Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chickweed Pesto Chicken!

This was really good.  I mean really good!  I've made pesto chicken with expensive pesto, usually around $11 for one large bottle of pesto.  This was as good or even better than expensive pesto.  I am so glad this turned out as well as I hoped it would!

I made it in two pans which is why you will see two different pans. 


Chickweed Pesto Chicken 
8 frozen or fresh chicken breasts
4 cups fresh Chickweed, packed
5 cloves of garlic
½ cup of walnuts
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup Parmesan cheese, divided
1 cup olive oil
Chickweed after the food processor
Preheat oven to 375 F.   Add chickweed to food processor and blend until fine.  Place in mixing bowl.  Add garlic and walnuts into food processor and blend.  Add to chickweed in mixing bowl.  Add salt, 1 cup of Parmesan cheese, and olive oil to mixture and blend well.

Add layer of pesto
In large greased baking pan(s), apply a thin layer of pesto mix.  Place fresh or frozen chicken on layer of pesto.  Top each chicken with pesto.  Sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese over chicken.

Bake in oven for 1 hour for frozen chicken and 30-45 minutes for fresh.  Serve hot.
Note: I used frozen chicken and it turned out great!

Add pesto over chicken
Sprinkle with additional Parmesand chesse
Final product!

Monday, March 18, 2013

English Plantain

English Plantain

It is a shame that this nutritious plant shares the same name as that of the more popular banana plantain.  It does a disservice to both plants and makes research more difficult.  This lovely plant was found growing quite bountifully at Franklin's Harlinsdale Farm public park.  Harlinsdale Farm was a former historic horse farm of much significance.  It is currently being renovated as a park in Williamson County, Tennessee.  Much of the lawn is carefully maintained.  However, behind the horse barn is a wide swath of unused pasture nearly untouched except for the occasional mowing.  There are several edible wild plants proliferating there, the English Plantain being one of them.  I first saw this plant growing at the end of January but it is only now ready to pick the young leaves (mid-March). 

Harlinsdale Farm, Franklin, TN

English Plantain Flower
There are two types of plantain common to the United States. These are the common plantain, Plantago major, and the less common, English plantain, Plantago lanceolata. Both varieties grow as rosettes of oval leaves that feature ribbed veins which run from base to tip. The English Plantain grows more upright with leaves which are more slender than the Common Plantain. In late summer both types produce their own version of a brown-spiked flower head, which once seen, will usually be an "aha" moment to the viewer as they were quite common for school children to pick. It was cultivated originally in Europe and brought here by early settlers. The Native Americans referred to it as "the white man's footprint," as where ever the settlers went, it soon followed.

So what is so great about a plantain? To an herbalist, it's a crucial healing plant, particularly for treating skin conditions. As a matter of fact, if you have a bug bite or poison ivy, you can chew up some of the leaves of this plant and put it directly on the skin and it will take away the sting or itch and aid healing. That's a nice trick to know! It is used as an astringent and helps to heal infections, include eye infections like conjunctivitis. This herb is commonly used to make skin salves, teas, poultices and tinctures. It has been called Snakeweed in the past due to its ability to draw our poison from a wound or snakebite. A tea or infusion of plantain leaf has even been used as ear drops for ear infections (as long as the ear drum has not burst) to aid in healing and reduction of pain. Historically, it has been used to treat lung conditions (expectorant), stop diarrhea in children and treat yeast infections. The Anglo-Saxons considered it one of their nine sacred herbs and it was even mentioned by William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet in reference to its skin healing properties.

It is also quite edible, though you must look for young leaves usually found in early spring. As the plant ages, the more bitter and fibrous it becomes. However, if you are starving, you can boil the plant in several changes of water to reduce the bitterness. Older leaves have a more woodsy flavor and is best eaten pureed. When the leaves are young and no longer than about four inches, they have a nutty, asparagus-like taste. The seeds are also edible and can be ground to make a form of flour. In recent studies of plantain seeds, they have been attributed to lowering cholesterol.

Nutritionally, the plantain is high in iron, and rich in vitamins A, C and K, as well as numerous other vitamins and minerals. It is a powerhouse of beneficial chemicals in healing and preventing disease.

Here are some recipes to try:

Wilted Plantain with Sesame


8 cups of young plantain leaves
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted
sesame seeds, toasted (to garnish)


Heat sesame oil and garlic in a skillet. Add plantain leaves and saute until tender (about three minutes). Mix in soy sauce, orange juice and almonds.

Remove from heat and serve topped with sesame seeds. 

Creamed Plantain with Bacon


1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk
6 cups young plantain leaves
12 - 16 slices of bacon, fried crisp and chopped (about one package)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper (to taste)


Boil plantain leaves in a large pot of salted water until just tender. Do not overcook. Drain and set aside.

In a saucepan, melt butter and mix in flour until smooth. Add milk slowly. Stir continuously until mixture has thickened.

In a larger pan, combine plantain and sauce until well blended. Add nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Plantain Omelet


3 eggs beaten
3/4 cup young plantain leaves, stems removed and chopped fine
1 small onion, minced
2 tablespoons Swiss cheese
salt and pepper (to taste)
oil or butter for frying


Combine eggs, salt, pepper, plantain and minced onion in medium bowl. Heat oil in nonstick pan over medium heat.

Add egg mixture and tilt pan to distribute evenly in pan. Cook until set.

Sprinkle cheese over half of cooked egg; fold other half of egg over cheese. Serve warm.

Plantain Salve (medicinal)


pint size mason jar
plantain leaves (clean and dry)
olive oil (enough to fill mason jar)
1 teaspoon vitamin E oil
1 oz. pure beeswax
several drops of peppermint oil


Chop plantain leaves and fill mason jar (packed). Add olive oil to completely cover plantain leaves. Allow to steep for six weeks in a sunny window. Turn jar daily. This should turn the oil a rich, dark green color.

Strain and reserve the oil. In a stainless steel saucepan, heat oil on low and add beeswax until melted. Add the vitamin E oil which serves as preservative and peppermint oil for pleasant scent.

Last, check for consistency. Dip a spoon into the plantain salve and place in freezer until cool (about 1-2 minutes). If it is too hard, add more oil. If too soft, add more beeswax. When it is just right pour into a small jar or tin and cover tightly. Store in cool dark location.

Plantain Tea


1/2 cup fresh plantain leaves chopped
8 oz boiling water


Place plantain in bottom of mug. Pour hot water over and allow to steep for 1/2 hour. Strain and drink or use on skin.

Notes: While the content of this blog has been tried/tested and the research diligently presented, I am not responsible for your use of it. Always try a little of the food first to test for allergies. Please do your own research. Discuss with your doctor before you use any herbal medications.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Citrus Tree That Will Grow in Tennessee!

Cindy's Flying Dragon Bush
I would not have believed it if I had not seen it with my own eyes.  Tennessee actually gets a little snow during the winter.  Granted it is rare and warrants an immediate trip to the grocery store for provisions, but it does happen!  I grew up here and until Friday had never seen a citrus tree growing and surviving outside.  I was at Cindy Moonrose's home, a local foraging teacher, snooping around her garden.  I saw a bush/tree like plant with many thorns and asked her what it was.  She said it is one of the only citrus plants that will grow in our area.  It was called the "Flying Dragon."  Her plant was several years old and had survived outside without any problems.

Flying Dragon information according to Wikipedia:

"Trifoliate Orange, Poncirus trifoliata (syn. Citrus trifoliata), is a member of the family Rutaceae, closely related to Citrus, and sometimes included in that genus, being sufficiently closely related to allow it to be used as a rootstock for Citrus. It differs from Citrus in having deciduous, compound leaves, and pubescent (downy) fruit.

It is native to northern China and Korea, and is also known as the Chinese Bitter Orange. The plant is fairly hardy (USDA zone 5) and will tolerate moderate frost and snow, making a large shrub or small tree 4–8 m tall."

The fruit it produces is very bitter and probably not for eating alone, but it is great for making marmalades. I will definitely be on the lookout to add this to my back yard!  Here is what it looks like with its fruit:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Chickweed Tincture

Today I was fortunate enough to spend several hours with foraging teacher, Cindy Moonrose, discussing one of my favorite topics, chickweed.  It is insanely nutritious and grows practically everywhere for most of the year.  Today we ate it in our salads and on our sandwiches and it was crispy delicious.  Cindy also showed us how to make a chickweed tincture.  See my previous post about all the great qualities chickweed has to offer.  Just as a reminder, it is great for skin problems, respiratory ailments, reducing inflammation, treating obesity, and regulating thyroid and metabolic function.  Cindy said that her daughter uses a chickweed tincture applied to her skin for the improvement and prevention of acne.

After our class she let us dig some of her chickweed up to transplant to our yards.  We also got to take a bucket of freshly clipped chickweed home with which to experiment.

Chickweed Tincture


Basket of fresh chickweed
Pure grain drinking alcohol, preferably over 90 proof (Vodka works) OR vinegar
Pint size canning jar


Check to make sure you have only chickweed and not other weeds mixed in.  Clean and dry chickweed.  Pack tightly into pint size jar, leaving an inch from the top.  Pour in alcohol or vinegar to the top of chickweed.  Put top on.  You may have to add additional alcohol/vinegar over the next week due to the shrinking chickweed.

Let sit for six weeks, turning every day.  If you plan to keep the tincture for an extended period of time, put wax paper under the lid and ring as the top may react to the alcohol or vinegar.  An alcohol tincture will last longer than a vinegar tincture.  You can use the vinegar tincture just as you use regular vinegar.  For the alcohol tincture, you can drink twenty to thirty drops up to two times a day for a benefit.  Either kind is also good as an astringent to aid in skin care.

On a side note, Cindy also showed us some dried chickweed.  She said that is is great to grind up in a food mill/processor and use in bread or soups.  It smelled similar to a strong spinach, and the color was great. It would certainly add nutritional value to whatever it is cooked with!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Wild Horsetail (long green stalks in the photo) has been around since before the dinosaurs. This was found near Whites Creek, TN in mid-February.  It typically grows by water and looks a lot like bamboo.  It has been used for centuries to aid arthritis, bladder and kidney problems as well as other ailments.  Some of its many healing properties include being an antiseptic, antibiotic, anti-hemorrhagic, an astringent, and a diuretic.  Horsetail contains numerous mineral salts, particularly silica, but also potassium, manganese, and magnesium, and many trace minerals.  Horsetail contains more silicon than any other herb in the plant kingdom. Collagen, necessary for skin and muscle tissue, requires silicon.  Thus, horsetail aids in strengthening joints, bones and hair, as well as improving skin.  Horsetail can be applied directly to the skin to help stop bleeding, and to treat wounds and burns.

In the spring, the young shoots of horsetail can be eaten much like asparagus.   They can also be infused in vinegar to extract minerals.  The vegetative stalks of horsetail can be dried and used to make a tea.  However, due to some loss of potency when dried, it is preferable to make a tincture from the fresh herb for medicinal purposes.  Horsetail tea's anti-fungal properties can also be used to fight powdery mildew and black spot on roses when applied as a spray.  You can use the fresh horsetail in soups as well as in stir-fry.  Horsetail is also know as tsukushi in Japan and is considered a great spring treat.  Here is a great tsukushi recipe.

The only warnings that I was able to discover was that prolonged use of horsetail is not advised as it can be hard on your kidneys due to its diuretic qualities.  Also, horsetail contains thiaminase, an enzyme which removes vitamin B from the body. However, this enzyme is destroyed when it is cooked.

Horsetail Tea


8 oz boiling water
4 teaspoons of fresh or dried horsetail chopped fine
honey to taste (optional)


Place horsetail in mug. Pour water over and allow to steep for 10-15 minutes.  Strain and add honey to taste.

Note: Discuss with your doctor before you use any herbal medications.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ramp Tramp Festival!

Did you know that the ramp, an edible member of the onion family, actually has a festival in its honor?  It does!  Events take place April 24th through the 27th in Polk County, Tennessee!  Go HERE to see the information.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Wild Edible Perilla a.k.a. Shiso

On February 24th I attended a foraging walk with Cindy Moonrose near Whites Creek, Tennessee.  There were about eleven of us stomping through the cold woods stopping occasionally to look at what was blooming.  As we stood looking at some dead nettle, I asked Cindy what the skeletal winter dried plants were that were everywhere.  They were spindly antenna shaped with what appeared to be remnants of pods along the limbs. 

Cindy said that this was Perilla which is a cousin of mint and an excellent fire starter due to its high concentration of oil.  It can make animals sick if they eat too much of it.  It also had the ability to remove warts if leaves are applied for 15 minutes a day for 2-6 days according to her research.  I picked a bit then just to smell and it had a pleasant strong aroma to it.  We moved on.

When I got home of course I began to research all the plants we encountered.  Perilla was actually an afterthought as it was not a focus of our walk.  I was utterly surprised when I discovered that Perilla is actually Shiso, a native of India and an herb commonly used in Japanese and to a lesser degree Chinese and Korean cuisines.  Pepsi even made a Perilla flavored soda for that part of the world.  Since this has become a pervasive weed-like plant in this area, it may or may not have lost the Shiso flavor.  There is no way to tell just by the outward appearance of the plant as flavor depends on genetic factors, climate and soil.  However, just the smell of the dried version has me convinced that the actual plant would have a wonderful flavor and worth more exploration when it is in full bloom.  Shoots will begin to appear in March and flower by the end of summer.  Perilla is easy to grow and will reach heights of two to three feet.  Varieties of this plant can be either green or purple and can cross pollinate.  There are even versions that can be frilly, and ruffled-leaved. While it is not a perennial, it does quite successfully reseed itself as seen in a recent trip to the woods.  Much like basil, it can grow in partial shade or sun.  Here is a version of the plant while in bloom.

The leaves of the Perilla plant are high in Vitamins A and C.  They are rich in fiber and riboflavin.  Minerals include calcium, iron and potassium.   The plant has been used as an anti-inflammatory and it has been known to have preservative effects on other food due to the presence of terpenes such as perilla alcohol.  In Japan, the oxime of perillaldehyde (perillartin) is used as an artificial sweetener since it is about 2,000 times sweeter than sucrose.  While the seed oil is edible and contains a high concentration of alpha-linolenic acid, a kind of omega-3 fatty acid, it also contains a chemical that is a potential lung toxin, thus should not be used as a cooking oil. The leaves, on the other hand, have been used in culinary creations for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  The flavor is best when the leaves are used fresh. 

Recipes for Perilla/Shiso:

Pineapple, Cucumber & Shiso Salad


1 pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into bite size pieces
3 cucumbers, sliced and quartered
8 shiso leaves sliced into a chiffonade
3 tablespoons red onion, finely chopped


After cutting up ingredients, toss in medium bowl. Chill and serve.

Tomato and Shiso Salad 


3 large tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 large red onion, coarsely chopped
8 shiso leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 ½ teaspoon rice wine vinegar
fresh ground pepper


Whisk together the sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and pepper in a large bowl. Add tomatoes, red onion and shiso. Toss until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, 10 to 15 minutes. Toss again before serving.
Shiso Pesto Pasta


8 ounces linguine
1 cup loose shiso leaves
1 ounces grated pecorino romano
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
small handful of walnut pieces, toasted


Cooked pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the shiso, cheese, salt, oil and lemon. Puree until smooth.

Toss with hot linguine and serve topped with walnuts.

Garlic & Shiso Pasta


2 cups uncooked farfalle pasta (bow tie shaped)
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup butter
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup shiso shredded
¼ teaspoon sea salt
juice from half a lemon


Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, saute garlic in butter. Remove from the heat. Drain pasta; add to garlic butter. Stir in the Parmesan cheese, shiso, salt and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice; toss to coat.