Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sowthistle - Sonchus asper

Spiny Sowthistle - Sonchus asper is by far the most widespread of the Sonchus clan growing across the entire United States including Hawaii and Alaska and all of southern Canada. Of the five or so Sonchus species here in the states, its range is only second to Common Sowthistle - Sonchus Oleraceus whose growth range reaches further into northern Canada and also Greenland.

A Cool Weather Lettuce Like Plant

Spiny Sowthistle is one of at least four edible Sonchus in the southeast, all of which grow here in Alabama and have similar edible qualities about them.

The Yellow Flowers (Partially unopened) of Sowthistle
This genus' edibility goes way back to the Native Americans in this country even though they are supposedly originally native of Europe with some saying the genus was used for food there for over a thousand years.  Being in the Aster (Asteraceae) Family, sowthistles have edible and inedible relatives ranging from coneflowers to daiseys to cockleburrs.

The Spiny Sowthistle Leaves and Stalk

This is the time of year that Spiny Sowthistle likes to grow because it is considered a cool-season annual herb. That being the case, if you run across a sowthistle this time of year it's more likely to be S. Asper than S. Oleraceus which although a more common sowthistle (hence the name Common Sowthistle), it tends to grow more in warmer weather. You'll see them both growing usually in mid to moderate sunlight along roadsides, yards, cultivated areas, gardens etc. It is hard to miss this time of year once the stalk emerges above the dead plants of winter and the bright yellow flowers open up.

Mixed Sonchus Veggies

As the name Spiny Sowthistle suggests, it is probably the spiniest of the sowthistles.  The larger leaves are bitter and also have the sharpest spines, so handle with care.  You can take a pair of scissors and cut off the spines.  They are not an issue if the leaves are young and tender but don't be affraid to include a few of the older leaves as cooking also helps with the bitterness.

Back & Front of the Spiny Sowthistle

Don't confuse the Sowthistles (Sonchus) with the Wild Lettuces (Lactuca) although they both have almost the same edible uses.

Adding Washed Leaves into a Pan with Butter & Oil

It is considered high in vitamins according to some sources.  The tender leaves can be eaten raw and actually do resemble lettuce in looks and in taste.  Older leaves can be cooked and made more palatable by removing the spines mechanically or sometimes cooking breaks them down.  The stalks can be peeled and eaten raw or cooked like asparagus.  Flowers and flower buds are also edible.  Even the roots can be eaten raw or cooked when young by processing them to remove the fibers.

Notice the White Milky Sap coming out of the Stem

At least one source I’ve read says to clean the milky substance (latex) before eating, but good luck with that because it seems like an impossible task to me.  There are other sources that do not say you have to do that before eating however.  I will mention that the author of that source may have been scared of the white sap because in most cases the white is considered poisonous in other species and typically we stay away from them.  In this case, it isn’t that big of a deal.  If you’re sensitive, then you might be careful and sample in small pieces at first.

Cooking the Sowthistle Down - Add Flour as a Thickener, Salt & Pepper if Desired

Personally I tried the peeled stalk and it was a little bitter to me, but I’ve never been a celery type individual.  If it were cooked in a stew or something, I’m sure it would have been just fine, but I tried it raw (without peanut butter).

Meal Ready to Eat
One last note, it may be preferred to cut the spines off of the Spiny Sowthistle leaves. This takes time I know. The leaves I ate were young, but even cooked, the thistles were noticeable. I didn't say not edible. However, older leaves could cause mechanical injury if the thistles are left on. In simple terms, they could get stuck in your throat, to be cautious with this plant. The "stickers" are not near as noticeable with the other sowthistles.

Bon Appetite


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Henbit - Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule & Lamium Purpureum

Sometimes going by the name Henbit, but also going by the name Deadnettle, both Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule and Purple Deadnettle - Lamium Purpureum grow all across the entire United States.  Henbit (L. Amplexicaule) covers the entire U.S. and in our local area is far more common than the Purple Deadnettle (L. Purpureum) which is also called Archangel Red Dead-Nettle. 

Henbit is most certainly also called deadnettle because it is just one species of at least five (5) in the Deadnettle (Lamium) genus growing in the United States.  They fall under a large family of plants called the Mint (Lamiaceae) Family.

 Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule grows in mats or clusters
Henbit usually grows in great clusters, clumps or what some would call matts, anywhere from an inch or so tall to five or more inches.  Here you see it growing between the cracks in these brick outside of my garage.  You'll see it many times in disturbed planters, roadsides or other areas.  Its shape makes it hard to miss.

Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule  
Both species that grow in the southeast, the L. Amplexicaule and the L. Purpureum are both completely edible and can be eaten raw or cooked in salads or in anyway you might cook a vegetable.

 Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule
(Notice the "purple dots" that later mature into purple flowers)
Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule
(Notice the "purple dots" are now mature flowers)
Young Purple Deadnettle - Lamium Purpureum
Above you will see some of the differences between Henbit Deadnettle and Purple Deadnettle.
It seems to tolerate cold weather quite well.  You will see it mostly in the late fall, winter and spring but especially in the winter months and spring when there are less plants competing with it.

 Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule in pan with oil and butter (and wild garlic)
Right now there are plenty of wild onions and garlics visible growing in the yard.  All of them fall into the category of the "onion" (Allium) genus, which covers well over 100 different species ranging from onions to garlics to leeks and ramps.  We have to be very careful not to get it confused with other members of the Lily (Liliaceae) Family however because many of them are toxic or even poisonous.  A good rule of thumb is that if it has a bulb AND smells like an onion or a garlic then it is edible.  If it is a bulb and you can't really smell a strong onion or garlic smell when you bruise the leaves, bulbs or individual cloves, then it is not an onion or garlic and you should not eat it.  I just happened to be lucky enough to find what I know to be some wild garlic based on the smell and taste outside of my well house.  After cleaning it well, I cut up the leaves and the bulb and placed it all in a pan with some butter and olive oil.

 Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule Cooking Down
Turning the gas burner on "medium" it did not take long for the butter to melt and the henbit greens to cook down.  I did not have to add either salt or pepper.  Even the stems were tender cooking it this way.  The thing about henbit however is that prior to cooking the leaves are sort of rough, sort of like mustard greens, so a thorough washing in water is required to remove any sand or grit.  Doing so will make your experience much more pleasant. 

Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule - only Fragments of Wild Garlic Left
I did add quite a bit of garlic as you can see above.  The funny thing is that I do not like to eat onions or garlic straight out.  I enjoy the flavor of onions and garlic, but not the onions themselves.  This much garlic might be a little strong for some tastes, but as you can see, the henbit didn't even make it into a plate because I ate it right out of the pan as I was cooking it.  Last year I boiled some and it tastes rather good that way, but not near as good as the way I cooked it tonight.  Maybe it was the butter or the garlic or both, but whatever the case it competes successfully with any green.

Henbit can be eaten raw on salads as well, but it certainly is not my favorite that way.  It has a course texture when raw, which disappears when cooked above.  Boiling still leaves a little texture but helps tremendously.

This "weed" grows in great abundance around these parts and is popping up everywhere now (January) so it should not be difficult for you to find some if you are in a mood to try something different and experiment.  Good luck to improving your foraging and cooking skills.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Making Wild Homemade Vinegar

What do we do with our creative energies when we get bored and want to try something different? People answer that question in many different ways but as for me; I'm beyond the mid life crisis motorcycle cravings even though some of the largest rides at Six Flags still excite me. What I am saying is that for me I've decided the safest thing to do is to transcend the norm of collective society through diversification over a broader conglomerate of multifarious unconventional (yet legal) distractions. Now that I have you, I might as well tell you that the process of making homemade wild vinegar might disgust you. You may not even like vinegar to begin with, but after reading this, you may never eat or cook with vinegar again, but if that's the case, then don't read up on how bees make honey because that may gross you out also and honey is way to good to never eat again. You may never be able to vomit honey as good as the bees do, but you may be able to make better vinegar than your friends can purchase at the local grocery store. Matter of fact, you never know what strain or flavor you will "catch" and then "make" into your very own unique strain of vinegar until you try.

Catching vinegar bacteria in the wild is not as difficult as it may seem. The vinegar you buy at the store all comes from what is called a "mother". If you're wondering why a particular brand of vinegar that you buy at the store tastes so consistent, it's because it all comes from the same mother. Other brands and flavors have different "mothers", and now you are about to have the knowledge to create your own mothers. The only problem is that you won't know who the daddy's are, and you probably don't want to see them anyway.

I know all this talk about mothers and daddies sounds sort of confusing, but it will make perfect sense to you soon. So far, you've learned that we must catch a wild mother in order to make vinegar. A mother is simply a wild vinegar bacterium, some may call it a glob of vinegar yeast. A trap to do that is very easy to make with just a few dollars and a little knowledge. Once you catch the mother, and you decide that you like the flavor of the vinegar that she produces, you can use her over and over again to make fresh batches of vinegar with the same flavor. However, you have to know that it might take you a few tries to catch the "flavor" mother that is palatable to your tastes, but that is part of the fun.

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Preparing to Add the Mothers to the Brew

First you have to make a trap to catch the wild vinegar mother. You'll notice in the picture above that at this point, I have skipped a couple of steps. In the picture above, I have already caught the mother and I am placing it in some malt liquor.  You can use similar containers to the ones shown in the picture to make your traps, or simply save some milk jugs or two liter bottles to tie up in a shady place outside somewhere for your trap.  My traps have been out for nearly three months now and I brought two of them inside this evening to pursue the next step in the process which is to 1) collect the mother (s) out of my mother traps, clean them and place them in some malt brew that hopefully has a high alcohol content and no preservatives. Preservatives could kill the vinegar bacteria and that just won't do for our little experiment. I chose Olde English "800" Malt Liquor for two of my batches and chose white ale for my one other batch (Shock Top Belgian White Ale). I have a couple of more traps that I will harvest another night.  We'll see if the beer and ale I used have preservatives or not if my bateria dies and does not produce vinegar. If the mothers die, I made a mistake. If they live, then hopefully they will make good vinegar.

Well, you may not know how to make alcohol, but the process is a little similar. In making alcohol, yeast is added to sugar, placed in a warm, dark environment and as the yeast eats the sugar, it excrement is the alcohol (and you thought making vinegar was gross). The more concentrated the sugar and yeast, the higher the alcohol content.
With vinegar, yeast and sugar still places a part except the bacteria (yeast) eats the sugar (just like int he early stages of home brewing) and then you place the mother in the malt liquor and the mother (yeast) then eats the alcohol and products the vinegar as the byproduct.  In making wild vinegar, all you do is make a sugar water trap with some sort of fermenting "bait" to attract vinegar flies. Yes, I said flies. The vinegar bacteria is on their legs and it has to get mixed with the fermenting sugary liquid in your trap so that it can then eat the sugar and grow into the mother we are needing to later mix with the alcohol. When the mother starts eating the alcohol, it continues until the entire batch is turned into vinegar. All vinegar mothers were started from the very same humble fly to mother origins, so try your best not to be condescending towards process. Worst case scenario, you'll catch an awful tasting strain of wild vinegar that you can throw away or play tricks on your friends with (I wouldn't do that to my friends ;o). Best case scenario, you might catch a strain that is sweet and delicious and once you catch it, you'll have it for many years as long as you feed it every now and then.

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A Grape Vinegar Trap after Two Months

The above trap was out for a couple of months. Basically get yourself a plastic container and place in it four or five cups of water and a cup or two of sugar. As bait, you can place a fresh banana peel. I am also experimenting with smashed grapes and apple peels.

Today, wine makers usually purchase store bought "wine yeast". That's cheating compared to how they did it thousands of years ago. Grapes have some "natural" yeast on the outside of the skins so during the fermenting process, the yeast came naturally. However, people usually purchase the store bought wine yeast now a days because they know it will throw a safe flavor when making large batches of wine. After you make your trap, you need to hang it in the shade somewhere during fly season, basically during late spring to early fall. Keep the lid off, but protect it from over flowing if you get a lot of rains. Once every few days or at least once a week, shake up the mixture to keep things stirred up a bit.

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A Mother Ring Formed at the Bottom in the Remaining Liquid

Don't do like I did though and leave the lid too loose when you're shaking it because you might spill out your ingredients on the ground. I got lucky though. Even though I spilled most of one trap out, as you can see above (the mother ring), the little bit left in the bottom of the container made a perfectly sized mother.

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This Big Mother Came out of the Larger (Grape Skins) Trap

The picture above is a good example of what happens with a larger trap, extra sugar, grape skins and two extra weeks of growth.

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Washing the Mother

The mother feels like a huge noogie. There may be some dead flies in your trap, but you can wash all of this off. If anything is mixed with the mother, you can just tear the bad parts off and discard. Wash the mother thoroughly. Washing with well water will not kill the mother as the entire glob is bacteria. I personally wouldn't use chlorinated city water.

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Placing the Mother into the Malt Beer

Once you clean your new found mother, you can place it in the beer. Make sure it has no preservatives. The bacteria will eat the alcohol and turn it into vinegar. Notice the "holes" in the mother. The mother when stretched out looks like Swiss cheese. The holes are easy to account for. The mother formed on the top of the sugar water and there were round grapes floating there also, so the mother grew around them leaving holes behind when I pulled it out.

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All Mothers Labelled and in Place on the Shelf


As I said, no preservatives; it is harder to make wine work, although I'm not telling you not to try it, only that your time might be wasted because many commercial wines have bacteria killing chemicals that will destroy your vinegar bacteria.

The length of time varies at this point but it could take around three months or longer. Just keep check on your vinegar batch from time to time. It should start smelling like vinegar and that's a good sign and don't worry about the bacteria. When the time is right, you will pour off some vinegar (it's easier with a spout on the bottom of your container) and either drop in some sulfide tablets (purchased at a homemade wine making store) or through other sterilization methods.  Once the bacteria is killed chemically or by heating, the product is safe to eat on salads or to cook with.

For reference purposes, I'll tell you who put me onto this idea of catching your own wild vinegar and setting the traps.  His name is Green Deane...  You can watch his video on it (and other things) at

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

COMMON MILKWEED – Asclepias Syriaca, Perennial Forb/Herb

Common Milkweed (Asclepias Syriaca) has always intrigued me since I became aware of its edibility as a teenager.  It has a very distinct look about it and stands out from other plants as if it is saying "look at me, I am different", and different is good; at least" I taste very good and smell very good". 

Family - Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed Family), Genus - Asclepias (Milkweed)

COMMON MILKWEED, Asclepias Syriaca

I can't remember if the first picture of Milkweed I saw was in my Army Survival Manual back then as a child or if it was in my first pack of edible wild plant survival playing cards, but either way, I can remember the exact location of the first time spotting it.  It was a single plant about two feet tall growing at the edge of my parents front yard.  I still remember the milky white sap that came out as I broke one of the large leafs off the main stem.  However, I didn't eat it until years later and I had never eaten the flowers until  this weekend in Herbal Class with Darryl Patton, the Southern Herbalist near Gadston, Alabama, showing us how it's done.  He took me and the rest of the class by the largest stand of milkweed I have ever seen in my life.  You see, Common Milkweed just isn't as common in the south after all.  It is much more common in the northern U.S.  and that is truly our loss and their gain because it is a very important food plant if found in quantity.

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Milkweed's Fragrant Flowers Attract Monarch Butterflies and Bumblebees

The flowers of this plant are easy to recognize both by looks and their very fragrant smell. To my nose, they smell like Gardenias which is one of my very favorite smelling flowers. Monarch Butterflies and other insects basically live off the flowers.

Common Milkweed is found in dry soils, along roadsides and woodland margins, fields and meadows in the southeastern U.S. but it is much more densely populated (common) in the northern U.S. and southern Canada.

It is a perennial plant with upright downy stems and can grow up to 6 feet tall although I've never seen it over a few feet in height. The leaves are opposite, thick and leathery with wavy margins. The plant has a white milky sap or latex that is visible when breaking a piece off and the flowers grow in dense heads that can be dull rose, purple or greenish white. The smell of the flowers is extremely fragrant. The fruits come later on and are clusters of green warty/hairy pods having seeds attached to a feathery like structure.

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Flower Umbels Important Food for Many Insects

The flowers have high glucose content and can be used as a sweetener. The inner bark can be used to make a very strong cordage and fiber. It was used a lot by the Native Americans and its fiber quality has been compared to hemp in studies.

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The Leaves Grow Opposite of Each Other

Common Milkweed is in just about every edible wild plant book that I own but the truth is that there are 175 species in the Milkweed Family in the United States. The troubling part of that statement is that many of these species could potentially be poisonous. That is why it is so very important that you take the time to properly identify this plant as Common Milkweed and let me tell you, it is well worth the little bit of trouble as it's a very valuable food plant and it's not very hard to properly key out its identification. This plant has been wrongly attributed in many books over the years as being bitter until boiled several times. This nasty rumor was started by the foraging author Euell Gibbons in the 60's in his book Stalking the Wild Asparagus. Some think he may have mistakenly eaten either Dogbane or some other Milkweed besides Common Milkweed. That one mistake led other foraging authors to quote the same mistake for many years afterward.

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Easy to Distinquish Leaves

Notice the leaf margin and easy to distinquish leaf veins.

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Preparing the Flower Umbels for Cooking

The fragrance of the flower umbels will absolutely amaze and refresh  your senses.   The smell of these flowers remind me of Gardenia and that's a good thing because Gardenias have one of the best smells.

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Warty/Hairy Green "Pods" Form Later in the Season

The green warty/hairy pods are edible when young, but later are full of seeds connected to a feathery like structure.  The pods later dry and open releasing the seeds that are individually connected to a white fluffy/feathry type material which helps disperse them across larger areas by the wind.

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Adding Flowers to the Egg

In class we cooked the flowers two different ways; in an omelete, some may call a quiche, and also we dipped the flower umbels in batter and then fried them. 

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Easy to Cook - Add Cheese as Desired

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HMMMM..... Time to Eat

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Batter Frying the Flower Umbels

My favorite was the batter fried Milkweed flowers.  Unlike fried Elderberry umbels, you can eat the entire flower umbel, stem and all.

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Yes, It was Very Good

The final product tasted better than it looks in the above picture.

Although most books only mention Common Milkweed as edible, Daniel Moerman discusses a few more species of Milkweed that the early Native Americans utilized in his book "Native American Food Plants". Knowing which of the 175 species of milkweeds are edible is important as there are many of them that are considered poisonous.

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias Incarnata) - Range covers most of the U.S. except the west coastal states.  Unspecified "heads" used in deer broth or added to cornmeal mush.  Unspecified food cut and the dried heads stored for use in winter.

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias Verticillata) - Range covers most of the U.S. except the west.  Unspecified leaves and young shoots boiled with meat.

Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias Viridiflora) - Range covers most of the U.S. except the west.  Unspecified fresh roots used for food; plant also used to spice soups and pieces of root stored for winter soups.

Young leaves and young shoots can be eaten as a vegetable.  Flowers can be eaten as shown here or like preserves after being cut up and stewed.  Immature flower clusters can be cooked and seasoned with salt, pepper and butter and then used in soups.  Properly prepared "young green" pods can be used like okra in soup or boiled as a vegetable.

As you can see, there are many uses for Common Milkweed.  I only wish more of it grew here.  There were other plants that we sampled raw or cooked and ate during class this weekend.  I'll be posting more pictures and writing more blogs over the coming weeks about the other edible wild plants we ate, and also more of my own edible wild plant cook outs using locally found edibles.

If you are interested in learning more about plants, particularly their medicinal qualities and how to properly identifiy them, then I highly recommend that you look into Darryl Patton's Herbal Class which is located in Gadsden, Alabama.  I've had wild plant foraging as a hobby since being a teenager, and I have to admit, until finding Darryl's class, I just haven't found any other people that are that interested in my hobby and that has really suprised me over the years because it is such a fun and very fulfilling hobby.  It just doesn't make sense that as many avid outdoorsman there are, more aren't interested in this particular hobby.  I can remember getting bored or feeling guilty sitting up in a tree waiting on a deer to pop out which didn't have a chance once I got it in my sites, but with edible wild plants you can get adrenaline "hunting" for certain plants and you never know what you will find that tastes good.  It is most certainly a hobby that opens up your food menu to a vast array of diverse tastes which you won't find on the menu elsewhere.  That alone should get some of you more interested.

If you would like to contact "The Southern Herbalist", or find out more information about Darryl's herbal, survival or homesteading classes, look him up at .  Darryl Patton apprenticed under the late Tommy Bass and literally spent thousands of hours studying under him.  He's also a published author and has numerous books and CD's under his belt.  If you'd like to learn more about the great herbalist Tommy Bass, Darryl has a great biography of him at .

Sunday, June 17, 2012

STINGING NETTLE – Urtica Dioica, Perennial Forb/Herb

One of the most nutritious and best tasting wild vegetables in the southeast is called stinging nettle, botanical name Urtica Dioica. There are several subspecies of this Urtica Dioica, an there are numerous other "Urtica" species which are edible but certainly not all nettles in the Urticaceae (Nettle) family are edible, and some may even be toxic, so as long as we stick to the edible ones we will be just fine.

Stinging Nettle - Urtica Dioica

There are actually a couple of subspecies of Urtica Dioica here in the eastern United States; Stinging Nettle, U. Dioica ssp. Dioica and the California Dioica ssp. Gracilis. As you can see from the picture above the leaves are toothed and usually pair off in twins off the main stem. The other thing to look for is the stinging hairs on the stems, hence the name stinging nettle.

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Stinging Nettle - Urtica Dioica

Notice above that the leaves alternate with Stinging Nettle, unlike false nettle and wood nettle.

Don't let the "sting" scare you away because usually after a short period of time after picking the plant wilts and the stinging sensation completely leaves, but if not it is most certainly removed by boiling, and there are really no poisonous look a likes that has these leaves AND thing stinging hairs on the stems. There is a plant called false nettle that resembles wood nettle, however false nettle does NOT have the stinging hairs but instead has smooth stems.

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Stinging Nettle "Stinging Hairs" on Stem

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False Nettle - No Hair on Stems - DO NOT EAT THIS

The False Nettle in the picture above is NOT edible that I am aware of.  I boiled some, just like I boiled Stinging Nettle and I can tell you that this plant produced a brown, tea like water while boiling and Stinging Nettle produced a green liquid.

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Stinging Nettle Leaf (Top), False Nettle Leaf (Bottom) - DO NOT EAT FALSE NETTLE

Stinging Nettle grows in open fields, yards, gardens, roadsides and other similar settings. Wood Nettle and False nettle both usually grow in shaded canopies with filtered sunlight and look more similar to each other than False Nettle and Stinging Nettle. Always keep in mind to look for the stinging hairs.

The leaves are completely edible and can even be eaten raw under the right conditions.  Young stems and leaves can be cooked as a vegetable or steamed.
Some references say to stay away from the older leaves on older plants in summer and fall because their prolonged use may contribute to developing gritty particles called cystoliths which can irritate the kidneys. The gritty particles are noticeable, and the older leaves have a much stronger taste anyway, so it won't be hard to tell what's what.

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Mess of Stinging Nettle Ready to Clean

It's easy to prepare the leaves, just pick off the stems.  Young and tender stems can also be eaten as well, but obviously the older ones are too fibrous to eat.  Stinging Nettle is very high in minerals which are easily digested, particularly iron and the vitamins A and C. 

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Steaming with Water, Butter, Salt and Pepper

I placed a little water and some butter in the boiler to be steamed.  I only steamed them for about 4 minutes.  Any water that is collected is also nutritious. 

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Sautee with Butter and Seasonings

I sautéed some of the leaves in butter as well. I added salt, pepper and garlic. I have to admit, they were good, but a bit strong on the butter and garlic side. Half and half with oil and butter and less garlic would have been better. This plant doesn't really need much to season as they are good by themselves.

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Finished Product, Absolutely Delicious and Nutritious

There are other ways to cook this plant. The leaves can also be dried and used later in soups or in making an herbal tea called nettle tea. Nettle soup is a very popular wild soup in Europe.
This is one of the top vegetables as far as taste, edibility and nutrition. It has other valuable uses as well. Leaves may be dried for winter use and were often used to make the nutritious nettle tea. Also this plant has chemical properties allow it to be used to curdle milk. The plant has been popular for making cordage over the years and also has medicinal uses.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Yaupon Holly", Ilex Vomitoria

Yaupon Holly (Ilex Vomitoria) grows in the southeastern United States, north to Virginia and west to Texas.  It is in the Holly family and is often planted as an ornamental tree, even though it grows wild.

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Yaupon Holly, Ilex Vomitoria
Fresh right off the Tree

Yaupon Holly (Ilex Vomitoria) makes great tea. No, I didn't say American Holly, which is much better known for making a great tea. American Holly does not have caffeine at all, however, it goes back to the early American Colonists and was used extensively in the eastern U.S.  It was especially popular in the south during the civil war when supplies were cut off from the north. Matter of fact, American Holly tea was recorded as being drank right down the road from us in Alabama's first capital Old Cahawba. As popular and historical as American Holly is, Yaupon Holly goes back even further than that and was used extensively by the early Native Americans, particularly in the southeast, oftentimes during purification rituals.

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Yaupon Holly, Ilex Vomitoria
Fresh right off the Tree

And Yaupon has a lot of caffeine, just as much if not more than coffee. Matter of fact, it is said that it has more caffeine than any other plant in North American and after drinking a couple of glasses of this delicious tea, I believe it.  Not only does it contain the caffeine, but it also contains theobromine which is another stimulant that is found in chocolate and some types of tea leaves as well.

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Yaupon after air drying for a couple of months.

Because of the high caffeine content, one must be careful not to drink too much. One expert told me six small leaves per cup. That is probably about right, although I used 6 large leaves per cup which tasted good, but may have had a little too much caffeine.

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Yaupon Holly, Dried Leaves

The Native Americans would use it for purification ceremonies and to test their manhood, so to speak. They would fast for days and then make a very thick and rich concoction with the leaves and drink it. Eventually they would throw up (hence the Vomitoria part of Ilex Vomitoria). The man left standing without throwing up, well, was the man.

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Yaupon Holly, Crushed Dried Leaves

Now, because of the "vomitoria" history of the plant, some people are a little gun shy and will tell you that you must air dry the leaves until brittle and then roast the leaves or you might experience the vomiting sensation, but keep in mind that the Native Americans fasted for days and did not eat anything, and then they made a very "thick" brew. Personally, I just air dried the leaves for a couple of months and then boiled them for five minutes, then poured the tea in a pitcher and boiled them again for another five minutes.

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Crushed Dried Leaves inside a Tea Bad on to Boil

I had absolutely no bad feelings at all, only a slight caffeine buzz after a couple of glasses. The tea was delicious. I have since found out that roasting half of the leaves and air drying the other half would have given a different, maybe even better taste, but to me, it tasted better than tea you buy in the store, which leads one to wonder, "Why did people get away from Yaupon Tea to begin with?". Maybe coffee replaced it, or maybe the "Vomitoria" part scared people away, but either way as the old saying goes "your loss is my gain".

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Alternate Way - Crushed Dried Leaves in Strainer Submerged in Boiling Water

I like this tea so much that I want to plant a Yaupon Holly in my yard and incorporate it into my life style. Not only is it good, it is full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and packed with antioxidants.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

"Man of the Earth" or "Wild Potato Vine", Ipomoea Pandurata

Wild Potato Vine is also called "Man of the Earth" or "Man Root", Morning Glory and Bigroot Morning Glory.  It is a perennial vine with heart shaped flowers and purple stems.

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 White  funnel shaped flowers with ruby/purple throats are a good indicator.

Wild Potato Vine and I have a history.  It has been eluding me for years.  Yes, I have been searching for this plant with the giant edible tuber for at least  seven years, in my spare time of course, and today, I finally found it so I couldn't wait to cook and try it.  So today is a great day and I feel wonderful.  If I were still the deer hunter I was in my youth, it would be like bagging a trophy buck.

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The heart shaped "morning glory" shaped leaves are another indicator.

The Latin name for Wild Potato Vine is Ipomoea Pandurata.  Daniel Moreman states that the Cherokee Indians ate the roots for food.  Elias talks about the edibility and so does the Peterson Field Guide, which also states the raw root is a purgative, so I'd suggest cooking first.

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The large edible tuber is the final indicator.  It even smells like a sweet potato.

The trouble with locating the wild potato vine is that it is part of a very large family of vines called morning glory that all look very similar; matter of fact, there are around 68 species in the morning glory family.  I have dug up many a morning glory over the years only to be disappointed not finding the large edible tuber associated with "Man of the Earth".  However, like most edible plants, once you locate it and eat it the first time, you'll never forget it so it makes it much easier to find.

Once you find the tuber, you will know it.  They grow up to 24 inches long straight down and there is a little bit of digging involved but it's worth the trouble.  This particular tuber was 12 inches long and 2 1/2 inches in diameter.

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I know this looks like you might need a chainsaw to cut, but a kitchen knife is all that's needed.
The root/tuber looks like a large vertical yam and wild yam is also a vine with heart shaped leaves, although some wild yams are poisonous.

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 Boil out any bitterness in the older tubers with a few changes of water.

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Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees and bake 40 minutes like baked potatoes

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It looks like a tree, but it's actually tender and pliable.

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Cut off the outer bark and cut the inner tuber into smaller strips. 

These tubers smell like sweet potato.  The baked strips above feel slightly sticky.  I ate a few unseasoned and I have no comparison to the taste as it has a taste all its own.  The texture however, reminds me of steak, or maybe roast. 

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The final product with butter, salt and pepper.  Delicious.

If you look at the above picture, it should remind you of meat.  It does me.  Actually, Man of the Earth has a texture that reminds me of eating meat; maybe a roast, thick porch chop or even the texture of steak.  The smell is like sweet potato, but not the taste.  I truly enjoyed cooking and eating this.  It was definitely not a starvation food for the Native Americans because it actually tastes really good and it is very nutritious.   The tubers are usually one of the most nutritious parts of just about any plant.  It is where the plants energy is stored.  In the plant kingdom, this would have been a great find for any Native American as it would have supplied food and calories for him for several days.

I read that the root was often cut into strips, dried and stored for later use.  The size of this plant supplied way to much food for me to eat, so I will dry it in the sun and try it later just like the Native Americans did.