Golden Corn from the Beast of the Reeds

Im talking about Typha latifolia, better known as Reedmace or even Bulrush.  You will know it.  The reed with its fat brown hot dog sausages poking skyward.  And for the record, its NOT a true Bulrush…for you plant geeks out there, that honour goes to Sciripus species which are not as memorable or cute!

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Reedmace is a highly vigorous and successful marginal (edge of water) species, it spreads by rhizomes as well as with seed.  Its actually classed as invasive, which means its ok to harvest some as it will soon recover and take over the pond if you dont.  Luckily, it also tastes great and its seedheads are chock full of high grade protein, and they are in season now.  It tastes like buttery sweetcorn and can even be munched on raw, as my son at 6 and a half months old found out at his first meal!  The young shoots are good in Spring and the rhizomes at their best in Autumn and Winter.  I only wish I had here the classic picture of my wandering mystic, mostly naked friend Tristan eating a pan of these roots in a loincloth, drenched in mud in the middle of winter in our hippy woods camp in Brentford.

It is worth checking however the cleanliness of the water if you are going to harvest roots, as this is where any heavy metals etc could be concentrated, also ask if glyphosate or other herbicide has been used previously.

Here are some recipes others have put up from great foraging site Galloway Wild Foods.

The first is a Dashi broth with spoot clams and reedmace shoots in Spring.  the second shows the seedheads coated in beer batter.

Here is my effort for tonight

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I scraped the pollen off the heads and mixed with a little garlic oil, a good idea would be to keep the cooking water (forgot to say also cooked the pollen heads for 5 mins or so) as it contains a lot of the lovely flavour as well as nutrients.  The flowers are Ox Eye Daisy, a clean tasting wild salad flower in season now, and filling, too!

Also, you can use the dried seed heads later in the year for a torch and the seed down to stuff your pillow and duvet!  Whats not to like??

So next time you see conservationists smashing down this plant or god forbid, someone spraying it with toxic vile poisons, spread the word…and the word is GOOD!

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Golden Corn from the Beast of the Reeds

The Anaerobic Diaries…lets go play with our bacterial friends!

So, the last couple of weeks I caught the last of the wild green soft parts before everything seeds and discovered the food preserving process of lacto-fermentation.  This works something like this:

  1. Rip or cut up the greens and place layer after layer in a bowl, adding a smidgin of salt each time, press down as you go.
  2. try mixing in layers plants and flavours you think might go together, eg I mixed Nettle leaves and Horseradish stems together to add texture and fire to the earthy Nettles!
  3. Force it all down really hard then wait for at least half an hour.  Mash up the leaves some more in your hands till they go a bit dark and soft.  Repeat for another 30mins.
  4. Bang it in a glass jar, push down as far as possible to get rid of the air, then top up with MINERAL water til the greens are well covered.  NOT tap water.  This is because tap water contains chemicals that inhibit the growth of bacteria, and you WANT bacteria.  The right kind!
  5. Get a clean piece of rubber or similar and push the greens underneath the surface of the water with it, leave in place to stop the greens floating up and rotting on exposure to air.  It should look something like this….

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Note the one in the middle is Bristly Ox tongue in cider vinegar (Picris echiodes) and I havent put anything in to push that down, and it really is, ladies and gentlemen, a famine food…all i could taste was bristles and vinegar, and it really is that nasty shade of grey!  Historically it was boiled then pickled, maybe they did something i didnt, id like to know what!

Anyhow, moving on to the good part, after a few days my mixtures all fermented, and every few days I loosened the lids or made holes in the top to allow the gases produced by the Lactobacillus bacteria to escape.

Now for the tasting!  I seemed to be the only one keen, my fellow boaties all scarpered despite my invite to be guinea pigs and dine on 2 week old wild plants rotted in water that looks like wee!

The Korean kimchi recipe , (far left) with garlic, nam pla (fish sauce), chilis and ginger smelt exotically funky and spicy, though my greens were a little tough, earlier in the season would have been better.  It went down a storm in my miso soup however, a pic of that later!  this had Hogweed flower buds, Comfrey flowers and leaves, Nettle, Ground Elder, Horseradish leaves etc!

Nettle and Horseradish – an exciting deep shade of brown to the ferment liquid, like a cold soup.  Earthy, mineral rich flavour.  Shame that the horseradish lost its fire though.  I do love that punch!

Cleavers & Ground Elder – the best of the bunch, the greens were tender and had a gorgeous ripeness like a rich cheese, surprising for cleavers that normally tastes so grassy and mild.  Mmmm, with wine and cheese board!   and some oat cakes.

Finally I made a Miso Kimchi Soup for dinner which is here:

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5 minute meal, just make up 2 cups of Miso soup from paste then add fried thinly sliced button mushrooms, thinly sliced mini peppers, your fermented greens and some walnuts and crackers.

Just right for a steamy damp day in July on the canal!

As for healthiness…eating the Lactobacillus helps you digest other foods, a bit like Yakult, and helps recovery from yeast infections, which is always good.  It also contains extra vitamins.

 

 

 

 

 

The Anaerobic Diaries…lets go play with our bacterial friends!

Out Now – Nettle seed!

Welcome to the common nettle’s best kept secret (until it was blared all over the internet, anyhow)…its seeds!!

They are not only edible, they are a superfood containing adaptogens to strengthen the immune system and help you cope with stress, whilst the iron and calcium plus other trace minerals aid vitality and endurance, and the protein and healthy fats feed you.  Also giving you lustrous hair and renewed vigour.  Sound good?  i cannot think why British people arent stuffing nettle seed down them every time i go out foraging.

Here is a picture of nettle seed at an ideal time to pick…a sort of buttery goldy green.  Make sure the nettle flower is FEMALE.  the seeds will be SPHERICAL not flat and a warmer more goldy colour than the droopy green catkins of the male flowers, and the female seeds are clustered tightly to the stem whilst the male flowers hang loosely.  It is easy to make this mistake if you don’t know what to look for.

Pick them with gloves, take only half of each nettle’s seeds and leave at least half in the patch untouched to ensure theyll be there for you next season.  You can either take the top off the nettle or if the seeds are ripe you can ‘milk’ the seeds off it into a plastic bag or lined basket underneath.  you can eat them green straight off the plant if you have a sturdy palate (as i do) but they are best dried.  Some say the green seeds are so energising they will keep you up at night, so treat them as you would caffeine, take only a few teaspoons a day of seed. Personally ive never found this to be a problem when i ate off the plants or made my electuaries (ground seed mixed with honey), although i had dried the seed in the electuaries.

Here are some recipes with nettle seed….soup, pastries, herbal salt.

Be warned…nettle seed is also an aphrodisiac that was used by the Romans, Greeks and todays Chinese in TCM.  Gypsy horse dealers used it to make the coats of the horses more shiny and give them extra vigour before they were sold for a good price.  So lets follow those horses into the nettle fields….

For those interested i will be selling some nettleseed electuary in Leighton over the next few months…for dates keep an eye on my Facebook page ‘Hedgewitch Adventures’

ciao for now…

 

 

Out Now – Nettle seed!

Waterworld

As the rain hurls itself into the canal im reminded of the film that first made me want to become a boater…Kevin Costner’s epic masterpiece of dystopian global warming gone wrong.  who cares if it plummeted at the box office?  His trimaran was awesome and germinated a craving for the life aquatic that never went away.  Bushcraft gleanings from this film include the steampunk-esque urine and seawater filtration system, where every last drop of fluid is recycled in this saline world.  Sea water, if drunk unfiltered, is eventually lethal.

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A primitive filter can be constructed using layers of firstly coarse gravel, then grit, then sand, then activated charcoal (which removes toxins and bacteria).  Salt, however, can be removed through evaporation, so if you have time for one of these babies,  try a desert funnel evaporator…only drawback, it involves acquiring a plastic sheet in a fairly good state of repair..not too easy in apocalyptic future worlds, but ok if you live near a Homebase store, as i do.  also hard to find area where am allowed to dig several feet into the ground…roll up to the big kiddie sandpit in the park!!

Vitamin C was another must among Waterworld’s boating folk.  Provided by a carefully tended lemon, orange or tomato plant in a scrap of Dirt.  Its worth knowing some races of people, namely the Mongolians and the Inuit, traditionally survived entirely on animals they caught as Vitamin C is stored in the fat, organs and fluids of fish and blubber bearing animals such as seals.  This involves consuming raw parts of the whole animal, not just the tasty bits! and not wasting a thing.

For those who’d rather avoid this scenario of carnivorous desperation, micro greens and sprouts can be grown in very small spaces, even if you havent even got a windowsill and yes, even in winter (if you have central heating, which i dont, so make the most of it).

If you do want to try growing citrus and tomatoes, try a sheltered, sunny space and the helpful rotting straw and pee/fertiliser compost bale…the rotting bale generates heat and keeps the plants warm! Ive had a big crop of Tumbling Toms in 6 hanging baskets on my own water craft.

More film based bushcraft fun to come!

Waterworld

Books with a Bushcraft Soul

Here are some of my favourite literary inspirations to get close and personal with the wilderness….

  • ‘Walden’ by Henry David Thoreau – in depth account of one mans personal decision to live in the woods, very philosophical musings on the nature of humanity intersposed with brilliant observations of animals and people he meets on Walden pond.   Though he is a bit santimonious and bangs on a bit at times…
  • ‘The Woodlanders’ – Thomas hardy – Ive already wittered on about this previously, if you like your history and traditional craft with a twist of doomed romance this is for you.  I do!
  • ‘The Cottage Economy’ – William Cobbett – an antique but still relevant tome on DIY farming and micro brewery, also a great rant on how beer is better for fattening pigs than tea, and my favourite, a sexist monologue on how attractive the sweat on a womans brow is as she prepares fresh bread and small beer for her husband!  I guess at least the focus is on her talents not her flesh!!   Interesting also how the brewing industry was gradually brought from being something every family did to breweries under corporate control.
  • ‘Waterlog’ by Roger Deakin – wild swimming around the British isles, from the Broads to the chalk trout streams of Gloucester
  • ‘Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two’ – Maggie Smith-Bendell – a Romany gypsy’s memoirs of travelling life in the 1950’s…gypsies made good use of the hedgerows and many classic recipes involved nettles and other plants and the rabbits and pigeons they hunted.

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Books with a Bushcraft Soul

Collidge Lake..forest huts and edible flowers…

Last Sat me and the littleun trekked to Tring to see what collidge Lake nature reserve has to offer and if its possible for me to run workshops there.  after a fairly pleasant half hour walk pushing the buggy over a stony towpath to the second bridge (nr Bulbourne’s Grand JUnction Arms) i fled Marty the last hundred metres down a road with no pavement to get to Collidge Lake’s entrance, which seemed to be the only way in!

Once inside the quiet gift shop which reminded me of a hermit’s cave strewn with garden sculptures and soft toys, the receptionist even looked faintly shocked that someone had come in.

Marty woke up to this view….

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We discovered a Woodland theatre, a small bender shelter such as the ones yrs truly has lived in for a number of years (except i cheated by covering with advertising tarp as i didnt want to freeze to death being a purist) also a Shepherd hut which Marty proceeded to trash.

as for edibles, plenty of Plaintain and Biting Stonecrop, which is a succulent alpine type plant which is great on a green roof and also gives a peppery hot flavour to dishes.  Cowslip is also edible and was used to make wine (as was nearly everything in the British Isles as our ancestors were such sots) but as it is now so rare its poor taste to harvest it and you will earn well deserved glares if you try!

Guelder Rose is medicinal, the prepared dried bark relaxing cramped muscles including period pain.  not too good to eat though…

Beech trees will provide tasty fatty nuts every four years or so.

From top clockwise..Cowslip, Biting Stonecrop (with Marty!), Wild Strawberry, Salad Burnet atop my hand, and Guelder Rose.

Salad burnet grows on chalk as there is here, it’s a nice addition to any salad as, duh, the name suggests!  Last time i soujourned on chalk was when i slept out on the North Downs trail and i never went hungry for greens..you will find completely different edibles on chalk than on clay.

Whats more I found a copy of Bruce Parry’s ‘Tribe’ which is a darn good read, though some parts can even gross ME out, which is impressive.  I couldnt eat half the things that guy ate.  and the nice lady at the desk said i could pay next time as id spent all me change on a coffee. (Pricey..mental note bring thermos next time)

Collidge Lake..forest huts and edible flowers…

Health and safety with wild foods

Great, your’e about to start shovelling handfuls of luscious wild greens (and reds, purples, yellows and browns) into your foraging basket.  But wheres the best place to start?  It might not always be where you think.

Busy roads dust nearby plants with heavy metals and fumes, so stick to quiet country lanes, which you would probably rather do anyway!  Canals and rivers are good bets as chemical spraying of weedkillers is banned on the banks of watercourses, as is disturbed ground near allotment sites (but if in a garden or on an allotment, check they havent been sprayed with weedkiller!)

Surprisingly, the best [places are often thin strips of land in cities and towns, municipal planters that have been left to rack and ruin gracefully with the fronds of tender juicy chickweed (Stellaria media),  the grounds of abandonned buildings, and graveyards.  These useful plants need us to disturb the soil so they can root, spread their seeds in the treads of our shoes, and fertilize the soils they need to grow with our waste so they can then feed us in return.  If you do have a habit of fence-jumping to pick tempting samples from abandonned building sites, its worth checking the history of the site to ensure what happened there before wont have an effect on what youre eating.  I found the tastiest cherries with hearts of burgundy fire on the site of an aniline dye factory, for example…

So the country fields must be chock a block with wild food, right?  Well yes, but fields are often sprayed too. though im not sure what difference it makes as often we are then eating the bought commercial crop that has been sprayed too!

Tree and bush fruit and nuts is generally safer than annual/perennial plants, the most risky part being the root as its in close contact with the soil.

And remember to get a good ID guide so you know the difference between your Anthriscus sylvestris (Cow parsley) and your Conium maculatum!(Hemlock)

Hemlock is shown below.  Dont get it wrong!

 

Health and safety with wild foods