Thank you for your patience since my last post. The main reason I missed it was because my amazing, kind, wise and witty grandfather passed away. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was shocking to face a world without his presence. I wrote a post about him that never officially made it up, but you can see it in my chain of posts if you want to know more about the OG Alex!
Since then, I’ve grieved a lot, worked a bit, adventured with kids and most recently reveled in the lovely goodies mother nature has already offered up for our taking. We are only a few weeks into no-snow weather, but the foraging has been plentiful and pretty easy!
Just as autumn reveals the forest floor–open and vulnerable as the understory sheds its leaves–so too does the spring allow us to ease into the voluptuousness of summer. The browns and grays of autumn pervade as lime green leaves and shoots slowly push through the leaf litter. Life finds a way.
The spring foraging up here is pretty fantastic. Before anything is really ready to be eaten from the garden (aside from some rhubarb and chives if you have them in an early to warm spot), the first tender growths of a few plants remind us that big bowls of green leaf lettuce and baby kales, chards, arugula, pea shoots and mustards are just around the corner.
Soooo, what have we been gathering from our untamed little yard?
I harvest young stinging nettles for a few reasons: 1. nettle tea is my favorite, especially when from my own yard! 2. Harvesting the nettle doubles as weeding the sad raised bed in our yard that is full of nettle, grass and a few under-grown raspberry canes, and 3. Nettle is super nutritious and makes a lovely pesto or addition to any meal with cooked greens.
It is best to harvest nettle when it is pretty young–definitely before it flowers. Before flowering, the plant puts its energy into the foliage, so the leaves are at their highest nutritional value. After flowering, the plant puts energy into the flowers/seeds and then finally builds up the rhizome system after seeds drop. So harvest early to get the most benefits! And wear gloves…Since most of my nettle patch is in the raspberries, I try to harvest some red raspberry leaves, too. They are a great uterine tonic!
“Mama! Mama! Dandy-why-uns! Dandy-why-uns!” I heard exclaimed from the back of the mini van a couple weeks ago. Opal spotted our first dandelions of the year on a southern facing hill near a parking lot–perfect dandelion habitat. She immediately picked them and made a little bouquet for her Ninja Class teacher. He loved them!
I read a quote recently that said something along the lines of: “there isn’t anything sadder than a wilted bouquet of dandelions.” I beg to differ! For one–ALL bouquets of dandelions are wilted :). They wilt immediately. They are ephemeral. I have received about five million bouquets of dandelions from all sorts of children throughout my life and I would never trade a single one! I feel like dandelions are like children–some people are super annoyed by them and want them to be mowed down, tamed, not seen nor heard–made for another person’s yard.
Alas, they bring sunshine into a monotone landscape, remind us that we really don’t have much control over anything and they are so freaking good for us and some of our natural friends. I love seeing the milk that comes from cows just released into a pasture with new dandelions–gorgeous! And yes-bees do use dandelions as an early season boost. They are not the most nutritious or a favorite of bees, but they help get them through the bleak times.
Plus, all parts of the dandelion are edible–roots, leaves and flowers. Dandelion root tea is fabulous, dandelion leaves offer an amazing nutritional and gut improving jumpstart to our summers, and the flowers add a buttery sweet taste and fluffy texture to baked goods. Plus, there’s always dandelion wine which, at the very least, is fun to say!
Last week was Ava’s last week of school. She attended a magical little play garden on the side of a mountain in a log house with five other kiddos. They helped with chicken, goat and rabbit chores, played in the Waldorf inspired space, cooked nutritious and yummy lunches and let their imaginations soar as they explored the amazing environment. For the last day of class she, Opal and I made dandelion muffins to share with her friends. There are some food sensitivities in her class so to ensure that all the kids could enjoy them they had to be: Gluten, dairy, almond, soy and yeast free. No problem!
We harvested from the dandelion patch on our side yard, and we spent an hour or so gathering flowers. Opal found great joy in popping off the little flower heads. We then moved inside to remove the flower petals from the heads. The girls did a great job avoiding getting too much of the bitter greens into our petals. The results were SO yummy! Ava said her class loved them. I highly recommend making these with or without kids. What a springtime treat.
I kind of made up the recipe…but you can just put a cup or so of rinsed (obviously biocide free) dandelion flowers into any muffin or cupcake recipe. I thought the dandelions would go well with a corn cake. Also–you can use any milk or flours in this recipe, just adjust the moisture level if you use a very absorbent flour)
Dandelion Muffins (makes ~24)
1 1/4 cup corn flour
1 1/4 cup various gluten free flours (I used in order of most to least: tapioca, oat, garbanzo, sweet sorghum, coconut)
1 cup corn starch
3 tsp. baking powder
3 tsp. xantham gum powder
1 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1 cup coconut oil
1 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
4 tsp. Vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups macadamia nut milk
2 tsp. vinegar
1-2 cups fresh, plucked and rinsed dandelion petals
-Preheat oven to 350 F, line muffin pan with liners
-mix together dry ingredients (including xantham and corn starch)
-mix milk and vinegar, set aside
-cream oil and sugar, slowly add in eggs and vanilla, beat about 3 minutes
-alternate adding dry ingredients and milk mixture to the wet ingredients, mixing completely between additions
-stir in dandelion petals and check for clumps–break them up!
-scoop into muffin liners, batter is kind of thick
-bake 18-20 minutes, check with a toothpick, try not to over bake
-transfer to wire rack and cool!
-We enjoyed ours with spruce tip syrup, yum!
I’ve been harvesting spruce tips since my first spring in Alaska. I’ve written about them before, but I can’t get enough of their vitamin C packed, tart and slightly bitter goodness! I love nibbling on them as I stroll through the forest. Unfortunately, we have a spruce beetle infestation up here so the wild spruce are hard to come by and the trees shouldn’t be stressed out any more than they are. Luckily, we have a few non-native spruce in our yard that are doing just fine. I harvest the spruce tips from branches that are encroaching on spaces that they “shouldn’t” be (the swing set, the neighbor’s fence).
You simply have to pluck off the bright green new growth, remove the little brown casing if it is still attached, and you’re ready to get spruce-y! This also works with pine and fir trees.
Beware–your hands will get sticky! And they will smell lovely.
We make a simple spruce tip syrup with our foraged spruce tips. It’s pretty easy it’s a 1:1:1 mixture of water:sugar:spruce tips. Bring water and sugar to a boil, ensuring the sugar dissolves, add in spruce tips, boil for a little bit…a minute? Then let mixture sit for several hours or overnight; strain and enjoy! It is great in mocktails, cocktails, teas, on pancakes, corn bread or on dandelion muffins!
I recently started running again, and I spotted some morels on a run the other day. I ran back to the spot a few days later to collect the delicacies and discovered that they are false morels! Verpa spp. Bummer…maybe I’ll find some true morels sometime up here.
Until then, this was a good lesson that we must ID our foraged edibles. If you aren’t sure you are gathering the correct thing, find someone who has the skills! I bet there are some wild harvesting groups near you that would be happy to bring you on some forays.
There are many, many other foragable spring edibles–have you found any yummy wild foods lately?
Until next time Farmgirls,
Sending peace and love from Alaska,