Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Black Locust Trees are Blooming! Time for Fritters!

My kids eagerly wait for this time of year.  Throughout the last year I have heard, "Remember when you made those flower doughnuts? Can we make those?" I explain that those flowers only bloom for two weeks in the spring. Yesterday I was out for a walk in an abandoned commercial lot when I discovered many young wild Black Locust trees in bloom. I didn't expect to see the blooms for at least another week, but we have had a lot of rain lately which may have encouraged them.

If you have these trees, try this recipe. It's amazing! I never deep fry anything but I will get the frying pan and grease out for this! The scent of the sweet flowers coupled with deep fried batter make these irresistible. I posted the recipe HERE last year. This is probably my favorite wild edible recipe.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Wild Finds This Week!

I should be home doing laundry. Really. I should be. But the weather has been so amazing lately that I can't stand to be in doors! So many plants are blooming and the temperature is hovering in the mid seventies which is perfect for exploring. I live in a town with many parks and walks just waiting to be seen. Here are a few things I found this week!

Canadian Wild Ginger, aka Eastern Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense.  Native Americans have used this plant as a seasoning and as a medicinal herb.  However, this plant does contain a substance known as Aristolochic acid which if eaten in large quantities can cause kidney damage.  According to Hunter, Angler, Gardner, Cook, this substance is not water soluble so you can make tea with this ginger with no ill affects.  He has a great analysis of this plant.

Bed of Wild Ginger.  Leaves are largish, about the size of your hand.

Golden Alexanders, Zizia Aurea, a perennial herb in the carrot family (Apiaceae).  You can tell that this is Golden Alexanders and not a look alike because the leaves have toothed edges.  Flower clusters, with the main stem removed, can be added to salads.  Leaves are also edible.  Flower heads, both ripe and unripe can be dipped in tempura and fried.  Black seeds can be used like pepper.  Roots can be eaten like parsnips.

Oyster Mushrooms, Pleurotus ostreatus. What an amazing find! Most often found on the surface of dead hardwood trees.  It is a delicate mushroom without a strong flavor.  Fresh mushrooms have a slight smell of anise.  These are great sauteed in butter and garlic, in stir-fry, and in soups.  You can also dehydrate them for future use.
Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, is a great medicinal herb for respiratory ailments.
Pennycress seeds!  I will be back to harvest later so I can make this!

Remember to do your own research!  Always use multiple sources to evaluate your finds!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sautéed Plantain with Bacon Grease and Onion

So good I could lick the pan.  Really.
This is a fantastic recipe for this time of the year!  Common plantain is beginning to grow in abundance and the leaves are young and least bitter.  It's the best time to pick them.  Plantain is one of my favorite plants. However, I generally like to dehydrate it because the leaves have strings that run through them. Once dehydrated, those strings crumble like the leaves for use in soups.

There is a way to make fresh plantain more user friendly.  Once you rinse the leaves, stack them with the grain of the leaves together. Slice against the grain to make strips of the leaves. Then the strings are no longer an issue.
Cut against the grain to eliminate the stringiness.

I am not sure if it is the bacon grease or the balsamic vinegar, but I like this recipe enough to want to eat the whole pan!  Just be sure when you cook your family bacon for breakfast, save the grease in a coffee cup, cover with wrap and put it in the fridge.  Once it is cold, you can scrape the clear top of the grease into your pan for cooking.

Plantain can last quite a while in your refrigerator!
Sautéed Plantain with Bacon Grease and Onion


Gallon size bag of plantain leaves
1 onion, diced
Bacon grease from one cooked package of bacon
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste


Rinse and slice plantain leaves.  Add to a pot of simmering water and cook until just soft.  Be careful not to overcook.  Meanwhile add bacon grease and diced onion to a skillet and fry until lightly browned.  Drain plantain and add to onion mixture.  Stir until mixed.  Add balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

One of the best smells in the world is onion fried in bacon grease!

Spring Park Foraging!

I like to take walks in our local parks at different times of the year because you will find unique plants at each visit.  These photos are from Concord Park in Brentwood, Tennessee and the Franklin Recreation Center nature walkway in Franklin, Tennessee.

Violet, flowers and leaves are edible.  The leaves are great for salads and can be used as a spinach substitute in recipes.  They are also a tonic for the body’s lymph system and are rich in vitamin C.  The leaves are not stringy like plantain but are chewy.  They taste a bit spicy and nutty.  These plants are abundant right now!

Wood Nettle, Laportea canadensis, cousin to Stinging Nettle, the darling of foraging and a plant I have yet to locate in this area.  This can be used just like Stinging Nettle.  The stings on Wood Nettle are not as virulent as the Stinging Nettle but you should use gloves to pick.  It is a powerhouse of nutrition.  Once boiled the stings are gone.  This is great to flash blanch and freeze for future recipes!  It tastes green with a peppery zing, a favorite among foragers.

Star-of-Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum, not edible, however the bulb of the plant has been used in herbal medicine.  It contains chemicals that have an action similar to a prescription drug called digoxin used for congestive heart failure.

I am not an expert on mushrooms so I submitted this to a mushroom group to which I belong.  Their determination is that this is Pheasant's Back, aka Dryad's Saddle, Polyporus squamosus. It smells a bit like a cross between watermelon and cucumber! You can dehydrate them, crush them and used them to flavor different soups. You can treat them like any other mushroom...bread and fry.  It is one of the few mushrooms that can be eaten raw.  Always confirm mushrooms identification through multiple sources before eating!

Virginia Blue Bell, Mertensia virginica, flowers and leaves are edible.  Native Americans used this plant to treat respiratory illnesses.

Fleabane Daisy, Erigeron philadelphicus.  An herbal infusion of the roots has been used by Native Americans to treat coughs, colds and diarrhea.  Supposedly it is a bug repellant, thus the name Fleabane.
Close up of Garlic Mustard.
Garlic Mustard, aka Jack-by-the-Hedge, Alliaria petiolata, to some an invasive noxious weed but to others a favorite wild edible.  It has a two year growth cycle, the first as a small plant when it looks similar to Violets and Creeping Charlie, and in the second year, it can grow up to three feet high.  It is mild tasting with a garlic flavor that hits you about ten seconds after you chew it.  In April, look for the white flowers with four petals in the shape of a cross.  You find this most at the edge of woods with partial sun.

Common Plantain, Plantago major, a ubiquitous edible wild plant.  It can be cooked and eaten like spinach.  In the fall it will produce a seed head that can be ground for flour if you have the patience to collect the seeds!  Medicinally, it is a fantastic skin healer and wonderful in salves.  You can even chew it up and put it on a bug bite or sting for relief.  Also in the photo is dandelions, one of the first wild edibles that most new foragers try as it is easy to identify and tasty.  The flowers make great syrup that tastes just like honey.

Dogwood tree.  Some Dogwoods, like the Kousa Dogwood produce red berries in the fall which are edible and have been used to make wine.  The blooms are out now so scout out some Dogwoods and check back in the fall to see if there are berries!  This one probably will not have the fruit as the Kousa Dogwood's petals have a more pointed flower petal.  But it's worth a look!

While I diligently research and use what I post, please remember to do your own research and be 100% sure of what you are trying.  It is best to try just a bit of a new plant first to see if you have an unknown to you allergy or reaction!  Keep in mind, one of the reasons that plants are in the grocery store is because they are the most tame and acceptable to the majority of people.  Wild plants are less predictable but are often the most nutritious!

Garlic Mustard Curry Egg Salad!

Garlic Mustard in bloom with white petals shaped like an "X".
This is a fantastic egg salad recipe with wonderful flavor!  I know this not just because I adore it, but because my mom took some home and texted me the next day saying how great it was on a sandwich at work!  She's never done that. Garlic mustard is growing in profusion in Middle Tennessee.  Now is the time to locate some and give it a try!  I have recently located this plant at Concord Park in Brentwood and at the Franklin Rec Center if you are local.

Garlic Mustard Curry Egg Salad


1 dozen eggs, boiled, shelled and chopped
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped garlic mustard leaves (about one handful)
1 small onion, chopped fine
1/2 t smoked paprika plus a few dashes for display
1 t curry powder
salt and pepper to taste


Prepare eggs and chop vegetables.  Reserve a bit of chopped mustard to top dish.  Add eggs and vegetables to bowl and toss.  Add remaining ingredients.  Top with reserved mustard and dashes of paprika.

Serve as a salad or on crackers or bread! I served this on Ritz's Bacon Crackers which was fantastic.

Optional:  Celery is also a great addition to this salad if you have it available.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring Edible Plants in Middle Tennessee!

We did some exploring this weekend.  Here are some of the great plants from Maury County, Tennessee, all blooming in mid April! 

Spiny annual sow thistle, Sonchus asper, edible like greens, better when young and trim the spines off.
Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum, produces a tropical flavored fruit which can only be eaten when overripe, yellow and slightly wrinkled or will be toxic.  Do not eat the seeds.
Field Yarrow, Achillia millefolium, an amazing healing herb with along history of use. 
Dried yarrow is good at stopping blood flow from a wound especially mixed with powdered cayenne.
Ground Ivy, aka Creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea, is in the mint family.  It can be used as a seasoning.  It tastes like a cross between sage and rosemary.  It grows everywhere!
Trillium, leaves are edible like spinach.  Some say the leaves taste like raw sunflower seeds.  It takes a long time for this plant to grow, so if there are few of them, avoid eating.  Removing the leaves kills the plant.  Roots have medicinal value.
The young leaves of trillium are said to taste like raw sunflower seeds - See more at:
The young leaves of trillium are said to taste like raw sunflower seeds - See more at:
Curly Dock, Rumex crispus, leaves are edible like spinach and will produce many red seeds that can be dried and ground for a flour substitute or addition.  

Chickweed, Stellaria media, great in salads and pestos and can easily be dehydrated for winter use.  It has a crunchy, fresh green taste.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Red Bud Vanilla Quick Bread

Over the last few days the Eastern Red Buds, Cercis canadenses, have gone into major bloom.  They are generally one of the first trees to bloom in Middle Tennessee.  You can not drive anywhere in Franklin, Tennessee without seeing at least a dozen beautiful purple bloomed trees.  They are in abundance in this area. That being said, it is a great idea to learn to use what you have available!

It is easy to recognize this tree.  The flower buds stay close to the limbs and the leaves will not appear until the flowers fade.  This tree is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae) and has flowers shaped like the typical pea family flower.  The flowers have five rounded petals and ten stamen.  The five petals are arranged like two sails, two wings and a keel.  If you have foraged the Honey Locust tree for its delectable flowers, you will notice a distinct similarity as they are cousins in the same family.  As a matter of fact, the flowers have a similar taste. The Red Bud flowers taste slightly sweet and crisp, like a fresh raw pea.  Different trees have different levels of sweetness.  So if you do not care for one tree's flowers, try another.

The flowers can be used raw in salads, pickled or cooked in recipes.  They add a beautiful color to any dish and has the added benefit of being high in vitamin C and antioxidants.  The tree will eventually produce seed pods that look similar to snow peas and actually taste just like them.  These are high in protein.  You can pick and cook them the same as you would snow peas.  You must pick them within the first few weeks of them appearing before they get tough.  The young leaves of the Red Bud can also be eaten.  While the tree is blooming, it is a good idea to map out its location to go to collect some pods later.

This recipe is lovely both in flavor and appearance.  It's a nice spring addition to my kid's afternoon snacks!

Red Bud Vanilla Quick Bread


1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup red bud blossoms, stems removed (most time consuming part)
sugar for sprinkling


Combine sugar and eggs, beating until well blended.  Add remaining wet ingredients and mix well.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well.  Fold in red bud blossoms.

Pour into greased loaf pan.  Lightly sprinkle top of batter with sugar.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Look for Hawthorns!

If you live in Middle Tennessee now is the time to scout out Hawthorn trees.  Last fall I came across several trees that produced crab apple like fruit, but it did not quite fit with a crab apple tree.  Thus, I decided to return in the spring and photograph the blooms to help determine the tree.  All three trees turned out to be three different types of Hawthorn. One tree is blooming pink, one is white and the other currently has no blooms but does have some leaves and rather large thorns. Hawthorns can be highly variable with leaves that are simple and toothed or lobed.  These are all located in business parking lots so apparently they are popular to decorate commerce areas.  You can still see some of last year's berries hanging on the limbs (Haws).

Haws are used for teas, syrups and jellies and have been used medicinally for hypertension and a variety of heart disorders. There have also been positive studies showing that this fruit lowers "LDL" bad cholesterol.  There are numerous recipes to try.  You can even use it to make ketchup! The berries are tart, but that often is a benefit in recipes, a balance to sweetness.  The haws that I tasted last year were much like tart crab apples, having the same texture.  I will definitely be experimenting with them this year!  I don't think quantity will be a problem...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Super Easy Pumpkin Muffins

You know how people like to buy pumpkins before Halloween, save them through Thanksgiving to display and then throw away? Well in my neighborhood, the weekend after Thanksgiving you can collect numerous perfectly good pumpkins on the curb. My neighbors quite happily donate them to me. Then begins a week of nonstop cutting and canning of pumpkin just so I can use it in recipes such as this one! It has four ingredients and is super easy. You would never know these muffins have no oil or eggs in them. They are moist and rise like any other muffin.

Pumpkin Muffins


1 Classic Yellow Cake Mix
1 store can or 1 home canned quart of cubed pumpkin
1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie ground spice
Sugar to sprinkle


If using home canned cubed pumpkin, drain and mash with a fork. Drain any additional juice.

Hand mix pumpkin pie spice and cake mix into the pumpkin.  It will be stiff at first and then loosen up. Batter will be a bit thicker than normal cake mix batter. 

Using two spoons to help with distribution, place batter evenly into a twelve muffin cup pan.  Sprinkle sugar lightly on top of muffins to form a sweet crust after baking.

Bake at 350 for 20 to 24 minutes.

Note: You can do this with a chocolate cake mix as well, minus the pie spice. It is wildly popular in my house!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring Foraging in Franklin!

All these lovely plants were found in out local parks in Franklin, TN!  My dehydrator has been running full blast for the last week.  Many of these greens are fantastic as additions to soups, sauces and smoothies.

Geum canadense, White avens, in the rose family.  The roots have been used as a chocolate substitute and for flavoring beer.  It has also been used in Indian medicine for digestive disorders. 
Cleavers, can be eaten raw but is most frequently used in herbal medicine.  It tastes fresh and pleasant, but the texture is not so great.

Early Field Pennycress, the leaves are nice in a salad, very peppery.  The seeds have been used to flavor an ethnic dish, Lithuanian Skilandis. It is a small plant, at least here in Middle Tennessee.

Chickweed, one of my favorites!  Great in salads and pestos. 

Wild Garlic.  This has been on my family's plate for the last month!  It is fantastic in sausage soup and on baked chicken.
Early English Plantain, great used as greens and in herbal medicine.

Thistle - yes it is edible!  However you need scissors and thick gloves.  It's a lot of work for a small amount, but if you are ever starving, it is great to know it is edible and actually tasty.  The center portion of the leaf is what you want.
Wild Mustard, can be used in salads and as cooked greens. It's very tasty and one of the first plants to show up.
Wild Mustard, a little further along in growth.

Motherwort, makes a great tea and is very relaxing.

Purple Dead Nettle, this is everywhere.  You can eat it raw but it has an unpleasant fuzzy texture.  You will want to cook it in a recipe instead.  A similar plant also growing now is Henbit and is tastier.
Purple Dead Nettle
Clover, edible but the flower tastes better!
Watercress, a favorite. It is growing like crazy right now.  The good thing is that the weeds surrounding it are still dead so it is easy to access.  Watercress dies down as the weather gets hot and the weeds grow too tall to get around.  Collect while you can!  Great dehydrated!  It comes back in the fall but is too weedy.
Preparing Motherwort for dehydrating!  Once dehydrated, mix with dehydrated mint for a wonderful tea.