Backyard Foraging

A gift to you from Mother Earth

Leeks, morel mushrooms, and the first of the cleansing herbs are making their way to the surface for our dining pleasure each spring here in Northern Michigan. Here are three beauties I found in my backyard. While caution must be used for some wild edibles, none of these herbs have any known side effects or contra indicators for use.

lambsquarters

Lambsquarters

Lambsquarters are a good source of Niacin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

Dandelions

Every part of the dandelion is both edible and stocked full of nutrition. The leaves are a good source of magnesium, phosphorus and copper, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium, iron, potassium and manganese. It is best to gather them early before they turn bitter. Dandelion flowers are a rich source of the nutrient lecithin and the leaves have more beta-carotene than carrots and more iron and calcium than spinach.

Over the years, dandelions have been used as cures for countless conditions including kidney stones, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and hepatitis.

Violets

Violet leaves and flowers contain an abundance of beta-carotene and vitamin C.

The leaf and flower have been used for thousands of years by millions of people as an antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic agent, as well as being used to improve acne, anger, asthma, bronchitis, colds, eczema, fever, fibrocystic breast disease, lymphatic congestion, mastitis, mumps, psoriasis, scurvy, sore throat, ulcers, urinary tract infection, varicose veins, and whooping cough.

Nibble these tasty nutritional power houses by themselves, combine with other greens, fruit, and nuts for a tasty and nutritious meal, or add to your favorite smoothie!

These are just a few of the examples of what is literally right in your own back yard. These gems are better and fresher than anything you could buy in the produce section of your grocery, more nutritious than any supplement or vitamin pill you could take, and absolutely free.


Comfrey Harvesting and Storage

One of the best healing herbs on the planet!

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Latter part of May to first part of June, before the flowers bloom, is a great time to harvest comfrey, one of the best healing herbs on the planet. The leaves are the most potent in the spring and early summer, so those harvested now are good for drying to use in poultices, infused oils for salves, and fomentations-teas for external use. Gather the leaves midmorning after the dew has dried.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It can be hung in bunches to dry, laid on drying racks (or cookie sheets), put in a paper or onion bag, dried in a dehydrator at about 95 degrees for a few hours, which is what I usually do. You need to make sure that all parts of the plant are exposed to air to prevent mold, so if you are not using a dehydrator, be sure to turn or mix it every day.

When the leaves are completely dry, the easiest way to crumble them is to put them in a food processor and take them for a spin until they are the consistency of tea.

Remove the stalks and place in a glass jar with a tight lid.

Store the jar in a labeled jar in a dark, cool, dry place. It can last up to a year, and then it’s time to do it all again anyway. Any left over comfrey is great in the compost pile for a nutrient boost, and the leaves make excellent fertilizer for your plants as well, so it is never wasted.


Red Clover

The beautiful purple flowers have a sweet scent as well as taste.

Although it is not native to this country, red clover can be found in abundance along roadsides and in fields almost anywhere. I found a wealth of it growing in the mountains of Colorado.

Harvesting:
Collect the purple flowers in late morning when the dew is gone. The color is an indicator of the vibrancy of the flowers, so only select the most beautiful.

Preparing:
Dump your harvest into a basket or tub to get rid of the largest of the hitch-hiking bugs; then put the flowers into a mesh bag or plastic container with holes, such as the kind strawberries or blueberries may have come in, and shake to get rid of the rest of the critters.

Drying and Storing:
Lay the blossoms in a single layer on paper or drying racks until completely dry; then place in tightly sealed glass jars, label, and store in a cool dark place. The flowers should retain their bright colors

Benefits:

A tea made from the blossoms has been used for generations in treating whooping cough, bronchitis, and many other respiratory ailments.

Cautions:

People on anticoagulant drugs such as Coumadin should be cautious of using red clover, as the blood may become too thin. Because the isoflavones in red clover mimic estrogen effects in the body, it is not recommended for pregnant women or those who have had breast cancer.


Plantain

Fast relief from bug bites, stings, and more!

How To Use Plantain

If you are out in the wild and need immediate relief, just crush a couple of leaves of plantain with your hands, or even chew it, and put it directly on the itchy spot. Applying bruised fresh leaves or juice directly to the site will begin to draw out the poison and bring relief.

The leaves can also be dried and brewed for tea which has historically been used to treat rheumatic conditions, ulcers, respiratory illness, and jaundice. I use plantain oil in my healing salves, so it’s handy even in the winter months.

A poultice of fresh or dried leaves over wounds, boils, sores, animal bites, scrapes, burns, rashes, eczema, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, etc, will draw out infection, reduce inflammation and pain, help staunch bleeding, and speed tissue healing.

poultice

During the growing season, you can gather a few fresh leaves and briefly pour boiling water over them to sterilize and soften the leaf. After only a few seconds the leaves will soften. When they have cooled enough so as not to burn the skin, apply the top of the leaf directly to the affected area. Leave on the area for 10 minutes or so. If the leaves get too dry, add more water as needed to keep moist.

I gather and dry plantain leaves in the summer much the same way I do with comfrey, as it is also a large leaf.

More Benefits of Plantain…


Maple Water

The gift of March

Maple are not the only trees for tapping. Birch and Walnut may also be used, they are just not as sweet. Of the maples, the sugar maple is the sweetest. The trees should be at least 12″ in diameter for one tap, 21-27″ for two taps, and greater than 27″ for three taps.For about a three or four dollar investment in a spile from a feed or hardware store; some wire strong enough to support a full gallon water jug, but flexible enough to twist; and a clean empty jug or pail, you will receive literally gallons of one of Mother Nature’s sweetest gifts.

The sap runs best when nights are below freezing and days are above freezing.This usually happens for 2-3 weeks in March in northern Michigan.

Getting started

1. Drill a 3/8″ hole 1-2 inches deep into the tree on a very slight upward angle.

2. Pound in the spile.

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3. Secure a pail or bucket to the spile using wire. Experiment a bit to find the technique that suits you best. If you use a bucket, you may want to put a screen over it to keep out excess debris and bugs.

4. Pour the liquid into a clean jar and strain to remove anything that may have fallen in. When the sap is running well, I can easily get 2-4 gallons a day of pure refreshment!

Now what?  Drinking it cold and fresh from the tree ranks right up there, but there are many other ways to enjoy this delicious drink. It doesn’t last long, maybe three days, before it begins to turn. Luckily it freezes well, so you can enjoy it for at least six months, or until you run out!

  • Add lemon juice for a slightly sweet lemonade
  • Add a cup of maple water to your favorite green smoothie
  • Freeze it in ice cube trays and plop it into iced tea in the summer
  • Freeze in one cup containers for a whole pitcher of iced tea to share with your friends and neighbors
  • You could always boil it and make actual maple syrup!


 

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