Summer Foraging

Summer Foraging

We have had a busy summer learning about new edible plants found on our many walks in the Vermont woods and along roadsides. Without further ado, our Summer 2013 foraging report…

Burdock gets its name from the latin “burra” which refers to the lock of wool that is found on a burdock plant after a sheep passes by and “dock” which means broad leaf.

Vermonters may be surprised to learn that native americans boiled the stem of burdock plants and stored the stem as candy to be eaten during the long winter months. Burdock has 6 grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams of root. The burdock taproot is eaten the same way as any root vegetable and is high in calcium, potassium, chromium, iron and magnesium.

In the 1940’s George de Mistral, a swiss scientist was walking his dog when he noticed the burdock seeds clinging to his dog and his own clothing. When he examined the burdock under a microscope, he saw a hook pattern which gave him an idea. He performed many experiments to create a fastener, beginning with cotton and moving to synthetic fibers until he perfected the product we now know as velcro. The word velcro comes from the French “velours” and “crochet” which means velvet hook. It took de Mistral ten years to perfect and patent his discovery and the world took little notice. It was not until NASA saw the potential for velcro in zero gravity environments, that others began to take notice. Ski clothing manufacturers and then scuba enthusiasts made use of velcro and now it is found in many forms as a popular fastener…all because of burdock. Innovative uses of nature applied in a practical way such as burdock and velcro has its own category of scientific endeavor known as bio-mimicry.

Day lilies get their name from the fact that the bloom of the day lily flower lasts only one day. These ubiquitous orange flowers are found growing wild along Vermont roadsides in mid summer. Day lilies come in many colors , but tis summer we focused our appetites on the orange day lilies. The flowers, tubers and flower buds of the day lilies are edible. Day lilies contain protein and Vitamin C and the orange color is in part due to two carotenoids which like the orange color in carrots, is good for your eyes. We particularly enjoyed sautéing the flower buds in olive oil with a little sea salt. The flavor and texture reminded us of mild asparagus.

Elderberry has a rich history in folklore and herbal medicine. Elderberries are very high in anti-oxidants, but most recent studies have focused on elderberry’s flu fighting properties. A study from the Journal of Internal Medicine found that those who took elderberry extract recovered from the flu four days earlier than the control group. Elderberry is the focus of ongoing studies, but its effectiveness is accepted by many for flu prevention and treatment. It is believed that anthocyanins, found naturally in elderberries, may be the agent that prevents the flu virus from making us ill.  We posted an elderberry syrup recipe already and it can be found here.Throughout history, elderberry trees were thought to be inhabited by a tree spirit. It was common practice to leave a gift for the tree spirit whenever taking the berries or wood from the elderberry tree. Some believe that if you sit under an elderberry on mid-summers eve, you will see the faery procession. I don’t know for sure if that is true, but I am fairly certain that if you drink enough elderberry wine, you will have a vision whether you are under the tree or not.

Milkweed is most known for the Monarch butterflies that attach to its leaves as caterpillars and later emerge as a beautiful butterfly. But did you know this? Milkweed sap contains cardiac glycosides which is a toxin that monarch caterpillars ingest. The glycosides make the Monarch toxic to predators and the poison stays in their system even after they turn into butterflies. The toxin is not found in the nectar or pollen of the milkweed flower, so none of it is carried by the many pollinators who visit  milkweed during the summer. Milkweed flowers can be boiled down in a simple sugar syrup creating a beautifully colored, fragrant addition to cocktails or sorbet.

Queen Annes Lace was originally known only as wild carrot. It is indeed the precursor to the carrots we eat today. The taproot is edible, but it is the flower that draws us to it year after year. Like snowflakes, no two blossoms are alike. Centuries ago, when Queen Anne of Denmark travelled to England to marry King James, legend has it that she challenged her ladies in waiting to a contest to see who could create a lace that approximated the beauty of the wild carrot. While she was working on her lace, Queen Anne pricked her finger with the needle and a drop of blood fell, landing on the center of the lace. That tiny drop of blood is still found in the center of every Queen Annes Lace flower.

The wonder of noticing the emergence of plants as the seasons progress is natures clock. We can tell the “time” of the seasons by what wild plants are in season for eating. Reading natures clock only requires being present outdoors and watching the flowers bloom and wither, ticking away the seconds through the summer season.


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