Backyard Foraging

Foraging may not be the perfect rainy-day event, but we got a kick out of it and actually learned tons about what's growing right in our own backyard! Here's what we gathered yesterday afternoon:

Milk Thistle
Nearly all parts of the milk thistle plant can be consumed as a food without harm. The plant is however, best known for its medicinal benefits such as increasing appetite and aiding in digestion. It is also used to cleanse the liver, treat gall bladder disease, jaundice, cirrhosis, hepatitis and poisoning. Most of the plant can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves for example, make a great spinach substitute when steamed (be sure to remove the sharp leaf-spines first). The seeds, when roasted, make a great coffee substitute.
Side note: This plant almost looks identical to burdock.

Unlike Poison Sumac, which can be identified by its white drupes, the fruits from the Smooth and Staghorn Sumac form dense clusters of reddish drupes. The dried drupes can be ground to produce a tangy , tart purplish spice used in a variety of foods, including salad dressings, meats, rice and hummus. Sumac is also used to make a beverage like tea. This drink is made by soaking the drupes in cool water, rubbing them to extract the essence, straining the liquid through a cotton cloth and sweetening it.

The cattail is one of the most useful wild plants that aid in survival through edible, medicinal and other functional purposes. Cattails can be found all over the world in places with year-round standing water or wet soil, and can be identified by their characteristic brown seed head located a few inches from the top of the plant. In late spring to early summer the female flower spike (which later develops into the characteristic ‘cattail’ seed head) can be broken off and eaten like corn on the cob once boiled. Additionally the rootstock can be eaten raw or boiled – simply dig up the cattail and clean off the dirt from the root. Check out the small, pointed shoots called ‘corms’ coming off the root, which can be peeled and eaten or added to a salad.

: Lastly, we came across milkweed. We found that you can actually harvest the unopened flower buds (which look like miniature heads of broccoli) and put them in soup, casserole, stir-fry etc, or simply boil them.

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