Monday, June 24, 2013

Dehydrating Curly Dock, Plantain and Watercress

My recent foraging trip: Curly Dock Seeds, English Plantain, Curly Dock Leaves and Yucca Flowers.

I have a secret.  I am not very good with fresh vegetables.  They have a tendency to rot in my fridge.  I will put them in the vegetable drawer with great expectations and two weeks later I rediscover them only to end up in my compost bin.  You would think someone interested in foraging and plants would be on top of this but, alas, it is not so.  I have, however, discovered a way that I can easily preserve my greens and use them on a regular basis.  While I do poorly at sauteing them when they are fresh, I am great at throwing a handful into spaghetti, chili or a crockpot of beans.  Even my kids will eat them then.

If you have a dehydrator, then you should follow the directions of the dehydrator.  I do not have one.  I use my oven.  Fortunately, it has a convection option which makes it easier, but you can also do it with bake though it may take longer.  First, I pick, wash and cut up the greens.

Curly Dock leaves ready for dehydrating.

I then put them on a metal pizza pan that has small holes in it.  I recently purchased mesh pizza pans on eBay that I think will work even better.

Turn your oven on to convection at 130 degrees.  It takes between 3 to 4 hours for me to completely dehydrate greens.  You should mix them up every hour.

Store in a jar and toss a handful into whatever you are cooking to add nutrition and a bit of flavor.  I have found that greens lose some of their really strong flavors when you dehydrate them.  I personally like that as it is easier to put into recipes.  Also, if you are working with greens that are stringy, like plantain, it no longer is an issue once dehydrated.  The leaves easily crumble.  Remember to check the bottom of your oven after dehydrating for any stray dehydrated greens.  It makes an unpleasant odor when you use it to cook with next.  Guess how I know?

You can dehydrate most greens in this way.  Curly Dock seeds should be destemmed and and rinsed in several changes of water and drained.  I do not take the husk off of the seeds.  Layer them on your pan and placed in a 170 degree oven until completely dried.  Mix them up every hour or so.  Once dried, I have found that a blender works the best to grind up for use in baked goods.  However, certain grain mills would probably work better.  My hand crank grain mill would have taken me all day to grind a few cups. I also tried my food processor which did basically nothing.  In my experience, you can add two tablespoons of ground curly dock seed into most bread recipes without changing the flavor much and you add nutrition and fiber.  There are recipes that use Curly Dock flour as a primary ingredient which I will share later.

Adding dried watercress to pasta sauce. Yumm.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Foraging Around Franklin, Tennessee!

While the kids have been in day camp this week, I have had the opportunity to explore my area to look for new foraging spots.  It is amazing that I have lived here nearly ten years but have never really looked at my surroundings.  You can find so many new things when you really look around you.  I can't wait until everything is in season and ready to be picked!

Wild Grapes at Publix!

Elderberry Blooms at an overgrown empty business lot.

Mullein beginning to flower on Royal Oaks Blvd.

Burdock at Harlinsdale Park.
Staghorn Sumac grove on Mallory Lane.

There are four different spots in Franklin that you can pick wild blackberries!

Pork Chops with Caramelized Onion and Thistle

Thistle is growing abundantly around here, and since every part of it is edible, I wanted to experiment more.  My first attempt, Lemon Thistle Martini, was certainly a winner in my book.  The stems of the plant, once the prickles are removed, actually are similar to celery though the taste is more bland which is not unpleasant but crisp and clean.  It is really easy to remove the prickles with a glove and sharp knife.  Younger plants will have a more tender stem and that is what you should seek.  It can be used in salads or any way that you would use celery.

Scraping the Prickly Outer Layer Off the Stems

Thistle Stems

The leaves can also be used once the prickly edges are removed.  My leaves were not very large so the final result was mostly the central stem.

The final result of cleaning the leaves of their sharp edges:

Pork Chops with Caramelized Onion and Thistle

The flavor of thistle leaves reminds me of turnip greens, but sturdier.


6 pork chops
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup chopped thistle leaves with prickles removed
garlic salt


In a large frying pan, melt enough butter to fry the pork chops.  Add the pork chops.  In between the pork chops add the onion and thistle.  Sprinkle with garlic salt.  Fry until pork chops are browned and onion and thistle is caramelized.

I would definitely make this again.  The flavor was great!  However, the work involved in preparing the thistle leaves was too cumbersome for the meager amount that it produced.  A couple of nice things about thistle that I do like are that it is easy to identify and prolific in this area.  You would not starve if you are willing to put in the work!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wild Food at Whole Foods!

I wanted to share these pictures I took at Whole Foods today in Franklin, TN.  It is amazing that you can pick both of these practically outside the door of the store.  Apparently they had to get them from California and Georgia.  I suspect the local wild variety has much less pesticides and is probably better for you.  Oh, and don't forget, free!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Lemon Thistle Martini

Every year about this time I see thistle taking over parks and empty lots all over my area.  I have always liked this plant because I find it to be beautiful.  Occasionally I would stop and carefully pick a bouquet as a centerpiece for my table, and until now, that has been the only reasonable use.

In my treasure hunt to find local, edible and natural food sources, I discovered that yes, thistle is edible but it is not for the veggie wimp.  You will need something like these:

Gloves were a present from my lovely husband!  They are thicker than regular rubber gloves.

Historically, thistle has been used to treat liver, kidney and gall bladder problems. It helps to protect the liver from damage and improve some symptoms of hepatitis. Research has also suggested that it has anti-cancer effects by reducing the blood supply to tumors and preventing cancer cells from dividing and reproducing. 

It originated in the Mediterranean region and likes dry sunny areas. In middle Tennessee it seems to grow everywhere.  All parts of the plant are edible though the seeds are generally what are used in current times.  The leaves can be trimmed of their prickles and used as a spinach substitute.  In the past these were commonly used in salads, soups and pies.  The seeds can be roasted and used in a coffee fashion once ground. The mid rib of the larger leaves can also be cut out and used in recipes.

So far, here is my favorite recipe for thistle!  This makes a very vibrant green drink.  My super picky kids liked the juice (before Vodka, of course)!

Lemon Thistle Martini


10 small thistle leaves or 5 large leaves
4 cups cold water
1 green apple sliced with seeds removed
4 T sugar
2 lemons sliced, seeds mostly removed


Add ingredients except Vodka to blender and blend well.  It is optional to remove the skin of the lemons.  If you prefer less tart, then remove before blending.

Strain out the pulp. 

Cool color, huh? I strained the bulk out first and then strained again.

In a martini glass, add a shot of Vodka and ice (or chill with a shaker).  Fill with mixture.  Enjoy!

Other potential recipes worth trying:

Buttered Sow-Thistle
Stir-fried Sow-Thistle and Pork
Braised Thistle Stem
Sweet Chilli Thistles
Thistle Stroganoff