Monday, July 9, 2012

Gifts Of The Gods

My son in law is so serious about wild mushrooms that he keeps a special mushroom-collecting net bag in the car at all times.  Imagine my joy and amazement last week when he came back from a walk in our woods with a batch of chanterelles.  Which, while they were still moist from the earth, he cleaned and chopped and sauteed with butter and garlic.  Added some cream, cooked some pasta, and served The Lunch Of The Gods.

A close second to the Divine Chanterelles are the ramps.  In early spring I found about an acre of them--well, way more than I could use--also in our woods.  They were delicate and oniony at the same time, a vegetable oxymoron.  I felt that I should harvest more of them, and freeze them, but never got around to it.  I think that, like many things in life, ramps work best as a fading memory.

On a more humble scale, I will mention lamb's quarters.  This is a weed (not to be confused with the adorable but inedible gray, fuzzy ornamental, lamb's ears) that I had pulled up from the vegetable garden for years and fed to the chickens along with crabgrass, dandelions, ground ivy and other pests.  I had noticed that the hens seemed to go right for it, and eat it before anything else.  Then an herbalist friend plucked a leaf and invited me to taste it.  It was mild and sweet and spinach-like, but somehow butterier and better than spinach.  This year I picked lamb's quarters right along with the spinach, and froze it for the winter.

Then there's Saint John's Wort, which appears in our fields punctually at the summer solstice (Saint John's Eve).  I harvest it just before the field is hayed, for a friend who soaks the delicate yellow blooms in brandy and shares the resulting tincture with me.  The Wort is supposed to be a powerful aid against weltschmerz and depression, which is no wonder, with all that brandy.

Another gift of the gods that abounds around here is ground ivy.  It is so ubiquitous as to almost be a curse of the gods.  It creeps over everything and would come into the house if I let it.  But herbalists tell me that a plant that comes to you in such a determined way is trying to help you, so I have looked up its uses, as follows:

"An excellent cooling beverage, known in the country as Gill Tea, is made from this plant, 1 OZ. of the herb being infused with a pint of boiling water, sweetened with honey, sugar or liquorice, and drunk when cool in wineglassful doses, three or four times a day. This used to be a favourite remedy with the poor for coughs of long standing, being much used in consumption. Ground Ivy was at one time one of the cries of London for making a tea to purify the blood. It is a wholesome drink and is still considered serviceable in pectoral complaints and in cases of weakness of the digestive organs, being stimulating and tonic, though it has long been discarded from the Materia Medica as an official plant, in favour of others of greater certainty of action. As a medicine useful in pulmonary complaints, where a tonic for the kidneys is required, it would appear to possess peculiar suitability, and is well adapted to all kidney complaints."

I don't know about my kidneys and lungs, but I can certainly use anything that is "stimulating and tonic," and who doesn't want purer blood? One of these days I'll pull up a bunch of this stuff, which is trying to choke out my precious blueberry bushes, and put it in a cup with boiling water and lots of honey.  And I'll let you know what I think.


6 comments :

  1. That Lunch of the Gods sounds absolutely divine. My favourite brunch place has just added something similar (toasted turkish bread instead of pasta) to their winter menu. I've had it twice already. Mmmmmmmm.

    And as a former sheep farmer's daughter, I don't get this whole naming-plants-after-lambs'-body-parts thing. When you said "lamb's quarters" I immediately thought of the two petite lamb rumps sitting in my fridge ready for dinner tonight.

    I do love the idea of you foraging for your food though.

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  2. I make a weed pesto out of whatever edible is out there--dandelions are always a part of it. We eat "ditch lilies" (the orange tiger daylilies)--the shoots in the spring, the flowers in the summer in salad, and the roots in pot roast in the winter. They are a ridiculous amount of work (the roots) but I need to thin them out anyway so might as well. Urban foraging is different of course--mulberries from the tree on the corner, for instance, but I wouldn't know a good from a bad mushroom, and have no idea what a lambsquarters might be (I was thinking fuzzy lams ears...).

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  3. Mali, I'll take toasted turkish bread instead of pasta anytime.

    Bridgett, weed pesto? Why aren't we reading about that in your blog? I thought I was being exotic by making pesto out of kale and pecans....

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  4. I thought I had. But you're right, I hadn't....it's made out of a great big handful of hardneck garlic scapes, edible weeds, maybe some radish greens, parmesan, and walnuts...

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  5. Lali, is ground ivy also called gilly flower? Does it have small purple flowers and a square stem? I know it is in the mint family, but didn't realize you could eat it.

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  6. Bridgett, thanks. Maybe I'll try it!

    Dona, yes, it's the same plant. It used to grow everywhere in my Maryland yard. I haven't gotten up the nerve to try making tea with it yet.

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