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July 18, 2011

Picture of the week (Milkweed)

Filed under: Outdoors,Picture of the week,Wild Edibles — Marcus @ 2:00 am

The theme this week is going to be Milkweed, it is fast becoming a favorite plant of mine, easy to identify, very edible, and has pretty flowers to boot. I will have some info up later this week on how to prepare young milkweed pods to eat.

Besides being human edible, milkweed is the primary food for the caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly, it also provides them with a natural defense since every part of the milkweed plant is extremely bitter, and in turn the caterpillars and the resulting butterflies are so bitter that other animals do not want to eat them.

I took this picture a couple of weekends ago at Paul & Jess’ new farm.

July 11, 2011

Picture of the week (Honeysuckle)

Filed under: Outdoors,Picture of the week,Wild Edibles — Tags: — Marcus @ 6:52 am

So once again, its been awhile since I have posted, same reason as before, summers are very busy for me 🙂

This weeks picture is of a honeysuckle bush that is loaded down with berries.  I found this at Paul & Jess’ new farm when I went out for a walk before anyone else was up on Sunday.  It took me awhile to identify it, all the matches on the fruit led to pin cherries or choke cherries or some kind of cherries.  However all cherries have a toothed leaf which this one does not.  It seemed that all the matches I found for the leaf was not close to the fruit it is bearing.  I ended up just searching Google for “Trees with red berries” and an hour or so later I had a pretty solid idea this was a honeysuckle.

So the big question, is it edible? Depending on the source you range from delicious to deadly.  There is a LOT of misinformation out there on honeysuckles from my research, and it seems to come down to the fact that there are quite a few species of honeysuckle.  The general consensus on sites I trust say that the berry is mildly toxic, it won’t kill you, but it will probably upset your stomach and maybe give you diarrhea.  There are a couple of the honeysuckle species that are edible, most notably Lonicera Caerulea (Blue-berried or Sweetberry honeysuckle), this appeared to be one of the only ones with blue fruit, but I did not research that much since the ones I found had red fruit.

If you do want a treat, from my reading, when the tree is flowering you can pick the flower and there will be a dot of nectar at the base of the flower that tastes like honey, it seems that you can eat this from any of the honeysuckle family.

So in summary, very pretty, bright fruit, but for the most part inedible.

May 16, 2011

Picture of the week (Trillium Flowers)

Filed under: Outdoors,Picture of the week,Wild Edibles — Tags: — Marcus @ 2:00 am

I love finding and getting pictures of flowers in the wild.  Finding cool flowers in the wild means more to me than a huge manicured garden, because this happened all on its own, and its up to you to discover it.  Also flowers are one of my best indicators on both identifying a wild edible and also as markers for me to know where we are in the season.  Since I take so many pictures each year, and many times of the same flowering plants, I can compare the dates on a particular flower between years to see if we are having an early or late spring, etc.  When I am having problems identifying a particular plant, if I can catch it while it is flowering, I can almost always positively identify it, then the next year I should know it much better even before it flowers for the year.

The trillium has wonderful flowers as well as being a wild edible, the leaves when it first comes up can be used as a cooked salad green, however by the time the trillium flowers the leaves are too bitter to consume.  I missed trying the trillium this year because I was not totally sure of my identification of it (and I had mistaken a Jack-In-The-Pulpit as a trillium anyways which would have been a shocking mistake!).  From my reading you do not want to pick trilliums as an edible most times anyways as they are not that abundant, so you should only pick them if there is a large amount in the area already.

May 13, 2011

Wild Edible: Cut-Leaved Toothwort

This is quickly becoming one of my favorite edibles to run across.  I am a huge fan of horseradish on things, and when you process the root of toothwort, I can barely tell the difference between the two!  I have found toothwort basically everywhere I am currently out at, but this picture was taken on the Zimmerman trail.

I am collecting a bunch of toothwort right now to make up some of my own horseradish sauce, just need some more time to dig up some more of it.

May 10, 2011

Wild Edible: Wild Ginger

I found this while I was out on one of my walks this last weekend on one of the islands on the Chagrin river.  I was just walking out and this plant caught my eye, I had taken over a hundred pictures already, but I knew I recognized this plant from somewhere and that I hadn’t run into it in the wild yet.  As per my usual when I got home and downloaded all my pictures, I flipped through my 3 wild edibles books and a couple websites I use and I found this one in the first pass.

Now that I know what it is, I am going to try and go back and collect some to actually try.  From reading you can use this as a replacement for the commercial (Asian) ginger you would buy in the store, it is most likely not quite as potent as the Asian Ginger, but that just means you use a bit more of it.  I am quite excited to have found this!

April 26, 2011

The wonders of Wild Ramps / Leeks

Filed under: Food,Wild Edibles — Tags: , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

During one of my long runs for my marathon training a couple weeks ago, I was running through a woods trail and I ran past what seemed to be a field of greens that popped up almost overnight, I had been through about 3 days earlier and there wasn’t anything green, and all of a sudden, 4 inch tall plants.  I stopped for just a moment to investigate and I quickly realized that these are the wild ramps that I keep hearing about (I broke off a leaf, and it smelled very much of onions).

I had never heard of ramps until this last year, which seemed odd to me because its the kind of thing I normally seem to know about.  However it turns out I have just always known them as Leeks.  As far as I can tell, ramps and leeks are the same thing, it seems like if you find them up north they are called leeks and further south they are called ramps.  I found a couple references that mentioned they may be different plants, but they are so closely related it would take an expert to tell them apart.

Ramps are an easy wild edible for you to safely identify, wild onions do not have any real poisonous look alikes, as long as you can break a leaf and it smells like an onion, and the same with the root, it will be from the onion family and is edible, if you pick something that the leaves or root does not smell like an onion, you have found something else that I wouldn’t suggest eating!

So for the past two weeks, Meagan and I have been having ramps in everything.  I picked a bag full a couple days after I initially found them, and then I have since been back and picked another good sized bag of them.  These are a great edible, because of how easy they are to prepare, and the fact you use the entire plant, not just the bulb or root of the plant.  For the most part, we have been just chopping the whole plant up to use in stuff, we haven’t been treating the leaves and the bulbs different.  The only place we used one or the other was in some BLT sandwiches we had tonight, we just cut the leaves off to put in with the lettuce in the BLT.

We have probably done a dozen meals so far with the ramps, but to just highlight a couple of them:

The above picture is of some perogies we made, they are just frozen perogies we prepared, we then stir fried some portabello mushrooms in butter and at the end we added some fresh chopped parsley (from the aquaponics) and we tossed in the ramps.  You don’t want to cook the ramps, you just want to wilt them.  Put the perogies together with the mushroom and ramps, then add some fresh chopped tomatoes and a bit of sour cream and you have an easy awesome meal!

This picture is just a simple baked potato with shredded extra sharp cheddar, sour cream, and some diced ramps.  Also we found that using Hawaiian pink sea salt really brings out the flavor.  Also on the plate is the prepared ramps, just dice up a couple of those per potato and you are good to go.

We are already dreading the end of the ramp season, we still have a few weeks left, but we are getting quite spoiled by having a nice bag full of them any time we feel like getting them out.  You could substitute green onions for them most places, but they are way more expensive (especially since the ramps are free if you can find them!), and the ramps do have a unique flavor all their own.

April 25, 2011

Picture of the week (Trout Lily)

Filed under: Picture of the week,Wild Edibles — Tags: , , — Marcus @ 6:13 am

I have been very busy the last couple weeks trying to get out and find as many wild edibles as I can.  Last Thursday I headed out on my Kayak and went down to one of the islands on the Chagrin river to explore it and see what I could find there.  Wow, I found so much.  I am still working to identify a bunch of what I found last week.  One plant that I just learned about this year is the Trout Lily, I have been finding Trout Lily’s all over the place now that I know what to look for, and they have made a nice snack while I am out, the bulb root is edible on these and it tastes a bit like cucumbers.  However from reading Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, you only want to eat a few of them as Trout Lily’s can have the effect of being a mild emetic (A substance that induces vomiting, like syrup of ipecac), however you would only run into that if you were to feast on the plant from my reading.

Also of interest, all of the greens in the background of this picture are wild onions.  Almost the entire island was covered in them!

April 4, 2011

Picture of the week (Marsh Grass)

Filed under: Picture of the week,Wild Edibles — Tags: — Marcus @ 2:00 am

I got this picture while I was out scouting for wild edibles last week, I loved the way the head of this marsh grass looked against the sky.  In this area, you will find this particular grass growing almost anywhere there is water, I have been out trying to find a place where I can pick cattails, but everywhere I go is just packed solid with this marsh grass.  I decided to do some research on this and found out its technical name is Phragmites, and it appears that it is an invasive species (Which doesn’t surprise me with how prevalent it is here).

I was a bit surprised to find out however that this is a wild edible, I haven’t taken the time yet to try it, but I will in the near future.  From my research it appears the new shoots are edible in the spring (you peel off the hard outer layer, and the inner part is edible), and the roots of it are edible as well.

If you didn’t recognize it from the shot above, here is a picture that shows the full plant.  Looking back, this marsh grass has made it into a picture of the day before, it is the tall grass you can see in the background on my very first picture of the week I did on the blog here (http://www.kd8itx.com/blog/2010/05/picture-of-the-week/).

March 24, 2011

Importance of positive identification of wild plants

Filed under: Outdoors,Wild Edibles — Tags: — Marcus @ 2:00 am

Last weekend I spent several hours out in the local parks walking around in the woods and field edges looking for wild edibles.  One of the first plants I found I thought was a Cutleaf Toothwart, it is an early spring plant that grows in the woods in fairly dense groups, I saw a picture online that looked just like what I was looking at out in the woods.  However with closer inspection, I found it definitely not in the Toothwart family.  Take a look at the following two pictures:

Actual Toothwort Plant (Picture from the internet)

Miss Identified Toothwort Plant (Picture I took)

Looking at the picture of the Toothwort plant I see that it is growing in a dense group, in the forest.  Also from the description I see that it is one of the first things to come up in the spring.  They are both about the same height, and they both have jagged edges.  However, when I looked up Toothwart in the Peterson Field Guide for Edible Wild Plants, there was two things that they make mention of that I didn’t see in the plant that I had found:

  1. Leaves are supposed to be in groups of three (A Trifoliolate leaf pattern), on the photo on the right, the leaves seem to be in groupings, but they are definitely not groups of three, on closer inspection I see that they are opposite (2 leaves/node).
  2. In the guide I kept seeing references to the plant being peppery, or a horseradish substitute.  I cut into the roots of the plant and crushed the leaves to smell them, I should have noticed a peppery smell, but it didn’t have any hint of that.

In the end, I went through all three of my plant identification books and I didn’t find out what my mystery plant was, that most likely points to it not being edible (though not necessarily poisonous).  I am going to stop back by in a couple weeks as I noticed it looks like it is going to flower, and I will be able to tell much more by its flowers as to what it is.

When I am working to first identify a plant, I spend quite a bit of time doing it, before I will ever try to eat it, I normally will have looked it up online in multiple places, checked my books, etc.  I want to know beyond a reasonable doubt that the plant I am looking at is truly what I think it is.  It can be difficult because the plant you are looking at out in the woods rarely ever looks like the pictures in the books, and plants look so very different at their different stages in a season.  Once I have gone through the exercise of identifying a plant, when I run across it again, I typically know almost instantly what it is, and I have confidence in my identification.  When I have learned to identify a plant, I typically know its shape, its habitat, its smell, texture, etc.

This is one of the reasons I am such an advocate of actually getting out into the woods, fields, etc and actually identifying plants, I talk to people all the time that say they are interested in wild edibles, and I find out the most they have done is read about them.  Reading is the first 10%, it is an important step, but you will never be able to go out and really know what is edible until you go plant by plant and truly identify and try it in the wild.

I have mentioned a couple times my books that I have, these are invaluable when trying to identify a plant, I like to cross reference with several things, also knowing the basic leaf patterns and shapes is critical to make sure you are comparing apples to apples (the leaf patterns was one of the red flags that spawned this article).  For a quick guide to the different leaf patterns take a look at this pdf: (http://www.fairchildgarden.org/uploads/docs/Education/teacher%20training/green%20machines/Leaf%20Classification.pdf).  Also below are the books I currently have that I use for reference:

  1. Petersons Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants – This has great descriptions, and is the gold standard on plant identification books, however almost all the plants are just pen sketches, they are very helpful, but, the plant in the outdoors doesn’t tend to be done in pen.
  2. Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Bradford Angier – Not as many plants as the Petersons Field Guide, but it has color sketches (still not photo’s), and it has much more information about how to use the actual plants.
  3. Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons – Not so much an identification book, but more of a cookbook I would say, however the descriptions will help you with telling if the plant you have smells correct or has the correct texture, etc.

To close with, here is a much larger picture of the plant I miss identified, see if you can pick out how the leaves are different.  Also, when I am out in the woods, I find it helpful to take lots of pictures from different angles so that when I get back home I can use them to try and identify the plant.

Update 4/3/2011:

I haven’t stopped trying to figure out what this plant is, and I finally figured it out, this is a Pipsissewa plant, it is actually a medicinal herb that the Native Americans used to cure a great many illnesses.  To read more about it, I found a really great article on the internet with a lot of information about it: http://www.squidoo.com/pipsissewa


March 21, 2011

Picture of the week (First Spring Shoots, Grape Hyacinth’s)

Filed under: Outdoors,Picture of the week,Wild Edibles — Tags: , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

On Saturday, I spent the afternoon walking around the different parks in Mentor.  I am out scouting where I am going to take my wild edibles group that I am starting.  It is still a bit early to find much of anything, but I probably found at least a dozen edibles and I have a couple of places that I think I can use for taking the wild edibles group.

While I was out walking, this was the first spring shoot I ran across, I am not sure what it is yet, I will probably stop back by in a couple weeks to see if I can tell then.  I think things will be turning green pretty soon, just from when I was out in the woods Saturday until I went back again on Sunday to try and confirm one of the plants I found, there were several more things coming up.

Update: 4-14-2011:

I was just back to check on these shoots tonight and I can now identify these as Grape Hyacinth’s. These particular shoots have been pretty well eaten by the local wildlife, however there are plenty more in the immediate area that still had flowers, and they were pretty easy to identify from there.

Interestingly enough, the flowers on the Grape Hyacinth are edible, I picked about a dozen of the flowers and I ate a couple of them, they do not have a lot of taste, but they were pleasant enough. In reading they say it should taste a bit like sour grapes with a bitter aftertaste. I noticed the sour taste, but they were not bitter at all, and they didn’t really have much in the way of a grape taste. I would munch on them though next time I run into them.

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