wood” because opossums know a good food when they find it.  It even has entered the folky and now politically incorrect literature of Uncle Remus:

Even Green Deane breaks his no-flour rule for some hot Persimmon bread.

“B’rer Bear rushed into the patch and shook the persimmon tree. B’rer Possum dropped out from the ripe persimmons, landed on the ground and started running for the fence like a race horse. B’rer Bear chased him and gained with every jump. When B’rer Possum made it to the fence B’rer Bear grabbed him by the tail. B’rer Possum went between the rails on the fence and gave a powerful pull to get this out of B’rer Bear’s teeth. B’rer Bear was holding so tight and B’rer Possum pulled so hard that all the hair came off in B’rer Bear’s mouth, and if B’rer Rabbit hadn’t come along with a gourd of water B’rer Bear would have choked. From that day to this,” said Uncle Remus, knocking the ashes carefully out of his pipe, “B’rer Possum ain’t had no hair on his tail, nor any of his children.”

Persimmon Bread

3½ cups sifted flour
1½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 to 2½ cups sugar
1 cup melted unsalted butter and cooled to room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2/3 cup cognac, bourbon or whiskey
2 cups persimmon puree

2 cups walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped
2 cups raisins, or diced dried fruits (such as apricots, cranberries, or dates)

Optional: Orange zest or orange extract

1. Butter 2 loaf pans. Line the bottoms with a piece of parchment paper or dust with flour and tap out any excess.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Sift the first 5 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

4. Make a well in the center then stir in the butter, eggs, liquor, persimmon puree then the nuts and raisins.

5. Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Persimmon Pudding

2 cups pureed persimmon pulp

2 eggs

1 3/4 cups condensed milk (unsweetened)

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup melted butter

2 cups flour

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Stir condensed milk, sugar, butter, flour, and persimmon puree well and pour into glass baking dish. Sprinkle top with chopped walnuts. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes at 375F. Serve warm or cooled to room temperature. Delicious topped with a crème Anglaise or rum.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Tree, shrub size to 80 feet, usually 15 to 20. Leaves are oval, pointed, 3- to 6-inch long, lustrous dark green, sometimes covered with a harmless dark soot that can be washed off. Two handy identifying characteristics of the persimmon is young twigs are fuzzy and on new growth the branch will have leaves of different size. Bark on older trees is broken up into square blocks. D.  virginana has leaf tips that are pointed, on D. texana the tip is flat, rounded or notched,

TIME OF YEAR: Fruit ripens in September/October. Fruit is not ripe until the skin is wrinkled.

ENVIRONMENT: Grows along edged of fields, roads, rivers and the like. Will grow in dry ground and partial shade but prefers moist soil and full sun. Slow growing, hardy to Zone 4

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Numerous:  The pulp can be used to make jelly, syrup, beer, wine, liquor, bread, pancakes, pudding, molasses, fruit leather and dried.

HERB BLURB

The Native Americans had some herbal uses for the tree. The Alabama boiled the roots for a tea used in “bowel flux.”  The Catawba used a bark infusion to treat thrush in babies. The Cherokee used it for bowel problems, sore throats, heartburn, liver problems, piles, thrush, toothaches and venereal disease. The Rappahannock used an infusion for thrush and sore throats. The tannic acid in the green fruit was used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and uterine bleeding.

I received the following letter in 2010 in response to my article on persimmons.  The writer says he made two pots of persimmon “coffee” rather than using the ground seeds just as a coffee extender. The first pot — four cups — was made from seeds fresh from ripe fruit off the tree, then roasted. No ill effects reported. The second pot was made from seeds picked up off the ground and/or from rotting fruit (enzyme action?) Then instead of directly into the oven the second batch of seeds were boiled first (taking something away? Changing something?) and then roasted. Two other possibilities are the first pot did not reach some critical chemical level and or he didn’t have an allergic reaction until a certain point with the second pot. And of course something else might be acting as well. I do not know the truthfulness of the account below but it seems reasonable to include it.  More so, if it is accurate it is something foragers and researchers should know.

“I just wanted to shoot you a quick note about my experience with Persimmon seeds last fall, sorry it took so long for me to write. I have several of the trees in my yard and near my home, and I always enjoy the fruit in the late fall after frost. But I had never heard of making coffee out of the seeds before. Being the adventurous sort I gave it a try, and my first pot of roasted and ground up seeds taken from the fresh fruit right off of the tree was wonderful, thank you.

“Later I began collecting the seeds off of the ground around the trees where the fruit had fallen off and rotted, carefully avoiding the piles of possum poo of course. When I had about a quart of seeds I put them in a small saucepan and boiled them for about 5-10 minutes to kill any bacteria and clean the residue off of the seeds, then I slow roasted them on about 250 until I could hear them steadily crackling and popping.

“After the seeds had cooled I anxiously ground up a handful for a full eight cup pot of coffee. My first pot from the earlier experiment was only about four cups. I brought my fresh, large mug of coffee (About 3.5 cups) to the computer and I enjoyed it immensely while watching videos. But almost as soon as I began the second mug full I began to feel a little funny. In a few minutes I became dizzy and stopped drinking. A few more minutes passed and I became very ill and evacuated my stomach of any remaining persimmon coffee lol.

“I have a heart condition so I made sure that I was not in cardiac distress, and when everything seemed OK i stumbled off to bed. The next day, after a very sweaty night, I still felt a little peculiar, which is not unusual for me. But I was no longer dizzy or nauseous.

“Now for the really interesting part. I have Cardio Myopathy and severe heart disrhythmias, so I can usually feel my heart skipping and pounding. But for about three months after this incident I was like a normal person, heart rhythm wise that is lol. I have actually been able to feel my heart beat since I was a young boy, and I have only rarely had a steady rhythm for short periods. So not being able to feel my heart beat or detect rhythm problems was phenomenal for me.

“My heart is back to its normal skipping and pounding now, and I have been trying to decide if it was worth the risk to try lowering the dose of persimmon coffee down to a sip or two and see if I get positive results. I am not writing for advice because I know that it would be too much of a liability for you to give me the go ahead on something like that, but I did want someone to know what had happened with my adventure in drinking persimmon seed coffee.”

Horsemint, Spotted Beebalm

Wed, 08/05/2015 - 01:11

Horsemint with colorful bracts. Photo by Green Deane

 Monarda Punctata: Bergamot’s Bud

First the good news: Horsemint makes a nice, intentionally weak tea. Stronger brews are used in herbal medicine. The Indians made  a “sweating” tea from it to treat colds.  The major oil in Horsemint is thymol. Externally it’s an antiseptic and vermifuge, internally, in large amounts, the plant can be fatal. That’s the bad news. So, as I said it makes a nice, intentionally weak, tea.

Horsemint grow in clumps, alone or with other clumps nearby. Photo by Green Deane

Horsemint is one of those plants that you seem to never notice until you learn to recognize it, then you see it every so often. It tends to grow in small colonies and near each other. If you find one, you will usually find another not too far away.  They can vary in size from six inches to three feet but always very showy and its extroverted colors can last for months.  You can propagate it by seeds or cuttings. I dug mine up and carried it home where it has a very sunny, well-watered spot in sandy soil.

The creamy lilac-spotted flowers (its bracts are pink) attract honeybees, bumblebees, miner bees, plasterer bees, swallowtail butterfly as well as the endangered Lycaenides melissa samuelis (Karner Blue.)  Hummingbirds like it as well. Most mammals know enough to leave the plant alone. Horsemint grows from eastern Northern Canada down to Florida, west to Michigan and New Mexico and California, also into eastern Mexico. A southern variety, Monarda punctata var. punctarta, grows south of Pennsylvania and out to Texas. There are about 20 different Monardas in the United States.

Horsemint has the highest thymol content of all the mints. It is more than an antiseptic, mite-killer and cough-syrup ingredient.  As a depressant, it is one of the most commonly abused substances among anesthesiologists and nurses. If thymol were discovered today it would be a prescription drug. There have been some thoughts towards regulating the species but it is so common in so many places that hasn’t been done. Thymol, incidentally, is also one of the 600 or so ingredients added to cigarettes to “improve” the flavor.

Nicholas Monardes

While thymol has a dark side it also has beneficial aspects. It is one of two chemicals in the horsemint — the other being carvacrol — which prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, the stuff that makes memory possible. One of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease is reduction in acetylcholine. Unlike a drug now used to prevent the break down of acetuylcholine — tacrine hydrochloride — thymol and carvacrol are not as rough on the liver. One could even make a shampoo out of horsemint and perhaps get the benefits.

As for the plant’s botanical name: Monarda is for Nicholas Monardes (1493-1588), a Spanish physician and botanist who mentioned this flower in his 1569 work on the flora of North America called “Joyfull Newes Out Of The Newe Founde Worlde”. Punctata is Latin for point, or in this case “dotted.”  The plant’s name is said: moe-NAR-duh punk-TAY-tuh.

Whether as a weak tea, a stronger brew for the flu, or a poultice for arthritis, the Horsemint, or Spotted Beebalm, is a pretty plant to spot while foraging.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Herb, sometimes woody, shrubby, gangly, multi-branched, opposite leaves and square stems. The stems and leaves are hairy. Flowers small, inconspicuous, but arranged in showy heads of pink to lavender bracts. Flower tubes are pale yellow with purple spots, less than an inch long, leaves smells like Greek oregano.

TIME OF YEAR: Can be year round in Florida but favors late summer and fall, in northern climates flowers June to October depending where you are.

ENVIRONMENT: Likes moist but well drained soil and sunny conditions, but can survive on rainwater in old fields and on roadsides.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves and flowers for weak tea, some report the leaves can use chopped up and use to flavor salads.  Hanging leaves in the house leaves a nice scent.

 

 

American Lotus: Worth Getting Wet For

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 09:35

The lotus is the largest native blossom in North America. Photo by Green Deane

 More American than apple pie

Nature fights back.

Much of Florida is giving way to housing. For several years I passed a large abandoned pasture with a dry lake bed. Then it was developed into a subdivision and the lake bottom lowered to accommodate the lower water table. For a while very little seemed to grow in the lake — typical subdivision nudity — and then from shore to shore it was covered with American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea (nay-LUM-bo LOO-tee-uh.)  When nature finds the right environment,  plants find their way there, or come out of dormancy.  Mostly likely the lotus seeds had waited decades to sprout.

Lotus’ unmistakable seed pod

American Lotus was a main food source for Native Americans and it is basically found east and south of the Rockies plus parts of California. While the root, shoots, flowers and young  seeds are edible, it was the root the Indians counted on to get them through the winter. The popularity of the N. lutea no doubt has also led to its many common names: American Lotus, Yellow Water Lotus, Yellow Lotus, Alligator Buttons, Duck Acorns, Water Chinquapin, Yonkapin, Yockernut and Pondnut. Many of those names refers to the plant’s round, dark brown, half-inch seeds. Even its name is about the seed. Nelumbo is Ceylonese and means “sacred bean.” Lutea is Dead Latin for yellow. The species can produce more than 8,000 long-stem yellow flowers per acre and its empty seed pods are often found in flora arrangements. The stamens of the flower can be dried and used to make a fragrant tea and entire dried flowers are used in cooking.

Fresh lotus seeds ready for cooking

N. lutea like to grow in shallow ponds and along the edges of slow streams with clean water. It propagates from seed and root.  The root is banana shaped and thick, sometimes reaching close to a foot long. When cut it resembles a wagon wheel in appearance. Unlike many “water lilies” the N. lutea leaves are round and not split, with the stem attaching to the middle of the leaf. Some leaves are on the water and some above it. The lotus is a favorite water plant among fishermen because unlike other water lilies the lotus does not grab fishing line in a clef.  The unopened leaves are edible like spinach and older leaves can be used to wrap food. Stems taste somewhat like beets and are usually peeled before cooking.

Root is similar to Oriental Lotus root

And while the N. lutea is not a day lily it is a two-day flower, the blossoms open one day, close for one night, open the second day then the petals drop off. The center of the flower grows and gets about three-inches across. It develops a seed pod with around 20 seeds and looks like a shower head.  American lotus seeds have bloomed after 200 years, some 400 years, and some in China were viable after 1,200 years. The seeds can also be boiled down and made into a paste. When combined with sugar it is often used in pastries. Lotus seeds range from about a half inch in length and third of an inch wide. The inside of the seed has a hollow canal running end for end with a little sprout inside that is too bitter to eat when seeds are mature. Mature seeds also have a good quantity of oil and can be popped. They can be eaten like peas when young. Boil in ample water 20 minutes, push them out of their shell, salt. They are delicious.  I think the plump green seeds when boiled taste similar to chick peas, with a little chestnut or corn flavor tossed in. Very, very tasty. Skinny seeds tend to be bitter. If the cooked sprout in the seed is bitter, don’t eat it, or if that doesn’t upset your stomach, enjoy. I seem to have a tender tummy. Older seeds can be ground in to flour.

There are about 1,475 calories in one pound of lotus flour. Lotus flour is approximately: 72% carbohydrate, 7.8% protein, 0.7% fat, 12.2% fiber, 4.0% water, and 3.3% minerals. Per 100 grams there are 63-68 grams carbohydrate (mostly starch), 17-18 grams of protein, only 1.9-2.5 grams fat; the remainder is water (about 13%), and minerals, mainly sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus. Calories per 100 grams is about 350. It is also a good  source of protein, up to  19% with a one ounce serving of dried seeds providing 5 grams. The seeds are low in fiber and not a good source of vitamins but are a good source of oil. Half ripe seeds are delicious raw or cooked, and taste similar to chestnuts.

Lotus root is sweet and can be eaten as raw, sliced stir fried, or stuffed and is similar to sweet potato. Young lotus roots are good for salads while the starchy roots are good for making soups. The root discolors quickly when cut, so treat like an apple or pear as soon as it is peeled and cut up drop it into water with lemon juice or citric acid. It is often left to soak in water to reduce any bitterness.

There are only two species of Nelumbo,  one in the Americas, yellow, and one in Asia, pink.  It is probably second only to the cattail as for usefulness and that is for two reasons. The roots can be buried deep and are best in the fall. Also the entire plant can be bitter so while it is edible raw it is far better cooked.

Culturally the lotus has been cited for thousands of years. It is found in the early art of  India, Assyria, Persia, Egypt and Greece. In India it was considered sacred. In ancient Greece the lotus symbolized beauty, eloquence and fertility. Idylls, a poem written by Theocritus of Syracuse between 300-250 B.C., described how maidens wove lotus blossoms into Helen’s hair on the day she married. The Egyptians placed a lotus flower on the genitalia of female mummies.

Lastly, in Japan some people think health-giving  juices can be extracted from the lotus by cutting leaves with 12-18 inch stems. They then pierce the top center of the leaf where the stem is on the other side, fill the cupped leaf with wine, and holding it overhead drink the wine through the stem. While it might be a picturesque party ploy I would think the bitter raw sap would take away from the moment.

Stir-Fried Lotus

Two pounds of lotus root, trimmed and peeled
Two tablespoons sesame oil
1.5 tablespoons sugar
1 cup sake (or pale dry sherry)
2 tables spoons dark soy sauce (or regular if you prefer)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
One small hot pepper of your choice, mine is one  chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
Optional: two scallions

Cut the lotus crosswise in quarter-inch slices. Soak in water, change until water runs clear.  Dry.  Heat sesame oil. Add lotus roots and toss for a minute. Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir continuously until reduce, about 10 minutes. Good hot and warmed up.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Large, showy yellow or pink flowers on long stems, leaves round, some floating, some out of the water, stem attaches to the middle back of the large leaf.

TIME OF YEAR: Roots year round though best in autumn, flowers in late spring or summer in Florida, later in northern climes, June through September.

ENVIRONMENT: Shallow ponds, edges of slow rivers, essentially fresh quiet waters.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Numerous, all parts of the plant raw or cooked, root, seeds, unopened leaves, and stems. HOWEVER, all parts better seeped  in water and cooked to reduce any bitterness. Boiled greens, seeds squeezed out of their shell are especially tasty.  Dried flowers for tea or added to soups. Lastly, the wilted leaves — held next to a fire — can be used to wrap food in for cooking.

Acres of easy to pick American lotus

Watercress: Ancient Flavor

Sun, 05/10/2015 - 22:47

Escaped througout most of North America

Florida is the Winter Watercress Capital of the U.S.

Leaf shape can vary

Nasturtium officinale (nas-STUR-shum oh-fis-in-AY-lee ) is one of the oldest leaf vegetables known to be cultivated by man. It’s naturalized in Florida and in fact all of North America, Europe and Asia, the latter two where it is native. Wild watercress is a short-lived edible in central Florida. January to March and maybe a little of April just about sum up its season, and that’s being generous.  Of course the farther north you go the later in the season it can be found such as in Gainesville in May. Locally Watercress  can also be found in drainage ditches leading to the St. Johns River and occasionally along the banks of the St. Johns River.  No doubt in other agricultural areas such as Lake Apopka it can also be found as well as in canals. The only place I have found it past its season is downstream from natural springs that maintain a 72F temperature year round, such as Wekiva Springs.

And while it can indeed by found throughout North America central Florida is the capital of winter watercress production in the United States. The old winter watercress capital was Huntsville, Alabama, but that city traded the mustard member for aerospace technology. I discovered watercress about 23 years ago in Sanford, Fl., some 15 miles north of here.

Given a chance it will root at the nodes

In 1863 Francis Peyre Porcher in his book the “Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests, Medical, Economical and Agricultural, Medical Botany of the Confederate States” wrote of watercress: “Introduced. Ditches Florida. Northward. This plant came into pretty high favor about a century ago [1776] as a spring salad; and it soon obtained preference to all other spring salads on account of its agreeable, warm, bitter taste, and for sake of its purifying, antiscorbutic and diuretic properties. It was greedily gathered in all of its natural habitats within some miles of London for the supply of the London Market, and eventually became an object of regular, peculiar, and somewhat extensive cultivations.” To read more about Dr. Procher read my article on Smilax.

Toothpick seeds pods are called siliques

Man is not the only consumer of Watercress. It is eaten by ducks, muskrats, and deer who know a good thing when they find it. Watercress contains significant amounts of iron, calcium and folic acid, as well as vitamins A and C. It has a long history of medicinal use and was even popular in Roman times.  The Greeks thought it was good for the brain and thinking. Many benefits have been attributed to eating watercress, such as that it is a mild stimulant, a source of phytochemicals, a diuretic, an expectorant, a digestive aid and anti-cancerous. Research in Iran has shown it to have antioxidant potential as well as able to lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Research in the United States suggest it has a role in preventing or treating cancer.

Typical four-petaled mustard flower

Cultivated since ancient Persian times, watercress may cause cystitis in some people. It’s consumption is not advised for those who have a delicate stomach or suffer from acidosis or heartburn. I have a tempermental tummy but cooked it has not bothered me. I like it with salt, pepper, olive oil, a sprinkle of garlic and balsamic vinegar.  (I only eat it raw when I collected immediately downstream from a spring.)  Excessive or prolonged use may lead to kidney problems and advise against eating it during pregnancy.

Nutritionally, watercress is no lightweight. It’s 19 calories per 100g and is 93.3% water. However, it has: Protein: 2.2g; Fat: 0.3g; Carbohydrate: 3g; Fiber: 0.7g; Ash: 1.2g; Calcium: 151mg; Phosphorus: 54mg; Iron: 1.7mg; Magnesium: 0mg; Sodium: 52mg; Potassium: 282mg;  A: 2940mg; Thiamine (B1): 0.08mg; Riboflavin (B2): 0.16mg; Niacin: 0.9mg; C: 79mg. Recipes below.

There are actually several “watercress” in North America you might want to investigate. They include: Barbarea vulgaris, Barbarea verna, Cardamine bulbosa, Cardamine pensylvanica, and Arabis alpina.

Nasturtium” means literally “twisting nose” and was the Roman name for peppery watercress.  Officinale means it was approved in ancient Rome to be sold as a food or medicine in special stores. The Greek name for watercress, Nerokarthamon, broadly translated, means “able to tame Nero’s mind.” It was thought in ancient Greece Watercress could cure insanity.

Creamed Watercress

2   Tbsp  Butter

1   cup chopped onions

2   cloves  garlic, minced

2   Tbsp flour

1   cup  Half and Half

1/4   tsp nutmeg

8 to 16 ounces of watercress, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat butter in braising pan on medium low. Add onions and garlic; cook about 10 min, until onions are soft and translucent.   Add flour. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2 min.  Stir in half and half and nutmeg; bring to a simmer and cook 2 min.  Add watercress to pan in small batches; cook, stirring frequently, 3-4 min, until watercress is wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  During cooking you make have to add more half & half depending on the consistency you want. For a richer side dish use cream.

Chickpeas and Watercress

1 can chickpeas in water ( also called garbanzo beans) or 1 ½ cups precooked+ ½ cup water

½ onion, diced

3 tbsp olive oil

Juice from of one lemon, ( approx 2 tbsp)

½ tsp curry powder

½ tsp coriander powder

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp gram masala

1 large bunch of watercress or two handfuls, rinsed & trimmed

* In a large skillet or frying pan, saute onions and garlic in olive oil until soft about 3-5 minutes. Add chickpeas straight from the can., including all the water. Add the spices and lemon juice, cover, and simmer about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding more water if needed, until chick peas are browned and soft.

* Reduce heat, add spinach and cover. Allow spinach to wilt for 2-4 minutes. Serve immediately.

 Watercress Pesto

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tsp grated lemon rind

5 tbs olive oil, plus extra drizzle

400g spaghetti or tagliatelle

12 cherry tomatoes, halved

12 pitted olivesMethod

* Preheat the oven to 180 C

* Roughly chop 80g of watercress, and place in a food processor with half the parmesan, the pine nuts, garlic and lemon rind. Gradually add the oil and process to from a smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper.

* Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente.

* Meanwhile, place the tomatoes, cut-side, on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook in the oven for 6-8 minutes or until just starting to wilt. Toss the pasta with the pesto, tomatoes, olives and the remaining parmesan and watercress.

 Watercress Tabouleh

1 cup bulgur

2 Tblsp chopped walnuts

6 tsp walnut oil or extra virgin olive-oil, divided

2 shallots, chopped

1 Tblsp finely chopped garlic

12 cups thinly sliced watercress (about 2 bunches), tough stems removed

1/3 cup chopped pitted dates

2-3 Tblsp water

4 tsp white-wine vinegar

½ tsp salt

* Prepare bulgur according to package directions. Transfer to a colander and rinse under cool water; drain. toast walnuts in a small dry skillet over medium low heat.* Cook until the shallots start to brown, 4 to 6 minutes.

* Add garlic and cook stirring, until fragrant, about 15 seconds.

* Add the watercress, dates and two tablespoons of water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are tender and the water evaporates (add another tablespoon of water if the pan is dry before the greens are tender) about 4 minutes.

* Stir in vinegar, salt and the prepared bulgur; cook until heated through, about 1 minute.

* Drizzle with the remaining one teaspoon of oil and sprinkle with the walnuts before serving.

 Watercress Soup

In this recipe, freshly harvested watercress is cooked with potatoes, chicken stock, milk, onions and garlic to make a deliciously light soup.  To ensure the watercress retains its tender crunch, add it to the soup last. If you wish, you could also blend all the ingredients for a smoother soup.

Ingredients:

* 2 bunches of watercress, roughly chopped

* 1 medium potato, cubed

* 1 medium white onion, diced

* 2 cloves of garlic, crushed

* 1 Tbsp of butter & 1 Tbsp of olive oil

* 2 cups of organic chicken or vegetable stock

* 2 cups of milk

* 2 tsp of sea salt

* 1/s tsp of freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:

1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a pot over a medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 30 seconds. Turn the heat to low and sweat the onions for 15 minutes. Stir them occasionally to ensure they don’t caramelize. 2. Turn the heat back up to medium-high and add the garlic. Fry for 30 seconds. 3. Now add the potato cubes, salt and pepper and fry for 1 minute. Add the milk, the stock and stir. 4. Let the soup simmer for 10 minutes. Add the watercress and stir well. Turn the heat down sightly and simmer for 5 minutes. 5. Add a pinch of black pepper and serve immediately.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A coarse, many branched pungent member of the mustard family with deeply divided compound leaves, low-growing, dense in suitable small waterways. It has the customary four-petaled flower of the Brassica family, white petals, and seed pods on stems. It grows in the same location and time of year of young water hemlock. Pick carefully.

TIME OF YEAR: January to March in Florida, spring though fall in some temperate climates.

ENVIRONMENT: Likes to grow in clean, running water but not rapids.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Raw or cooked. Wholesome water is hard to find so cooked is the preferred way. Prepare like any mustard green.

 

HERB BLURB

Research supports traditional views that watercress has medicinal applications. Herbalist use it as a stimulant and diuretic, research suggests it has antioxidants, the ability to lower some blood lipids, and to prevent or treat cancer, particularly that of the lungs.


Checkerberry cum Wintergreen

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 01:12

The Teaberry Shuffle

I saw Gary Vickerson eat an earthworm I found near a Checkerberry plant. Personally I preferred the Checkerberry.

Checkerberries stay red under the snow.

Before I go any further let it be known the Checkerberry is also called — in English — Johnny Jump Ups, Wintergreen, Teaberry, Boxberry, Mountain Tea, Canadian Mint, Deerberry, Leatherleaf, Groundtea, Groundberry, Hillberry, Mountainberry, Patridgeberry, Grouseberry, Spiceberry, Redberry Tea, Wax Cluster and Ivoryberry.  The Ojibwa called it Winisbugons …  “Dirty Leaf” … and the French la Petit te du bois, “The Little Tea of the Woods.”  Its scientific name is Gaultheria procumbens, ( Gol-THAIR-ee-uh  proh-KUM-benz) named after Jean Francois Gaultier a court physician in Quebec. Procumbens means trailing but not rooting, nearly flat on the ground.

Back to Gary: I was about to start high school and Gary was less than half my age. He ate the worm, dirt and all, and laughed about it. No threats. No bribe. No “dare ya.” He just looked at it then ate it. Oddly, he was the only kid in that family of six who turned out all right.

Checkerberry in blossom

The checkerberries grew on a low hillside between our houses, which were about a half a mile apart through the woods. It was probably just one checkerberry because it is their habit to send roots everywhere and pop up everywhere giving the impression of a patch when it is but a single individual plant. Every year I marveled how they were the first plants to bear fruit after the snow left. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the berries overwintered under the snow and are already there when the snow melted. At any rate I looked forward to them every April or so. In large fields of dead brown grass the verdant wintergreen and its red berries were easy to spot. Perhaps the birds had the same idea. And if I couldn’t find a berry, I’d chew on the leaves, lightly wintergreen with a slightly bitter after taste.

At one time it was very popular as tea, hence the name Teaberry but people have forgotten how to make Teaberry tea. While its leaves and branches can make a mild tea through normal drying and seeping in hot water there is a better way: Ferment the leaves in warm sterile water for a few days until they begin to bubble. Then use those leaves for tea, either wet from the fermentation vessel or dry them. And while it makes an excellent tea, it is a tea containing methyl salicylate… so think of it as a pleasant aspirin. Given the choice of an aspirin a day or a cup of checkerberry tea I’ll take the original.

Man is also not the only forager of checkerberries. They provide food for squirrels, chipmunks, deer mice, grouse, partridges, bobwhites, turkeys, fox deer and bears.

One next to last thing: Why was the plant named after Jean-François Gaultier?  He was the king’s official physician and naturalist assigned to Quebec, or New France as it was known then. He arranged for fort commanders to collect plant specimens for him, a task I am sure they enjoyed. In 1749 Gaultier and a botanical friend, Swede Pehr Kalm, rummaged around the plants of Québec City and Kalm named the checkerberry after Gaultier.

Gaultier, by the way, was more than a mere dilettante doctor cum tree hugger. He shipped plants to France every year. His 1749 manuscript lists 134 species, many of which he was the first to mention including four different species of pine. He also set up the first weather station in Canada and kept a log from 1742 to 1756. Not just interested in plants, he sent minerals and preserved animals back to France for the scientists of the day. His main interest, however, was the medical properties of plants. He even managed to write the history of maple sugar… talk about a sweet job.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION:

Alternate leaves, simple, evergreen, oval to elliptical, 1 to 2 inches long, tiny teeth, stiff with a wintergreen odor when crushed, leaves cluster at tip of plant; dark shiny green above, paler below often with black dots. Flower small, quarter-inch, white, urn-shaped, hanging from short stems in mid to late summer. Fruit is red, round, 1/4 to 1/2 inch through, hanging beneath leaves, mild wintergreen taste, ripen in late summer, can last through winter. To six inches high.

TIME OF YEAR:

Berries fall or spring, under the snow if you can find them.  Leaves year round, eastern North American down to northern Georgia.

ENVIRONMENT:

Sandy soil in northern fields and cool damp woodlands

METHOD OF PREPARATION:

Berries out of hand, leaves as tea, fresh, dried or fermented.

HERB BLURB

Comparison of Oral Aspirin Versus Topical Applied Methyl Salicylate for Platelet Inhibition

David A Tanen, MD, Medical Toxicologist, Department of Emergency Medicine, Naval Medical Center San Diego, San Diego, CA

BACKGROUND: Oral acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) is the primary antiplatelet therapy in the treatment of acute myocardial infarction and acute coronary syndrome. Methyl salicylate (MS; oil of wintergreen) is compounded into many over-the-counter antiinflammatory muscle preparations and has been shown to inhibit platelet aggregation locally and to be absorbed systemically.

OBJECTIVE: To assess the ability of topically applied MS to inhibit systemic platelet aggregation for patients who are unable to tolerate oral drug therapy.

METHODS: A randomized, prospective, blinded, crossover study was conducted in 9 healthy men, aged 30–46 years. All subjects ingested 162 mg of aspirin or applied 5 g of 30% MS preparation to their anterior thighs. There was a minimum 2-week washout period between study arms. Blood and urine were collected at baseline and at 6 hours. An aggregometer measured platelet aggregation over time against 5 standard concentrations of epinephrine, and a mean area under the curve (AUC) was calculated. Urinary metabolites of thromboxane B2 were measured by a standard enzyme immunoassay. Differences in and between groups at baseline and 6 hours were tested by the Wilcoxon signed-rank test.

RESULTS: Baseline platelet aggregation did not differ significantly between the 2 arms of the study (median AUC [% aggregation*min]; binominal confidence intervals): aspirin 183; 139 to 292 versus MS 197; 118 to 445 (p = 0.51). Both aspirin and MS produced statistically significant platelet inhibition; aspirin decreased the AUC from 183; 139 to 292 to 85; 48 to 128 (p = 0.008) and MS decreased the AUC from 197; 118 to 445 to 112; 88 to 306 (p = 0.011). No significant difference was detected between baseline and 6-hour thromboxane levels for either aspirin (p = 0.779) or MS (p = 0.327).

CONCLUSIONS: Topical MS and oral aspirin both significantly decrease platelet aggregation in healthy human volunteers.

 

Sow Thistle, Common, Spiny, Field

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 01:11

Sow Thistles Turn Partially Purple When Older

Sonchus: Sow Thistle, In A Pig’s Eye

Starting in  mid-January in Florida, later north of here, two of three local species of sow thistles invade my lawn in great number. They are so good they’re worth all the complaints about my untraditional lawn. I can’t eat them fast enough. In fact, right now I am having a bowl with homemade butter, salt and pepper. I threw a couple of plants that were a little too old into the pot but they weren’t too bitter. That bitterness is caused by their white sap.

You cannot eat most plants with white sap (or white berries.) That is one of the general rules of foraging for wild food, besides that and never eating anything wild without positive identification and verification it is edible. There are three or four common exceptions to the white sap rule: Figs, Ground Nuts, Sow thistles and various Wild Lettuce.

Typical Sonchus blossom

There’s a huge variety in sow thistles, from having few or no prickles to having a lot, from a foot high to six feet high, from green to purple, especially older plants. Young sow thistles can just be tossed in the herb pot, where as some older leaves need to be trimmed of the thistles, which is a point of culinary departure. Really old leaves are bitter and not that much fun to eat even if they are edible. Frankly if you have to trim spines off sow thistles you’re better off leaving them alone. Young and tender leaves is a good rule to follow particularly with the rougher species. When young their flavor resembles lettuce and as they age more like Swiss chard. When old they are just bitter. I try to harvest them between four and 12 inches high.  The young stalks peel and cooked are excellent, too. The young root is also edible when cooked but tends to be woody.

Sonchus asper leaf and stem

The three common ones are Sonchus oleraceus, (SON-kus oh-ler-AY-see-us ) Sonchus Asper (SON-kus ASS-pur) and Sonchus arvensis (SON-kus ar-VEN-sis.) They are respectfully the common sow thistle, the spiny sow thistle and the field sow thistle. The Oleraceus has green leaves with a bit of blue, Delta- arrow-shaped end lobes and distinctly pointed lobes where it clasps the stem. The asper has spiny round lobes where it clasps the stem. It also has a lot of spines. It’s the one that can require trimming. The arvensis has more lance shaped leaves, lobes can be irregular, and soft small spines. It is the softest of the three with a tactile feel closer to a wild lettuce.

Sonchus blossom as the insect sees it, photo by Bjørn Rørslett – NN/Nærfoto

As for the sow thistle’s botanical name: Sonchus is the ancient Greek name for the plant and means “hollow” referring to the plant’s hollow stem, a point of identification.  Although grazing animals (and butterflies) actually prefer the Sonchus to grass farmers rant about the plant because it’s a weed amongst their crop.  It is sad to say but a lot of agri-business is not green, or perhaps not so in the United States. In southern Italy Sonchus invades crops there but they have the good sense to pick it and serve it with spaghetti. Oleraceus means it is edible or cultivated.  Asper means rough, and arvensis of the cultivated field.

Sonchus oleraceus leaf and stem

Sow thistles got their name because they were fed to lactating pigs. (Remember the old heuristic way of thinking? If you want to see like a hawk eat hawk eyes. If you want mama pigs to nurse better feed them plants with white sap.)  Anyway, the white sap of the thistle was assumed to be good for nursing sows. As it turned out, pigs love them, as do rabbits which is why they are sometimes called Hare Thistles (they are not true thistles, however, which is another genus altogether. True thistles always draw blood their spines are so sharp. You can read about them here. )

As you can assume, sow thistle is found literally around the world. In Greece, it is used in winter salads, and has been for thousands of years. Pliny wrote that before Theseus went to meet the Bull of Marathon, he was treated by the old woman Hecale (e-KAH-lee in Greek) to a dish of sow thistles. The ancients Greeks considered sow thistle wholesome and strengthening — maybe the Bull of Marathon should of ate some. Modern Greeks call it Zohos. In New Zealand, Sonchus is called “puha” and is frequently eaten, particularly by the Māori who also used the sap as a gum.  A very nice blog on the  Māori  and the Sonchus can be read here.

Again, young and tender is usually better when it comes to cooking wild greens. Here are some sow thistle recipes from ‘The Essential Hedgerow and Wayside Cookbook’. Incidentally, young Sonchus asper may seem prickly when raw but its soften when cooked (unless you picked them waaaaaaaaaaay to old.)

BUTTERED SOW-THISTLE

1 or 2 handfuls sow-thistle leaves – young

Butter or oil

Beef stock or water

Ground nutmeg – pinch

1 tsp. flour

Salt and pepper

 

For this recipe the young 2- to 4-inch leaves of common sow-thistle

[Sonchus oleraceus] are best and when the leaves are not bitter.

Other sow-thistle species may need their spines trimming off and

may be bitter to the taste requiring some preparatory boiling.

 

Heat some butter or oil in a pan and add the leaves. Stir thoroughly to

coat the leaves. Add a good slug of stock or water, reduce the heat to a

simmer and cover. Cook for about 5 to 10 minutes. Add a pinch of nutmeg,

the flour and some seasoning. Stir everything, then add another knob of

butter and melt into the sow-thistle over a low heat.

Serve.

 

STIR-FRIED SOW-THISTLE & PORK

½-1 cup pork meat – shredded / sliced

Light soy sauce

Corn flour – pinch

Water

White wine or dry sherry

Sugar – pinch

Salt and pepper

Sows thistles

 

Begin by slicing the meat into pieces about 2 inches long and 1/10th inch thick. Set aside. Next, make up a marinade from the remainder of the first group of ingredients, using a splash of soy sauce, slugs of water and wine, seasoning and pinches of corn flour and sugar. Mix together well in a bowl and then add the sliced meat. Stir thoroughly so that all the pieces are

coated and leave for 30 minutes. Heat some oil in a frying pan and fry the ginger for a couple of minutes, stirring to prevent burning, then add the spring onion. Stir for a minute, then add the meat. Stir-fry until the meat begins to cook. Add the sow-thistle leaves and continue frying for another 3 or 4 minutes, stirring to prevent burning and distribute the heat.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Plants have milky sap. S. Oleraceus tall with stemless lobed leaves that point past the stem. S. asper prickly-edged stem-less green leaves that wrap around the stem, dandelion-like blossoms more or less arranged in a flat top manner. S. arvenis similar to both but can be very tall.

TIME OF YEAR: In northern climates spring, summer and some times autumn, in the South December through April.

ENVIRONMENT: Lawns, fields, vacant lots, waste areas, parks

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves in salads, tend to be bitter, older leaves boiled for 10/15 minutes.

White man’s Little Foot: Dwarf Plantain

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 01:11

Plantago virginica, or native Plantago.

White man’s Little Foot: Dwarf Plantain

Plantagos To Go   

When I was about 10 a bee stung my hand while I was being a pest in the garden with my father. My hand began to swell and I started to complain, to put it gently. My father picked a large Plantago major leaf, chewed it up, and stuck the green glob on the sting. I can’t recall if it eased the pain but I never forgot the moment.

Plantago major, (plan-TAY-go MAY-jor) a native of Europe (photo lower left) has been used for food and medicine for a long time. While Plantagos are used the same way I am going to write about its little cousin that’s always under foot, the Dwarf Plantain or Plantago virginica, (plan-TAY-go vur-JIN-nick-uh) which is native to North America. It’s found in most US states excluding the northern Rocky Mountain states. We’ll also look at the P. major, as well. Both are edible, in fact, I have not read of an non-edible plantain.

Plantago virginica, toothy leaves and fuzzy

Getting used to a skinny gray green hairy P. virginica  leaf takes time, especially if you’re used to the larger, round, greener, smooth P. major. The P. major is sporadic here in Central Florida, but the P. virginica is quite common but seasonal. I could seed the entire south with the P. virginica in my little lawn alone. And speaking of seeds, the bulking agent psyllium is the husks of a plantago seed. That does need to be qualified slightly. The husk are an insoluble fiber, the seed a soluble fiber. If you order said make sure you know which (or both) you are getting.

As I write it is three quarters of the way through February (there is an full eclipse of the moon tonight, which will date this article.) The local plantains are still in the rosette stage, just starting to send up spikes that will eventually bear seeds. The leaves are mild in flavor now and though it takes a lot of them to make a side dish for one, they are tasty. Later in the season, as with most greens except the Tradescantias, they will grow rank. Plantagos also grow coarse, one of the problems with eating P. major which can be quite fibrous. Fiber is also an element of identification. If you carefully break the lower stem of a Plantago where it meets the rosette, several elastic cords will remain attached. You’ll find three cords to five cords. Other plants — some fleabanes, see photo below right — have cords as well so that is not the sole means of identification.

I think several references on the internet misidentify P. virginica, calling it Plantago lanceolata, or the English Plantain, which one also sees in Florida.  That the P. virginica is hairy and has points on its leaves and the P. lanceolata (lan-see-oh-LAY-tuh) does not seem to be overlooked.

Another point to make: The Plantagos are dicots even though they don’t look it. They are visual exceptions to the rule until ones looks very closely. Monocots (unicots) are plants that come out of a seed with only one leaf — mono is Greek for only or alone. They have a rhizome (a horizontal root) instead of a tap root (a vertical root.)  Dicots (dio is Greek for two) come out of the seed with two leaves, send down a tap root, and have leaves with veins that branch out. The Plantagos look like monocots but they are dicots. The entire family has some promising medical properties. A study reported in the 30 October 2007 edition of the American Journal of Chinese Medicine demonstrated P. major had tumor inhibiting capacity in lab rats. A tea from the leaves is good for lung congestion and hay fever. As for the name…

Plantago major, native to Europe.

The native Indians called the P. major the “white man’s foot” because they notice where ever he went the plant soon showed up. That is quite intuitive, here’s why: Plantain and Plantago both go back to the same Greek word, platus, which means wide, and from which we get “plateau” in English. That is also why some Greek writers think the philosopher Plato had large gluts, he was called Plato because he was wide in the butt. Platus became Planta as in plantar warts. Plantago is a derivative of planta. Plantago became Plantagin in Dead Latin, Plantein in Old French, Plauntein in Middle English and Plantain in modern English. Then P. major came to the new world to have native Americans call it “white man’s foot”…kind of where it started out. It would seem diverse humans think alike. More so, the story doesn’t end there.

Just as P. major invaded North America from Europe, P. virginica is now invading the Orient, having been introduced to eastern China in the 1950s and is spreading to other nations from there, Korea in 1994. One might say that it is spreading by “occident.” The only solution is eat the weeds. See recipes below.

Oakleaf Flea Bane

As mentioned above, many folks confuse Oakleaf Fleabane for the Dwarf Plantain.  It shows up about the same time, has furry leaves with teeth, and worse, fibers in the stem like plantagos. But it is more lumpy that toothy and it does not have leaf veins that look parallel.  Don’t eat it but you can put the leaves in your pet’s bed to reduce fleas.

Lastly, if you find a really huge Plantago major with red at the base of the stem it’s probable the native Plantago rugelii, still useful.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Plantago virginica: Leaves  in a rosette, spatulate to oblanceolate or obovate, lightly hairy above and below, lateral veins start at the base of the leaf down the blade, parallel to midrib, shallow occasional tooth on leaf. Stems tall, erect, solid, multiple from the base, not branched. If you have a plant that looks like Plantago major but the bottom of the stem is purple you have P. rugelii.

TIME OF YEAR: Greens in spring, seeds in summer

ENVIRONMENT: Unused fields, pastures, waste ground, lawns, likes full sun

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves raw in salads, cooked as greens or in soups and stews. Remove fiber in older leaves. Seeds are edible and keep you regular.

HERB BLURB

Herbalists say Plantagos have been used for inflammation of the skin and applied to soars. Fresh leaves are applied whole or bruised. They contain an astringent and help stop minor bleeding. They can also be rubbed on nettle and bee stings.

 

The first recipe was created by Wildman Steve Brill.

Roasted Plantain Chips

Unlike the banana-related plantain chips of the supermarket, this wafer-thin chips are made with the leaves of the unrelated common plantain. They’re great, and it took Steve only 26 years of downplaying this plants food value to discover how to prepare it properly, using a method his wife uses for kale.

2 cups young common plantain leaves, or kale

2 tsp. sesame oil

1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, ground

1/2 tsp. caraway seeds, ground

1/4 tsp. powdered ginger

1/2 tsp. salt

A dash of hot sauce

1. Stir all the ingredients together

2. Spread onto 3 cookie sheets covered with non-stick mats (or oiled

cookie sheets) and bake about 6 minutes, or until very lightly browned

and crisp, in a preheated 425 degree oven. Stir occasionally, being

careful not to let the leaves burn

And from Christopher Nyerges we have two recipes:

Plantain Soup

3 cups of diced plantains

4 cups of milk or water (milk from powdered milk works as well)

2 eggs

1/2 cup flour, wheat or potato

1 turnip

1 Jerusalem Artichoke

Salt and pepper to taste

Dice the plantains, remove any fibers. Simmer the diced plantains in the milk or water. Chop up the turnip and Jerusalem Artichoke and add to the liquid. In a separate cup add water or milk to the flour to get a non-lumpy consistency, then add to the soup. Separate the eggs and whites, beat separately, add separately to the soup, stirring constantly. Salt and pepper to taste.

Stuffed Plantain Leaf

1 pound ground beef, or the like

2 cups cooked rice

1 clove of garlic

2 lettuce leaves or the like

1 egg, beaten

Boil or steam the plantain leaves, remove any fibers, set aside the leaves. Cook the meat, add the cooked rice and other ingredients. Cook until tender. Place a tablespoon or so of the mixture on each plantain leaf and fold the leaf around the mixture. Place on a baking dish, bake 15 minutes 325, or just enough to warm them up. Salt and pepper to taste.

Plantago Side Dish by Pascal

Plantago Side Dish

This is a winner! Broadleaf Plantain leaves boiled for 4 minutes in salted water then placed in ice water right away. Seasoning: 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon soy, 1 garlic clove and, in my case because I didn’t have sesame seeds I used roasted white sage seeds. Mix and let rest for 5 minutes. Super yum! The plantain has a bit the texture and transparency of a seaweed.

Editor’s note: In this recipe Pascal used Plantago major.

Goosegrass, Cleavers, Bedstraw

Wed, 12/31/2014 - 01:12

 

Galium gallops in and out of season. Photo by Green Deane.

You don’t find Goosegrass. It finds you.

Goosegrass, Galium aspirine

Covered with a multitude of small hooks, Goosegrass, Galium aparine (GAY-lee-um ap-ar-EYE-nee) clings onto almost everything it touches. In fact, it clings so well you don’t have to take a bag with you to collect it. I usually just grab a bunch and touch it to my back pack. Instant stick. Indeed, the real headache with Goosegrass (aka Cleavers, Bedstraw, Stickywilly) is cleaning it of debris. It hates to let go of anything (which means a ball of it makes a good sieve.)

Young tips raw or boiled 10 to 15 minutes make an excellent green and the seeds roasted are one of perhaps two plants that actually makes a coffee-tasting coffee substitute (without caffeine.) Galium is actually in the same greater family as coffee. Older plants become laced with silicon and are too tough to eat, though I wonder if they would yield a lubricant of sorts.

Goosegrass is so called because geese love it along with most farm fowl and livestock. It is not, however, welcomed everywhere. Its seed are prohibited or restricted in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont.  Kentucky calls it a threatening weed. The Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan list it as a noxious weed. Why not just call it lunch? There are no noxious weeds in countries that are starving.

Botanically Galium aparine means” milk seizer.” Juice from another member of the genus, Gallium verum, was used to curdle milk for cheese making.  Galium comes from the Greek word  γάλα  (GAH-la)  meaning milk. Aparine is from the  Greek verb  απράζω (ap-RAH-zoh) meaning to seize. Greek shepherds would use Goosegrass as a strainer for milk and other things. As a strainer you can bunch it up or make crosshatched layers.

Other colloquial names include: Clivers, Barweed, Hedgeheriff, Hayriffe, Eriffe, Grip Grass, Hayruff, Catchweed, Scratweed, Mutton Chops, Robin-run-in-the-Grass, Loveman, Tongue Bleed, Goosebill, and Everlasting Friendship.  The ancient Greeks called it philanthropon, “man loving”  from its clinging nature. It’s a fun plant to introduce to kids because it sticks to their clothes.

Goosegrass’ whorled leaves

Actually four Galiums are used somewhat regularly. Besides curdling milk the Galium verum’s blossoms were used for coloring and scenting cheese and butter with a honey-like fragrance. The flower tops are also used to make a refreshing drink. Galium mollugo, White Bedstraw, Revala, is one of 56 leaves added to a ritual dish in Friuli, Italy, and is now naturalized in the eastern US, the northwest but not the Deep South.  Galium odoratum is used for flavoring fruit cups and German Maywine. It is found in a hodge-podge of places in North America, part of the eastern US and Great Lakes area, part of the northwest, and Colorado. Check a USDA map for your area. The dried leaves are a tea substitute and the flowers are eaten or used as a garnish. Also listed has having edible leaves are: Galium boreale, Galium gracile, Galium spurium, and Galium triflorum. There’s also about a dozen endangered species, most of them in California. So, carefully identify your local Galium.

As one might guess the genus has been used for medicinal purposes. Dried Galium verum has some coumarin in it and has been used to treat bladder and kidney problems including stones as well as dropsy and fever. It also has citric acid (which makes it refreshing as a drink) and that might have anti-tumor activity. Some think it lowers blood pressure and is anti-inflammatory. It can also prevent scurvy. Native Americans used Galium pilosum to prevent pregnancy.  Goosegrass also strengthens your immune system and is good for you lymph system.

Galium triflorum and Galium uniflorum were used for the flu and as a diuretic.  The Cherokee used Galium circazans for coughs, hoarseness, and asthma. For respiratory problems the Ojibwa used Galium tinctorium. Galium triflorum was the most used medicinally. They used it as in infusion for gallstones and a poultice to reduce swelling. The ladies also used it as a perfume and for washing hair.  The root of the Galium tinctorium was also used for a red dye.

Locally, that is in central Florida, two Galiums are common, the Galium aparine and Galium tinctorium. They are fairly easy to tell apart. Galium aparine, the for-certain edible, has six to eight leaves in a whorls at a node. It prefers dry areas. Its white flowers have four petals. The Galium tinctorium, the smaller of the two, has four to six leaves in a whorl and likes damp places. Is white flowers have three petals (sometimes four.) While it would be nice if the Galium tinctorium were edible I have found no reference that says it is. If you know otherwise please let me know.

 Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Galium aparine: A weak square stem plant covered with little hooks that bend back towards the bottom of the plant. Feels scratchy and will cling to almost any texture. Leaves small and skinny, usually in a whorl around the stem, eight leaves at a time, lowest leaves petioled and roundish; upper leaves sessile, narrowly oblanceolate. Minute  four petal-white flowers on small stalks where leaves meet the stem (axils). Fruit a tiny two-lobed capsule, covered with fine hooks.

TIME OF YEAR: May to July in northern climes, early March in Central Florida.

ENVIRONMENT: A wide variety, rich moist ground to upland scrub, woods, thickets, waste ground beside trails.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young shoots and or tip of older plants raw or boiled 10/15 minutes. Serve warm with butter or olive oil, sale and pepper. Or, let them cool and use them in a variety of ways, salads, omelets et cetera. Slow-roasted (low temperature) roasted ripe seeds when ground make a good coffee substitute without caffein. Older plans are not edible. Look for new growth in spring.

According to Professor Gordon Brown, Goosegrass is good for the lymph system.

Hollies: Caffein & Antioxidants

Sun, 12/07/2014 - 00:37

A holly fruiting in December along Bay Street in Savannah, Georgia. . Photo By Green Deane

Holly Tea With Vitamins A & C

Ilex cassine, Dahoon Holly

This time of year in the South — late fall, early winter —some of the hollies are so scarlet with berries that even the tourists can spot them while doing 85 on Interstate 95, if they bother to look. The hollies, usually Ilex cassine, resemble red torches beside the roadway. Their brilliant berries are food for woodland creatures. You are not a woodland creature, so leave the berries alone. However, the leaves of some hollies can be carefully made into a tea, with or without caffeine. The leaves also have vitamin A and C and are packed with antioxidants.

Ilex glabra, the Gallberry

The often-preferred holly for decaffeinated tea is the gallberry, Ilex glabra (EYE-lecks GLAY-bruh) which means smooth oak. Why oak? Well, it’s a bit of a linguistic fudging. There is a European oak tree that resembles the holly and it was called … in Dead Latin, Ilex, or the Holly Oak. So when hollies were being named, their leaves were like the holly oak so Ilex became their genus name even though hollies are not oaks. It’s just one of those things one can expect from a dead language only academics like, whereas the older Greek, still spoken, is doing well and is not misnaming plants. Also called the Inkberry — because of its non-edible black berries, and the Bitter Gallberry — dried gallberry leaves taste exactly like orange pekoe tea, except, as mentioned, without the caffeine. But, now a bit of qualification:

Ilex vomitoria, the Yapoh Holly

The Yaupon Holly, which has the highest caffeine content of any plant in North America, is called Ilex vomitoria  (EYE-lecks vom-ih-TOR-ee-uh.)  Yeph, it means what you think it mean: vomiting oak but we know it is really vomiting holly… still not pleasant.  Native Indians used to make an every-day caffeinated drink from its young leaves and twig tips. However, for solemn ceremonies they would boil up an intentionally strong brew only for the men to drink. The fellow who could hold the concoction down the longest was entrusted with important missions. Osceola means “yapon singer” meaning he could hold the stuff down the longest, which brings me back to gallberry.

Ilex nana, a dwarf I. vomitoria

To make gallberry tea, just collect some leaves, air dry or dehydrater dry them (that’s important) then roast them in a slow oven until golden, then crush. Pour hot water over them, let them seep for two minutes, and enjoy. Unfortunately, while that tea tastes just like regular tea, and has no caffeine, it does not like me. I seem to be the only one but it is the first plant I’ve run into that causes me problems. If I drink Gallberry tea within 40 minutes I have to go pray to the porcelain god.

Traditionally Yaupon was processed differently. The leaves were kiln dried then powdered in mortars. Some of the powder was put in a bowl and cold water poured over it and allowed to sit a few minutes. Then hot water was added. Some writers say the ceremonial brew was made from green Yaupon that were used fresh, read not allowed to dry. Roasting, however, does increase the availability of the caffeine.

Ilex pendula, a weeping I. vomitoria

Dr. William A. Morrill. a plant PhD, wrote in 1940 there are two ways to make holly tea. One is to boil the cured leaves like coffee, not seep them like tea. (Cured means oven dried or steamed.) But, of the Yaupon, he said the best holly tea was to use an equal mix of chopped brown dry roasted and steamed green leaves (remember you must dry them first, then roast or steam.)  I got his information from a crumbling, out-of-print book. Only you and I know it. While Yaupon Holly tea does have a lot of caffeine it is practically free of tannin, which reduces bitterness considerably. It is also full of antioxidants which are good for you.

The form of I. vomitoria that has the most caffeine is the Weeping Holly or Ilex vomitoria var. “pendula.”Feeding” it nitrogen also increase the amount of caffeine.  The ornamental holly, Ilex nana (EYE-lecks NAH-nuh) is a female dwarf version of the I.

Ilex opaca, American Holly

vomitoria. Ilex schiller/schilling is a male dwarf version of the Ilex vomitoria. A tea of either made from dried leaves is caffeinated. Of the two, here in the South the dwarf versions is the most commonly encountered. As a landscape plant they are actually much easier to find than the parent Ilex vomitoria., depending on where you live.  The Yaupon holly was a very popular drink into the late 1800s. Why it fell from favor is not known though coffee might have had something to do with it. In the 2009 Journal of Economic Botany an article recommended Yaupon become a commercial crop again, especially considering its high levels of antioxidants.

Ilex verticillata, Winterberry Holly

If your dwarf holly has black berries (and is not the Ilex glabra) and grows upright (pencil like) then you have Ilex crenata, a common northern landscape holly. I don’t know if that is consumable.  Two other hollies, however, make good tea without caffeine: the American Holly, Ilex opaca ( EYE-lecks oh-PAY-kuh) and Ilex verticillata, (EYE-lecks ver-ti-si-LAH-tuh.)

The American Holly was a popular tea during the American Civil War.  Interestingly, the American Holly and the English Holly were used to clean chimneys because of their stiff, toothy leaves. Holly branches and leaves were tied together into a large bundle then attached to the middle of a long rope. The rope was fed down the chimney and the bundle pulled up and down until the chimney was free of soot and other deposits.

Ilex aquifolium, English Holly

The Dahoon Holly is the full-sized tree used most often for landscaping. It’s very leafy and with lots of berries. American Holly is the one found most often in Christmas wreaths with curly, pointy leaves.  If the wreath hasn’t been sprayed, you can recycle it in your tea cup. And, while holly tea is fine and dandy — for most, he says with envy — let me remind you: Don’t eat the berries. They are mildly toxic to an adult. Twenty to 30, however, is a lethal dose for a small child. I have seen hollies planted in landscaping around primary schools here in Florida. Now ain’t that brilliant. The Dahoon Holly, Ilex cassine (EYE-lecks kuh-SIGH-nee) makes a tea without caffeine but it is the least recommend of them all.  It can cause headaches and can be laxative.

Ilex coriacea the Large Gallberry

One little aid in identification of all hollies including the gallberry: They will have at least three or more points or “tooths” on the leaves, minute in the gallberry, like tiny, tiny, soft thorns, makes it kind of look like the Boy Scout salute. If you take a very close look at the gallberry picture, you can see the points on the leaves. All hollies have them, sometimes obvious, sometimes very muted and rudimentary, but there none the less. The Dahoon Holly will have toothless leaves and leaves with teeth though those with teeth the teeth are usually on the upper part of the blade.

The English Holly, or European Holly, Ilex aquifolium, (EYE-lecks a-kwee-FOH-lee-um) found in Europe, is a common landscape plant in the United States and is naturalized in Ontario and the pacific coast California to Alaska. You’ll know it when you see it, it looks like the American Holly

Yerba Mate, Ilex paraguariensis

except it often has an edging of yellow or white around the leaf. Its leaves have been dried for tea, the roasted berries used as a coffee substitute (doubtful and be cautious) and the berries are also used to make a brandy. Ilex latifolia leaves are made into tea in Asia, the seeds into a coffee. The jury is out on Ilex cornuta (EYE-lecks kor-NOO-tuh.) The Chinese have a lot of herbal applications, the tea is supposedly a contraceptive for women, and whether the berries are edible or not is iffy. I mention it because the Ilex cornuta var Bufordii is a common landscape plant sold at home do-it-yourself stores in Florida. Yerba mate, the most common drink is South America, is made from the Ilex paraguariensis. ( EYE-lecks para-gwar-ee-EN-sis)

One more thing…there is another gallberry holly, called Ilex coriacea  EYE-lecks kor-ee-uh-KEE-uh.)  It has reddish twigs and the leaves have little spines on them, whereas the gallberry has dimples usually. The I. coriacea grows much larger — a small tree to fifteen feet is possible —and there are some reports the berries are edible, hence the nickname Sweet Gallberry. Gray’s Manual of Botany says the berries are “in an axil, soft and pulpy when ripe, dropping in autumn, said to be edible.”  While I have seen the Sweet Gallberry in north Florida near the headwaters of the Santa Fe River  it has never had any berries on it for me to try.

 Cassine is from an American Indian name for a plant with similar fruit. In early writings both the Dahoon and the Yapon were called CassineOpaca means shady because the plant can grow in some shade. Verticillata means in a whorl and coriacea means leathery.  Cornuta is bearing horns or spurs, usually the flowers. And aquifolium means …. holly-like leaves… THAT certainly took imagination.

Incidentally, gallberry is considered a quality and consistent source of bee nectar in Florida and is the top third or fourth producer of honey. If a bee can like it, maybe you can, too.

Keying out Ilexes in Florida:

Group One

Leaves thin, membranous

Leaves evergreen, entire or rarely denticulate, fruit dull purplish
to black, plants of south Florida only ….. Ilex krugiana

Leaves deciduous

Leaves pubescent on most of the upper surface, margins serrate
Leaf blades elliptic with a rounded leaf base, 6-9 cm long….. Ilex amelanchier
Leaves smooth on the upper surface, margins crenate to serrate
Leaf blades oblanceolate to ovate, 2-6 cm long, margins crenate ….. Ilex decidua
Leaf blades elliptic to ovate, margins serrate to crenate
Leaves with conspicuous veins, flowers and fruit appear singly or
in clusters up to 3, in the leaf axils….. Ilex verticillata
Leaves without conspicuous veins, flowers and fruit appear
clustered from spur shoots ….. Ilex ambigua

Group Two

Leaves coriaceous, evergreen
Fruit red to yellow, Leaf blade with sharp pointed teeth, these are usually regularly
spaced ….. Ilex opaca
Leaf blade entire, crenate or serrulate, Leaf blades with a rounded apex ….. Ilex vomitoria
Leaf blades with a sharp, pointed apex
Leaf blades 1-4 cm long and usually less than 1.5 cm wide,
margins entire, tip sharp pointed ….. Ilex myrtifolia
Leaf blades generally longer than 4 cm and wider than 2 cm,
may have a few teeth at the tip or with a single sharp
point ….. Ilex cassine
Fruit black
Leaves crenate, leaves often cupped, 3-5 cm long
….. Ilex glabra
Leaves with a few small teeth, leaves somewhat cupped, 4-7 cm long
….. Ilex coriacea

 

 

Cranberries, Lingonberries

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 01:12

Cranberries are naturally very nutritious and very sour.

Get Your Annual Vaccinium Every Year

Frozen cranberries are just as sour as fresh ones.

I know that because when I was a kid skating on frozen ponds in Maine the clinging cranberries above the ice were a nibble of sorts. We never identified them or told anyone, we just kind of assumed they were edible and that was that. Kids are that way, which is a good reason to channel that propensity towards organized foraging.

My next youthful cranberry surprise came when one day I discovered cranberries don’t have to grow in water. I found a patch atop a small hill watered only by rain. They were still sour.

Fresh cranberries

Cranberries are such a common commercial crop that few people ever think of collecting them in the wild. Unfortunately cranberries have also become identified with mostly Thanksgiving leaving the berry to languish the rest of the year, its only saving grace to be made into juice to reduce urinary infections. One of my favorite uses of prepared cranberries is to add them as flavoring to a mix of wild rice and chopped walnuts. The character of the cranberries makes it a delightful dish.

There are three or four species of cranberry, and as usual, botanists don’t all agree with their classifications and distinctions. The most common in the eastern US and northeast is Vaccinium macrocarpon (vak-SIN-ih-um  mak-roe-KAR-pon.)  Others include Vaccinium oxycoccos or Oxycoccos palustris (common in Europe, Asia and northern Canada)  Vaccinium microcarpum or Oxycoccos microcarpus (Small Cranberry) found in northern Europe and northern Asia. There is also Vaccinium erythrocarpum or Oxycoccos erythrocarpus which is found in the upper elevations of the Appalachian Mountains and in eastern Asia.

Skating on ponds in the winter.

Vaccinium macrocarpon means “big cow fruit”  or maybe “Big dark red fruit.”  Vaccinium was the ancient Roman name for the bilberry, also a Vaccinium and vaccinum does mean of or from cows. Why it is associated with cows no one, tellingly, ever said. A different view is that cows have nothing to do with it at all. Vaccinus may be a corruption of the Greek word hyakinthos, which means purple or dark red.  There are similar words in other ancient languages.   “Big dark red fruit” makes more sense than “big cow fruit.” The name “cranberry” came from “crane berry” which early New Englanders called the plant because they thought it resembled a crane.  Canadians called it mossberry. Cranberries were called Fenberry by Old World English, since fen means a marsh.  Some Native Americans called Cranberries Sassamanash or Ibimi. They were used for food, medicine and dye.

Lingonberries in Lichen

Because of pictures of commercial operations at harvesting time, people think cranberries grow in water. Usually commercial operations are flooded at harvest time or to cover the plants and protect them from cold weather. As I mentioned I found a patch near my home in Maine growing on a low hill. About 95% of commercial cranberries are processed into juice drinks, sauce, and sweetened dried cranberries. The remaining 5% are sold fresh.  Fresh cranberries can be frozen and will keep more than a year (I have several pounds in my freezer.) They can be used directly in recipes without thawing. Cranberries are a significant crop in Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Quebec, southern Chile, the Baltic States, and in Eastern Europe.

Cranberries are cousin to bilberries, blueberries, and huckleberries, which are all Vacciniums. All berries with a crown are non-poisonous, but they are not all palatable. Closely related and worth mentioning is the Lingonberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, (VYE-tis eye-DEE-ah.) It is also called the Mountain Cranberry and Low Bush Cranberry. Unlike cranberries Lingonberries are not a commercial crop but are collected in most countries around the top of the world, Canada, Scandinavia, Northern Asia  et cetera. The many recipes below work with either Lingonberries or Cranberries.

What vitis-idaea means is a good guess. The standard interpretation by botanists who only speak English is that it means “Cow Grape from Mt. Ida”  (in Greece.) That really doesn’t make sense to me. Another view is that it means “Dark Red Grape of Mt. Ida” … closer but no cigar in my view.  My guess is that it means “dark red grape above all.”  Ιδία (ee-THEE-ah) in Greek means above all and the Lingonberry, which likes to hug the arctic circle, certainly grows above all.

 Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Low growing mat, usually less than one foot. Small, glossy, leathery leaves, bronzy in spring and dark-green in summer, white to pink, tube-shaped four-petaled flowers in clusters and followed by a dark red, edible fruit.

TIME OF YEAR: Fruits ripen in September or October.

ENVIRONMENT: Likes sandy soil, will grow in bogs or dry land.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Many, whole or as a sauce. See some recipes below. They can also be eaten fresh on the trail or picked frozen off the bush, but they are sour.

Cranberry Sauce

4 cups cranberries

2 cups sugar

Wash berries, add sugar, stir thoroughly and cook slowly without additional water (just what is on the berries from washing).

Boil 10 minutes.

Spiced Cranberries

(A good pickle to serve with meat or game)

5 lbs. cranberries

3-1/2 cups white vinegar

2 tablespoons cinnamon or allspice

1 tablespoon cloves

Boil for 2 hours.

Place in hot sterilized jars and seal.

Cranberry Orange Relish

Ingredients

4 cups (1 lb) cranberries

2 oranges, quartered (seeds removed)

2 cups sugar

Instructions

Put berries and oranges (including rind) through food grinder (coarse blade).

Stir in sugar and chill.

Makes 2 pints.

Keeps well for several weeks stored in refrigerator.

Cranberry Pie

Ingredients

1 (9-inch) baked pastry shell

1 cup Cranberry Berry Sauce (see recipe)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup water

2 egg whites

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup heavy cream

Instructions

Cook berry sauce and cornstarch until thickened. Cool and keep for top.

Cook sugar and 1/3 cup water to soft ball stage (238ºF). Add gelatin softened in 1/4 cup water. Slowly pour this syrup over stiffly beaten egg whites, beating constantly. Add salt, lemon juice and almond extract, continue to beat until cool. Beat cream and combine with egg white mixture. Pour into pie shell. Chill. Spread cranberry Sauce over top and place in the fridge until serving time.

Cranberry Coffee Cake

Instructions

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in an 8-inch square pan.

Spread 1/4 cup of sugar over the melted butter

Combine

1 cup cranberry sauce

1/2 cup pecans, chopped (or walnuts)

1 tablespoon grated orange rind.

Spread this mixture over sugar.

Sift together

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar

Cut in 1/3 cup shortening until it resembles corn meal.

Beat 1 egg and add 1/2 cup of milk. Add to dry ingredients, mix only until all the flour is dampened. Turn into pan on top of partridgeberry mixture. Bake in preheated 400º oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on a rack for about 45 minutes, then turn upside down on a serving plate. Serve warm.

Cranberry Bread

Ingredients

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons double acting baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

Juice and grated rind of 1 orange

2 tablespoons melted shortening

1 egg, well beaten

1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts, other if you desire)

1-1/2 cup partridgeberries

Instructions:-

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt.

Combine orange juice, grated rind, melted shortening and enough water to make 3/4 of a cup, then stir in beaten egg. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing just to dampen.

Spoon a layer of batter into a greased 9″x5″x3″ loaf pan, spreading evenly; sprinkle cranberries over this layer, add more batter, sprinkle with berries, then repeat until all is used up. Bake in a preheated 350ºF oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool. Store over night for easy slicing.

Steamed Cranberry Pudding

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter, melted.

1 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups flour (1 pastry flour, 1 bread flour)

(Note:- I use all-purpose flour)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk and water

1 cup Cranberry sauce

Instructions

Sift together, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Beat egg and water-milk mixture together. Stir into dry ingredients. Lastly, add vanilla and melted butter. Mix well. Pour into a greased mold, cover or tie waxed paper over the top. Place on a rack or trivet in a deep kettle, pour in boiling water to half the depth of the mold and cover kettle. Steam for 2 hours, replenishing water (if necessary) with boiling water to original depth. Served with heated cranberry sauce OR sauce may be put in the mold first and batter added and the whole steamed together.

Cranberry Crumbles

Ingredients

1 cup uncooked rolled oats

1/2 cup flour

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter

2 cups (1 lb) cranberry sauce

Instructions

Mix oats, flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter until crumbly. Place half this mixture in an 8″x8″ greased baking dish. Cover with cranberry sauce. Top with rest of mixture. Bake in a preheated 350ºF for 45 minutes. Cut into squares, while hot. Serve topped with scoops of vanilla ice cream or with cranberry sherbet. May also be served cold as cookie bars.

Serves 6 to 8.

Cranberry Punch

Ingredients

1 quart berries

6 cups water

2 cups sugar

1 cup orange juice

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 quart ginger ale.

Cook berries in 4 cups water until soft.

Crush and drain through cheesecloth.

Boil sugar and remaining 2 cups water for 5 minutes, add to berry juice and chill.

Add fruit juices. Just before serving, add ginger ale.

Cranberry Muffins

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup 2% milk, soured

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 large egg

11/2 cups cranberries

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

1. Combine milk and oats.

2. Mix egg, oil, and sugar.

3. Mix dry ingredients.

4. Add berries to dry ingredients till coated.

  1. 5.Mix all ingredients just till blended.
  2. 6.6.Bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes.

Cranberry Salsa

*  12 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen

* 1 bunch cilantro, chopped

* 1 bunch green onions, cut into 3 inch lengths

* 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

* 2 limes, juiced

* 3/4 cup white sugar

* 1 pinch salt

DIRECTIONS

Combine cranberries, cilantro, green onions, jalapeno pepper, lime juice, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a medium blade. Chop to medium consistency. Refrigerate if not using immediately. Serve at room temperature.   

Roses

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 07:00

Roses have the classic five petals. Photo by Green Deane

I’m not sure I found wild roses or they found me.

Growing up in Maine the local soil was usually either ground-up glacial sand or clay which is decomposed feldspar, or ledge. Not much of a choice if you’re a plant. We had sand, over ledge with a thin veneer of topsoil. And in that sand grew wild roses, Rosa rugosa. Long and stringy with pink petals and bright yellow centers and thorns, lots of thorns. I do recall, however, having a difficult time as a kid reconciling that the wild roses in the field behind the house were related to the roses in flower shops. They didn’t look like each other that much but the wild roses did have a hint of rose aroma. I grew more interested in roses when I learned the rose seed hairs were the original itching powder.

Rosa rugosa hips

If you’ve read my series on Edible Flowers you also know that I once delivered flowers. I had been accepted to law school and needed a job to tie me over until classes started so I delivered flowers. What an eye-opening experience! I went in thinking it had to be a wonderful job because you were delivering joy everywhere… wrong… oh so wrong. It was amazing how many women refused flower deliveries, or took them with a huge air of suspicion. And of course, there were all those deliveries to funeral homes. But most interesting were the roses. They were big and beautiful and absolutely without any aroma. None. They were bred for size and color and in the process the aroma disappeared. We had to spray the roses with artificial rose scent just before delivery, every delivery. AND… you did not spray the roses in the delivery van or get any spray on your or you’d smell intensely like roses for days, literally. Not surprisingly we carried several different spray-on scents so the grand and lovely hybrids of various genera would smell like the original thing. Rose, however, was the most powerful and long-lasting. (By the way, some flower arrangements that were not accepted were kept so they would wilt and die only to be sold for 40th birthday deliveries.)

Rose petals for perfume

Let’s start at the top of the rose and work our way down.  Petal flavor depends on the type, color and conditions of raising. They can range from tart to sweet, spicy. Darker ones have stronger flavors. Remove any white portion of a petal. That will be bitter. Petals can be added to salads , desserts, beverages, used to make jelly or jam and be candied. Rose petals are used to flavor tea, wine, honey, liqueurs and vinegar. Rose oil is used in perfume making and requires a ton of petals to get one cup. Rose water is used in cooking and is an eye wash.

Rose Hips are False Fruit

Rose hips are a false fruit. If you have a true rose its hip is edible but they differ greatly in flavor and size. A frost improves flavor. Sap from a fresh hip can be used like sweet syrup. Soft rose hips can be put through a food press to remove seeds and their hairs. If you wet that pressed mass you can run it through the process a second time. Dried hips have to be rehydrated to be pressed. The resulting puree is dark red and tasty. It’s used to make syrup, jam, chutney and various sauces. Dried rose hips are used to make a fruity tea that is high in Vitamin C, some 50 times higher than citrus. They also have vitamins A, E and K.  Seeds, the true fruit of the rose, are diuretic.  You can also grind the totally dry rose hips into a powder to be added to breads, cookies, cakes and desserts. Now, you might be thinking “I’ll just eat the entire rose hip.” Don’t eat unprocessed rose hips. Better is to run the processed hips through a filter to removed the seeds. Remember the itching powder? If you consume unprocessed rose hips you can get what the Aboriginals called “Itchy Bottom Disease” from the hair on the seeds.

In some species the leaves are eaten, mainly in Europe and Asia. Very young shoots are edible cooked. Buds can be pickled. Among the edible species and their cultivars are: Rosa acicularis, Prickly rose, Rosa arkansana, Low Prairie Rose, Rosa blanda, Labrador Rose, Rosa canina, Dog Rose, Rosa carolina, Pasture Rose, Rosa chinensis, China Rose, Rosa cinnamomea, Cinnamon Rose, Rose x demascena, Damask Rose, Rosa fraxinellaefolia, Ash-Leaf Rose, Rosa gallica, French Rose, Rosa gigantea, Manipur Wild Tea-Rose, Rosa laevigata, Cherokee Rose, Rosa macrophylla, Bhaunra Kujoi, Rosa moschata, Musk Rose, Rosa multiflora, Multiflora Rose,  Rosa nutkana, Nutka Rose, Rosa pimpinellifolia, Burnet Rose, Rosa rugosa, Rugose Rose, Rosa villosa, Apple Rose, Rosa virginiana, Virginia Rose, Rosa woodsii, Wood’s Rose, Rosa Blaze, Blaze Rose, Rosa Bucbi, Carefree Beauty Rose, Rosa Rhonda, Rhonda Rose, Rosa Sea Foam, Sea Foam Rose, Rosa The Fairy, The Fairy Rose.

Rosa is Dead Latin for rose. It comes from the Indo-European Sanskrit word “vrod” which means flexible.

Recipes

Rose Petal Drink
Petals from 3 full-bloom roses
5 cups water
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
3 tbsp. sugar
Boil water. Add rose petals and lemon juice to the boiling water, turn off heat and let stand for 6-10 hours. Drain into a pitcher. Discard petals. Add sugar to the rose water and stir. Let cool in the refrigerator or freezer. Serve.
recipe from Maragrita’s International Recipes.

Rose Petal Syrup
4 cups rose petals
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
red food colouring (optional)
Simmer rose petals with water and sugar for one hour. Add drops of red food colouring to get desired colour. Strain through a fine sieve. Bring back to the boil and put in hot sterilised bottles. Recipe from ABC.net.au/Hobart

Rose Petal Tea
1-1/2 cups rose petals
3 cups water
honey to taste
Choose fresh rose petals. Strip the flower gently under running water then place the petals in a saucepan. Cover with the water and boil for 5 minutes, or until the petals become discolored. Strain into teacups and add honey to taste. Serves 4.

Rose hip leather. Photo by Wild Food Foraging.

Rose Hip Leather

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups (1 Litre) of rose hips

Preparation:

Just after a frost is the best time to gather rose hips. Snap off the tails as you pick,or later when you reach home. Spread the hips out on a clean surface and allow to dry partially. When the skins begin to feel dried and shriveled, split the hips and take out the large seeds — all of them. If you let the hips dry too much, it will be difficult to remove the seeds. If not dry enough, the inside pulp will be sticky and cling to the seeds. After the seeds are removed, allow the hips to dry completely before storing or they will not keep well. Store in small, sealed plastic bags. These will keep indefinitely in the freezer or for several months in the refrigerator. They are packed with vitamin C and are good to munch on anytime you need extra energy…or a moderately sweet nut-like “candy.”

Making Puree:
Use soft ripe rose hips (the riper they are, the sweeter they are). It takes about 4 cups (1 Litre) of rose hips to make 2 cups (480 ml) of puree. Remove stalks and blossom ends. Rinse berries in cold water. Put them into a pan and add enough water to almost cover. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 to 15 minutes. Press through a sieve or strainer. All that does not go through the sieve is placed in the pan again. Add a little water, enough to almost cover, if you want a thicker puree, add slightly less. This time heat but do not boil so vigorously. This will dissolve a little more of the fruit so that it will go through the sieve. Press again and then repeat the process one more time. By now, most of the fruit should have gone through the sieve leaving only seeds and skin to discard.

Drying Puree:
Line a cookie sheet, 12 by 17 inches (30 by 42 cm), with plastic wrap. This size cookie sheet holds approximately 2 cups (480ml) of puree. Spread puree or fruit leather evenly over the plastic but do not push it completely to the sides. Leave a bit of plastic showing for easy removal. Place on a card table or picnic table in the hot sun to dry. If the plastic is bigger than the cookie sheet and extends up the sides, anchor it with clothes pins so it will not flop down and cover the edges of the leather. Puree should dry in the sun six to eight hours.

Recipe Source: Cooking Alaskan By Alaskans (Alaska Northwest Books)

Grapes of Path

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 01:12

Wild Grapes supposedly with European heritage

Who ever first wrote the phrase “grapes of wrath” certainly must have been trying to identify a particular grape vine.

Grapes are at the same time easy to identify and maddening to identify. That one has a grape is pretty easy to sort out. Deciding which grape you have can bring on insanity. That problem is compounded in The South because there are native grapes, escaped hybrid grapes and a lot of cross breeding by Mom Nature. And the cause of it all is Pierce’s Disease.

Biologist Newton B. Pierce was studying grape disease in California about a century ago. At the time a mysterious disease affecting grapes was called Anaheim Disease. It was later was found to be the same disease causing problems in Florida. The disease was controlled in California but not in The South. While Pierce made great strides with the disease — got it named after him — it was not until 1978 that the insect-carried bacteria involved was finally identified. It was a detective story 400 years in the making.

In the 1500’s, a century before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and three hundred years before California became a state, the Spanish in Florida noticed a lot of wild grapes growing. They made wine from the native grapes and planted grapes from back home in Spain. Unfortunately, the European grapes died, and for more than 300 years that was the story of growing non-native grapes in Florida.

In 1891 some 60 grape varieties were planted mid-state and they, too, died. In 1894 over a thousand acres were planted further north in the state. They perished as well. It looked like the end of growing non-native grapes in Florida. Then the state’s agricultural service got involved and began hybridizing varieties of grapes that could be grown in Florida. They had early successes and over the course of several decades some of those successful hybrids escaped as well. So Florida has five kinds of grapes: Native muscadines, grapes descended from muscadines and early plantings of European grapes (let’s call them escaped cultivars) intentional hybrids under cultivation, intentional hybrids that have naturalized (often found unattended near old homesteads) and nearly any combination of the above. Now you know why grapes can be maddening.

Native muscadine grapes

The local muscadines and escaped cultivars fall into two groups, which as a forager you will come across from Florida to Texas. First is the pure muscadine native which has a single tendril with six to 30 grapes per cluster, not bunch, see at left. The second is group is escaped cultivars with split tendrils and bunches of grapes of 30 or more, see photo at top.  Now exactly which grape it is can be confusing. Not counting those specifically under cultivation you can find in the local wild Vitis rotunifolia, Vitis munsoniana, Vitis shuttleworthii, Vitis aestivalis, Vitis cinerea, and Vitis vulpina.  There are also many subspecies as well and over the years local tribes also spread the crossbreeds. (If that is not complicated enough some now think the forked-tendril grapes are not escaped cultivars but native. The botanical jury is still out on that one.)

If it has smooth bark, an unforked tendril, smooth, non-hairy leaves and you are north and west of the Suwanee River and the cluster of grapes number six to eight, it is probably V. rotundifolia. If you on the peninsula of Florida and it has smooth bark, non-hairy leaves, the tendril is unforked and the grapes are a cluster of 12 to 30 berries, then it is probably V. munsoniana. If you are in north or west Florida and you think you have V. rotundifolia or V. munsioniana but the bark on mature stems shreds in strips or squares you have V. vulpina.

Green Deane with grapevine at his grandfather’s house in Karea, Greece

Now it gets sticky:  If you have a forked tendril, a thick grape leaf that’s hairy below (whitish short hairs, sometimes light brown, that resemble felt) wrinkled on top (think quilted mattress) a downward curve from the mid-rib and a large semi-sweet fruit, you are in the lower two-thirds of the state and your feet could be wet, you could have V. shuttleworthii, which perhaps a variation of V. aestavalis. If you live in Texas and think you have a V. shutteworthii but the grape tastes fiery pungent, you have V. candicans. Incidentally, V. shutteworthii is the direct ancestor of the cultivated “Stover” grape.

If you have a forked tendril, a thin flat leaf, smooth on top, but hairy below (rust-colored hairs that are NOT felt-like) and you are in New Jersey or below, you probably have V. aestivalis, which has at least four subspecies, V. sola, V. simpsonii, V. smallinana, and V. divegent. The V. aestivalis and V. simpsonii was used in the creation of the Lake Emerald and Norris varieties. The V. aestivalis is also in the ancestry of V. bourquiniana varieties of Herbemont and Lenoir.

If you have a forked tendril, the leaf is wrinkled dull green on top, white hairy below, branchlets look white or gray and the leaf base is deeply indented, and you are in the northwest portion of the state it could be V. cinerea. That is the most common grape in southeastern North America, excluding Florida.

To recap, if possible: If it is a grape with smooth bark, a round leaf, and probably toothy, with a single tendril, it is a muscadine, V. rotundiafolia to the north and west of the state, V. munsoniana to the middle and south. If you have all that and the mature bark is in strips or squares, it is V. vulpina.

Grape with forked tendrils

If it has a forked tendril, the leaf is wrinkled on top and hairy underneath, and you are in the lower two thirds of the state and your feet are wet, it is probably V. shuttleworthii. If the leaf is smooth on top, hairy below, and has a forked tendril, and your feet are dry it is probably V. aestivalis. If it is wrinkled on top, hairy below, has a gray cast and you live in the western part of the state and north, it is V. cinerea. Whew!

If that is not confusing enough some argue the muscadines should not be in the Vitis genus at all and are rightfully the subgenus of Muscadinia because they have two more genes than the Vitis members.  They would also make at least two more species in the subgenus. I should also mention that bringing into The South grape roots or plants from elsewhere will probably end in death. Pierce’s Disease is known to kill off at least 300 different species of grape.

Grape with single tendrils

One question I hear often is why aren’t the native grapes producing? They always seem not to have grapes. There are two answers: One is 90% of the vines have male flowers and all they do is basically lie around drinking sun all the time producing nothing except a little pollen. And the gals? They fruit sporadically. However, the so-called non-native escaped cultivars produce almost every year.

As for pronunciation they are VEE-tiss (grape)  row-tun-dee-FOH-lee-ah (roundleaf) es-tuh-VAL-uhs (of the field) sin-EER-ee-uh (the color of cinders, ashes) KAND-ik-anz, kan-DEEK-anz  (white or wooly) vul-PEE-nah (fox) munso-nee-ANN-ah, simp-SON-ee-eye, bore-quin-nee-ANN-ah, ShuttleWORTH-ee-eye

Three tidbits:

  1. If you make grape jelly from muscadines don’t crush them bare handed or bare footed. The high acid content can lightly burn your hands or feet. Also, grape sap is drinkable.
  2. The grape vine, however, has a peculiar vascular arrangement. If you cut the vine it will not leak water unless you invert it. You can get a quart or more from a one-foot piece.
  3. In all English dialects except American English “vine” means the grape vine. In American English “vine” can mean many plants, not just the grape vine.
 Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Grapes are woody vines with tendrils. Vines without tendrils that look like grapes are not grapes. The leaves vary greatly  in shape from serrated and round to heart-shaped and smooth to lobed and hairy.  The seeds of the grape are always tear-drop shaped. A grape-look alike is the moonseed which has seeds that are shaped like a crescent moon. Grapes in Florida tend to grow in clusters of two to 10, or bunches of 20 to 30  or more (not counting loss of numbers to birds and foraging humans.)  Fruits are blue to black. There are hybrids under cultivation — some 300 different ones — that can be green, red, blue or black and are often very large.

TIME OF YEAR: Mid-summer to late fall in Florida, more towards fall as one goes farther north. Locally September first is a good date to aim for.

ENVIRONMENT: Grapes like full sun, good drainage and a healthy amount of water. But, they will survive in dry areas, putting on small fruit. They can even be found growing in Florida swamps, so they are very adaptable.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Out of hand as they come off the vine. They can be made into jelly, jam, wine, raisins, fruit leather; the seeds can be pressed for oil and the young leaves boiled and eaten. The leaves of the hybrids are preferred to the muscadines. Muscadines can be high in acid so when crushing to make jelly don’t use your hand. Oh, and the seeds can be used to make grappa.

 

Chokeberry: Bushy Health Food

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 07:13

The bitter but edible berries of the Aronia Melanocarpa. Photo by Green Deane

It’s a long ways from the mountains of Maine down the Appalachian Trail to the mountains of western North Carolina. It is also a long ways from ones 20’s to ones 60’s. These distances revealed themselves recently when I notice a plant while hiking in the Smokies.

Doug Elliott with a Blue Jay Friend.

It was familiar but not familiar, a wrong plant in the wrong place I thought. But it was the right plant in the right place, kind of. The problem was I had 40 years of fog in my memory. Helping me sort out the mystery was Doug Elliott, edible plant expert, story-teller and long-time resident of North Carolina. He and his wife Yanna were kind enough to have me and my friend Kelly over to their place in a “holler.” Besides a close up view of their homestead and a taste of sumptuous food I got to ask Doug about my mountain-top mystery. ‘Sounds like an Aronia,’ he said, ‘with the unfortunate name of chokeberry.’ He got it right. The fog began to clear.

In high dry places the Aronia is usually the Black Chokeberry. Photo by Green Deane

What confounded me is that the Aronia is generally thought of as a northern plant and quite common in my native state of Maine. And while North Carolina is not balmy in the winter its not the deep freeze New England can be… unless one goes up. Going up 1,000 feet takes you north about 700 miles in climate and season which effects the flora and fauna. Thus the Aronia is a northern genus but it creeps down the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, thriving in the cooler higher altitudes. It was until recently a much over-looked species. In fact, if a big pharmaceutical company could invent a plant it would be the Aronia.

Two chokeberries compared to two blueberries (with crowns.) Photo by Green Deane

Much like Hawthorns botanists can’t agree on just how many Aronia there are though their numbers are dramatically far less than Hawthorns. There is a red variety, a purple variety, and a black one… maybe… and lot of commercial cultivars and a few natural hybrids and regional genetic differences. But the main point is their edible bitter berries are one of the richest sources of the stuff we — at the moment — think are good for us: Anthocyanins. They are water-soluble pigments that protect our cells from free radicals. Anthocyanins are the main reason, for example, why blueberries are blue and why they are good for us. In fact, Aronia berries have greater antioxidant activity than blueberries and cranberries (five times higher than each) and higher antioxidant activity than pomegranates, strawberries, cherries, even the vaunted goji berry. No fruit grown in a temperate climate has more antioxidants and flavonoids. Though bitter the berries can range from 12 to 20 percent sugar and per 100 fresh grams have 560 to 1059 mg of anthocyanins. It’s no wonder they are being cultivated in many states.

Aronia berries have one to five seeds. Photo by Green Deane

One species of Aronia, A. melanocarpa, has been well-investigated. It not only has anthocyanins but a host of potential positive chemicals including blue Malvidin, Caffeic Acid (an anti-oxidant also found in wine) blue Delphinidin, dark red-purple Cyanidin-3-Galactoside, and Epicatechin, an anti-oxidant found in chocolate. We may not be able to pronounce them but they are anti-… anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-arterial plaque, anti-cholesterol, anti-cancer, anti-flu, anti-E coli, anti-high blood sugar, anti-herpes, anti-HIV, anti-Crohn’s Disease as well as improving insulin production while protecting the liver and the stomach. No toxic effects are reported and the genus is naturally pest resistant. That’s quite a lot for a nondescript plant I saw on a mountain top.

Typical environment for the Black Chokeberry in its southern range. The chokeberry is on the right. Photo by Green Deane

The common name chokeberry is self-evident. The berries are tart and bitter and it’s difficult to choke them down. But they can be made into jams, jellies, juice (by itself or blended) pies and other baked goods. They are also made into wine, stronger alcoholic beverages, pickles, flavoring for ice cream and yogurt and used as a natural food coloring. Among native Americans the Abnaki and Potawatomi ate them for food. Wildlife that live in them or eat the leaves or berries include the white-tailed deer, rabbits, ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens. The genus name comes from “aria” which is the Greek name for the mountain ash (Sorbus aria.) The red variety of the Aronia has red fruit similar to the red fruit of the Mountain Ash thus the base word was borrowed. Melanocarpa is also Greek meaning black fruit… So Aronia melanocarpa means by intent Red Fruit Black Fruit which is somewhat descriptive but not too inventive. Mountain Ash Black Fruit is just confusing. To get away from the name chokeberry, which people confuse with chokecherry, some have taken to calling it “Aroniaberry” but it hasn’t caught on. Some botanists also put them in the genus Photinia and that is by no means settled. Other botanical names for the Chokeberry have been Aronia arbutifolia (the red one) Aronia nigra, Photinia melanocarpa, Pyrus arbutifolia (red) Pyrus melanocarpa, and Sorbus melanocarpa. A. prunifolia and A. floribunda might be hybrids.

The Aronia can have attractive fall colors enhancing their ornamental use. Photo by Green Deane

Here are some key identification differences between the Black Chokeberry and the Red Chokeberry:

The Black Chokeberry produces larger fruits that mature to purplish-black, while red chokeberry produces smaller fruits that mature to red;

Black Chokeberry’s fruits mature in late summer and then shrivel and drop, while red chokeberry’s fruits mature in fall and persist into winter;

Black Chokeberry is glabrous (not hair) while red chokeberry is pubescent (hairy;)

Black Chokeberry plants tend to have a more rounded shape and remain more fully leaved to the base, while the red chokeberry is more upright and tends to be bare at the base;

The Black Chokeberry is naturally found in both wet and dry soils, while Red Chokeberry is found mostly in wet soils. On the mountain tops of North Carolina I saw only Black Chokeberries. Still confused? Know the black and red forms can hybridized. Several cultivars are also available. To be clear, while the research has been on the darker berries the red and the darker-colored berries are edible.

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION:

Black Chokeberry: a multi-stemmed shrub, deciduous, eastern North American. Four to eight feet, can form dense colonies. Leaves alternate, 1–3 inches in length, 3/4–2 inches in width, oval but narrower at the base than near the tip, fine, regular teeth, top surface dark green, shiny with dark glands on the upper surface of the midrib. Lower surface lighter green, both sides non-hairy. Flowers have five white petals, many pink stamens. Berries 1/3 – 1/2 inch diameter, glossy and black when ripe, hang down in clusters from red pedicels, 30 or so fruits per cluster, one to five seeds each.

TIME OF YEAR:

Flowers open mid-May, fruits usually mature by August

ENVIRONMENT:

Hardy to USDA zone 3 which is to  -40 degrees F. Moderately tolerant of shade, prefers moist acid soils from low wet areas to dry sandy slopes meaning bogs, swamps, low wooded areas and clearings as well as dry rocky slopes, bluffs and cliffs. Also found beside roads and power line rights of way. Tolerant of salt spray, drought and soil compaction. While the Black Chokeberry can be found in wet and dry conditions the Red Chokeberry is usually found in wet conditions and rarely in dry areas. The red variety is more tolerant of heat. The genus is found in the eastern half of the United States, New England south and west to Texas, down the Appalachian Mountains to Georgia and reportedly into north Florida. Aronias can be used in landscaping and some have brilliant fall foliage.

METHOD OF PREPARATION

Can be eaten raw but bitter. Better made into jams and jellies, juice, wine and used in baked goods.

Chickasaw Plum: Yum

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 19:13

Ripe Chickasaw Plums, locally in June. Photo by Green Deane

 Chickasaw Plum: First Springtime Blossom

Every spring, three wild plums put on a show locally: The Chickasaw, the Flatwood, and the American. They burst out in white blossoms and no leaves.

Five petals and many stamen

When in naked bloom they look similar but that’s where the resemblance stops. The Chickasaw and the American go on to produce consistently edible plums whereas the Flatwood’s fruit can range from extremely bitter to sweet. Telling these plums apart before they fruit is a bit of a guessing game.

If you have skinny leaves it is either the Chickasaw or Flatwood. If the tips of the teeth on the leaves have yellow or red glands (you’ll need a hand lens) it is the Chickasaw, otherwise the Flatwood. If you have fat leaves with a strong pointed tip, it’s the American though it is not common here. Locally the fruit of the Chickasaw (Prunus angustifolia) ripens to a sweet red in the spring and is gone by June. It often forms a thicket.

In spring the tree is all white flowers and no leaves

The Flatwood (Prunus umbellata) which often stands alone, ripens to black or yellow and can be around through the summer into the fall. The American (Prunus americana) tends to fruit in late summer to early fall and has red fruit. The fruit of the Flatwood often remains amazingly bitter and hard even after months on the tree. Settlers used it to make jellies or fed it to livestock, hence its other common name, Hog Plum though there are several “hog” plums. Native Americans and settlers, however, regularly ate of the American and Chickasaw plums, the latter developing very sweet fruit with a tang. The first foragers used the plums fresh and dried for winter use. Some tribes took out the seed kernels, others didn’t. Let’s talk about that.

The skinny leave has a trough down the middle

Liberated from their shells the sunflower-sized kernels of these plums can create cyanide in your gut. Very small amounts don’t bother us but we are not talking about small amounts. Natives would make cakes out of the kernel mash. Letting the cakes set for a day or so allowed enzymes to work on those chemicals as did subsequent cooking, making the cake edible… or at least that is the explanation experts give. That strikes me as a lot of work for such a small amount of food that’s potentially toxic. It would also seem to expend more energy in preparation than one gets out of the kernels. That said they could have been a treat, a flavoring, an essential nutriment — oil — to make them worthwhile. Calories are not the only reason to forage.

In the 1800’s there was great interest in making cultivars out of native plums and by 1901 there were over 300 of them. But mechanization of fruit production in the early 1900’s led growers away from the native varieties though there has been some interest of late to use the native plums again as a high-value specialty crop.

The tips of the teeth will be either red or yellow if a Chickasaw Plum. Photo by Green Deane

Besides man the Chickasaw Plum’s fruit is eaten by deer, bear, fox and raccoon. The thorny thicket is valuable for songbird and game bird nesting including the bobwhite and mockingbird. It also makes a good wind break and can be used for erosion control. The plum, extensively used, was taken everywhere by the Chickasaw Indians and it has many local names. While usable, the Flatwood Plum, is not prime foraging food. Its quality can vary from tree to tree, rarely rising to the gustatory level of the Chickasaw Plum. The American Plum was also used by the natives.

The Chickasaw Plum is one of my favorite trail and yard nibbles. As to its botanical name Prunus angustifolia. Prunus (PROO-nus ) is the Roman name for the plum.  Angustifolia (an-gus-tee-FOH-lee-uh) means skinny leaf (see photo directly above.) Umbellata (um-bell-LAY-ta) means like an umbrella for its shape. Americana (ah-mare-ree-KAY-na) means American.  “Chickasaw” is Choctaw for “old” and “reside” or as we might say in English, “the old place.” Incidentally, the Chickasaw Plum is native to Texas and Oklahoma but is naturalized through much of the United States where there are sufficient winter chill hours, such as central Florida north.

The Chickasaw plum and the American plum are closely related and hybridize easily. That means… yep, you guessed it. You can find plums in the wild which display some characteristics of each and can be impossible to identify.

 Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Chickasaw Plum: Small thorny tree to 25 feet, usually much smaller, flower small, under half an inch, 5 white petals, fragrant; reddish orange anthers, appear in clumps in early spring before the leaves, fruit bright yellow to red, round to oval, 1/3 to 1/2 inch in diameter, flesh juicy small plum, bark first smooth and reddish then with numerous elongated light horizontal hash marks. The leaf has a center troth. The teeth have yellow or red glands on the tip. Some times the fruit can stay green yet ripens to sweet.

TIME OF YEAR: Late spring in Florida, late summer farther north, usually around September. Locally the Chickasaw Plum is done fruiting long before the 4th of July. The Flatwood Plum can have fruit persisting into the fall.

ENVIRONMENT: The Chickasaw forms thickets in open areas, any open space in scrub forest, sandy soil, roadsides, fences, prairies, Pennsylvania west to the Rockies, south south to Central Florida, also California. Easily transplanted or grown from seed. It requires some chilling so won’t grow in South Florida and similar climates. The Flatwood is often a stand alone.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Chickasaw: Cherry-size plum, out of hand or for jelly, pies, preserves and wine. It makes a tart, bright red jelly.  The Flatwood was used to make jellies or to add to other jellies. It is usually too sour and hard to eat out of hand.

Blackberries, A Forager’s Companion

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 01:13

The center core remains when blackberries are picked making them slightly bitter. Photo by Green Deane

Blackberries: Robust Rubus, Food & Weed

Anyone who forages will eventually collect blackberries and blackberry scratches. These aggregate fruit are among the best-known berries in North American, if not the world.

As a kid I can remember collecting wild raspberries long before wild blackberries, though I don’t know why. Blackberries are standard foraging fair (see my article about Dewberries.)  What most people don’t know is that blackberries are a two-year plant, some say three years. The first year it sends up a tall cane, replete with thorns. The next year it flowers and has blackberries then dies. Some would add that the cane stays on another year and with its thorns to protect the patch. (I should add though that there are some naturally thornless blackberries.)

Ripe blackberries can be yellow or red but usually they are black.

Blackberry leaves were in the official U.S. pharmacopoeia for a long time treating digestive problems, particularly diarrhea. Their dried leaves make an excellent tea even when you’re healthy. We presume blackberries have been eaten for thousands of years by native American Indians and used medicinally. The ancient Greeks considered the species good for ailments of the mouth and throat and for treating gout. Interestingly blackberries were found in the stomach content the Haraldskaer Woman, an iron age bog body found in Denmark in 1835 but killed around 500 BC. Her last meal was millet and blackberries. Scholars think her death was probably a religious ritual. The millet would have been standard Iron Age fare. Maybe the blackberries were a special treat. Those blackberries would have also put her execution in early summer, perhaps to ensure a good fall harvest by appeasing an agricultural god.

For all their antioxidants and vitamins blackberries will mold within a couple of days of picking if not refrigerated. Do not wash until time of use because that, too, promotes mold. They ripen around June in the south, July in the north, give or take a few weeks. Locally they can be ripe by early May or totally past season by the Fourth of July. Picked unripe berries will not ripen. Black berries are also a good source of potassium, phosphorus, iron, and calcium. The seeds have Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.

Insects and wildlife like the blackberry as well. This includes honeybees, bumblebees, Little Carpenter bees, Nomadine Cuckoo bees, Mason bees, Green Metallic bees (my favorite) flies, wasps, small to medium-sized butterflies, skippers, hairstreaks, and several species of moths. Fowl like the berries such as the Greater Prairie Chicken, Wild Turkey, Bobwhite, Ring-Necked Pheasant, and various mammals from the bear to rabbit. In fact I recently saw a rabbit nibble on blackberry along a local bike trail.

In the rose family, just how many species of blackberries there are is anyone’s educated or non-educated guess. Some argue a few species with a lot of varieties and others argue for 250 or so species. Generally, ones that crawl are in one group and those that form canes are in another group. Then there are numerous unintentional and intentional hybrids, such as the Loganberry, Youngberry and the Boysenberry. Even the raspberry is a Rubus. The name, Rubus (ROU-bus) is the Dead Latin name for the blackberry and it means red hair.  There are several native local species. R. argutus, R. cuneifolius, R. flagellaris and R. trivialis (see the above Dewberry entry.) The ones I harvest annually I think are escaped cultivars in that they produce large, sweet berries consistently year to year.

Russia grows most of the world’s commercial blackberries, some 24 percent. Next is Serbia and Montegegro at 23%, the United States with 13%, Poland 11% and Germany 7 percent. Blackberries are native to every continent except Australia and Antarctica. However, in Tasmania and Australia the species are officially noxious weeds. Think about that: And edible plant on the noxious list. Must not be too hungry in those countries. In 2003 the Blackberry, Rubus occidentalis, became the official fruit of Alabama.

Lastly there is one interesting note about aggregate fruit. At least one expert says 99.99 percent of aggregate fruit are edible (such as blackberries, mulberries, logan berries et cetera.) Personally I would have liked to have seen listed the non-edible .01 percent.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION:

A woody shrub with canes that grow up but often bend over sometimes re-rooting. The canes grow the first year and fruits during the second year, then they die. Canes are 3-6′ tall; green at the growing tip, elsewhere brown or reddish brown with stiff prickles, straight or slightly curved. Can be am inch through at the base. Leaves alternate, usually trifoliate or palmately compound; long petioles. Leaflets up to 4″ long and 3″ across; can be twice as long as wide. Leaflet is usually oval with coarse, doubly serrate edges; may have scattered white hairs on the upper surface, lower surface light green and hairy.  Flowers, to an inch across, have 5 white petals and 5 green sepals with pointed tips; Petals longer than sepals, rather rounded, often wrinkly. Numerous stamens with yellow anthers. Blooms late spring to early summer for a month; little or no fragrance. Drupes, actually aggregate fruit, develop later in the summer;  ¾” long and 1/3″ across,size varies with moisture levels. Berries at first white or green eventually turn red then black. Seedy, sweet.

TIME OF YEAR:

Depending on climate, spring to late summer

ENVIRONMENT:

Full sun, neither too wet or too dry, mesic conditions

METHOD OF PREPARATION:

Numerous:; Fresh, frozen, canned, used for wine, making ice cream, juice, pies, jelly, jam, and best of all when eaten fresh on the trail.  Dry leaves can be used for tea. Leaves can be dried as is or fermented which improves the flavor significantly. Fermented or not they should be dried. Young shoots can be peeled and boiled in one or more changes of water. Running the fresh leaves through the rollers of a pasta machine is a good way to crush them for fermentation.

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