Monday, March 29, 2010

Plantain

Plantain

First sighting of the year for plantain in my yard. Small lance-leaved plantain making a brave showing.

The plantain has a warm-spot in my heart...it's so easy to identify, and so benevolent: heals owies and smoothes the soul.

Reference Links

http://backyard-wildcrafting.blogspot.com/2009/09/plantain-plantago.html

Monday, March 22, 2010

Unknown Plants: Part 2

Unknown Plants: Part 2

It's been a week or so...my unknown plant is growing nicely. I still don't know what it is, but my original guess looks likely. The edges of the leaves are increasingly serrated or runcinate.

Another plant has entered stage left, a demure white flower, about eight petals, very small.

The plant right now is about four inches high, alternately placed leaves, obovate in shape.

Busy week for me, I'll probably not be able to spend any time keying out the identification of these unknown plants, but the photos should help me later when I do have time.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Unknown Plants: Part 1

Unknown Plants

I'm often asked how I learn to identify wild plants. More specifically, How do I know that plant is edible? Disregarding the minor detail that the only person asking me this frequent question is myself, it's a good question. Here's a real-life narrative that answers that.

An unknown plant is growing in my yard. It's growing among the creeping Charlie ground ivy and henbit that I have already identified.

In this photo, the unknown plant is the larger one, in the upper, right-hand corner. A couple of henbits are standing tall, very close to the unknown. Creeping Charlie, a ground ivy, is covering the rest of the background, with some blades of grass in the lower, left-hand corner.

It looks tender and healthy. It reminds me of lettuce or plantain, but I just don't know what it is.

No doubt, there are many herbalists and wildcrafters who could tell me the name and characteristics of this plant. But for learning purposes, let's look at two principles involving safety and sureness, and then we'll start the process of identifying an unknown plant.

Principle #1: Safety

I will eat a plant only if I absolutely, with no doubt, know its identity. I suppose, in extreme circumstances, in danger of dying from hunger, I would cautiously nibble, and wait, and then eat a plant of which I am only somewhat sure of. But that is only when survival is at stake. Right now, I have no need to take chances.

Principle #2: Reference sources

Base your identification upon at least three trusted reference sources that agree. Be sure to compare the written descriptions with the actual plant. The most sure method of learning a plant's identity is with the guidance of another, more experienced guide who is absolutely confident and skilled in recognizing the plant.

Now, how shall I begin?

Step 1: Seasonal clues

This is a young plant. It's only been growing for perhaps the last month, and it's still very early in the year for plants. I do not feel confident that an attempt to identify this plant right now would be profitable. My knowledge of plant parts and plant identification is so basic, that I'm going to wait and watch.

It's early March right now. I'll keep an eye on this plant as it matures. Too many plants look too similar when they are young. When this plant begins to flower I should be able to find some obvious characteristics that will help me identify it.

In the meantime, I can browse for some pictures that might look similar to my unknown plant.

It might be a wild lettuce. The site doesn't give the scientific name, so that makes it harder to compare with with plants that share a common name, or when the same plant is known by different common names.

Here's a potential winner: Lactuca serriola.

This candidate actually seems the most likely: Sonchus oleraceus.

I think I'll have a much better idea in a month, so I'll withold judgement for right now, and I definitely will not nibble on it!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Herbal Sauté

Herbal Sauté

A beautiful spring-like day, although it's still just the first week of March. My lawn, however, is brown, dead-wintry grass...except for my dandelions, ground ivy, and henbit.

So, let's harvest some of my wild herbs and make a healthy, tasty, unique lunch!

First, I scout my available resources. Here's a small, but healthy patch of young dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).

A young dandelion plant will be less bitter than it would be when it begins to flower and go to seed. The flowers, though, are not at all bitter, and they offer just about as much nutrition. I did find one bright yellow flower to add to my lunch, and one unopened flower bud. The flower buds are actually my favorite...they have a texture that reminds me of a bit of meat.

Here's some ground ivy, creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea). It's very young, tender, with just a very slight minty taste.

Amongst the creeping Charlie, henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is starting to reach out for the sun. Henbit is also slightly minty, with a purplish, square-shaped stem. It grows quickly, and I harvest the little bit that I can find before it gets older and less tender.

Okay, grab a pan and pick some tender dandelion leaves, creeping Charlie, and henbit. Rinse it in cold water and get ready to cook it.

You can see my one, lonely dandelion bloom, and just to the left of it is the one unopened flower bud that I found. This is a view of my freshly rinsed bunch of dandelion, creeping Charlie, and henbit.

While my skillet heats up I will gather some of the seasonings and condiments I'd like to try.

Garlic powder, onion powder are almost obligatory, as is ordinary salt and pepper. I'll sauté the herbs in olive oil, and I think the balsamic vinegar will add a nice highlight.

The skillet's heated to a medium heat and I've added my herbal mix. I immediately cover the skillet, letting the wet herbs steam for about two minutes.

After about two minutes, I take off the lid and stir the herbs several times as it cooked down. I don't want to burn the leaves, but I do want them tender, without being mushy.

It's ready! I present my lunch on our new dinnerware, accompanied by carrots and seedless red grapes.

Before sprinkling with the vinegar, I taste the sautéed herbs with just the salt, pepper, onion, and garlic.

It's good, and I could eat the rest that way and be satisfied. But, adding the balsamic vinegar is a real treat. It's tangy, contrasting well with just a slight bit of dandelion bitterness.

A very good lunch!

Reference Links

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Herbal Teas: Creeping Charlie and Henbit

Herbal Teas: Creeping Charlie and Henbit

Just finished a couple of herbal teas, made from two different plants I harvested from my yard today.

First cup of tea: Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)


Result: I like it!

The taste was richly "green", much like a well-steeped cup of green tea, smelling deeply of freshly mown grass, with a gentle taste, absolutely no bitterness. I usually must sweeten my tea, whether herbal, green or black. But I was intent upon giving my Creeping Charlie tea a fair shake, so I prepared it with no sweetening. It had a comfortable, "healthy" taste.

Second cup of tea: Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)


Result: Acceptable.

This tea was a bit more stronger, with a decidely "dry" feeling. Again, I prepared it with no sweetening, but next time I probably will add sugar or honey. The taste was acceptable, but I really preferred the smoother taste of the ground ivy, Creeping Charlie.

Preparation:

I found both plants growing together in a sunny spot of our yard next to our driveway. They are very young, very succulent. I picked a handful of each and washed them together in a strainer held under running cold water.

I heated a potful of cold, filtered water on the stove while I separated the two types of herbs and chopped them finely.

Just as the water was beginning to boil, I put four teaspoonfuls of Creeping Charlie into an empty teapot (two teaspoons per cup of tea, plus "two for the pot") and poured in enough hot water for one cup of tea.

The covered teapot steeped for five minutes and then I poured the tea through a strainer (my teapot infuser) into a mug.

The same process was followed for the Henbit.

Potential Benefits of Creeping Charlie:

  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Catarrh (mucous membrane inflammation, especially respiratory)
  • Diarrhea
  • Bile disorders
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Tonic (invigorating)
  • Tuberculosis
  • Lead Poisoning
  • Ulcers
  • Asthma
  • Cancer

Creeping Charlie contains a high iron content and may be useful for its antibiotic or anti-inflammatory effects.

Caution:

Because the plant contains the essential oil pulegone, women who are pregnant or lactating should avoid it. And common sense requires that anything remotely approaching excessive use would be extremely unwise.

Potential Benefits of Henbit:

  • Rheumatism
  • Laxative
  • Stimulant
  • Diaphoretic (sweat-inducing)
  • Febrifuge (fever-reducing)

Reference Links: