So many of us enjoy going out into the mountains of this province to pick wild huckleberries and blueberries or to enjoy the hunt for wild mushrooms. The morels, that grow in newly burned out forest areas, pines, growing on the floor of old forests, and chanterelles are my favourites, but there are many more foods than these to be found for free.
If foraging for your own delicacies in the mountains doesn’t appeal, or is too involved for you, how about starting in your own back yard and garden with edible weeds. Many common weeds are not only edible, but are filled with high concentrations of vitamins, minerals and healing properties. They can add a refreshing and gourmet quality to many meals. We all know about dandelions, but what about burdock root, which provides optimum nutrition to the glandular and immune systems, or chickweed, whose qualities include medicinal properties for skin conditions, and then there’s red clover which efficiently relieves menopausal symptons, arthritis, and lowers blood pressure. (Note: red clover should not be combined with birth control pills or aspirin.) And lastly for today, there’s purslane, a succulent that contains one of the highest known concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids as well as being high in vitamin C.
There are many ways to use these weeds as herbs: in salves, in beverages, and in food dishes and today I’ve included a recipe for each mentioned weed, as a start. Always remember when foraging for any wild foods, to never eat anything you can’t positively identify and, never pick foods near industrial waste areas or where herbicides and pesticides have been used.
Oven Baked Brown Rice
with Burdock & Shiitake
4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms
2 cups boiling water
1 tbsp. safflower, sesame or vegetable oil
2 cups cold water
1 medium young burdock root, washed well and peeled
1 cup brown rice
Dash of salt, optional
Combine shiitake, hot water and oil in a bowl. Allow to stand for 30 minutes. Drain and reserve liquid. Slice the shiitake caps and stems into thin strips.
With a paring knife, peel off long strips of the burdock root and place in cold water to soak for 5 minutes. Drain burdock and place in a 1-1/2 quart baking dish. Add the mushrooms, reserved liquid, rice and a dash of salt if desired. Cover and bake in a preheated oven at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes.
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp. pine nuts or sunflower seeds
1/4 tsp. salt
2 packed cups chopped, fresh chickweed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Place all ingredients into a blender and then blend well. Serve this over pasta, or just use it as a dip for crackers or vegetables.
You can freeze the pesto if you wish to use later. Chickweed is high in Vitamin C, calcium, iron and many important minerals, as well as very nourishing for the lungs.
Red Clover Almond Biscuits
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup almonds
3 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1-1/2 cups red clover flowers, plucked out of the flower head
Place flour, baking powder and almonds into a food processor. Whiz until finely chopped. Add butter and whiz again until it forms a crumbly mixture. Add eggs, buttermilk, almond extract and red clover flowers and mix until dough forms a lump.
Shape into biscuits and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 450 F for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot with butter or jam.
15 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut into quarter-round slices
1/4 lb. purslane, large stems removed, wash and drained well
2 tbsp. each of fresh chopped mint, cilantro and chervil
4 cups whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, puréed with blade of a knife
2 tsp. ground coriander
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Place the cucumber, purslane and herbs in a large bowl.
In another bowl, stir together the yogurt, olive oil, garlic and coriander, and season to taste with salt. Add the yogurt mixture to the vegetables and mix well. Add a pinch of ground black pepper.
Taste the dressed cucumber-purslane salad for seasoning, adding a little more salt if needed. Serve chilled.
Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist.