wild edible plants

Finding Fibert (Corylus avellana) by Jade Bisson

Hazel nut trees.

Hazel nut trees.

Greetings! Thank you kind weather gods for this long, warm, dry fall! It is disgustingly perfect for collecting deliciously ripe edibles and being able to store them properly for winter. At this time of year, I like to look to my friends the squirrels for inspiration. These guys are pro-foragers and "storagers", as I like to call them. They know cold is coming and that now is the time to collect and save for thinner times. They know what's up! I should be more like a squirrel, really.

Hazel fruit.

Hazel fruit.

Well today, the squirrel inside me stirred while I scavenged a near-by hazelnut tree for fallen fruit. Corylus avellana, the common Hazel, is not technically a 'wild' edible, but is so omnipresent that you can find them 'in the wild' on abandon homesteads or public parks, (note: we are not advertising trespassing here!). Many Hazel shrubs were planted as hedgerows to mark the boundary of a farm or property, which is why they are pretty common in all types of vegetation zones. Not to mention their wood is useful for fencing. An all around advantageous homestead plant! They reach about 3-8m tall and are usually surrounded by other Hazels, as they need cross-pollination to produce nuts. That is, you need a mommy and a daddy tree to make baby nuts, awwww..... Now, lets eat those babies, er, baby NUTS! The way to do it is to wait for the fruit to fall off the branch on their own. This is the time to make friends with squirrels, if you can. Seriously, these dudes are fast. They will devour all the nuts and leave none for you. Finders keepers. So, yes you have to be ahead of the squirrels and collect your bounty almost as soon as they fall. Wait until the nuts are good and dry before collecting. This means waiting until they turn brown. Fresh ones are green and wont ripen properly or taste good if picked this way.

Baby collecting baby nuts.

Baby collecting baby nuts.

The awesomest movie of all time: Willow, where hazel trees were used to make magic staffs.

The awesomest movie of all time: Willow, where hazel trees were used to make magic staffs.

Collect the nuts up from under the tree, let them dry for a few days and start a'crackin'! It is a tedious job, but well worth it as the flavor of freshly dried hazelnuts can't compare to store bought. To further the operation and make the flavor even more intense, carefully roast the cracked nuts in the oven or over a fire. In conclusion, if you want a tasty treat this fall, think like a squirrel, go 'nutting', as they say, and stash your little treasures up until a special occasion presents itself!

PS Here are some interesting facts on Corylus avellana and it's fruits:

-Hazel was one of the more dominant trees after the last ice-age in northern and central Europe

-The wood of Corylus avellana has long been used to craft magical staffs or wands (please see the movie "Willow" for more details)

-Hazel fruits were the most important source of calories for out Neolithic ancestors!

-It is an excellent energy conductor and is used to make dowsing rods

-They are a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids, making it an aphrodisiac food!

Johnny Jumpers by Jade Bisson

Hola Adventurers!

A beautiful Johnny Jumper

A beautiful Johnny Jumper

It's Spring! Whoop, whoop! Forget those roots and twigs you were foraging for this winter. It is that time of year again when abundance returns to the land and collecting edibles is such a joy. With so many choices, where do you start?!?

Lots of Johnny Jumpers

Lots of Johnny Jumpers

Here is one beauty to look for: Viola pensylvanica, a member of the violaceae family, or more commonly known as, violets. These young guns are wild though. There are over 800 or so species in the genera, so imma just stick with these yellow ones I found in the meadow behind my house. You really can't miss 'em. 

Transient

They are one of the first colors to emerge from the dark forest floor. With heart-shaped green leaves and little yellow petaled flowers, how could you not pick a few? Pay attention when walking through a shaded meadow or on the edge of a forest. The plants can grow from 1-12 inches, producing a single yellow flower with 5 petals (3 lower, 2 side) rising above a carpet of heart-shaped leaves with sharp tips. This species spreads by rhizomes, so you will find them growing in dense clumps. I have yet to find a source which confirms the leaves as edible, so stick to eating the flowers only.  A fun fact that I ran in to is that the flowers are the larval host and/or nectar source for the silver-bordered butterfly. I know, right! So don't pick all of the flowers, leave some for the larvae! So, in conclusion, you definitely CAN'T make a meal out of violets, but you CAN impress your friends by adding them to a dish you've made. Pretty up that bowl of wieners and beans that you made for your girlfriend by adding some edible wild violets, she'll thank you for it!!! Adios for now!

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) by Jade Bisson

To be honest, I was weary of telling the world wide web about this tasty treat, however, yesterday, when I went collecting nettles, I realized that there are enough nettles for the whole WORLD! And when I say 'nettles', I mean stinging nettles!  The same stinging nettles that gave you a nasty uncomfortable rash when you were a kid. Who knew you could eat them?

Well, you can! Urtica dioica is not a native species. It was a gift from merry ol' England, same as the annoying but tasty edible, the common black berry bush. Nettles are special to me because they are one of the first green, nourishing plants that appear in our forests, sometimes as early as February. After a long winter of eating twigs and nuts, thats pretty special.

Nettles are a very rich source of iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, C and D. The medicinal properties are endless! Everything from cleansing the liver and kidney to stimulating the immune system to treating inflammation of the prostate! Look for them in moist, rich soils along deer trails, meadows and man-made structures like barns or roadsides. The best time to harvest is early spring, when the tender green shoots are the most nutritious. Make sure to wear gloves and use scissors or a knife for a clean cut so you don't damage any root systems by pulling on the plant.

There are a couple of ways to eat and/or preserve nettles. To eat fresh, make sure to steam or pour boiling water on the nettles so they can release their stingers. After that, you can use them as you would spinach. Reserve the water that you used to cook the nettle and use it as a base for a soup or a nourishing tea. If you picked too many, you can preserve by drying the nettles above a wood stove or in the sun. Dried nettles are also good in soups and tea.

If you want really, really fresh nettles, you can travel to Dorset, England and enter the World Nettle Eating Championships. Competitors attend from all over the world to eat fresh stinging nettle! I wouldn't have recommended it, but after looking at the website, it looks kind of fun? Check it out, and good luck!