Foraging Daisy (Bellis perennis)

Foraging Daisy (Bellis perennis)

Foraging Daisy (Bellis perennis)

The dainty Daisy is a picture of innocence: it seems to have been made for adorning children’s heads. But there is a lot more to these lovely little flowers than meets the eye.

Etymology

The English name ‘Daisy’ means ‘Day’s Eye’ because the Daisy opens its flower head in the morning and closes it at night.

But the origin of its Latin name is a lot more surprising and somewhat controversial. Bellis means ‘pretty’ – an obvious choice for this little herb. But Mrs Grieves thinks it may have been named after a dryad known as Belidis. Another common name is ‘Baldur’s Brow’, linking the Daisy to the Norse Sun God Baldur. Another association links it to Bellona, a Goddess of war. Judging only by its appearance, this suggestion seems improbable, but its traditional medicinal uses give a deeper insight.

Properties of Daisy

Daisies first appear around the Spring Equinox, when the Sun enters Aries, which is ruled by Mars. The ancient herbalists used Daisy as a vulnerary – an herb to treat wounds, and as an anti-inflammatory and diaphoretic,  for treating fevers. Inflammation, fever, and wounds all suggest a ‘Martian’ connection.

Mars also leaves its signature on the taste sensation. The leaves and roots are quite astringent, almost hot, but very unlike the heat of chillies. Instead, it is a spreading, radiating warmth, not a blistering burn.

The leaves are a little rough and moist, and have a demulcent quality. The old herbalists found Daisy’s heat suitable for treating conditions characterized by retracted, cold phlegm. Daisies loosen congestive conditions caused by an excess of cold moisture -as the ancient herbalists would put it.

Modern clinical herbalists have all but forgotten the pretty English Daisy. They use her sister, the Ox-Eyed Daisy, instead. Both can be used for similar complaints. Ox-Eyed Daisies are an excellent remedy for chronic bronchial conditions, asthma, and whooping cough. It is also used to treat nervous excitability and, prepared as a lotion or ointment, as a wound herb.

Wild herbs are not only nutritious but also therapeutic – and none more so than the early spring herbs. They often provide just what our bodies need to restore vitality after fending off winter bugs.

Daisy as Wild Food

 

Recipes

 

Daisy in the Salad:

Daisy leaves and flowers can be added to spring salads. The young, tender leaves are rich in vitamin C, and their heat produces a diaphoretic effect.

Daisy Capers:

Conventional Capers are made from the unopened flower buds of the caper tree (Capparis spinosa.) But inventive foragers use the same method on other flower buds, such as Daisies or Dandelions (only use edible flowers!)

The basic recipe is quite simple:

Pick about one cup of Daisy buds, wash, and cover them with about 500 ml of salted water. Quickly bring to a boil and strain through a cheesecloth or finely meshed strainer.

Place the buds into a stone jar and pour 500 ml of boiling vinegar over them.

Make sure they are completely covered.

After about 4-5 days, pour the buds and vinegar into a pan and, making sure the buds are covered, bring to a boil.

Let them cool, jar and cover with jam cling film to prevent the buds from coming into direct contact with the air and turning mouldy.

Daisy Soup:

Daisy soup is quick and easy to prepare and can be made at almost any time of the year. Use all parts of the plant: roots, leaves and flowers. (Only use the roots if Daisies are prolific in your area.) Picking the plants is easy, but if you have heavy clay soil, be prepared for clots of dirt to cling to the roots, making cleaning them tedious.

Pick about 6-8oz of flowers (roots, leaves and tops), clean well and chop them up (not too small).

Quickly sauté them in a heavy pan with a few drops of olive oil.

Add half a cup of white wine or apple cider, let the alcohol fly off, and stir in 1 litre of vegetable broth. Season to taste and finish off with a dash of cream. Serve with croutons.

Foraging Chickweed

Foraging Chickweed

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Once winter has settled in, foraging has come to a standstill. We have to rely on previously gathered supplies. Except, if you are lucky enough to live in a temperate climate zone, there may be at least one herb that defies the elements. You might have spotted it in your veggie plot: a little sprawling herb with heart-shaped leaves and star-shaped flowers that belongs to the Pink family known as Chickweed.

Chickweed is fairly hardy. It defies the elements and can pop up early in the year when other herbs are still asleep. 

 

Chickweed is one of those herbs that gardeners love to hate. They try everything to get rid of this persistent ‘weed’ that pops up anywhere humans have toiled to cultivate the ground. It is only natural. 

 

Chickweed is one of those herbs that blush at bare soil and quickly spread out to cover mother earth’s nakedness. Chickweed binds the soil, prevents it from washing away and drying out – the consequences of standard gardening practices. 

 

Alas, as soon as this little healer herb appears, gardeners grit their teeth and start a crusade. How dare this audacious herb invade their plot?

 

But instead of battling it, you could welcome it as a gift. Chickweed is a blessing, not just for the earth but also for us. It is rich in chlorophyll, minerals, and vitamins that are sorely needed at this time of the year. And all we have to do is clip its tender tops. 

 

Chickweed has a mild flavour and is incredibly versatile. It can be used like alfalfa to garnish sandwiches, soups, and salads. It can also be incorporated into omelets, fillings, sauces, dumplings, or quiches – the possibilities are endless. But it should always be used fresh and finely minced, as the stems can be somewhat stringy. When cooking with Chickweed, bear in mind that it cooks down to practically nothing in no time at all, so just add it at the last moment and don’t cook it for long. Overcooking would only diminish its benefits.

 

Chickweed also offers some valuable medicinal properties. The old herbalists describe its effect as cooling and soothing. They used it as an expectorant for afflictions of the upper respiratory tract, like an irritable cough. The same cooling and soothing properties also calm inflamed sores, rashes, itchy skin conditions, and burns. Traditional herbalists used it to make ointments and poultices for treating eczemas, boils, and abscesses.

 

Sometimes it is made into a tincture, but fresh works best. If you want to concentrate its effect, it can be juiced. But it does not keep very long. It can be frozen, but that will diminish some of its goodness. 

 

Warning: some people have reported allergic reactions to Chickweed collected from chalky soil. Like many other members of the Pink family, Chickweed contains saponins, and these can be toxic in large quantities.

Foraging: Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Foraging: Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Foraging Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Autumn is my favourite foraging time. The seeds are ripening, the nuts are swelling, and mushrooms are making their elusive appearances. Even when things have seemingly died off, one can dig for roots and rhizomes below ground. 

 

Evening Primrose is a great autumn crop for foragers. The tall, lanky stalk with the large, somewhat ghostly, pale yellow flowers is a familiar sight. Yet its true beauty is revealed at night when the flowers open fully and their subtle scent perfumes the air. 

 

Habitat

Evening Primroses are not particularly fussy. They are happy with poor, sandy soil as long as it gets enough sun. Waste grounds, railway track embankments, neglected corners of the yard all provide a happy habitat for them. 

Edible parts:

All parts of the Evening Primrose are edible.

Leaves:

Evening primrose is biennial, forming a rosette in the first year and the stalk and flowers in the second year. The leaves of both the first and the second year’s growth can be cooked or used fresh – but they are a bit hairy, and may not be to everyone’s liking. Try a small amount first to see if you like the flavour, or mix them with other herbs.

Flowers:

Evening Primrose has a long flowering season, from June to September. The early flowers only open in the evenings, exuding a beautiful, sweet scent. Later, they open during the day as well. The flowers are mildly sweet-tasting and can be used to decorate salads. Or try the buds before they open in stir-fries and such.

Seeds:

The seed pods ripen in the autumn. The elongated capsules contain quite a lot of tiny seeds. But if you think you might be able to press your own Evening  Primrose Oil, I’ll have to disappoint you. The seeds are minuscule. It would require a ton of them to make the endeavour worthwhile. And, what’s more, the pressure needed to press the seeds is so great that it would produce a lot of heat, which would destroy the beneficial properties of the oil. Try using them like poppy seeds instead. But don’t expect to get a lot of nutritional value from them. The amounts typically used in cooking and baking are too small for that. Grind the seeds before adding them to your recipes to release the oil. Left whole, they would simply pass straight through the digestive system without leaving a trace of their nutritional benefits.

Read more about the medicinal properties of Evening Primrose Oil

 

 

Roots:

The roots are perhaps most interesting for the forager. But remember that only the first years’ root is used, which is easily identifiable by its distinctive rosette of leaves. The flowering shoot does not form until the spring of the second year. By this time, it would be too late to dig for the root. But, look around the ground near a stand of second-year plants, and you will soon spot some yearlings. It can be hard work to dig up the long reddish taproot unless the soil is very light. But they make an unusual root vegetable for bakes and stews with a slightly peppery taste, reminiscent of black salsify.

Evening Primrose rosette
Evening Primrose root

Recipes

Roasted Winter Vegetables

  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Evening Primrose Roots
  • Large onion
  • Garlic

Clean and peel/scrub vegetables well. Cut into 2″ chunks. Coat with olive oil and salt. Keep them separate and sprinkle with spices (e.g. sprinkle the parsnips with curry, the carrots with coriander seed powder and the potatoes and evening primrose roots with Chinese 5 spice mix).

 

Quarter the onion. Separate the garlic into cloves, no need to peel. Preheat the oven to about 425 °F

Place all ingredients on a baking tray and bake for about 30 – 50 minutes on a high shelf. (cooking time depends on the size of the vegetable chunks – check regularly)

 

You can add a few sprigs of fresh sage and rosemary towards the end for additional flavour. (Putting them in at the beginning would burn them)

 

Evening Primrose Fritters

Not suitable for ‘fat-free’ fans, but delicious nonetheless.

 

Prepare a standard batter:

  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 TSP baking powder
  • 1 TSP salt
  • 1 TSP oil

 

Cut the Evening Primrose root into long pieces, not too thick, and dip each piece into the batter.

Fry in very hot oil until golden brown.

A deep-fryer works best, but if you don’t have one, pan-frying will do.

 

Evening Primrose Patties

Cook the Evening Primrose roots until tender (you might want to blend with other root vegetables).

Mash with butter, stir in one egg and a little flour and/or oats to make a sticky dough.

Season to taste. Form little patties and pan-fry on each side until golden brown.

Foraging Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria)

Foraging Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria)

Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria L.)

Synonyms: Bishop’s Weed, Ground Elder, Jack Jumpabout

For foragers, this early part of the year, when Mother Earth is just awakening, is a delight. The first tender bits of greenery are poking their leaves through the earth crust, turning the ground green once more. This time of the year is particularly wonderful for foraging young and tender greens. One of the earliest wild edibles that you can always count on is goutweed. Although many gardeners hate it and consider it an absolute bane, I actually love it. There are few wild edibles that are so widely available, and so tasty!

A  gardener’s nightmare?

I am probably the only person ever to have said this! Ok, it is quite invasive. Trying to confine it to a particular spot in the garden is quite hopeless as it spreads via its roots. And when you try to weed it out you are sure to break them. But before you know it – hey presto! -it magically regenerates even from tiny bits of root that are left in the soil. It is truly resilient.

…Or a blessing? 

This resilience makes Goutweed one of the most abundant herbs.  In mild climates, it pops up as early as February and it is incredibly versatile. s. and can be used with just about anything. I have made soups and salads as well as fillings for things like empanadas, cannelloni and lasagna. Of course, you can just serve it as a green vegetable, or make a pesto with it. It is also one of the best candidates for the ‘greens jar’.

What is a ‘greens jar’

A greens jar is where all the surplus herbs end up when you have picked more than what’s needed for the next meal. I dry them, crumble them up and put them into the jar. I love this concept of an ever changing herb-mixture ready to use in soups and what not when those herbs are no longer in season.

What is Goutweed?

Goutweed is a member of the ‘Apiaceae’, also known as ‘Umbillifer’ or Parsley family. As such, it has many cousins that are commonly used in the kitchen, whether as a vegetable or as a herb or spice, such as Carrot, Fennel, Coriander, Parsley and Dill, to name but a few. However, do not let that deceive you into thinking that all herbs of this family are safe for human consumption.

A positive ID is key

Some members are extremely poisonous – such as, for example, the deadly water hemlock, the herb that killed Socrates. So if you intend to pick ANY of these umbellifers for food, make sure you are absolutely certain that you have ID’d them correctly – a mistake could be fatal and they are not the easiest family to ID.

However, you will be pleased to know that Goutweed does not look much like Water Hemlock, so the chances of mistaking it are quite remote. US-based foragers are more at risk of mistaking it for poison ivy. The leaves of both of these plants sprout in threes and are of a similar size and shape. One distinguishing feature is that Goutweed will NEVER grow like a vine. But poison ivy does not always grow as a vine either.

Distinguishing features

Once the flowers are out they are easier to distinguish. Goutweed has a typical umbel shaped flower while poison ivy has trailing flower clusters. Goutweed never develops any woody parts and older leaves are not glossy. Prior to unfurling, the very young leaves are shiny and bright green. Goutweed does not look hairy. It usually occurs ‘en masse’ and individual plants grow to about 50-60 cm tall.

Distribution

Goutweed is common throughout the temperate zone of western Eurasia and has been introduced to Britain and Ireland, to the US and Canada as well as to Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand and Japan.

History

While it is most common as a ubiquitous garden weed, it can also sometimes be found in the wild. These wild plants are garden escapes. Originally, the Romans spread it throughout northern Europe. In medieval times, it was commonly grown in monastery gardens. For a while, it was even sold at the market. But due to its invasive nature, it eventually lost favour with gardeners and was banned from their plots. And so, it escaped into the wild where it now mingles with nettles and graces damp ditches and partly shaded lanes.

Nutritional benefits and uses

As the name suggests, Goutweed has been used to alleviate the pain of gout. But this use has largely gone out of fashion with modern herbalists. Nevertheless, it is a useful cleansing herb, stimulating the processes of elimination. It is a diuretic, but it also gently stimulates digestive functions and metabolism. Nutritionally, it is a good source of vitamin C and A, and minerals such as iron, manganese, and copper as well as trace minerals such as boron and titanium.

Cooking with Goutweed

Goutweed is very aromatic and has a flavor that is similar to Parsley and Celery. It is very versatile and can be used like spinach. The young, still folded leaves are best. Older ones are tougher and develop a more pungent flavour. The nice thing is, even once it is harvested it will soon grow back 🙂

Recipes

 

Goutweed Soup

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • Handful of mushrooms
  • 2 large handfuls of young goutweed, washed well and chopped
  • Vegetable stock

Sautee the onions till soft. Add mushrooms and garlic. Add the potatoes and sautee for 3 minutes or so. Add Vegetable stock (about 1 litre) and cook the soup until the potatoes are soft. Add the goutweed and simmer for about 5 minutes. Puree, dilute to desired consistency and add salt, pepper, chilies or other herbs to taste.

Empanada filling

  • Onion, cut fine
  • Mushrooms, cut small
  • Tofu, crumbled
  • Garlic, minced
  • Goutweed, chopped

Make your empanada pastry (many people just use a basic shortcrust recipe, but feel free to make the dough as fancy as you like.) Chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Roll it out in 6″ diameter rounds.

For the filling, crumble the tofu and fry in a little bit of soy sauce until crispy. Set aside.

Sauteé onions, mushrooms, and garlic add seasoning

Add the tofu bits.

And finally, stir in the chopped goutweed and sauté until wilted. You should now have a pan full of delicious filling for your empanadas. Cool the filling for an hour or so.

If the mixture is wet, add some bread crumbs to absorb the moisture.

Preheat the oven to 350°F = 176°C

Line a cookie sheet with baking paper

Place a spoonful of filling in the centre of your empanada round and fold it over to make a parcel. Press together the edges, with a little water if necessary to make them stick. Glaze with egg-wash (egg yolk mixed with a little water). and arrange the empanadas on it. Bake for about 30 min.

No doubt you’ll come up with dozens more delicious recipes – that is the wonderful thing about things like Goutweed, which just provide you with a tasty, healthy green to add to just about anything.

Sugar Maple – A Sweet Miracle

Sugar Maple – A Sweet Miracle

Sugar Maple is an iconic tree of the northeastern parts of the US. In the fall, when its foliage turns bright orange and red, thousands of people come from far away just to dee this fabulous color display. But that is just one facet of this beautiful tree with its rich and varied history.

Botany

Sugar Maple is a stately tree of the Acer family. It can reach a height of up to 130 feet. Its growth rate is relatively slow, however. A mature tree can reach an age of about 200 years. In the southern range of its distribution, it associates with Oaks, while in northern and northeastern regions, it grows among birch and beech woods.

Habitat and Distribution

The Maple Tree family is widely distributed throughout the world. Altogether, there are almost 200 different species and about half of them occur in the northern hemisphere. Most of them are indigenous to central and eastern parts of Asia but some are indigenous to Europe and the Mediterranean. About 13 species, including the Sugar Maple, are indigenous to North America.

Its distribution ranges from southern Canada down to Arkansas, Tennessee, and the southern Appalachian Mountains. Sugar Maple is the dominant and most conspicuous tree of the eastern forests famous for its showy display of brilliant red, orange, and yellow autumn foliage.

Ecology

In the woodland ecology of the northeastern forests, Sugar Maple plays a key role. It provides nourishment for various species including the white-tailed deer and plays host to a number of insects.

Environmental factors are the main threat to the Maple population. The growth of mature trees is decreasing and ‘infant mortality’ among saplings is increasing, due to acid rain. Because of their shallow but extensive root systems Maple trees are especially susceptible to surface soil pollution. Global warming also poses a threat.

Pigmentation

The striking coloration is due to the breakdown and dispersal of chlorophyll, which reveals other pigments such as carotenes, tannins, and anthocyanin, which react differently depending on the pH level of the soil.

colourful maple leaves

History

Sugar Maple’s distinctive palmate leaf has gained world fame as the national emblem of the Canadian flag. It has served as the state tree of four US states (New York, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin).

Economically, Sugar Maple is one of the most valuable hardwood trees of the northeastern forests of the US. Its wood has a fine grain and is lighter, yet stronger than that of White Oak, making it useful for the manufacture of many household items such as rolling pins, cutting boards, ladles, and spoons. Carpenters, woodturners, and instrument makers value its beautiful close grain. As a durable hardwood, it has also been used for floor boarding and skirting-boards, etc.

But Sugar Maple is one of the few trees whose most important economical role is not the value of its timber, but the yield of its sweet-tasting sap.

Maple Sugar and Maple Syrup

European settlers first learned about this sap and the technique for tapping it from First Nation Natives, who had been using it as one of their most important food sources for as long as anybody could remember.

Yield

When the snow starts to thaw and life returns to the woodlands, the tree sap begins to rise. Sugar Maple produces copious amounts of sap, which contains about 3% of sugar (on average). To produce 1 gallon of strong-flavored maple syrup requires 30 -4 0 gallons of sap. The sap is boiled down to evaporate the water and thus concentrate the sugar content. The ideal density of 66. 5%. sugar. At higher concentrations, the syrup begins to crystallize while at lower concentrations it can easily spoil.

An average tree yields about 12 gallons of sap per season, which can be turned into 3 pounds of sugar. Large trees (at least 25 – 30 inches in diameter) can sustain 2 or 3 taps. Younger trees with a diameter of 10-12 inches (at about 65 years of age) only sustain one tap.

Maple sugar is now produced on a commercial scale.  Enormous amounts of sap are tapped for local as well as for international consumption. Vermont is the largest producer in the US today, followed by New York and Maine. However, Canada is the largest producer worldwide, covering about 75% of the international demand. Other species of Maple also contain sweet sap and can be used to obtain syrup, although Sugar Maple is by far the most productive.

Traditional sugar camps

Maple Sap TapNative Americans set up semi-permanent sugar camps in the forests to which they traveled for the annual ‘sugaring season’ (from about mid-February to early April). The camps usually consisted of two structures: a small birch-bark-covered lodge where the utensils were stored and the sugaring lodge, which also served as a temporary living space.

Every year, before sugaring could commence, the sugar-making lodge had to be freshly restored and repaired. The lodge consisted of one or two platforms set up along the inside walls, while the middle was kept as the cooking space.

Each camp harvested between 900 – 1500 taps. To set up a tap requires a diagonal 4″ incision to be cut into the tree at about 3 ft above the ground. Perpendicular to the cut the bark was removed for another 4 inches and a 6×2” wooden spout, usually made of Slippery Elm was inserted below. Beneath the spout, a birch-bark vessel was positioned to collect the sap.

Sugaring-off

The taps had to be checked regularly. Once the container was full, their contents were transferred to a larger pot which was placed near the edge of the fire and slowly heated. This process, known as ‘sugaring off’ was a delicate affair requiring great care. It was done at low heat so as to avoid excessive frothing and bubbling.

Birch bark containerBefore there were kettles, pots, and pans made of metal, the Native Americans used birch bark containers and vats made from moose skins. To heat the syrup, they would place red hot stones into these containers filled with the syrup. These were then cooled in the snow. Once the water had frozen into a sheet of ice, it was simply discarded.

The fire was kept going all night and people took turns to watch over it and to attend to the sap, cooling it and reheating the syrup, all the while stirring it with ladles made of maple wood.

When the syrup reached the right consistency, it was strained through a basswood mat, or through a well-worn linen cloth. For the final sugaring-off, all the equipment was carefully cleaned and scoured. The syrup was reheated once more and some bear grease or deer tallow was added to render the sugar softer and less brittle. Gradually, the the mass thickened and stirring it with the maple wood paddle was getting harder. As soon as it reached just the right consistency, it had to be crushed quickly so as to pulverize it. If cooled beyond a certain point the sugar solidifies crushing it becomes much harder.

The settlers soon learned the technique and adapted it to their equipment. Although the tools have changed, the process is essentially the same except for some small modifications that have simplified the procedure.

For Native Americans and for some of the small family producers ‘sugaring off’ was not just a commercial endeavor. It was a cultural event, an integral and important part of the annual cycle, and a joyous, festive time that heralds the coming of spring.

maple sugar sweets

Other Maple delicacies

Some of the thick syrup was used to make special delicacies. It was poured into fancy shapes which solidified as they cooled down. Another special treat was known as ‘gum sugar, which nowadays is known as maple taffy. To make this sticky stuff, the syrup was poured onto the snow, where it quickly hardened. It was then scooped up and portioned into small packets wrapped in birchbark.

Sometimes it is poured onto vanilla ice cream. Once it hardens, it can be picked up with a spoon or stick to be eaten like a lollipop. The settlers added their own variations to the range of Maple products. Among them, is a thick spread known as maple butter, maple vinegar (which by all accounts appears not to have been too tasty, but is said to improve with the addition of whiskey), maple beer, and maple punch.

Maple SyrupComposition of Pure Maple Syrup:

The flavor, abundance, and exact composition of sap depend on environmental factors such as the weather and the pH level of the soil. Little snow and deep frost during the early part of winter, followed by heavy snow, were said to produce the best harvest. Rain changes the flavor of the sugar and thunderstorms are thought to ruin it.

In contrast to white sugar, maple syrup and maple sugar are highly nutritious.

Carbohydrates (%):

  • Sucrose 62.65
  • Hexose (glucose, fructose) 0.5 – 3
  • Other trace sugars

Organic acids (%)

  • Malic 0.090
  • Citric 0.009
  • Succinic 0.007
  • Fumaric 0.004
  • Amino acids (%):
  • Phenols 300-960
  • Amino nitrogens 30-190

Minerals (PPM)

  • Potassium 1500-2200
  • Calcium 400-1000
  • Magnesium 100-300
  • Phosphorus 50-125
  • Manganese 5-80
  • Zinc 5-50
  • Sodium 1-25
  • Iron 1-15
  • Tin 0-25
  • Copper 0-2

Vitamins (micrograms/liter)

  • Niacin (PP) 276
  • Pantothenic Acid (B5) 600
  • Riboflavin (B2) 60
  • Folic Acid Traces
  • Pyridoxine Traces
  • Biotin Traces
  • Vitamin A Traces

 

Ethnobotanical uses

Native Americans also used Sugar Maple medicinally. Particularly the Iroquois medical tradition made ample use of it. It is included in compound medicines to purify the blood, while a compound infusion of the bark was used as eye drops to treat blindness. They also used the leaves to prepare a decoction that was used as a wash to treat the affected parts of a skin condition known as the “Italian itch”.

Forest runners would take an infusion of the bark together with another plant for shortness of breath, while the inner bark was used as cough medicine. The dried and ground inner bark was sometimes used as flour substitute. A purple dye was obtained from the rotten wood but it was rare, as the wood is quite rot-resistant.

Maple autumn foliage

Potash

The white settlers soon found it more profitable and less bothersome to turn their stands of Maple trees to ash which could be turned into economically valuable potash. Maple wood yields a relatively large amount of ash (4% compared to only 1% of Douglas Fir). During the 18th and 19th centuries, potash was a valued raw material destined for export to England. It was destined for the British textile industry, where it served as a vital ingredient in the processes of making soap, glass, and gunpowder.

In 1751, Britain even passed an act in Parliament ‘to encourage the making of Pott Ashes and Pearl Ashes in the British Plantations in America’. An acre of woodland could be reduced to 2 tons of potash – with a tidy profit for the farmers. Sometimes, however, it was their only significant source of income: in 1800 a ton of potash demanded a price of $200 – $300. Eventually, Thomas Jefferson stopped all exports of any goods including Potash as a reprisal against the search and seizure of American ships by France and Britain – with the result that illegal export (i.e. smuggling) became even more lucrative.

Recipes

 

Maple Gingerbread

Ingredients:

  • 2- cups flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons powdered ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter

Method

Sift together flour, soda, ginger, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg vigorously, and then stir in the maple syrup, sour cream, and butter. Mix cream and butter. Combine the flour with the other dry ingredients and then stir into the egg mixture. Pour into a greased flat pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350°F, or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Maple frosting is a tasty option.

Maple Wine

From “Valuable Secrets”, 1809

“Boil 4, 5, or 6 gallons of sap according to its strength into one and add yeast according to the quantity you make. After it is fermented, set it aside in a cool place well stopped. If kept for two years, it will become a pleasant and round wine.”

Foraging Wintercress – Barbarea vulgaris

Foraging Wintercress – Barbarea vulgaris

Winter is a tough time for foragers stuck in a northern climate zone. Leaves have fallen and are buried underneath the snow (or, in the mud, at any rate). Berries, if there are any left on the bushes, tend to look wrinkled, blemished, and listless. Nuts have long been gathered and stored for later use.  Those that have been left on the ground are now riddled with worms. So, what is a poor northern hemisphere forager to do?

Well, she might make a beeline for the pantry, where hopefully, she will find jars filled with delicious preserves. Jams, pickles, and chutneys will bring back happy memories of happy foraging days spent roaming through the countryside. Picking the gifts of the Earth for drearier times to come – like these drab old winter days.

Each mouthful of these treasures will lead you down a dreamy trail, not just reminiscing about the summer past, but also of the one to come. Winter Solstice has passed. Although it does not seem like it, spring is nearer than we thought. Three months down the road we’ll be off again, picking the first salad herbs and enjoying the first gifts of spring.

Those who do not live in the permafrost zone may be lucky enough to find a few green things hardy enough to withstand the winter. Cresses, for example, have no problem surviving a mild winter.

Take Wintercress, Barbarea vulgaris – a typical cress, easily recognizable by its typical rocket-type leaves and flowers. This tough little plant can be collected throughout the winter. It can even stay green beneath the snow.

Wintercress is rich in vitamin C and A and was valued as an ‘anti-scurvy’ plant until vitamin C became readily available throughout the year, even in northern climate zones. If you have trouble spotting its large-leaved, deeply lobed rosette during the winter months, you will probably notice it as one of the first herbs that pop up in the earliest spring days.

The leaves are best while they are young and tender, before the plant starts to flower. Young leaves can be added to salads much like rocket (arugula), which has a similarly tangy flavor. As they age the leaves turn tougher, rougher, and rather bitter. If need be, they can be used as a potherb, although it would not be the most palatable one. Boiling the herb in several changes of water may reduce the bitterness, but it would also destroy its texture and diminish its nutrient value. Better just to use it sparingly and in combination with other, less flavourful herbs.

The cress family includes quite a number of herbs that are of interest to the forager. They all start to sprout early in the season. Here is a good page to help with watercress identification: Barbarea vulgaris ID 

Recipes

 

 

Sandwich spread

  • 1 egg (hard-boiled)
  • ½ onion finely minced
  • 30g mayonnaise
  • 100g wintercress finely chopped
  • salt, pepper to taste

Blend the egg and the mayonnaise to make a paste, add the onion, wintercress, salt, and pepper. If you don’t like mayonnaise try crème fraiche, instead.

Wintercress ‘Spinach’

  • 250g wintercress
  • Knob of butter
  • 1 onion
  • 20g sugar or honey
  • Salt, pepper, coriander, bay laurel, cloves

Wash and chop the wintercress. Sauté with the minced onion and spices with just a little butter. Add a small amount of bullion if need be.

Wintercress Salad

  • 150g Wintercress
  • 1 mozzarella cheese (200g)
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Vinaigrette
  • Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper

Chop up the wintercress, slice tomatoes, mince the onion and garlic and cut the mozzarella into cubes. Mix well and serve with a simple vinaigrette.

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