Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Pulled in both directions

It is always after I have already yanked out and summarily disposed of these...
that I'll see an article or three mentioning how delicious dandelions are.  There are wonderful recipes on offer everywhere you go.  And not just dandelions, there are all sorts of incredible edibles you might be surprised to find popping up in farmer's markets and restaurant kitchens these days.

Do a little research and you eventually run into somebody referencing an anecdote attributed to Ruth Reichl where she purportedly recalls a favorite salad consumed at a fancy dining spot in NYC that consisted mostly of field greens.  

Field greens.  That's menu talk for what most gardeners categorize as weeds, but these weeds have been harvested gently and are specially decked out to please your palate.  Past that, these weeds'll generally run you six to eight dollars a plate.

You know where I'm going with this, right?  Since you are already growing your own, it only makes sense to get out there to harvest and serve them yourself.
Field greens du jour?
Well hold on there, tiger.  It may sound easy enough but there are multiple tricks to safe foraging.  

For starters you shouldn't use anything that's been sprayed with chemicals or that's growing close to anything that's been chemically treated.  For that reason alone, you should probably stick to your own yard. Tempting as those weed riddled empty lots may be, you'd be foolish to take a chance eating anything unless you talked to the owner and determined the chemical history of that space.

Then there are some basic identification issues.  (You know me - there are always identification issues!) The spreading hedge parsley we get is often recommended as good in salads but it looks a lot like and is easily confused with hemlock.
Torilis arvensis texas, spreading hedge parsley
Yes, as in poison hemlock which is classified as invasive in our area and oh me oh my I've been watching too many crime shows on TV because I had to stop writing here for a while as my imagination ran wild after that discovery.

But it also looks like parsley, see?  Hence the name, spreading hedge parsley.
This is spreading hedge parsley minus the blooms.  (Or maybe it is hemlock..)
Plants can be really tricky that way.

Narrow leaf wood sorrel leaves can be used in salads and sauces for a bit of pungent brightness but you must be aware the stems and leaves
contain oxalic acid and some people are sensitive.  So, not poisonous per se, but use in moderation, yes?

Phew.  So you really need to know what it is you are pulling and how much you can safely use.  And this is the point where I discovered that a lot of what I was yanking out, christening "prettier than usual" dandelions, aren't, even.

As a matter of fact I'm not one hundred percent clear on what these are, other than entrancing.  I can sure enough tell you four or five plants they are not. Including dandelions.

Dandelions occur on rosettes with a stem supporting a singleton bloom.  These guys throw up stems with a multitude of tiny blossoms.  Pretty, but not dandelions.  Very likely edible, but still not dandelions.  I think they are some form of Crepis - a Hawksbeard of some type? (anybody who recognizes it feel free to weigh in). In Greece they use a local Hawksbeard raw, boiled, and steamed. Opa!

If I'm right, these too could be used in salads. If I'm wrong, well...(sigh..). Obviously, the only safe way to gather field greens is with a well informed field guide.

In the abstract, I have several candidates for the salad bowl popping up everywhere the soil was disturbed.  In practice, when I'm on the prowl to pull out what's unwanted, I somehow keep neglecting to see the "greens" in that sea of greens.  With a little care given to identifying what is growing in my spaces, I can change all that.

Fork to sky: Next time, salad!

*WARNING:  As I've taken pains to point out, there are safety issues to be considered when eating gathered wild plants.  I'm obviously not an expert and you should in no way rely on what you read here as expert guidance.  You guys, I can barely take care of myself, no way I intend to be held responsible for you.  We clear? Good!


Debra said...

My big project for the property is to eventually turn it into a forest garden and so I have been paying a lot of attention to the 'weeds.' I am discovering that most aren't weeds at all. Some are simply exactly what the soil needs and an awful lot are edible. This may not sound like a big insight on the outside but it has been a paradigm shift for me. Everything looks different now.
I used to approach wild foraging with extreme caution. I remember hearing over and over again when I was a kid not to touch things or to be wary. Now I pay attention. Instead of approaching plants with fear it is -exciting- and fun to look closely and learn to identify them instead.

TexasDeb said...

Debra: Exactly! My version of your paradigm shift felt like it was in fact pretty big stuff. It was a huge shift in my thinking. And seeing.

Though care must always be taken when foraging it is remarkable to discover how many plant "pests" are in reality discounted natives that simply got a bad rap because they compete with conventional lawns.

Tina said...

Oooo, hemlock. That's a bit scary. Great post, Deb. I've never been brave enough to pull up and eat. There are too many variables, I'm currently too lazy to learn about "weeds" and I stupidly trust grocery stores to provide safe food products, (except for my garden veggies, of course). I'll leave the weed blooms for the bees 'n butterflies.

TexasDeb said...

Tina: Honestly I've still yet to do much harvesting in our spaces with the exception of readily identifiable garden veggies and herbs. I look everything up and then...panic at the thought of getting it wrong. Foraging is certainly not for the faint of heart and that is where I fall. There's always tomorrow!

Debra said...

Wow. The more I learn about our food supply the less safe grocery store products look to me. I recently read Poison Spring by E.G. Vallianatos, a guy who worked for the EPA for 25 years. It was frightening but informative to learn just how the EPA and USDA really work and who they really protect.

There are only a handful of toxic wild plants but nearly every processed food contains ingredients that are known to be hazardous, accumulate in our bodies, are passed along to our children and some even modify/switch on genes. I am really rethinking these days what poses a risk and what doesn't.

TexasDeb said...

Debra: I'm betting you've already heard of Wheatsville Food Coops here in Austin (two locations now). I do the vast majority of my food shopping there for just the reasons you cite (and a few more involving sustainability and humane treatment).

Just in case you haven't familiarized yourself with their philosophy and practices - check them out here:


Debra said...

Your reminder that Austin is better than some communities for having options is spot on. It is a lot easier for me to just go to the farmers' market which is only a few blocks from my house than to drive to the coop. This year I joined an urban patchwork farm to fill in some of the gaps. My neighborhood also has a zero packaging store that includes some premade things from nearby restaurants & chefs using local foods. As far as I know it is the only one of its kind. It is a bit pricey so we don't go there that often.

Ideally, I would prefer to grow my own veggies so I could have complete control but I just can't deal with the idea of cutting down one of our heritage trees to let more light in. If the zombie apocalypse comes I may have to rethink that idea but it works for me for now =)