Thursday, June 19, 2014

How to Dehydrate Kudzu for Food Preservation

Kudzu view at Home Depot, a mile from my house!
The Vine That Ate the South!  Kudzu, Pueraria lobata, was originally brought to the United States by the Japanese to be included in an exhibition at the Centennial Fair in Philadelphia in 1876. It is a beautiful, temperature tolerant, fast-growing vine with a lovely flower that smells like grapes. So it is no wonder that it became an instant hit.  Even our government planted it all over the South to help prevent erosion.  By 1946 over 3 million acres had been planted. It wasn't until the 1950's that they realized it was a problem. Unfortunately, due to no natural adversaries and a climate that it just loves in the South, it has expanded to over 7 million acres today.  It is hard to kill, and it will kill the vegetation that it covers.  Weed killer solutions just makes it grow more.  It has been suggested that it would be one of the few plants to survive a nuclear blast as the roots go very deep!

If you can't beat it, you might as well eat it!  Everything but the seeds on this plant are edible.  It rarely seeds as it generally spreads by vines.  It can grow a foot in a day! The Japanese call it Kuzu and have eaten it for centuries.  The roots can be used as a starch, the leaves eaten as greens, and the flower makes an excellent jelly.  It is in the legume family and tastes like green beans.  It is very mild.

Nutritionally it is a powerhouse!  It has been used in the past to treat cardiovascular disease and alcoholism.  Recent studies also suggest that it may improve insulin resistance.  While I am not a doctor of medicine, for the past year I have been adding it to our soups and stews on a regular basis.  My husband is a type 2 diabetic, controlled by diet and exercise.  His numbers have dropped and nothing else has changed except for the inclusion of more wild food in our diet.  I can not tell you that this is the reason why for sure, but you may want to try an experiment yourself if it is an issue for you.  If nothing else, you can benefit from the numerous phytochemicals, which are potent anti-oxidants, found in the plant.  Specifically, the phytochemicals quercetin which is an anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine, and genistein which is a free-radical scavenger.  Other important phytochemicals found are the isoflavone compounds,  daidzin, daidzein, tectorigenin and puerarin.  Isoflavones have been used in health benefits too numerious to list.  The leaves contain a high level of vitamin A and C as well as calcium and protein.

What is the best way to eat it?  The flowers make fantastic jelly.  While the leaves are beautiful, they can be a little tough and stringy to eat raw.  I do slice them up and add them to bones to make broth for the added nutrition, but those are removed before canning the broth.  I prefer to dehydrate and add to my dishes a little at a time.  In that form they are no longer tough or stringy.


Pick your leaves (be sure they have not been sprayed with chemicals), rinse and add to dehydrator (or put on a mesh pan and leave in your car on a hot day).  My dehydrator is an old Ronco which only has an off and an on.  I place them in it in the morning and by evening they are dehydrated and crispy.  To be sure that they are completely dry, I set them on my counter or table for a few days in a bowl.

Starting the dehydrating process.

Dehydrated Kudzu.
Once completely dehydrated, remove any hard stems and gather a bunch of leaves together by placing them on one another.

Gathered Kudzu leaves
Roll them together.  Using clean scissors, cut small pieces off and into a bowl.  Keep cutting until desired size.  Just crumbling with your hands will not work due to the nature of the leaf.

Cutting the dried Kudzu.

The cut Kudzu.
Store in an airtight container out of direct sunlight.

Canned dehydrated Kudzu.
Add to soups, stews or further grind for breads.  Because of its very mild taste, chances are you will not even taste it in most recipes but you can enjoy the added green and nutrition.

A handful of Kudzu added to chili.

Chili after mixing in the Kudzu, barely noticeable and does not change the flavor.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mid-South June Foraging

This month is like the "Get ready, set..." because next month will be the "Go!"  Fruit and berries on the trees are growing and ripening!  Starting in July, blackberries and crab apples will be ready for picking and it will be a month of canning!  This goes all the way to August and September with different things ripening every week.

Here's what you can see right now:

Elderberry blooms!  The flowers can be used for jellies, syrups, wine and for making sodas (my son is doing this now!).  Scout these out now so you can pick the berries in August.

Sassafras leaves.  These have a citrus smell to them and can be eaten in salads or dehydrated for tea or as an herb called File which is used in gumbo.
Grapes are forming.  Now is the time to locate them for picking in late summer.  You can use the leaves now.  They are great to can for dolmas all year long! If you are local, you can find wild grapes everywhere!
Red clover.  It shows up a little later than white clover.  It's great in salads, dried for teas, or made into flour.  It has numerous health benefits.  I rarely find this in large quantities so when you find a large patch, remember where they are!
Black walnuts are forming.  They are still small and green, perfect for gathering to make a tincture.  Traditionally this tincture has been used to remove parasites.  You can make it yourself by soaking premature black walnuts in vodka or you can buy it on Amazon for an arm and a leg!
Common Plantain.  Can be cooked like greens or made into an excellent salve.  I made a salve using plantain last year and it seems to fix everything on us and our pets! Great stuff!
Smartweed.  See Green Deane's great article on this lovely plant!
Kousa Dogwood.  These are forming now and a great time to locate these trees.  The balls will turn into a fruit.  It will turn red with an orange/yellow interior.  The texture is similar to parsimmons with a tropical flavor.
This was may favorite find this month!  Autumn Olive Bushes loaded with future berries.  I have passed this church for ten years.  I finally stopped and walked the enormous grounds and discovered that it is surrounded with just a ton of Autumn Olives!  Many would call these interloping noxious weeds because they were brought here, escaped and thrived, but I think they are fantastic.  The berries are like sweet tarts and super nutritious with 17 times the lycopene of tomatoes!  I can't wait until these are ripe!  The leaves are green on the outside and silver on the inside.  This makes it easy to spot these bushes from a distance because they appear green grey, a different color than surrounding vegetation.  The berries will be red with silver flecks on them.
Hackberries.  Eventually these will turn red, but look around now for accessible branches.  This one was found locally at my son's scout camp.  Indians used to grind these up and use as a seasoning for meat or for making pemmican.  You can also make a type of almond milk with the berries.  Check out this website with instructions.

View of the Harpeth River after several days of rain and just before another storm.  One of the best things about foraging often is the view!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Learning to Forage for Food!

If you would like to learn a little more on how to get started foraging, check out my article published on The Survivalist Blog entitled Learning to Forage for Food!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fried Poke Sallet - It's a Southern Thing!

I remember once while growing up my grandmother found a bushy plant, which made her very excited.  She picked it and that night we had a "mess of Poke."  Apparently it was common fare in her day.  I must admit, it was very tasty!

Poke weed, Phytolacca americana, is a much loved and hated plant.  Primarily, this is because if prepared incorrectly, it can poison you, causing vomiting and diarrhea. The compounds thought to be problematic are oxalic acid, saponins (phytolaccotoxin and phytolaccigenin) and an alkaloid (phytolaccin). On the other hand, it's early spring appearance has saved many a settler from starving and even today it is being studied for it's cancer and virus fighting ability.  It is high in Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron, vitamin A, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin and vitamin C. 

It's really not hard to prepare as long as you follow a few rules.  What I like about it is the very pleasant taste and texture, not too firm and not falling apart, and it turns a beautiful green when cooked. In some places it is so loved that there are festivals in honor of the plant, like Poke Sallet Fest in Gainsboro, Tennessee, and Poke Sallet Festival in Harlan, Kentucky.

It is easy to recognize Poke.  It is a herbaceous perennial with lance shaped leaves, which when
turned over, display a unique raised vein pattern (reminds me of my great aunt's hands, now you will always remember!).  When picking Poke for cooking, only pick from plants that are knee level or less with stems no bigger than a finger.  This plant tends to get large (10-12 feet) and is often mistaken for a tree.  Also avoid any with deep red stems, and do not pick if there are any blooms or the beginnings of berries.  To cook, wash the leaves, remove the stems and boil in two changes of water.  At this point you can prepare the Poke in whatever fashion you like.  Some people eat it with eggs.  Some people fry it...

Fried Poke Sallet


2 Gallon baggies of freshly picked Poke leaves (stuffed)
4 - 6 small pieces of smoked ham hock
1 onion diced
2 T cooking oil
Soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste


Bring two pots of water to boil.  Rinse Poke and remove any stems.  Drop leaves into boiling water and cook until wilted.  Using a slotted spoon, move leaves into second pot of boiling water.  Boil for several minutes more.  Drain.

After moving leaves from first pot of water to second, replace original pot with a frying pan on the stove.  Add cooking oil, smoked ham hock and onion,  Fry until onion is lightly browned. 

Add cooked and drained Poke leaves to frying pan and toss until well mixed.  Season with soy sauce (a few shakes) and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with beans and cornbread!