A Weed Lover’s Manifesto


By Andrea Jackson

I love weeds. There, I said it.  Don’t worry, I do pull them (there’s a reason why they’re called weeds, after all), but I am much more likely to make a tincture or a salve or something good (yes, good) to eat than to discard them completely.

After all, weeds were really the first herbs. Emerson said “weeds are but an unloved flower.” They have also been called a plant out of place. Consider a field of commercial dandelions with a single forlorn rose bush growing in the middle. Now which one is the weed?

Plantago_major_SZ356869_Freshwater_MCotterill_IWNHASWeeds tell wonderful stories, and as we learn them, they take us on a journey to discover where they came from and how they came to be who they are today. 

For example, there’s the common broadleaf plantain (Plantago major). Broadleaf plantain is everywhere, which is a good thing for us because chewing a leaf and applying it to a sting will relieve it instantly. It is an unparalleled remedy for skin conditions and finds its way into just about every salve I make. The common name evolved from the Roman name planta, or the sole of man’s foot, because it seemed to follow the Roman legions wherever they went throughout Europe. This is certainly a good indication that plantain has been around for quite a while. The Anglo-Saxons called it the mother of herbs and used a magical verse anytime it was applied to a wound.

If you have a garden, you almost certainly have purslane (Portulaca oleracea). It has succulent leaves, which look rather like a prostrate jade plant spread out in all directions. Although it is an annual, even the tiniest stem left behind will sprout a new plant. Purslane has been enjoyed all over the world as a potherb, thus its specific epithet, oleracea, meaning “used as food.” It is known as the vegetable for long life in China. 

purslanePurslane is one of the highest plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids and can be used in simple summer soups and salads. Each summer, I make a wonderful purslane relish that far surpasses any relish from the grocery shelf. The recipe is in my current favorite wild foods book, The Forager’s Feast, by Leda Meredith.

Garlic mustard (Alliaira petiolata) and black mustard (Brassica nigra) are certainly some of the most invasive plants around; fortunately, they are also delicious. A yummy pesto can be made with the young leaves. You can also sauté a crushed clove of garlic, toss in a handful of garlic mustard leaves and violet leaves, and cook for no more than 30 seconds; then, sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and a dash of soy sauce, and you have a healthy, garlic mustarddelectable side dish.

This is just a teaser to help you to see weeds in a different way. Since they have always been with us and will always be with us, perhaps it’s time to get to know them better. For more fascinating information about these plants, read Just Weeds by Pamela Jones or A City Herbal by Maida Silverman.

 

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Andrea Jackson is a member of the Western Pennsylvania Unit of the Herb Society of America. She started her herbal adventure over 30 years ago after attending an herb walk led by Piccadilly Herb Club, of which she ultimately became a member.  When she lived in Baltimore, she was a founding member of Partners in Thyme. She also belongs to the American Herbalists Guild, and the American Botanical Council.

Herbs aside, Andrea is a registered nurse and a Master Gardener and lectures extensively to groups ranging from professional organizations to garden clubs.  She was featured on the local affiliate of ABC news in a segment on medicinal herbs.

Her particular interests lie in the medicinal uses of herbs, herbal lore, and weeds, which she considers to be the first herbs. When she is not spreading the herbal gospel, she is tucked away in her herb room formulating various concoctions. 

Spicebush to the Rescue

Spicebush to the Rescue

By Kaila Blevins

Author Volunteer TripWhile on a volunteer trip in Orlando, Florida, I was desperate for bug spray. In the middle of December, the mosquitoes nibbled on any exposed skin they could find, leaving me and the rest of the unprepared Maryland native participants with patches of red swollen bumps on our ankles and arms. Our guides, a retired couple who volunteers with the state parks, became our heroes on the second day of the trip. During our lunch break, the husband saunters over to us, carrying a branch from a nearby shrub and states, “This is spicebush. Crush its leaves and rub it onto your arms. Keeps the bugs away and helps the itch.” Immediately, we passed the branch around, ripped the leaves off the branch, crumpled them, and rubbed the lemon-peppery scented oil onto our skin.

A couple years later, I would learn that spicebush (Lindera benzoin) has a multitude of uses. The fragrant multi-stemmed shrub is native to the margins of wetlands and along woodland streams in the Eastern United States. It can grow close to 10 feet tall, and in spicebush flowersApril, yellow flowers begin to appear on the branches. By the end of the summer, the flowers are replaced by cherry red fruits. Spicebush is integral to the native ecosystems, as it serves as the host plant for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly, and birds are known to snack on the seeds. However, Native Americans and early settlers relied on spicebush’s herbal properties.

Native Americans would brew tea with the bark, twigs, leaves, and berries. When ingested, the tea would induce sweating. The increased perspiration would help fight off fevers and ease body aches. In addition, ingestion would assist with removing intestinal parasites. The tea could be applied topically as well. Compresses soaked in spicebush tea would be applied to the skin to ease the pain from arthritis, rashes, bruises, and itching. Once settlers arrived in the new world, they sought help from the Native Americans.

The settlers did not know much about the peculiar plants growing in North America, so Native Americans taught them the herbal benefits of the native plants. Lindera benzoin fruitSettlers used spicebush for similar ailments as well as typhoid fever. They also used the plant in culinary dishes. The dried seeds and bark became milder substitutes for allspice and cinnamon, respectively. Beyond its herbal uses, settlers used the presence of spicebush as an indicator for rich soil that could be converted into agricultural land.

Spicebush’s herbal properties may get overlooked by its ecological importance or showy yellow leaves in fall, but it was a staple for Native Americans, early settlers, and my volunteer trip. For more information on spicebush, check out HSA’s Essential Fact Sheet.

 

Photo Credits (from top): Author on field trip; spicebush flowers (courtesy E. Holden); spicebush fruit (courtesy E. Holden)

References

Keiffer, Betsy. “Lindera Benzoin.” Cultivation Notess, Sept. 1998, riwps.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Lindera_benzoin.pdf.

“Lindera Benzoin.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – The University of Texas at Austin, http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=LIBE3.

“Lindera Benzoin.” North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox, plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/lindera-benzoin/.

Nesom, Guy. “Spicebush.” Plant Guide, USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center & the Biota of North America Program , 2003, plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_libe3.pdf.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


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Kaila Blevins is the 2020-2021 National Herb Garden intern. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a B.S. in Environmental Science and Technology and a minor in sustainability. This fall, she will pursue a Master’s in Landscape Architecture at Morgan State University while also interning in the National Herb Garden. She hopes to expand her knowledge of plants, and how they benefit human health and life. In her spare time, she likes to read, paint, brew kombucha and experiment with its flavors, as well as spend time with her family and pets. Kaila also likes to stay active in the community through volunteering.

Harbinger of Spring Look-Alikes: Dead Nettle & Henbit

By Susan BelsingerIMG_8189

The first spring wildflowers, herbs, and weeds are popping out all over. Two that frequently appear together are both members of the mint family, Lamiaceae: dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). Since they often grow in a patch together, are about the same height, and both have bright green leaves and purplish-pink flowers  that bloom at the same time, at first glance, they are often mistaken as the same plant. However, held side-by-side and inspected a bit closer, they are very different in appearance. Similarities also include how and where they grow. Their early spring blooms are some of the first food for honeybees, and the tubular shape of their flowers attract hummingbirds.

Both of these spring harbingers prefer sunny spots where the land or garden soil has been disturbed, along roadsides and in meadows and lawns, and will tolerate some shade. They are often found growing side-by-side and intertwined together in patches in moist, fertile soil. I’d say that they grow anywhere from 8-to 12-inches tall, sometimes being the same height in a group together, though occasionally the henbit stretches just a little bit taller than the dead nettle. The henbit is a bit rangier and will even sprawl along the ground, whereas dead nettle is upright.

IMG_7862

Henbit (left) and dead nettle (right) have obvious differences when compared side by side.

Harvest unsprayed, tender spikes early in the season—both the leaves and flowers are edible— and be sure of the correct identification of the plants before you eat them (dead nettle has some look-alike plants before it flowers). Both plants are easy to identify once they bloom. I find that many of our weedy harbingers taste green and earthy; I get strong mineral flavors from nettles and henbit similar to chickweed. Although they are members of the mint family, there is no mint to their flavors. If the stems are tough, then I remove them; if tender, I often add them to my Wild Greens Salsa Verde recipe (see below) since it will be pounded or pureed.  

Wild, edible greens are powerful, good food and offer a variety of flavors for free; they are nutritious and usually high in vitamins and minerals. In Europe, the gentle word “potherb” is given to wild greens that offer the knowledgeable forager herbs for the cooking pot. Both of these plants can be eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, wraps, and salsas, or cooked in soups and sauces, or combined in a mess o’ greens with other potherbs or green leaves like kale, spinach, chard, tat soi, etc. I prefer to combine them with other greens rather than eat them in quantity on their own.

Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

IMG_8241

Dead nettle

Sometimes called red nettle, purple nettle, and even purple archangel, it is thought that this is called dead nettle because its leaves resemble stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), though they do not have the stinging characteristic of Urtica. Spotted nettle (Lamium maculatum) is closely related, however its leaves have whitish spots or blotches. 

The foliage of purple dead nettle is wrinkled and hirsute (hairy), and the edges of the heart-shaped leaves have rounded teeth. The leaves grow opposite one another on their noticeably square stems, mostly on the lower stem and at the top (leaving the center stem bare), where they overlap and give the appearance of being overcrowded. Foliage is a medium, bright green although depending upon growing conditions, the leaves clustered at the very top are often purplish-red in color. It is quite attractive against the dainty, single, tubular, lavender-pink flowers. Beginning foragers might want to wait to harvest when the plant is in flower—that way there is no mistaking it for another plant.

In doing research on the medicinal aspects of dead nettle, there are many actions listed: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic, purgative, and styptic. Since it has astringent and styptic qualities, the fresh leaves are recommended for external wounds or cuts. Tea from the leaves is purported to aid in digestion and is used as a mild laxative. It is also used for women’s issues for heavy menstrual flow and cramps. Caution: dead nettle should not be taken while pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) 

This plant is often mistakenly called dead nettle (L. purpureum). I’ve read that henbit gets its name because chickens like it and seek it out, though I am not sure about that—the chickens that I know don’t pay it much attention—though they have lots of other plants and insects to forage. While dead nettle has petioled leaves (little leaf stems attaching the leaves to the central stem), henbit’s lower leaves grow on short stalks, and the mid-to upper, ruffled and scallop-edged leaves appear in a half-circle, clasped around the square stem.

IMG_8265

Henbit

I love how Billy Joe Tatum perfectly describes the flowers of henbit in Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook: “The tiny flower buds look like beet-colored velvet beads, as small as a pinhead at first. As the buds open you see silken purplish flowers with long corollas, looking like Jack-in-the-pulpits in miniature.” Often upon close inspection, the tiny flowers are pale pinkish inside with deeper-colored spots; each flower turns into a four-seeded fruit.

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Chickens in the dead nettle.

Henbit’s properties are somewhat similar to those of dead nettle and include: anti-rheumatic, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, laxative and stimulant. Henbit has been used to support good digestion, whether consumed raw or made into a tea, and has also been used  to reduce a fever.

To prepare foraged greens:

To quickly capture the best flavor and nutrients, bring the greens to the kitchen as soon as they are harvested. Assemble a salad spinner or washing bowl, a cutting board, and the compost bucket. Run one gallon of water into the spinner or bowl. Add about 1/4 cup distilled white or apple cider vinegar to the water.

Methodically pull the tips or tender leaves from the stems. Pinch off leaves with yellow edges, or brown or black spots. Place the edible parts in the vinegar water as you work and submerge the mass in the water, plunging up and down several times to loosen foreign matter. Let the greens soak in the water for several minutes and the grit will fall to the bottom of the container. Lift them out and drain them. Discard the vinegar water and spin or pat the greens dry. Use fresh or cooked. If not using all of them, wrap them in a kitchen towel and store in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for a few days.

 

Wild Greens Salsa Verde

(Makes about 2 1/2 cups)IMG_8217

This traditional green sauce goes well with any type of vegetable, whether it is grilled, steamed, oven-roasted, or crudités; it is also good with simply-prepared meat, chicken, fish, and pasta, or even tortilla chips. Vary the herbs that you have on hand or what is in season. When I can, I make this a wild green sauce by adding whatever I can forage: dead nettle, henbit, sorrel, chickweed, dandelion greens and/or flowers, purslane, lambs’ quarters, violet leaves, field cress, monarda, wild onions, or garlic. You can fill in with any seasonal greens from the garden if need be like parsley, fennel fronds, cilantro, arugula, spinach, etc. Sometimes, I add other ingredients—about 1 tablespoon of capers, a chopped boiled egg, or a handful of nuts, like pine nuts, walnuts, or pecans. The sauce can be made without the bread; it just helps to thicken it a bit.

1 1-inch slice country bread, crusts removed

3 large garlic cloves, slivered

About 1/2 cup olive oil

About 3 to 4 cups of mixed edible green leaves, picked over, washed and spun dry 

1/4 cup minced sweet-tasting onion

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Soak the bread in a little water for 10 minutes, then squeeze most of the liquid from it. Add the bread and the garlic to the mortar or food processor and pound or pulse to coarsely chop.

Rough chop the greens. Add them a handful at a time, and pound them in a mortar and pestle or chop in a food processor. Use a little olive oil to loosen them.

Add the olive oil to the herbs as if making a mayonnaise, a few drops at a time, blending or pulsing to incorporate.

When most of the oil has been added, blend in the onion and vinegar. If you want to add capers, nuts, or a hardboiled egg, now is the time; pulse or pound to mix. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, and taste for seasoning. The sauce should be a little thinner than pesto—add a bit more oil, vinegar, or even a bit of water if need be. 

Let the sauce stand at least 30 minutes before using—that way the flavors will develop and meld. Adjust the seasoning and serve at room temperature. The olive oil will not emulsify completely; a little will remain on top of the sauce. Store any leftover sauce in a tightly-covered glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


sb self portrait moors of ireland (1)Susan is a culinary herbalist, food writer, educator, and photographer whose work has been published in numerous publications. She has authored a number of award-winning books. Her latest book, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs, was co-authored with the late Dr. Arthur Tucker. Susan is passionate about herbs and her work, sharing the joy of gardening and cooking through teaching and writing, and inspiring others to get in touch with their senses of smell and taste.

Ramps

By Paris Wolfe

When Jeremy Umansky was at culinary school in 2006, a professor took him foraging in the Hudson Valley. They were looking for fiddlehead ferns, morel mushrooms, and ramps. Umansky –a James Beard award semi-finalist, and owner of Larder Deli in Cleveland – was converted. He has been harvesting that harbinger of spring, ramps, ever since. 

For those who haven’t yet heard, Foraged.Ramps 14the ramp – also called a wild leek — is a species of wild onion (Allium tricoccum) that is native to North America. The bulbs resemble a scallion, but the leaves are wide and flat. They cover Appalachian forest floors before trees fully leaf out. The flavor is a mix of garlic and onion. And, if you eat too many raw, you will sweat that aroma.

Ramps are high in vitamins A and C, and in lore, they are considered a blood cleanser and part of a good spring tonic. In April and May, ramp festivals and dinners are common throughout their growing region and the plants often pop up on farmers market stands.

A staple of Appalachian cooking for centuries, today’s chefs are incorporating them into their menus. “We use every part of the plant,” Umansky says. “We use the greens the way you’d use any fresh herb. We use leaves in a salad, for a pesto, chopped finely as a seasoning.” He takes inspiration from a variety of cooking styles including Southeast Asian, Mediterranean, and more. He also pickles the bulb for a garnish long after the season has ended.

Ramp Biscuit Trio

Ramp Biscuits

Cooking, he warns, will mellow the flavor. “That’s why we like to use the greens as fresh as possible,” he says. “If we really want that ramp flavor, we’ll treat them as a scallion.”

“Last year we shifted our approach and only plucked greens, no bulbs,” he noted. “Every few years we do that to give the bulbs a break and keep our private patch healthy.”

For those who don’t have Umansky’s training and imagination, books and blogs inspire. Perhaps one of the best cookbooks about ramps is Ramps, The Cookbook: Cooking with the Best-Kept Secret of the Appalachian Trail (St. Lynn’s Press, 2012).ST LYNN'S PRESS RAMPS Cover

The fully illustrated book brings together recipes from chefs, food writers, and bloggers around North America. They’re good with eggs for breakfast or in a curry for dinner, and they are delicious in soups, fritters, and jelly. Or, try pairing Cream of Ramps with Wild Asparagus soup with ramp pesto cornmeal muffins. 

Editor’s note: West Virginia hosts many ramp festivals in the spring. Check out this website for more info on events held throughout the state – this is a good time to plan next year’s trip! Ramps, like many wild plants, are vulnerable to overharvesting, which depletes native populations. As always, please purchase plant material from reputable sources and/or practice sustainable foraging techniques. United Plant Savers suggests harvesting one leaf per plant, harvesting the leaves only, and even learning how to grow your own.


Paris Wolfe is an award winning writer of business, food, and travel articles.

Dandelion – June Herb of the Month

Dandelion – June Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal, HSA Secretary

dandelion-1.jpgDandelion, Taraxacum officinale, a common weed, is in fact a treasure trove of vitamins and minerals. We need to be harvesting dandelions instead of weeding them from our yards and gardens. I remember as a child being paid by the bushel for pulling dandelions from my parent’s lawn. I never thought about eating them, though. How things have changed!

Early in the growing season is the perfect time to harvest dandelion leaves for soup or salad. Leaves tossed with a tangy vinaigrette dressing with blue cheese and dates makes a delicious and nutritious salad. The leaves are full of vitamins A, C, D, and B complex as well as a long list of minerals including iron, zinc, manganese, potassium, and magnesium. Dandelion leaves are the richest source of beta carotene of any of the green vegetables.

The roots are chock full of the same vitamins and minerals. However, roots harvested in the fall are a bit sweeter. The dried and roasted roots can be used as a coffee or tea substitute.

Native Americans, Chinese, and Arabian peoples have used dandelion in their medicines for a long time. Western medicine is beginning to study it for medicinal applications, including testing its effectiveness against several drug-resistant cancers.

dandelion wishEveryone remembers blowing on the round, fluffy dandelion seed heads as a child. But do you know the legend behind this popular childhood activity? To discover the legend, you will have to go to The Herb Society of the Month’s Herb of the Month web page and read about dandelion. You will find some very interesting recipes using dandelion here as well. Now is the time to try them out.

For more delightful and informative articles about dandelion, read the dandelion posts on this HSA blog.

Ready for Dandelions

Save those Dandelions for Wine

Violets are Delicious

Violets are Delicious

By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America

violet bouquetOne of the loveliest flowers of spring is the Viola odorata or as it is commonly referred to, the “Sweet violet.” Violets have been used in herbal healing remedies for centuries, in fact St. Hildegard of Bingen, the famous 12th century German mystic and healer, was said to have made a healing salve of violet juice, olive oil, and goat tallow for its use as a possible anti-bacterial.

I use violets whenever I can for their healing virtues, and they are also an absolutely delicious ingredient in salads, drinks, and desserts. Back in the day, violet flowers, and leaves mixed into salads were one of my favorite spring remedies for pre-menstrual melancholy. When chopped liberally into extra virgin olive oil with some fresh comfrey leaves, they make a poultice that can soothe rashes , irritations, sore muscles, and tender breasts.

When infused into a simple syrup they enliven fresh lemonade or an elegant champagne cocktail. You can also use a delightful crème de violette in place of the syrup. If you are going to make a lavender lemonade, freeze some violet flowers into ice cubes to use in your glass. There’s really nothing prettier.

When I was 23, I met Jim and, shortly after we married, we bought a small farm in Burton, Ohio, complete with a century home, small barn, and several acres of unspoiled land. It was nestled on a little bit of hillside with an artesian spring that bubbled up by a little oak grove, providing me with fresh watercress whenever I desired.

We named the farm “Windesphere,” the place on earth where the winds and waters meet. We moved in that December and I’ll never forget that first spring. As the snow thawed, I began to see treasures in the gardens. First were the snowdrops that dotted the hillside like a blanket of down and the soft catkins of the pussy willows. Next flowering buds started to appear everywhere. I found a quince bush and several heirloom apple trees and a blackberry grove. field of violets

Then there were the violets. I’ll never forget when I found them. It was on one of those warm, early spring days when you’ve just shed your coat and begun to think that maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to put away your long underwear for a bit. I decided that it was a good day to go for a walk in the back just to see what was budding. We had a beautiful back porch made of fieldstone and the steps that went towards the back yard were hand hewn and lovely. As I walked, I began to notice the fragrance…something just a bit sweet and very green.

When the fragrance was so strong that I couldn’t ignore it, I looked down. In the grass all around me were the most beautiful little violets in shades of deep purple, lilac, and white. The smell was intoxicating. Over the years I picked them for little bouquets, crystallized them for desserts and made them into massage oils, tinctures, vinegars, and syrups. They appeared every spring, growing more abundant every year. I will always remember my son Alex lying face down in a huge patch of them and whispering for me to join him and the violet fairies.

IMG_7820In honor of all these memories I’ve made a violet ice cream with a lovely Fortnum and Mason tea from England that features roses and violets. I’ve also added some of my thick and sticky homemade blackberry jam just to gild the lily. This ice cream is rich, creamy and just perfect for spring. See the recipe below.

If you’ve never had them, crystallized violets are absolutely beautiful, sparkling little jewels and much better than candy. I became addicted the first time my sister brought these treasures home from Paris. Fortunately for me, they are so easy to make. All you need are fresh violets, beaten egg white (not quite frothy), superfine sugar and a soft, sable paintbrush.

Be certain to harvest your blooms from areas that haven’t been touched with pesticides or animals because you will not be rinsing them. Paths through the woods are usually the perfect place to find them.

After harvest, separate flowers from the stems. Then, dip your paintbrush into the egg white and gently apply it — very lightly — to the violet. Cover the entire flower or petal. Then turn the violet upside down, and while holding it over a plate, sprinkle with the superfine sugar to coat it evenly. Place each violet on a tray lined with parchment and allow to completely dry. You can hasten the process a bit by putting the tray into a 150-degree oven with the door left ajar or you can simply leave them in the oven with the light left on overnight. Whatever you do they won’t be around for long because they are absolutely delicious. Once completely dry store for up to six months in an airtight jar.

IMG_7819VIOLET ICE CREAM

1 pint whipping cream
2 cups sweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons crème de violette
1/4 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
3/4 cup Fortnum and Mason Rose and Violet Tea
4 ounces Ghirardelli white chocolate baking bar
4 tablespoons candied violets, (handmade or purchased)
3 tablespoons blackberry Jam
2 organic egg yolks

Combine the cream and coconut milk in a saucepan and bring to a shallow boil. Whisk in the honey, crème de violette and vanilla, then turn off the heat. Add the loose tea and let it infuse for at least 15 minutes stirring occasionally. When the flavor is as bright as you want it to be, strain the milk mixture through a fine mesh strainer and press the tea through the strainer to extract the maximum essence. It will still be quite warm. Put the milk /cream mixture into a high-speed blender and add the chocolate, candied violets and jam. Turn the blender on and adjust to one of the highest settings. Add the egg yolks and blend for a minute or two.

Pour the custard blend into a dish suitable for freezing or if you¹re lucky enough to have an ice cream maker use that. Freeze until solid, scoop into pretty bowls or glasses, garnish with candied violets, a light shortbread cookie and enjoy.

This recipe will easily serve about 6 reasonable people or two very greedy ones…you decide!
Note: Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs may increase the risk of foodborne illness.

Plantain, Good For Everything, and Usually Under Foot

By Kathleen M Hale, Western Reserve Herb Society

plaintain1Plantain. Let’s be clear. Not the banana. We’re talking about Lantago major, also called broadleaf plantain, white man’s foot, ribble grass, way bread, great rat’s tail or greater plantain. It is, in fact, related to the banana, as a species of perennial flowering plant in the plantain family. It is also related to hosta, also known as plantain lily, which it somewhat resembles.

Still not a banana. This herb is a leaf vegetable rich in calcium and vitamins A,C and K. The leaves are produced in a flat, broad oval rosette. The flowers are many, tiny, greenish in color, and held aloft above the leaves by a tall, single spire of a stem. Those flowers produce tens of thousands of seeds per plant, which are dispersed by the wind.

Once its job is done, that tall stem has historically been dried, twisted, and braided into useful objects, such as twine, baskets, and mats.

Plantain’s name, white man’s foot, came from the observation by indigenous people that it followed European expansion, having been introduced from Europe. Plantain thrives in disturbed soil, appearing trodden into the wasteland by intrusive feet.

The leaves have been ingested as a tea or tincture as the mucilage from its crushed leaves soothes inflamed membranes. Young leaves are tender and something like spinach. More mature leaves might be better stewed.

plantain floweringUsed for healing where ever it is found, it has been applied externally as a poultice and is valued for its anti-microbial, astringent, and regenerative qualities. There are strong traditions that a poultice of plantain is particularly valuable in drawing out venom from the bites of snakes and spiders and the stings of bees and wasps. Perhaps.

One of the customary ways to prepare that poultice is to chew the leaves into a paste, and apply that to the wound. Here, I recall the time my darling daughter offered a baby finger to the parrot, Merlin. Merlin bit. Amazon parrots have beaks like bolt cutters, so we were lucky that her finger was wounded, but intact. Our pediatrician ordered a round of antibiotics, not because parrot bites are particularly likely to become infected, but because any toddler is going to stick the injured finger in her own mouth, making the injury, in effect, a human bite. And a human bite ALWAYS gets infected. That said I would advise against the traditional method of preparing a plantain poultice. Others who have long and deep herbal knowledge may disagree with me. Perhaps its best to follow the always-reliable, historic herbalist Hildegard of Bingen and simply apply the juice of the leaf.

Hildegard also suggests ingesting the leaves, with or without water, as a remedy when one has been given a love potion. Which is, I suppose, something like having been bitten by a venomous creature…. but worse. Of course, she recommends following up with a great quantity of strong drink. That should help.

Plantain is probably growing at the edges of your yard, or between the cracks in the sidewalk. People may spray pesticide to banish plantain from their lawn or garden, but wind-dispersed seeds by the thousands per plant are a solid survival strategy for the plant. If you harvest your own plantain, be aware whether the area has been treated with chemicals or in a pet area. You can buy the dried leaves from Amazon and herbal suppliers.

Start Gardening Season with Baker Creek

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

20180111_131159After cleaning up Christmas decorations, I was ready for armchair gardening season. My first purchase was The Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. To me it’s the Holy Grail of seed catalogs – 356 pages of unusual, exotic and often extreme vegetables, herbs and flowers from around the world.

I raced through 272 pages of lushly illustrated vegetable porn to get to the herb section. I’ll return later to read about one-pound beets, rainbow corn and celtuce.

In the herb section I savored descriptions from ashwaganda to yarrow. I can’t decide which of the 21 basils I want to grow. I want to try Moldavian balm, a purple-flowered tea herb in the mint family. I could grow dandelion, mullein, nettle and purslane instead of foraging them. But why?

Safflower, toothache plant, white horehound … I want, want, want.

Moldavian balm

Four pages of new herbs for 2018 include three perillas, oyster leaf and self heal, among others.

While the herb section ends at page 290, the herb options continue in a 50-page flower section. Stars include calendula and milkweed. My favorites are the 11 nasturtium and five edible pansy options. Both are impressive in salads.

From the books and gifts section I may order Clyde’s Garden Planner, just $3.

If you don’t want to spend $9.99 on the full-blown catalog, consider ordering the shorter, free version. Then, settle into your armchair and circle your faves. Better yet, order them and get growing.

Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

I love a good garage sale. So it only makes sense that I’d like foraging. It’s like garage sale meets farmers market. But it’s organic and free … if you know what you’re doing and stay away from chemically treated or publicly protected lands.

Foraging & Feasting CoverOver the past few years I’ve collected a few foraging books to teach myself what I can and cannot eat. I learn something new from each book. My latest addition/edition is Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender (Botanical Arts Press, 2013)

The book starts with a philosophical celebration leads into practical harvesting tips and continues with lushly detailed illustrations and identification information for 50 plants. Charts in the middle summarize seasonality and culinary uses. And relevant recipes are an inspiring finale. Did I already say it’s delightful to the eye?

Dina with Angelica 6_1_13

Dina’s interest in herbs and, then foraging, was sparked at 11, when she received her first herb book.

“I became conscious of the healing properties of food, clearly grasping the concept that food is my medicine,” she writes. “From that point forward, my commitment to and exploration of finding, preparing and eating healthful foods began.”

In flipping through I recognized my favorite chickweed. And, for the first time I came upon the day flower, a plant that I’ve been fighting (and losing) all summer. In the future it’s going into the salad, not the compost pile.

Dayflower-Commelina erectaI must admit my favorite recipes are herbal spirits and ice creams. The spirit combinations include lemon balm-strawberry vodka and black currant-fennel vodka. Ice cream inspirations include rose petal, lavender, bee balm and lemon verbena.

Therapeutic recipes include digestive bitters which are a scotch-based herbal root infusion.

My biggest problem with this book is that I don’t know if I should keep my copy on my nightstand for studying, in my kitchen for cooking or on the porch for relaxing. It’s that useful.


Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender is available from Botanical Arts Press.