Wrestling with Burdock

Even through snow and ice, if you know where the burdock patches are you can still get to the all important roots, stuffed with carbs and starch to keep energy up in the cold. Arctium lappa/minus (Greater and Lesser Burdock respectively) can be used in just the same ways as each other.

Burdock in Spring & Summer

Those giant cabbagy leaves are a giveaway, with their wavy, scalloped edges and white, suede-like underneath. They are thick and have a leather feel. They come from a central rosette low on the ground. What we are looking for is the first year plant (Burdock is a biennial plant), without a central flowering stem. A second year plant won’t kill you, but its root will be tough and fibrous instead of tender!

Bring a ruddy great spade, as the root can easily go down to 2m underground. if your’e not sure where to dig, look for the tall second year dried seedheads. There are usually some first year plants nearby.

Remember, all the energy of the plant has gone down to its root to prepare for next year, so don’t expect glamour from the aerial parts at this time of year (this was taken in December). In fact, Burdock looks like something you wouldn’t wipe your bum with right now, but that’s not the part you’ll be eating, so try not to worry. Dig all around the root to two or three spade depths, or whatever you can manage. (I hope you asked the landowner for permission, too!) Leave some of the root in the ground so the plant can regrow. This is also far easier than digging it all out…

WARNING! BURDOCK SEED IS EVIL! It will stick to your clothes and hair and butt and is extremely difficult to remove…this is how the plant spreads its seeds. It is also VERY ITCHY! If you can get beyond these drawbacks, the seeds are an important Chinese medicine for clearing toxins out of the body. I tried this and got the seed hairs, which are like glass fibre, in my eyes. Best leave that to the experts.

So here comes the even more entertaining part…making this into something my 6 year old son will eat.

Burdock root can be chopped like parsnip, boiled for 5 mins then braised with butter and a little honey to glaze. it has a naturally sweet flavour, (like aniseed crossed with parsnip). But i’ve done that before, so I decided to make Burdock & Pine Nut Latkes. A latke is a Swedish fritter made with grated or mandolin’ed root veg and eggs plus a little flour. These are great with strongly flavoured fish and some salad.

BURDOCK & PINE NUT LATKES

350g (or 2 x 20cm pieces) Burdock root

1 large carrot

3 eggs

flour to taste

salt and pepper

1 tsp cumin powder

handful of pine nuts (I used wild Monterey Pine)

Groundnut or sunflower oil

Clove of garlic

  1. Clean and scrape the burdock roots. Grate on a large grater together with the carrot. There will be a core which is too tough, throw this in the compost!
  2. Put in a bowl and beat the eggs in. Mix. Add 2 tblsp flour, pine nuts, cumin, salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Chop and fry the garlic in the oil.
  4. Squish the mixture into patties the size of a small burger.
  5. Pat both sides with flour.
  6. Heat the oil then fry the patties til crispy and brown, flipping over once. This takes roughly 10 minutes.
  7. Pat dry with paper towel, then serve warm with sour cream or yoghurt. I made a salad with tinned mackerel in tomato sauce and cucumber cut up small.
  8. Enjoy! Burdock root helps you eliminate toxins from your body, too – great for that post Xmas hangover.

So my son’s verdict? “It’s ok.” he admits, and eats half of one Latke before going back to his frankfurters. One thing I would say is make sure you scrub those roots well, otherwise you get some crunchy soil in there too…but that’s good for you too, isn’t it. 😉

Wrestling with Burdock

Edible Tree of the Week: Monterey Pine

Now’s the time of year to celebrate our evergreens. So here we have the Monterey Pine, or Pinus radiata. This beautiful, lush 3 needle pine has spreading branches that can hang low down. When I say ‘3 needle’ I mean that the needles are arranged in bunches of 3, and they are around 15cm long. It can grow around 30 to 45m tall.

These are the trees that sheltered John Steinbeck’s homeless, alcoholic ex soldiers in his classic novel ‘Tortilla Flat’, set in Monterey, California! It hails from a small section of the California coastline, but is planted in milder parts of the UK. I have been nicking pollen off the ones at my local lake for several years now!

So onto edibility.

Make a Vitamin C rich tea by boiling the needles. Cut the freshest, most bright green ones, rinse, and erm..boil, until the water changes colour and the needles go from green to dull umber. Trappers and hunters would use pine needle tea to prevent scurvy (and other awful things that happen to people that don’t eat any fruit).

Something more substantial, you say?

Most pines have Edible seeds, but many are pretty small and a faff to use and harvest. Monterey Pine cones are large, ripening to 15cm long and 9cm across. The seeds are sealed in these things until a ruddy great bush fire comes along and causes the cones to pop open, scattering the seeds over what is (by now) a lovely nutritious layer of ash. You can help nature along by heating the cones on top of your stove or in your oven.

The pine nuts that drop out are nutritious, rich in good fats, omega 3, vitamin E which helps skin and hair stay healthy, iron,magnesium and fibre.

They need rubbing in the fingers to separate the wings from the dark nuts, then ‘micro winnowing’ (stick them in a bowl, then blow on them…the lighter papery wings will fly off and leave the nuts behind, all over your kitchen).

Lightly toast them in a pan then sprinkle on soups or salads. (or stay tuned for my Pine Nut recipes)! Im not sure how accurate this story is, but a young Japanese girl ran into the forest during the war and spent several years subsisting on pine nuts and needle tea, too afraid to return her village. She was eventually found once the war had ended. However, she was in good health (and I’m assuming she had great skin and hair!).

What I got from 3 cones…

But that’s not all our Monterey Pine has to offer.

In Spring the male parts of the tree release a bright, sulphur yellow pollen.This contains quite a lot of testosterone, so It makes a great tonic for those who wish for hairier chests, deeper voices and a heightened sex drive! Obviously one to avoid if you are not wanting these, or if pregnant or breastfeeding. The pollen can be added to flour to make cakes and breads to spike your man with (NB: The author is joking, spiking is naughty. Tell them first.) You can also eat the catkins as they are.

Collecting It is fun: tap the catkins into a plastic bag or large jam jar. The pollen will puff out in a yellow cloud.

Check later in the week for my Monterey Pine Nut & Burdock Latke experiments!

For more recipes with Pine Pollen in Spring, follow my blog http://www.hedgewitchadventures.com

Have fun!

Monterey Pine Nut & Burdock Latkes…earthy, aniseedy, crunchy!

Edible Tree of the Week: Monterey Pine

Ravishing Rosehip Crudites

Now is the time to go out gathering rosehips, the fruit of our native wild Dog Rose, (Rosa canina). Once the frosts have come, the previously rock-hard hips are ‘bletted’ , which means they go soft and ripe, ready for picking. So how can you recognize when they are ready? It’ll take a bit of trial and error, but soon you will notice the ripe ones have gone from red and very shiny to a matte, duller finish. As soon as you touch it it will be squidgy and come off the stem easily…though also check whether the hip has ‘gone over’ – runny liquid and smell should let you know soon enough!

Once you’ve picked a load, traditional recipes involve boiling them down in just enough water to cover and adding sugar, which makes a lovely jam, but gets rid of all that lovely Vitamin C that rosehips are famous for. (Rosehips contain 5 times more Vitamin C weight by weight than oranges, and were part of out staple diet during WW1 and 2.)

You can also make a raw rosehip syrup – stuff a sterilised jam jar with alternate layers of uncooked rose hips and white sugar. Prick the rose hips with a fork first to help things along. Make sure the last layer on top is sugar.

For immediate gratification, healthy eating and artistic flair, try my Ravishing Rosehip Crudites recipe.

(Not to blow my own trumpet too much…)

You will need:

Thinly sliced rye sourdough,

bletted (soft ) rosehips,

soft cheese such as Philadelphia or vegan scheese,

butter or margarine,

🥒 cucumber!

1)Toast the sourdough slices,butter them and cut into 3cm squares.

2)Dollop the soft cheese into a piping bag (or, if your’e not into fripperies, make your own out of a plastic document wallet, as I did)

3)Squeeze a blob of soft cheese onto each little rye toast.

4)Pointing the end which came off the stem down (you will see the hole,not the scruffy little star thing), squeeze the red paste out of the rose hip and onto the soft cheese blob. This can be fiddly! IMPORTANT: Do not eat the seeds! They make you itch! Give the rest of the rosehip back to the wild.

5)Cut one round of cucumber into tiny little pizza wedge slices (8 is a nice number). Garnish each crudite with a cucumber wedge pushed into the cheese, and arrange some rose hips. A voilà!

6)Enjoy with drinks of choice!

Ravishing Rosehip Crudites

Pseudoacacia…The Flower Jam of the Black Locust.

Also in an airy Grove near the edge of Plantation Wood, we happen upon Robinia pseudoacacia, the False Acacia, or ‘Black Locust’ as it is known in its native Missouri, US. They are They are strange, atmospheric sight, pinnate leaves rustling in the light and trunks covered in the tree equivalent of weals.

The False Acacia is a legume, which means it can fix nitrogen in the soil and make it available to other plants (and itself, its not that philanthropic). Which Is handy if your’e a tree and your’e colonising poor soils, like desert sand…

It makes excellent firewood, furniture and is good for carving. The wood is one of the hardest woods in America and is resistant to rot, so it Is used to make small boats. HOWEVER the wood, bark and leaves are toxic to horses and people!

What Is interesting is the mixed messages on the Internet, including several plant databases, which claim this tree has Edible seeds. This is a dubious claim which needs someone (like me) to go and bloody eat some and see if they give me liver failure. As this claim may pertain to the Honey Locust (Gleditsia) and its sweet seed pulp (hence the name).

You can’t really see from the photos, but the false Acacia has modest spines in parallel pairs at the base of its leaves. The honey locust has fiercer spines and pointer leaves.

Apparently in France, Italy and Romania the fragrant flowers of False Acacia are tempura ‘d or made into ‘beignets’. The Romanians boil down the flowers into a scented jam.

It would make sense, then, if the seeds could be eaten as they used to be the flowers. In one extract from PFAF database, the ‘shelled seeds are harvested from summer to fall, both raw and boiled’.

Best wait and see if myself or Phil die first. If not Il let everyone know how tasty they are.

Pseudoacacia…The Flower Jam of the Black Locust.

Giant Sequoia – A Gentle Goliath

On our first Tree ID foray into Plantation Wood Phil and I happen upon a Wellingtonia, or Giant Sequoia, Sequoiadendron gigantum. The vast tree tilts skyward, and my fingers push into the thick shaggy burgundy fibres of the bark. Normally they grow about 50m tall, but in their native valley of Sierra Nevada in California, they can grow up to 90m tall. The tallest Giant Sequoia, ‘Hyperion’ is 112m tall, whilst the widest is General Sherman at a diameter of 7.7m. General Sherman weighs as much as 400 elephants – that’s about 200,000 tonnes!

The mighty Redwood is slightly conical in shape. It is the tallest tree in many areas of Britain and was often planted by rich landowners to show off how wealthy they were.

So how did the Wellingtonia come to our shores?

An English plant hunter named William Lobb raced back to England in 1833 with Giant Sequoia seeds,and beat his American counterpart Dr Kellogg to name the tree after the Duke of Wellington. Otherwise it would have been called ‘Washingtonia’ after America’s first President!

The Giant Sequoia was once an endangered species due to climate change and logging, plus it is not tolerant of pollution. What saved it was partly the fact its wood is not actually that durable compared to other trees, and it was tough going cutting them down. Imagine sawing through a trunk with a girth that could fit 40 people and a grand piano, and you’ll understand what I mean.

So why does Wellingtonia love being burned to a crisp?

Here are its cones.

The Giant Sequoia needs fire to open its cones and germinate its seeds. Every so often wild fire will race through the Redwood groves of places like Kings Canyon National Park, and the burning Sequoia cones open like magic boxes, spilling seeds onto the newly cleared forest floor. There they can grow with the competition for light and nutrients eradicated by the fires.

Clever huh!

Giant Sequoia – A Gentle Goliath

Freaky & Fearsome Fungi!

I bring to you all the creepiest mushrooms in time for Halloween…as if the mycological world isn’t odd enough already!

  1. 1) Dissolving into Black Goo : Ink Caps First prize for disgusting mess goes to the Ink Cap family (Coprinus sps). Some, like the Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus) are good to eat when young and drumstick shaped. Once they age they deliquesce – dissolving into a slimy puddle of jet black Ink which can really mess up your clothes. This ink can actually be used for writing! Also, the Common Ink Cap (Coprinus atramentarius) is used in medicine form to make alcoholics vomit if they drink any alcohol.
Common Ink Cap by the boat toilet point in Leighton Buzzard

2) Tree Murderer: Honey Fungus

This ruthless fungus kills live trees. You do not want It in your garden. However, when young It is good to eat, unless you are one of the unlucky ones that has a reaction to it and spend the next few days spewing and on the toilet….Waitrose include it in their dried mushroom selection, so I am assuming they know what they are doing….

Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea). And a handy skull.

3) Most Corpselike: Dead Man’s Fingers

This Xylaria family member really does look like the black shrivelled fingers of a hurriedly buried corpse. If you break one off it is hard to the touch and white inside, just like a bone…urrgh. Don’t bother trying to eat it (just in case any of you might possibly want to).

Xylaria polymorpha
Xylaria polymorpha – Dead Man’s Fingers

4) Most Bloody: Beefsteak Fungus & Bleeding Mycena

This joint prize goes to the gory Beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica) which feels and looks like someone’s stolen liver. Please don’t ask how I know this 😅. The Beefsteak bleeds red gore when cut. Then you can take it home, slice it finely and fry it with some onions, just like a real liver. The taste can be a bit acrid, and salty. Some cannibals enjoy it raw.

Beefsteak Fungus

The prize is shared by the Bleeding Mycena and the Orange Milk Mycena, both of whom Bleed all over your hands when you pick them. Lovely. Inedible, but actually quite pretty, until it drips all over you like a slender vampiric bride.

Mycena crocata – drippy

5) Most Disgusting and Smelly: Dog Stinkhorn

Mutinus caninus is also related to Phallus impudicus, the Stinkhorn. Both of them stink like rotten flesh and blocked sewer drains. It takes ages for the odour to go away. The mushroom does this to attract flies, which help spread its spores. It also looks like an erect penis, one that hasn ‘t been washed for quite a while!

Dog Stinkhorn – now that’s disgusting!

Well I hope that has managed to put you off your dinner. That’s just some of the weird and freakish fungi that myself and Phil have found recently. Do come on a Fungi Foray with us, if you dare! Check Hedgewitch Adventures Facebook Page for upcoming dates or send me a message on hedgewitchkat@gmail.com

Freaky & Fearsome Fungi!

Stars of Earth at Stockgrove

We head across the top of the slope and down into fine soft grasses, where bright green forks of Sheep Sorrel peep out. These can be used just like common Sorrel; in soups with onions and cream, or in potato, egg and fish dishes…not to mention, mushrooms!

We now enter Baker’s Wood, an ancient site wreathed in emerald star moss. First up is the crumpled chromatography of a Stereum bracket fungus, residing in a fallen birch.Inedible, but pretty….

Next, at the base of a standing Oak we find a young Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa). The tufts are thick with many frilly layers in grey, beige and white. This is a tasty edible that grows in tufts that are 20-30cm across. The stems are lateral and welded together at the base. I take a little to eat later lightly fried with salt and pepper. Yum! ( My kid is not impressed and resorts to frankfurters).

Grifola frondosa (hen of the woods, cluck cluck!)

Many Earthballs (Schleroderma citrinum) abound in the leaf litter and poke out of decaying stumps.

Scleroderma citrinum

Phil points out a Tough/Spindle Shank (Colybia fusipes), a rubbery brick reddish mushroom with a clumping habit. It isn’t exactly poisonous, but you wouldn’t be that tempted to eat it either. Though the texture does remind one of Jelly Babies..

.

Tough Shank…edible as old boots.

The prize for the most weird definitely goes to the Earth Stars ( Giastrum sps) that we discover after giving up on finding them on the way back to the car. These mushrooms have fruiting bodies that look like octopuses, with coiling leathery tendrils below a cephalic ‘head’. You can’t eat them, but you can watch and wonder at their wonderful weirdness….. they even raise themselves off the ground like little UFOs,and react to dry weather by curling their ‘tentacles’ (Phil knows the proper scientific term, not me) over their delicate spores. In damp weather they unravel and become Octopuses. Sort of.

Older Earth Star has released its spores.
Earthstar enjoying damp weather!

Last but not least, I spot some Wood Sorrel (Oxalis) which has the same lemony tang as Common Sorrel but is nothing like a relation. This great little clover like plant grows at the base of trees in acid soils, such as here at the Greensand Way. It has a red stem. Myself and an ex boyfriend once lived off handfuls of Wood Sorrel, half a jar of fish paste and a crate of cider for 2 days whilst waiting for a hitch hike out of a remote Scottish Loch. Very tasty it was, too. Full of Vitamin C, it was historically used to prevent scurvy.

Though that didn’t stop our nice middle aged Scot rescuers driving us to a restaurant in their Range Rover!!

Wood Sorrel – prevents scurvy in hippy hitch hikers.
Stars of Earth at Stockgrove

Roadkill Muntjac, Food of Kings

On the way to my friend’s farm project near Reading I caught sight of a Muntjac deer that had died being hit by a car.

“What luck.” I thought as I had been wondering what to bring as a present (apart from a good bottle of red) and I already knew not to bring vegetables as they are up to their gills in the stuff. So I braked to a halt and hauled the surprisingly heavy carcass along the road and into my boot. The unfortunate beast had a shiny eye and didn’t smell, so all looked edible.

I had never prepared such a large animal before ( though have worked my way through wood pigeon, squirrel, pheasant and rabbit) and was glad of the help of a friend at the farm!

We hung the muntjac up by the front legs, although we debated about it being head down like I’d seen in some book or other…I used my green wood carving knife to cut a slit from the anus to halfway up the belly, being careful not to cut into the stomach which was starting to bloat (with pungent gas from rotting deer munch). Then we used scissors and the knife to slide under the skin to get the skin off. It was hard going even with a reasonably sharp knife, the deer’s coat was tough. We cut around each hindleg and peeled the skin down.

At this point my friend Andy had to use an axe to cut off the hooves so we could get the skin off, then he twisted off the hind legs and we had two big joints of meat already.

Obviously not expert butchery,but we got it done!

In an ideal world we’d have cut bang straight up the belly and taken off all the skin, but I went off to the side, so instead we made a cut in the neck and took pieces off the shoulder. We peeled the skin down (you have to get your hand right in there, and the aroma of butchery is powerful) and got to either side of the deer’s spine, where the tender and tasty Backstrap cut is found. This meat is in the strips either side of the spine, and is tender enough to fry like steak.

About to carve out the Backstrap (avec scissors)

As you can see, my other mistake was to puncture a hole in the abdomen and the deer’s guts fell out, leaking expired deer poo 💩 all over our hands. After a brief break to wash it all off, we finally skinned and took off the two front legs. We bagged it all up and found we had over 5.5kg of venison to hand out to friends and cook 2 big meals for the carnivorous people of the farm!

Andy made a delicious fried-sauteed thingy from the backstrap cut, we had it with homemade rosemary flatbread and greens soup. Totally delicious 😄 and worth all the hard work.

Cooking the backstrap cuts

So next time you see roadkill, remember that’s several weeks worth of high quality meat for one family, and far better for you than a McDonald’s….why not give it a try (providing it’s safe to stop, of course)….

Roadkill Muntjac, Food of Kings

A Coastal Cornucopia

Don’t miss an opportunity to taste these seaside wild plants below if you are on holiday!

I found lots of SEA BUCKTHORN bushes (Hippophae rhamnoides) when I hopped behind the sand dunes on Sand Bay dog beach in Weston-super -Mare. Myself and my 6 year old son lost no time cramming the wickedly tangy, sherberty orange berries into our mouths; my mum, however, pronounced them ‘not flavoursome enough!’. My advice is to watch out for the vicious thorns however. Sea buckthorn contains Vitamin C, A,B1, B2, B6, and Omega 7. The berry oil is used in herbal medicines to boost immunity, obesity, blood pressure and cholesterol, but there’s not much scientific evidence for any of this. Try juicing it into a smoothie with other blander fruits such as melon, or pureeing it as a sauce with game. Or freeze into an ice lolly for kids to pick at!

Sea buckthorn berries on plant. Delicious!

I first came across SEA KALE (Crambe maritima) on the shingle beach at Littlehampton, West Sussex. I worked out it was part of the cabbage (Brassica) family quite easily – the rubbery, turquoise cabbagy leaves and four petalled white flowers are a giveaway. The texture is what makes it delicious – crunchy and slightly salty and bitter. The young shoots are purple and together with the flower buds are the tenderness and tastiest part. Saute them as you would asparagus, or stir fry withsoy sauce…just don’t cook for too long, nobody likes sloppy cabbage!

Young Sea Kale

If your trip takes you near estuary mud or marshland,look out for the unmistakable transparent emerald minature cactus lookalike that is GLASSWORT/SEA SAMPHIRE (Salicornia europaea). I have found it in Cornwall and in Norfolk,where it is harvested commercially. The succulent, salty, crunchy stems are found in posh restaurants (and in Waitrose!) when it is the right season. It goes best partnered with fish. The price for just a handful is enough to make you weep. I do like the texture,but am baffled as to why there is such a racket as mostly all I could taste was salt. This is another reason to cook this plant with plenty of water and no extra salt! Add a drop of butter or olive oil once cooked.

Glasswort..if you like it salty…

I discovered ROCK SAMPHIRE (Crithmum maritimum) on the cliffs of the Jurassic Coast in Lyme Regis. This proud member of the Carrot (Apiceae) family has the umbrella-like blooms and finely divided leaves, though as it is a coastal plant the leaf fronds have narrowed into turquoise needles. It tastes of a powerful mix of toothpaste, (aniseed and fennel) and carrot. This taste and scent comes from the powerful oils it contains. Sailors used to eat this plant to prevent scurvy and it used to be more popular than the now trendy sea samphire (not related!) however it’s an acquired taste for some people. Best lacto fermented or pickled, or steamed and stir fried.

Rock samphire..it takes no prisoners with its flavour!

So next time you head to the beach, grab a bag or basket and get close and personal with nature’s larder. Just remember to only take what you need, when there is enough.

A Coastal Cornucopia

Gypsy elixir… Nettle seed

Even the country folk of us, who enjoy a nettle tea or soup, often don’t realise that common Nettle (Urtica dioica/urens) SEEDS are a nutritious and tasty meal. Ths female seeds are chock full of essential fatty acids, protein, Vitamin C and energy rich oil. You can taste this when you eat them, it is similar to hemp oil in taste (and a whole lot cheaper!)

Gypsy horse dealers used to feed their ageing charges nettle seed before sale. The horse would frisk about with a shiny coat and bright eyes, to all appearances a much younger steed. The ruse was only discovered once the new owner stopped feeding the horse nettle seed. (So, naturally, I have been chugging the stuff down each day!)

The trick is to pick the female seeds, not the male parts! The female seeds stand proud of the stem, and are spherical. They start off green then go golden through to brown. You want to get them while golden if you want to store them – once they go brown they tend to fall off into the undergrowth. The male ‘bits’ drop close to the stem and are flat discs of green.

There are all sorts of delicious recipes you can make with nettle seed. Add to a salad, stir fry, any way you would use hemp seed. Put in breakfast yoghurt or a smoothie. I make Nettle Seed Electuary, which is dried seed crushed with a pestle and mortar then mixed with honey. It keeps for years and is great taken daily as a tonic for hair, skin, adrenal (kidneys and liver) and thyroid system. It is also an aphrodisiac!

You can also mix the seeds with nettle leaves, spices and ground oatmeal to make Nettle seed Falafels. These below were made on one of my full day Wildfood cookery classes at Howe Park Wood. With tangy Hawthorn Berry sauce and yoghurt!

It is the same way for vegan burgers, just make sure to use something that binds the burger or falafel together .Enjoy!

Gypsy elixir… Nettle seed