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(the Old English word for LIFE)

Category: Foraging

Cactus & Corn Tortillas

Last weekend I hosted the incredibly knowledgeable Enrique Villasenor, local healer in training, who taught all about how to use Opuntia species of cactus (aka prickly pear) for healing a vast array of health conditions. It all goes back to “balance” he says, and this plant helps us do that. Even if we aren’t suffering from a chronic disease (such as Type II diabetes which it helps to reverse), it helps the body stay balanced and maintain health. For the event I offered a tasting of what you can do with the leaf pads also known as nopales.

One of my favorite things to eat is tacos and I have been experimenting lately with making them out of different flours and unusual ingredients. For this event I opted to try adding them to a basic corn tortilla recipe. Because I like things to be colorful, I added a generous handful of spinach for added green color. Way better than any sort of artificial food coloring.

Tortillas de Nopales

  • 4¼ cups masa harina
  • 4-5 cactus pads (nopales)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 sprigs cilantro
  • 1/2 bunch spinach
  • 1 tablespoon chia
  • salt to taste

Combine together the cactus, cilantro and spinach together in a high speed blender which will create a thick liquid.

In a bowl, add the masa harina and slowly add the cactus mix and the warm water, until the dough is soft and is not sticky.

Once the dough is at its desired consistency, add the chia seeds, and lastly, the salt.

Separate the dough in even, small balls. Refrigerate for 10 minutes to an hour.

Flatten each ball between two sheets of plastic wrap with a tortilla press, or with a wine bottle or roller. Cook each side for 1 to 2 minutes, or until they puff, on medium-high heat, with a lightly greased skillet or comal. Keep in mind, nopal burns a little easier so keep your eyes on the tortillas so they don’t burn!

These go great with grilled or sauteed nopales, salsa, avocado and cashew cream with a bit of lime. Enjoy!

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Wild Greens and Pinyon Pine Cream Sauce

I think the first “wild food” recipe that I ever made was a nettle pesto. I would speculate, though, that is probably most folks initiation into wild foods. It is abundant, found nearly everywhere, and quite simple to make without messing it up too bad. Success is fairly inevitable. Now, after many years of diving deeper and deeper into the complexities of flavors in wild plants and mushrooms, I try not to roll my eyes as my social media feeds are flooded with pesto recipes. However, nettle remains one of my favorite greens to use in the kitchen and not to mention medicinal herb.

I won’t go on about its incredible attributes—those can be easily found elsewhere and probably somewhere on an old recipe here for soup. So let’s get on with something slightly different you can do with it (or any other wild or cultivated greens you have on hand).

The first time I created this, I used a wild spinach (also called New Zealand spinach) that grows near coastal regions here in California. I created this sauce to pair with some chia/acorn pasta ravioli with morels for a wild food dinner. I heard from few folks that they were literally licking the plate so as not to miss a single taste of that vibrant green flavor.

Of course, the flavor will have a different profile depending on what greens you use, but this is just a starting point. To be honest, I’m horrible at writing down recipes, much less following them. If I feel inspired, or think of some crazy idea, I’ll find a recipe that sounds similar and then I start substituting and switching things up, tasting along the way. I really have to get better at notes for my book.

Recipe: Wild Greens and Pinyon Pine Cream Sauce

1 lb wild greens, nettle or wild spinach recommended
1/2 c pinyon pine nuts, shelled (or sub commercial pine nuts)
1 yellow onion, diced
1 shallot, diced
2-4 cloves of garlic, diced
1/4-1/2 c mushroom broth (or other broth), plus more to thin
2 tbsp avocado oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt to taste

  1. Blanch your greens: Put a pot of water on to boil while you wash and de-stem your greens. Set aside a large bowl of ice water. If you’re working with nettle, you can use gloves at this point. (As soon as they are cooked, their stinging hairs are no longer active.) Submerge the greens in the boiling water for 1 minute, until they turn bright green. Remove quickly and place in the ice bath to cool.
  2. Heat the avocado oil in a cast iron skillet on medium heat. Add the onion and shallot and saute until just translucent, about 3-5 min. Add the diced garlic and saute for about 1-2 min more, do not allow the garlic to burn. No one likes burnt garlic.
  3. Strain the water from the greens and place them in between a few paper towels and press, removing as much water as possible.
  4. Combine the greens, pine nuts, onions, shallot and garlic into a high speed blender with the broth and lemon juice and blend, adding more broth (or water from cooking the greens), to thin to desired consistency. Add salt to taste, about 1/2-1 tsp.

This could even make a great soup as well, just add more broth or water. I used it recently as a sauce to complement fermented mushrooms in a dish for a wild food tasting:

“Sea of the Land” Fermented lobster mushroom with pickled black mustard seeds and nettle and pinyon cream sauce.

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Lemon Rosemary Chicken of the Woods Mushroom

I have found that this normally “dry” wild mushroom is an excellent candidate for sous vide, rather than the usual saute. Add in your favorite herbs and seasonings and its lends an incredibly tender and juicy texture. I was a little disappointed in the small size of my only find of this mushroom so far this season, but the younger the mushroom, the better.

When cooking these mushrooms, as with all wild mushrooms, be sure to cook them thoroughly. I know from experience. There’s a bit of controversy about whether or not the ones that grow from eucalyptus are edible or not. I think it all has to do with proper preparation. These I harvested were growing from a eucalyptus stump and my kids and I all enjoyed them without a problem… except everyone wanted more.

Here’s my recipe for Lemon Rosemary Chicken of the Woods (of course, you’ll need access to a sous vide machine):

Lemon Rosemary Chicken of the Woods

Ingredients:

A good sized portion of chicken of the woods mushroom, sliced
One sprig of rosemary, leaves removed and chopped coarsely
Two-three sprigs of thyme
2 T Soy sauce (or alternative)
1/2 tsp Smoked paprika
3-4 (or more) cloves of garlic
Juice of one lemon
1/4 c vegetable (or mushroom) stock
2 tbsp Avocado oil

Optional finishing: pinyon pine vinegar or more lemon juice

Combine everything except the mushroom in a mixing bowl. Taste the flavoring and adjust to preference. Add the mushroom and toss in the marinade. Carefully pour everything into a vacuum seal bag and seal tightly, making sure to remove all excess air. Cook sous vide at 160° F for 2-3 hours.

Remove mushroom from the bag and either heat to desired temperature (a few minutes in the oven is nice), and serve, with a finish of either pinyon pine vinegar (gives it a wonderful, delicate mountain aroma) or more lemon juice.

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Foraging Baja 2019

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Traveling affects the spirit in unimaginable ways. But it takes that first step into the unknown to expand the mind and to expand the perception of our world in a way that changes us forever.

This year, I co-lead a week-long foraging and botany adventure into the mountains of southern Baja. With the focus of finding and tasting local wild plants and mushrooms, we explored the different micro-climates of the semi-tropical Cacti and Legume Forests of the cape region and Sierra de Laguna mountains. Plants ranged from familiar variations of species I have found in Southern California (US) and the Sonoran Deserts of Arizona to completely unusual and rare species.

Baja Plant List:

Anise Marigold Tagetes micrantha
Baja Black Sapote Diospyros californica
Baja Bouillon Bush Cordia curassavica
Begonia californica
Cardon Barbon Pachycereus pectin-aboriginum
Cliffbrake “Peyote Fern” Pellaea ternifolia
Copal Bursera empanada & hindsiana
Coral Vine San Miguelito Antigonon leptopus
Cordia curassavica
Croton caboensis
Damiana Turnera diffusa
Desert Honey Persimmon Diospyros intricata
Desert Passionfruit Passiflora arida
Encino Negro Quercus brandegeei
Giant Desert Lavender Hyptis Alba
Heimia salicifolia
Huerivo Populus brandegeei
Melon de CoyoteIbervillea sonorae
Mexican Oregano Lippia graveolens
Palo de Arco Tecoma stans
Palo Blanco Lysiloma candida
Peeromia umbilicata
Pitaya Agria Stenocereus gummosus
Pitaya Dulce Lemaireocereus thurberi
Purple Pitcher Sage Lepichina hastata
Resurrection Plant Doradilla Selaginella lepidophylla
Water hyssop Bacopa monnieri
Water leaf Talinum fruiticosum
Wild Fig Ficus brandegeei & palmeri
Wild Grape Vitus peninsularis
Wild Plum Cyrtocarpa edulis

November 22

On the group’s first day together, we arrived at Sol de Mayo, our base camp for the trip where they had beautiful rustic cabins and a very basic kitchen. Because of the rural location, we didn’t have some of our ususal urban comforts—electricity, paved roads, hot water, and for some of the trip, cell service. We got to enjoy our dinners by candelight every evening. It was a great introduction to the countryside and helped everyone disconnect and unplug (literally). Our first dinner was huilatcoche (corn fungus) and squash blossom tacos from the local market.

November 23

From our cabins, we could hear the waterfall. For our first adventure, we hiked into the wilderness, exploring and identifying the plants we encountered and learned their edible and medicinal uses. After our trek up the river trail, we headed back down for a swim at the waterfall and its refreshing crystal clear water. Our dinner was battered squash blossoms and tacos with wild water leaf, puffball mushroom and purslane.

November 24

After collecting damiana and bouillon bush herbs, we visited a nearby Eco-Community located on a permaculture mango farm. We learned about permaculture, eco-friendly building and sustainable community with the founder Ryshek. He offered us a generous tasting of the abundance of fruits grown on the land. We found a tarantula and several other wild creatures along the way.

November 25

Explored San Dionisio Canyon with guides who took us to some amazing waterfalls and swimming holes with natural slides. Afterwards we went on a hunt for the Baja Black Sapote, also known as the Chocolate Pudding Fruit. After climbing the one tree we found with only a few ripe fruits, we got to enjoy its unique taste. We collected acorns as well and shelled them under candelight to prep for other meals.

November 26

A tropical storm started to settle in, but we headed to the Santa Rita hot springs to warm up and relax. For some of us, it was our first time soaking in a hot spring! Then, we rock-hopped through the canyon, at some points crossing the river waist deep with our packs precariously hovering over the water. We made it to a natural pool that seemed as if it was artistically carved in the rock with a shallow and deep ends, diving, slides and even rock benches to sit in the water. Afterwards, we headed back to base camp to relax. Dennis made a mushroom and seaweed soup using the bouillon bush herb (it smells like Top Ramen!) and the Agaricus mushrooms we found. I made savory acorn cakes, socca style, with lots of toppings.

November 27

The tropical storm settled in and rained all day, causing flooding and washed out roads. Not a problem, we had our robust “El Burro” van to take us out to the Sierra Cacachillias to search for rare desert honey persimmons. We didn’t find many ripe ones, but just enough to bring back to make a syrup for the next day’s acorn pancakes. It was a wild ride through the wet sandy roads that were more like rivers on our trek back to the mountains, dodging the heirloom cattle that liked to sleep in the roads at night.

November 28
With the intense rains, many of the roads were washed out and witnessed several cars stuck in the mud. But, again, “El Burro” got us out to the coast to Cabo Pulmo. Our original destination at the coral reef for snorkeling was closed unfortunately, but we still found a great spot to swim in the warm water of the Sea of Cortez and collect coral on the beach. Afterwards, we headed to the Buena Fortuna gardens for a Mexican-style “thanksgiving” dinner. Most of the foods were gathered from the 11 acre gardens and ended with an epic “pumpkin pie”. We then took a tour through the garden led by Dennis exploring unusual and exotic plants. After the tour, a few of our group partook in hapé.

November 29
Departure back to the united states.


This trip has opened my eyes to a larger and more complex abundant world. Traveling enlivens the soul and challenges our routines and comfort zones. I hope to share many more exciting adventures with you all in the future.

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Tom Kha soup with Chicken of the Woods Mushroom

One of my most favorite soups but with chicken mushrooms in place of real chicken.

1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/2 onion sliced
2 garlic cloves chopped
a few Thai chiles, halved
3 quarter-inch slices slices galangal or ginger
1 lemongrass stalk pounded with the side of a knife and cut into 2-inch long pieces
2 teaspoons red Thai curry paste
4 cups turkey tail mushroom broth (see note)
4 cups canned coconut cream or coconut milk
6 oz. chicken of the woods mushrooms
8 oz. maitake mushrooms
1-2 Tbsp. coconut sugar
1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp. soy sauce or Bragg’s liquid aminos
2-3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
2-3 green onions sliced thin
fresh cilantro chopped, for garnish

Note: Make your own wild mushroom broth by simmering turkey tail mushrooms (or any other edible wild mushrooms) for an immune system boost, or store bought mushroom broths are available.

  1. In a medium pot, heat the coconut oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, chile, galangal or ginger, lemongrass, and red curry paste and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until onions are softened.
  3. Add mushroom broth and bring to a boil. Reduce head and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. In the meantime, boil or steam your wild mushrooms for at least 40 min.
  4. Add in coconut cream or milk and mushrooms. Simmer until mushrooms have absorbed flavors, about 10 min, then add soy sauce, coconut sugar, and lime juice, plus more of each to taste.
  5. Cook 2 more minutes, then ladle into serving bowls and top with sliced green onions and fresh cilantro.

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Stuffed Yucca Blossoms: Recipe

Yucca flowers are perfect little bite-sized packages, so why not fill them with something delicious? Start with a cream cheese base, then add your choice of flavorings.
In Latin America, yucca flowers are a traditional food, often cooked with eggs or tomato sauce. I haven’t tasted every species, but they’re all considered edible. Some people get an itchy throat when eating the flowers raw, and some people eat only the petals, not the pistils and stamens inside. I eat the whole flower, both raw and cooked with no trouble at all.
You’ll use the whole yucca flower in this recipe, but remove the pistils and stamens first.  Grasp them at the base where they join the flower and give a quick twist. These flower parts cook more slowly than the flower petals, so we’ll give them a head start.

What You’ll Need to Make Stuffed Yucca Blossoms
rinsed yucca flowers, pistils and stamens removed and reserved
½ cup cream cheese, room temperature
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground sumac
¼ cup chopped onions
2 Tbs. chopped green chiles (if you’re not a fan of spicy food, you can substitute chopped, roasted red peppers)
flour
1 egg (beaten)

What You’ll Do to Make Stuffed Yucca Blossoms
Roughly chop the yucca pistils and stamens and the onion, and sauté in olive oil until the onions are translucent. The pistils and stamens may (or may not) turn green.  Add the salt, sumac powder, and whichever kind of pepper you prefer, and stir to combine, then remove from the heat. You don’t need to cook the spices and peppers, just warm them up a little.
In a bowl, fold the warmed ingredients into the cream cheese.
Place a teaspoon of the cheese mixture inside each yucca flower and gently press the flowers closed. Dip each flower in the beaten egg, then lightly dredge in flour and set aside.
In a clean sauté pan, add some more olive oil and fry the stuffed blossoms until the cream cheese becomes soft and melty, and the outside of each flower is a crispy golden brown. Serve warm.

perfect bite-sized morsels

 

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Wintergreen Ice Cream: Recipe

Winter isn’t the most productive time to forage where I live. On a February visit to NH, I was able to score some fresh wintergreen, which I brought home and turned into an extract. I love the flavor of wintergreen (think teaberry gum) but it isn’t always easy to use in food and drink. I thought ice cream would be the perfect vehicle for the wintergreen flavor, and I was right, but boy it took a long time to nail this one down. The extract had a strong flavor and fragrance on its own, but my first ice cream attempt was a miserable failure. The eggs in the custard base completely overwhelmed the wintergreen flavor. My second attempt was only slightly more successful. I used a corn starch base, which let the wintergreen flavor come through, but it was far too faint for my taste. Third time was the charm. With triple the original amount of wintergreen extract, I had a delicious, perfectly textured wintergreen ice cream. This recipe is a keeper.
The first step in making your ice cream is to make the extract. It takes six weeks. (Have I lost you?)
fresh wintergreen in vodka (and snow)Fill a jar with wintergreen leaves. It’s ok to add a few berries, but, honestly, the leaves have more flavor. I use both, and the fruit adds a little more color, which, by the way, will be brown, not red. Add vodka to fill the jar to the top of the wintergreen, put the lid on the jar, and give it a good shake. Store the jar someplace out of direct sun and give it a shake once a day or whenever you walk by and remember. After six weeks, open the jar and give it a sniff. It will smell wonderful. Strain off your solids and return the liquid to a clean jar. This is your wintergreen extract.
Not only is wintergreen a great flavor for ice cream, but a few drops in a mug of hot chocolate makes a wonderful flavor combination. And it would make a great addition to frosting for brownies or chocolate cake. But I digress.

What You’ll Need to Make Wintergreen Ice Cream
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbs. light corn syrup
1 1/2 Tbs. corn starch
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
3 Tbs. wintergreen extract

What You’ll Do to Make Wintergreen Ice Cream
The corn starch and light corn syrup in this recipe give the ice cream a rich, scoopable texture that doesn’t turn icy in the freezer.
Combine the cream and milk, and warm them over medium heat. You don’t want the milk to boil. When you start to see steam rise, or tiny bubbles form around the edge of the pan, take the pan off the heat, and whisk in the light corn syrup.
Combine the sugar, corn starch, and kosher salt in a large bowl, then slowly pour in the warm liquid mixture, whisking to combine. Return the batter to the saucepan and continue to cook over medium low heat until it coats the back of a spoon. When you notice the liquid beginning to thicken, dip a soup spoon into the batter and run your finger across the back of the spoon. If your finger leaves a trail behind it that doesn’t immediately run together, you’re done. If the batter is runny enough to immediately come back together, you’ll need to cook it a little longer.
When the batter is done, add the wintergreen extract and whisk to incorporate it evenly. This is more extract than I’ve seen in ANY wintergreen ice cream recipe. By a lot. So maybe my home made wintergreen extract isn’t as strong as a commercial extract made from processed wintergreen oil, but dammit, it’s delicious.
Refrigerate the batter to cool it down, then churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. And if you feel the need to add a few semi-sweet chocolate chips, well, who could blame you?

 

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A Stalk of Wild Asparagus (pun intended)

There are multiple species of wild asparagus that grow worldwide, but in the United States, you’ll forage for Asparagus officinalis, the exact same asparagus you pay big bucks for at the grocery store. Technically it’s a feral species. Animals eat and spread asparagus seed, helping the plant escape cultivation. Whether cultivated or feral, asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables.

How to Spot Wild Asparagus Plants
Asparagus can be tricky to forage for not because it’s rare, but because young, tender spears are hard to spot in spring, when they’re hidden by weeds and grasses. It’s much easier to locate almost every other time of year.

In summer, look for tall, thin green spears with multiple branches radiating out at 90 degree angles from the main, vertical stem. A mature asparagus stalk has a triangular, almost Christmas tree shape, and the branches have a delicate, ferny look.
In late summer, a ferny asparagus spear may be dotted with bright red berries.
In fall, asparagus foliage is bright yellow and easy to spot from a distance.
In winter, and very early spring, look for dried brown stems, three or four feet tall. They may be upright, or bent and fallen next to where new sprouts will emerge.

If you see asparagus during its non-edible season, make a mental note. Or even better, drop a pin on a GPS map so you can come back to it easily in spring, when the asparagus is ripe and ready.

How to Cultivate Wild Asparagus
Asparagus is a perennial vegetable, i.e. the gift that keeps on giving. As a forager, there are things you can do to help your found asparagus patches be more productive:
1) Leave behind a spear or two to allow the plant to photosynthesize and store energy for next year’s crop.
2) Later in spring, leave the tallest stalk or two on each plant. These will be more fibrous and less wonderful to eat and leaving them behind will maintain the strength of the plant.
3) An asparagus plant that is properly harvested will continue to put up new sprouts over several weeks, so it’s worth revisiting your plants every few days. Spears may grow up to an inch per day, so a nubby little spear on Monday may be worth harvesting on Friday.
4) Asparagus can be harvested as long as the heads are tightly closed. If you come across a plant with stalks that are two feet tall with the heads still closed, snap off the top eight inches; they should still be tender and tasty.
asparagus berriesyellow, fall asparagus foliage
Where to Look for Asparagus
Asparagus grows best in full sun. You’re most likely to find it in open fields and sunny roadsides, not under a canopy of trees. Asparagus also requires moisture, the kind you might find along fence lines, ditches, and hedgerows. It doesn’t want wet feet, so you won’t find it stream side. You also won’t find it growing in dry conditions.
As a forager, you’ll see asparagus spears in many different sizes, from 1/4 inch in diameter to more than an inch thick. I’m writing this in bold because so many people don’t know this: Thickness is not a mark of flavor! It may be the result of many things: the age of the plant, whether this is the first flush of growth or second, or where the spear is located in the crown of the plant. Thick asparagus spears can be every bit as tender and delicious as the half inch thick spears you’re used to finding in the produce aisle.

What to do with your Asparagus
When I’m foraging for asparagus, I often eat it raw. It’s delicious that way, just minutes after being cut. (Store-bought doesn’t have quite the same charm raw.) I’m also a fan of simple steamed asparagus, served with an herby vinaigrette. And if you’ve been a very lucky forager and come home with both asparagus and a load of morels, try this recipe for asparagus and mushroom bread pudding.

 

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How to Dry Your Wild Harvest

Drying is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to preserve your herbs, fruits, and mushrooms. Dried harvests are easy to store (no freezer space required!) and don’t heat up your kitchen in the middle of summer, like canning does. So if this has been a banner year for wild garlic or blueberries or porcini, why not fill your pantry with beautiful jars of dried, wild produce?

bee balm flowers in the dehydrator

There are several different ways to dry your wild harvest. Let’s start with my favorite: the dehydrator. If you don’t have one, put it on your wish list! Mine has paid for itself many times over, and you can often find them on Craig’s List for a fraction of their original price.

If you live someplace humid, a dehydrator is essential for drying herbs, making fruit leather, and dehydrating fruit and mushrooms. Even in dry climates, a dehydrator is useful because of its compact size. Herbs are best dried at 95F or lower because volatile oils are preserved at lower temperatures and that’s where most of the flavor is. Look for a dehydrator with a thermostat so you can adjust the temperature to suit what you’re drying. A timer is also a nice bonus.

screened air dryerOf course you can dry food without a dehydrator. If you live someplace dry, try a double screen set up. Place your herbs (or fruit or nuts) on one screen, then cover with a second screen on top. The mesh allows air to circulate from above and below, and protects your harvest from pilfering birds and mammals. Several companies make screened, collapsible shelves you can hang in a breezy spot. Drying your harvest this way usually keeps the temperature below 95F (unless you live in Phoenix or Death Valley), and depending on the humidity where you live, it may take several days.

If you don’t have an equipment budget, you can always bundle and hang your harvest in a dry, dark place. But don’t be fooled by those pretty magazine photos of kitchens bedecked with colorful bundles of herbs. Once your harvests have dried, transfer them to sealed containers and store them a dark place to preserve color and flavor. Dried herbs left in a working kitchen will quickly become dusty and loose their flavor.

prop open the oven door!
Oven and microwave drying are a last resort. Most traditional ovens can’t be set below 170F, which is too high for herbs and even higher than I’d recommend for fruits and mushrooms. But we make the best of what we’ve got, right? Prop open the door of your oven with a wooden spoon to lower the internal oven temperature.

Microwaves can be used to dry herbs, but not for fruit or mushrooms. As with a traditional oven, you’ll lose some flavor due to the high temperature. But at least you won’t be heating your house with an open oven. Place your herbs in a single layer on a dry paper towel, and microwave at full power for 30-second intervals, until the herbs are crisp. Replace the paper towel if it becomes wet, and be sure to let your herbs cool before you transfer them to a jar. Condensation may form during cool-down, which could lead to mold.

Have you got loads of morels, or bee balm for days? Dry your wild harvests now, and enjoy them for months to come.

 

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Autumn Olive aka Silverberries aka Elaeagnus umbellata

If I were a farmer I might curse this invasive plant. But as a forager, I look forward to its generous annual fall crop of fruit. Autumn olive was brought to the U.S from Japan in the 19th century, and it did so well here that in the mid-1900s the U.S. Soil Conservation Service recommended it as a windbreak and for erosion control. Oops!
Birds love autumn olive fruit (almost as much as foragers do) and they do an excellent job of dispersing the seed, which germinates in all kinds of adverse conditions. This plant has another advantage: it’s a nitrogen fixer, which allows it to thrive in poor soils. And the Missouri Botanic Garden tells me that a single plant can produce up to 80 pounds of fruit and up to 200,000 seeds. For all of these reasons, feel free to harvest as much silverberry as you like. You will not make a dent in the population, and there will still be plenty left for all kinds of wildlife (including other foragers).
It is astonishingly easy to harvest vast quantities of fruit, just by running your hands down the stems of the plant, but watch out for the thorns. Some foragers lay a tarp at the base of a shrub and shake the fruit off…a smart way to avoid injury and insure that only the truly ripe fruit goes home with you. Autumn olive is listed as invasive in many states east of the Mississippi.
Let’s take a moment to discuss its common names. I prefer Silverberry or Autumnberry to Autumn Olive (its most common common name) for several reasons:
While the foliage resembles that of a true olive, the fruit is red and sweet/tart, i.e nothing like an olive.
It reminds people of Russian Olive, which is much less tasty and not nearly as versatile as a human food ingredient.
Silverberry is much more descriptive, since the undersides of the leaves are silver AND the ripe fruit is flecked with silver.
Silverberries usually ripen in September and October, depending on where you forage. Fruit looks ripe long before it actually is, and unripe fruit is quite astringent, so taste a berry or two before you fill your foraging bags. Ripe fruit will still have a sour edge, but it will be pleasant rather than puckering.
Silverberries are high in vitamin C and lycopene, and they’re tasty raw or cooked. The seed is large relative to the size of the fruit, so you’ll want to spit that out if you eat silverberry as a trail nibble. But don’t spit it out on the ground because then you’ll be doing what the birds do, i.e dispersing the seed!
Silverberry juice makes an excellent jelly, and can be substituted for lemon juice in a meringue pie. Or, run the fruit through a food mill and use the pulp to make a pretty quick bread using your favorite banana bread recipe.

 

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