The Onion Flower

Writer and Horticulturist


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Wildcraft Wednesday

It’s been raining so much lately that it hasn’t been easy getting out to forage for wild foods. To make up for the rainy weather I’ve concentrated on gathering tea herbs, some are wild but most grow in my garden.

In the garden I harvest pineapple mint, chocolate mint, spearmint, lemon balm, lavender, monarda (bergamot), anise hyssop, violet leaves, catmint, raspberry and blackberry leaves. Add to this the wild mint, ox-eye daisy petals, roses, mallow flowers and red clover that I’ve gathered wild. These are the flavours that I like best in my tea, sometimes I’ll open a few decaffeinated green tea bags to add to the mixture and up the anti-oxidant factor. I either use the mixture loose in a tea ball if I’m making a pot or stuff it into tea bags with a fold-over flap that I purchased online. These I find most handy since they come in various sizes and work best for bringing tea in my thermos.

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Pineapple mint, slow growing and non-invasive in my garden

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Red monarda petals I’ve been harvesting

Generally speaking herbs are at their most flavourful before they flower, although I don’t always get around to picking them in time. After I pick my herbs I let them sit on the back porch for a few hours to wilt and so that any critters that might be hiding can take the chance to leave. After that I gently soak them in water, letting dirt sink to the bottom. If they’re on long stems and it’s a dry day outside I’ll sometimes clip them to the clothesline, although drying in a dark place is best to preserve the essential oils. For small herbs I’ll strew them on newspaper sheets or put them in paper bags to dry. Removing the stems from the leaves will speed up the drying process. I have also used a dehydrator in the past but it’s not usually necessary with something as thin as herbs, I tend to use it more for drying fruit with a high moisture content.

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Mint drying on newspaper

Once everything is well and truly dried I seal them in glass jars until I’ve gathered all my herbs for the summer, at which point I’ll decide what kind of blends to make and label the jars accordingly. I sometimes add spices or dried fruit peel as well such as lemon or ginger for a tea that’s more warming. It’s a very comforting feeling knowing you have enough hot soothing tea to get you through a cold winter.

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Dried tea herbs in jars

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Violet leaves, lemon balm and rose tea. Pale straw colour with a soft rose scent.

 

 What’s your favourite tea blend?

 

 

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Tea For Two

The night-time hum of the dehydrator has been constant lately. It’s a welcome sound and it gives off a bit of heat which is nice with the cold nights we’ve been having.

Last week I harvested many of the herbs I’ve been growing for tea.

Peppermint, Spearmint, Pineapple Mint, Chocolate Mint

Anise Hyssop

Chamomile

Although I normally dry herbs in the summer by hanging them in a warm sheltered area, these herbs are damp and risk mildewing if they’re not dried quickly; hence the dehydrator.

Dehydrator

I’ve been making some of my favourite winter tea blends using everything I’ve grown: a motley of different mints, lemon balm, anise hyssop, bergamot, sage, lemon thyme, chamomile, catmint, catnip and stevia. I’m also adding some of the herbs I’ve foraged such as red clover, violet leaves, yarrow, mallow flowers, rose hips and raspberry leaves. Violet leaves and rose hips in particular pack a wallop of vitamin C  and are great for helping to fight cold symptoms.

There are times when only the right cup of tea will do. When you might want something that cools a hot, itchy throat like mint or raspberry leaf or maybe you need to be comforted and soothed with chamomile and lemon balm.

Do you have a favourite tea ?


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Eat Your Wilderness

Wild Grape Leaf

Last weekend I signed up for a ‘wild food workshop’ run by Amber Westfall, local wild food enthusiast, gardener and blogger. http://unstuff.blogspot.com/ She brought 20 people to her plot at the Kilborn Allotment Gardens and walked us through a list of 15 edible and medicinal plants that were growing freely in the surrounding fields and in her garden. Although I’ve been harvesting garlic mustard, dandelion and wild violets myself this spring I still shy away from other plants that I’m not comfortable identifying or who’s use I’m still unsure of. Thanks to this workshop I can now safely identify (and eat!) wild grape leaves among many other useful plants. A quick walk in the field near my workplace identified wild grape vines growing everywhere.

I was inspired by the snack Amber had made for her workshop participants and so Dolmades were on the menu. She made a vegetarian version for us while mine contain ground lamb but they are versatile and taste great with any filling. Wild grape leaves have many uses; they can be fermented like sauerkraut, shredded and added to stir fries or used to fill almost anything.

As more and more wild foods get introduced to my diet I’m finding that food really is everywhere and the variety of what’s available is exciting and tasty. Expanding the repertoire of what’s in your diet not only gives you the opportunity to be healthier it also displays the ecological diversity of what grows close to home. Food and medicinal plants that were brought here by European settlers are now often considered weeds because of a loss of knowledge on our part. We need to keep eating and using these plants or they will disappear into obscurity. When we buy all our fruits and vegetables in large grocery stores we mostly eat food that has been deemed relatively easy to raise, harvest and transport using mechanical methods; that cuts out a lot of good food. Anyone who grows organically or chooses heirloom varieties knows that the best tasting, most nutritious things take a little more work. Unless of course, you let nature do the work for you and eat it from the wild!

Dolmades

Grape Leaf Dolmades

Cook one cup of rice or chick peas and put aside. Brown a small chopped onion and roughly 1 cup of ground meat in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add a handful of chopped herbs, anything works but I used what was available in my garden which was dill, fennel and mint. Mix the meat and rice mixture and let cool.

Medium to large grape leaves are best, try to get them before they become dark green and tough. Cut out the stem, being careful not to rip the leaf. Wash your grapes leaves, then layer them in a large bowl or dish and cover them in boiling water. Let sit until the water becomes tepid and you can handle the leaves. Put the leaf vein side up and put a teaspoon of filling at the stem joint and roll up, folding the sides in at the same time. The procedure is no different from making cabbage rolls. Put them seam side down into a greased baking dish, sprinkle a little olive oil on top and bake for 30 minutes in a 350 oven. Baking them is optional as you can go ahead and eat them as soon as they are filled but I like that they firm up and the leaf texture becomes slightly crunchy after this step. They taste best warm, not hot so let them cool and eat with your favourite dip. Yogourt and dill dip is a great accompaniment.

When picking your leaves remember not to choose from somewhere where they might have been sprayed with pesticides and ask first if you are on private property. Amber provided all her participants with a great set of guidelines for wild edibles harvesting, here is the link to her document: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1c_xg2MyCyQCH78tVU1h5H6XeRNlWrIpkYaKv8x8bZaI/edit?hl=en_US&pli=1


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Filling The Hungry Gap

Foraged Greens

I had hoped to have photos of vigorous pea shoots and tall greens by now but this ‘one step forward two steps back’ spring were having has delayed everything – both in terms of what I’ve been able to plant and what has yet to appear at the farmer’s market. Although there are many emerging perennials, for the most part my backyard is still looking rather bare.

This month I have eaten the last of many of my frozen and preserved bounty. The canned tomato sauce, rhubarb-strawberry jam, frozen zucchini and stored winter squash to name a few. This of course is the classic hungry gap. The time in between when the stored harvest from last year peters out and the vegetables of early spring have yet to arrive. I hope to be better prepared for this next year with more food preserved as well as more perennial vegetables planted, but until then I am getting my dose of leafy greens by foraging for edible weeds.

Wild Violet

I’ve been eating them in salads and sandwiches, wilting them with butter like spinach and making jelly and syrup with the edible flowers of violets and dandelions. Garlic mustard, dandelions and wild violets are abundant near parks, bike paths and outside your front door.

Garlic Mustard

The garlic mustard in particular infests my own garden and I have found the best way to keep it under control is to eat it. It has a slight garlicky smell and a pronounced mustard heat that gets stronger as the leaves get bigger – great in a sandwich. Dandelion leaves add a radicchio-like bitterness which complements the green freshness of the wild violet leaves. These are just three easily identifiable edible weeds out of the many that grow in urban yards. If you’re going foraging yourself be certain to know what you’re eating before putting it in your mouth(and wash it). A good guidebook is helpful but joining a guided walk is even better.

Dandelion

Remember to stay off private property and pick responsibly – don’t decimate an entire population of anything and be smart; don’t eat anything you suspect may have been sprayed with pesticide (or dog pee)!