Spring Beekeeping Workshop

Spring Beekeeping Workshop
Demonstration Hive

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Edible Wild Plant - Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Purslane (also known in some places as Pusley) is a common weed of gardens.  Easy to identify, the plant grows sprawling over the ground with prostrate, somewhat fleshy, stems.  There is variation between plants growing in different regions, however, mine have reddish suculent stems that are filled with a clear juicy sap.  The leaves grow in a rosette and are small and also somewhat fleshy, or leathery.

As you can see in this photo taken in my garden, the leaves are less than one inch wide and vary in length up to about one and half inches.

There is quite a bit of information about the nutritional value of this plant on the internet.  Authors, Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman state that purslane is "One of the best wild shoots cooked or in salad" and that it is "high in iron" (Edible Wild Plants:A North American Field Guide To Over 200 Natural Foods, Sterling, 1982).

Both stems and leaves are gathered for food preparation.  The more mature stems are usually cooked, or preserved by pickling.  Tender leaves and stems may be eaten raw.  Seeds are collected, dried, winnowed and ground for use as an addition to baked goods.  All parts of the plant may be blanched and frozen for keeping through the year.

I have only used the leaves and stems fresh, so far.  Here is a simple salad that I make using purslane and also the tight, immature flower buds of garlic chives:

Harvest and clean the purslane stems and flowers.  Break the stems into small pieces.  Make sure to examine the leaf rosettes carefully for little insects that may be hiding inside the leaf rosettes.  To be sure to clean properly, immerse the plant parts in a salt water bath for a few minutes.  Insects will be killed and usually rise to the surface of the water.  I still recommend examining the plants carefully to remove any foreign matter.  Rinse twice in cold water.

Place all the leaves and stems in a salad bowl and toss in a handful of garlic chive flower buds.

You may also add any other mild-tasting salad vegetable you desire.  Cucumber is a good choice, also cooked kohlrabi or anything else that is mild.  The purslane is quite strong tasting and acidic (somewhat lemony) and the garlic chive flowers are strong also with - guess what? a garlicky taste!  So, cucumer is a good base for those flavors.

I make a dressing of one third olive oil, two thirds apple cider vinegar, with salt and pepper. Whisk together briefly to make an emulsion and toss into the salad.  It's a very simple and fresh tasting salad for a summer evening.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Edible Wild Plants - Lindera benzoin

At a recent class here at the Center for Sustainable Living, participants tasted drinks and foods made from wild plants that are growing prolifically around this region, are easy to find and identify, and are not easily confused with anything that will make you sick.

One of my favorite wild shrubs is the Spicebush (Lindera benzoin).  A medium sized shrub that grows profusely in shaded wetlands and moist shady woods, Spicebush has an irregular shape, in other words not a uniform or neat shape, but spreads out or up in different ways, usually under taller trees which, I think, contribute to its growth habits.  It grows into the spaces left by the bigger trees.  The bark of the main stem and twigs is rough and has raised whitish dots called lenticels that are noticeable to the naked eye.  At this time of year (August), bright green, pointed berries about 1cm long, are growing along the stems.

All parts of this plant are strongly aromatic.  A spicy, citrusy smell is immediately evident when the leaves are rubbed, the twigs or berries are scratched or broken.  This useful, edible plant makes a delicious, slightly sweet, slightly astringent infusion which I've been drinking liberally during the extremely hot, humid days we've been experiencing recently.  The leaves are a bit tough at this time of year to be eaten as a raw salad green, but probably can when young and delicate in the spring.  They also could be shredded and steamed and added to a mix of other cooked green leaves.  The berries are useful as a spicing agent.  I suggest drying them first in either a low oven, out in the sun, or in a food dehydrator.  When thoroughly dry, grind them in a spice or coffee grinder and store in glass jars.  Use as you would allspice or other pungent, sharp-tasting seasoning.

To make the tea, gather an armful of stems with leaves, any time from spring to fall.  Make sure toWASH all plant parts carefully, inspecting the leaf surfaces and especially the lower sides where plant eating insects like to hide.  I usually double, or triple wash all plant material whether from the garden or the wild.  Pour the water around plants instead of wasting it down the drain.

When clean, break the twigs, ripping the bark as you snap them to expose more of the aromatic interior.  Tear the leaves roughly.  Throw it all into a large pot of  boiling water.  Bring back to the boil.  Turn off the burner.  Using tongs or wooden spoon, dunk the spicebush under the water.  Cover the pot and leave it to sit for at least 2 hours.  The longer the infusion, the better the taste.

Strain the leaves and twigs through a colander, catching the liquid of course.  Allow to cool and decant into glass jars or insulated thermos.  Refrigerate and drink over ice.

The "tea" is fine just as it is, but you may choose to sweeten it a little with your favorite sweetener - agave, honey, stevia, or plain sugar.  If you do choose to sweeten it, add the sweetener when the tea is still hot. The flavor is delicate, but not bland.  I would love to hear how you like this unusual beverage.