Posts Tagged ‘Lambs Quarters’

Wild Edibles vs. Organic Gardening

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a daily lesson gleaned from our extensive yard and my intensive gardens, namely, that wild edibles are infinitely easier and more naturally prolific than fussy annuals or even some intentionally planted perennial vegetables. I have gathered bags and bags of dandelion greens this Spring, given them away to friends, blended them into smoothies, happily fed guests and ourselves on Goji Dandelion Red Lentil Curry, sauteed them, and even wrapped them around slices of raw Manchego.

I’ve made gorgeous salads of wild violets, and yesterday, I harvested a huge bag of lambsquarters and garlic mustard for an almond butter veggie curry dish served over millet. (Sorry, no recipe for that one … it’s basically just blended garlic mustard and lambsquarters with water, then two packets of frozen organic veggies mixed with the green water, almond butter, some red curry paste, homegrown dehydrated tomatoes, and fresh garlic. I toasted the millet in coconut oil for a few minutes before boiling it.) In 2012, stinging nettles were “my best crop,” and this year I even purchased some nettle plants from a local farmer. I put them in crates, because I feel bad introducing another “weed” to this already very wild yard:

Nettles in Crates

Nettles in Crates

Nettles in their prized spot in the shady Madison garden

Nettles in their prized spot in the shady Madison garden

The point is, we have been enjoying some prolific harvests (er, weeds) for months now, even though gardening season has only just begun. By leaving a portion of our yard wild, we also seem to have kept the rabbits less interested in our garden. Wish I could say the same thing for leaf hoppers: those things are voracious! They amplify the contrast between the wild edibles and organic gardening, although I visited an Amish friend the other day and was heartened to see her dwarf kale covered in Diatomaceous Earth just like mine below:

Diatomaceous Earth on tomato, dwarf Siberian kale, a very tiny Swiss chard, and oregano

Diatomaceous Earth on tomato, dwarf Siberian kale, a very tiny Swiss chard, and oregano

Note the heavy handed powder necessary to keep these plants somewhat uneaten. Note the heavy mulch necessary to keep the soil from drying out too fast and becoming overrun with never-ending dandelion fuzz. And now take a look at this lush spread of lambsquarters, first year garlic mustard (the second year’s the one you really want to tug out right away), dandelion greens, and soon-to-be-flowering edible daisies:

Wild Edibles

Our gnomes like this arrangement, too:

Wild Edibles and Gnomes

That photo actually includes three gnomes, but one is hiding behind the ash stump that now believes it’s 100 ash trees! We’ll need to trim it back, but faeries do enjoy the ash, even more than Stars and Moon Gazing Balls … although, apparently, they are quite pleased with the faery bling David and I procured on Tuesday. (I’ll save the rest of that for another post.)

Lambsquarters are quite pretty and pack a nutritional wallop:


Some people purposely plant these in their gardens. I did when we lived in Madison, but then I learned that lambsquarters grow pretty much everywhere. No need to plant! We have them in several pockets around our yard. High in calcium, copper and iron, superfood lambsquarters have 11 days worth of vitamin K in one cup! They are also very high in oxalic acid, so they require cooking. I learned that the hard way in Madison. I spent a few weeks blending them into fresh green smoothies and wound up passing a kidney stone one night. Holy Mother of God and Nature … never again!

I actually hadn’t eaten lambsquarters again until last night. Cooking them does break down the oxalic acid and release the nutrients. I’m not sure how to describe the taste — kind of like an earthy spinach or chard? They enrich everything you add them to, just please do remember to cook those guys.

One of our local friends recently suggested a wild foraging book called Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer’s Market, with 88 Recipes. I knew there was something else I wanted to check for at the library! Anyway, you can find lots of recipes online, but according to our friend, this book’s a keeper.

According to my back, the Faery Realm, and my would-be Lazy Gardener Self, wild edibles are also keepers — at least in the backyard. Out front, I pretend to exert at least a little influence with loads and loads of mulch and a few carefully nurtured herbs. I dream of the day when they, too, explore their invasive natures and take more active participation in the Mad Scientist’s Garden. Until then, my bags of greens keep me feeling it’s all worthwhile, even if I gather four to five times more wild greens than collards and kale. 😉

Wild Foraging and Weeds: Why Wild Things Make My Heart Sing

Anyone who follows me on Facebook, walks in the woods (or anywhere!) with me, peruses titles on my growing stack of library books, or visits our backyard may possibly have noticed a teeny tiny obsession with all things wild. This is not something new, but it has most definitely intensified since October 2010, when I took an Urban Foraging Class on my first visit to Madison. In years past, I delighted in dandelions, lambs quarters, nettles and purslane, with the occasional sorrel mixed in for good measure. My friend Cecilia showed me a wild strawberry bush and fig tree in Petaluma, and we spent some blissful times gorging ourselves on Nature’s bounty. Perhaps it’s the faery in me, but I’ve always loved weeds, especially clover that attracts honey bees and Leprechauns … as well as forget-me-nots and all things foresty.

In addition to the woods, medicinal herbs have also held a space close to my heart, especially since I first began my Medical Intuitive practice while doing an apprentice trade with a Seattle herbalist of 50+ years (no longer practicing). In exchange for me “reading” his clients, he taught me what he knew about Chinese, Ayurvedic and Native American Herbal Remedies. We both learned lots and his clients benefited from our joint efforts. In my pre-“I not only believe in past lives, but I offer past life readings” days, he would assure me that I must have spent many lifetimes working as a healer because I seemed to just “know” all the remedies. I’ve gradually learned more on a conscious level, and I’ve obviously gotten over my reluctance to attribute any past life infiltration of knowledge! Still, one thing I missed in working with him was the experience of actual plants. All the herbs he used arrived as powders. The most I interacted with them was by taking them internally or counting capsules for his clients. I appreciated the ways he helped me heal from my brain injury, along with the training, but part of me longed to connect with the plants themselves.

Fast forward ten years: living in a house in eco-friendly Madison has provided me with a yard, unsprayed bike trails, and a community of people interested in permaculture, organic gardening and wild food foraging. I’ve since attended another urban foraging class, as well as a Wild Edibles Dinner, hosted by Kathleen Wildwood of Wildwood Institute. The gourmet, multi-course meal was foraged and prepared by the owners of Moonwise Herbs, and it truly inspired me with more community, delicious, deeply nourishing food, and a greater appreciation of the abundance all around us.

As a Lazy Raw Foodist and newbie gardener, I love so many things about wild foods! For one thing, they grow without effort. Instead of weeding the garden, watering the soil, and carefully fertilizing seedlings, you can just let the weeds have at it. I find this comforting, as I watch how slowly my cultivated seedlings have sprouted and begun to grow, in vast contrast to the abundance and fast spurts of dandelions, lambs quarters and wild violets. Our backyard came with lots of bulb plants like hostas and lillies, but I’ve also found wood nettles, bee balm, garlic mustard (great for pesto!), what appears to be plantain, clover, creeping Jenny, wild lettuces, a transplanted stinging nettle, ferns (for fiddleheads), various now potted mints, and some possibly edible leeks. We also inherited three raspberry bushes, two elderberry trees, and some burdock from a permaculture enthusiast who needed to trim back her bounty. These all look happy and vibrant among my kale, chard, chives, strawberries, herbs, nasturtiums and marigolds.

Much happier than my poor tomato plants! Dear me, if I based my gardening experience on the joy of some of the trickier specimens, I’d feel so discouraged that I just might quit. Instead, the weeds provide wonderful greens for smoothies and salads, as well as “proof” that our tiny, unplanned yard can provide abudant produce. If I expand my “garden” outward to include nearby bike paths, I find Juneberry trees, more elderberry, giant dandelions, large burdock and cattails, which I have yet to try. I hear that cattails offer all parts as edibles during various points of the year, but still want some help identifying which parts to harvest when. Our landlord, who lives behind us, also offered his crabapple trees and cherry tree during harvest time. These produce much more than birds and the nearby humans can handle without canning, freezing or dehydrating. Supposedly the crabapples make an excellent cider, and I’m happy to experiment when the time comes.

The Wild Edibles Dinner featured a dessert made from Japanese Knotweed berries, which some of you may recognize as a primary ingredient in Resveratrol supplements. Indeed, David Wolfe has mentioned Japanese Knotweed as a major immune system support for people suffering from Lyme Disease, and I used these to help my ex-husband recover from his Advanced Stage Lyme. There’s a saying among herbalists that Nature provides whatever you need nearby, so I find it interesting that Japanese Knotweed has become a massively invasive species in Wisconsin, where Lyme Disease also runs rampant. I’ve heard the same thing about teasel root growing fast in Oregon and other areas with a LD issue. I don’t have LD, but I must say, that Japanese Knotweed crisp rocked! So much so that I’m going to call the folks trying to eradicate it from a nearby park to see if I can harvest the unsprayed berries.

I love how Nature seems to “know” exactly what issue someone has and synchronously provide just the plants necessary for healing. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I consider humanity to be in a crisis state right now. From government to corporate to environmental abuses to the restriction of all herbs in the EU, we need to wake up and shift! Planet Earth does not require humanity for her survival. In addition to taste and medicinal properties, I love the resilient and unstoppable qualities of weeds. We are what we eat, and we could do much worse than weeds. In fact, weeds balance disturbed or unhealthy ecosystems. Things like dandelion, comfrey and burdock grow extremely deep roots, drawing minerals up to renourish depleted soil. Weeds spring up when the Earth needs healing. By eating more weeds, we can become, on a cellular level, Earth healers. By eating wild things, we become wild, too — more easily able to free ourselves from outmoded societal conditioning that destroys communities and our sense of connection with each other and our environment.

Harvesting local foods frees us from dependence on oil and the transportation system used to bring us the produce we take for granted. It also frees us from having to pay for food. Although I have plenty of money to buy groceries, I recognize BigBanks, BigOil, BigAg and BigPharma as major culprits in all things wrong with our world right now. I would love to live completely outside the system, and I keep researching ways to increase my own independence (and interdependence with more preferable groups). In the meantime, collecting weeds, wild foraging for edibles and seeding easy-to-grow organic plants at home, brings me step-by-step closer to greater harmony with the Earth and my own Nature-loving soul. Learning how to survive on wild items also lets me relax about potential world food shortages caused by poor weather conditions, disasters or disruption of food transportation.

I’m nowhere near my final goals, but I begin each morning marveling at the abundance and beauty all around me. I find it fun. The spunky part of me who’s familiar with Codex Alimentarius and Agenda 21 also gets excited to think of myself like a weed. In a world where governments at best fail to protect their citizens and at worst are actively creating weather, environmental and pharmaceutical conditions to destroy, starve or poison large portions of the population, eating weeds and wild things is my way of celebrating strength and life. Just TRY to eradicate dandelions! Just try to get rid of wild violets and garlic mustard. Even with the most intense chemicals and poor conditions, new ones will no doubt pop up. I have lambsquarters growing in my patio cracks! Feeling that resilience and expansion in myself makes me giggle. I also feel deeply nourished and joyful.

If you decide to forage, I strongly suggest connecting with experienced people in your area. You’ll also want to make sure the no one sprays or pollutes the plants you’d like to eat, and identification does matter. You’ll want to learn the key differences between wild edibles and poisonous lookalikes. If in doubt, don’t eat it! Personally, I find the learning curve exciting. Yes, it takes up a lot of my current time and energy, but I consider the process both recreational and restorative. In a world of change, those who cling to the old may perish, but those who adapt, thrive. I intend to flourish, regardless of circumstances, and I feel ever so grateful for the challenges that brought me more in tune with Earth and some beautiful humans and animals on this planet.