Archive for the ‘Foraging’ Category

Now that blackberries are done for most of us, Elderberries are the next wild fruit in season. I can’t just sit by and watch good food go to waste, so of course I must climb through the remaining rose and blackberry brambles to reach the tiny purple fruits of the Elderberry. Poke berries are also starting to ripen so be sure to avoid those!! Know how to identify your berries before consuming. Poke is poisonous!

Elderberries should be picked and consumed with some knowledge as well:

According to Wikipedia, 

“The leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots contain a cyanide producing glycoside. Ingesting any of these parts in sufficient quantity can cause a toxic build up of cyanide in the body. In addition, the unripened berry, flowers and “umbels” contain a toxic alkaloid.

Due to the possibility of cyanide poisoning, children should be discouraged from making whistles, slingshots or other toys from elderberry wood. In addition, “herbal teas” made with elderberry leaves (which contain cyanide inducing glycosides) should be treated with high caution. However, ripe berries (pulp and skin) are safe to eat.

If you’re fortunate enough to have access to this wonderful plant, I suggest taking the time to prepare one of these tasty recipes. The sweetened berries taste a bit like a cross between a cherry and a blackberry. Who could go wrong with that?!



Elderberry Wine

  • 3 lbs fresh, ripe elderberries
  • 1-1/2 lbs sugar
  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 Tbsp yeast
  • Campden tablets (optional, but highly recommended)
  • 1 tsp citric acid (optional)
  • 1/2 lb sugar
    1. Wash berries and pick out any green fruit and stems. This can take quite a while for 3 pounds worth of fruit. I suggest pouring the berries onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (for contrast) to make the job easier.
    2. Sterilize all equipment with boiling water. If you purchased campden tablets you can crush one per gallon of water to ensure sterilization.
    3. Boil water and  1-1/2 lb sugar until well dissolved. Pour into elderberries and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
    4. Put elderberries into a food mill to release juices. Return berry skins to liquid. Alternatively, wear rubber gloves and smoosh with hands.
    5. Add crushed Campden Tablet and citric acid then allow to rest for 24 hours.
    6. The next day, add yeast to your soon-to-be wine and mix well. Top off your carboy or watercube with an airlock and allow the juices to do their work over the next 2 weeks.
    7. After 2 weeks, strain berry pulp from fermenting liquid using a cheesecloth or fine mesh sieve. Make sure you use sterilized equipment! Add final 1/2 pound sugar and close your container with an airlock or balloon.
    8. Allow to rest 10 days.
    9. Ten days later, use your original bucket (cleaned and sterilized) and tubing to siphon the fermenting liquid from the sediment. Place your bucket on the floor and your carboy/watercube/jug on a table or counter. Insert one end of tubing into the wine and suck just a bit to get the siphon action going.
    10. While the siphoned liquid is resting in the bucket, clean your carboy/cube/jug and re-sterilize along with your tubing.
    11. Siphon the liquid again – back into the cleaned carboy/cube/jug .
    12. Close container with airlock or balloon as before.
    13. Let rest for 3 months or longer so that the yeast can work its magic. Once the mixture stops bubbling (if you’re using an airlock) or the balloon deflates the wine is ready to be siphoned into your sterilized bottles and corked.
    14. Allow to age an additional 3 months minimum (9 months to one year is best) before drinking.

    Country Wine: Equipment and Ingredients

    It is possible to make wine with minimum equipment and purchases. The bare necessities (in my humble experience) that you’ll want include:

    • Food-grade bucket, preferably 5-gallon. Check with a local bakery or deli.
    • A large strainer or sieve plus some cheesecloth.
    • About 4-5 feet of food-grade tubing. Look in the plumbing section of a hardware store.
    • Gallon-sized glass carboys or 5-gallon collapsible water cubes. Carboys can be saved from juice purchases. The water cubes are fantastic for making odd-sized batches of wine and can be found at camping supply stores.
    • Balloons and cotton balls, or  airlocks.
    • Yeast. You can use regular baking yeast, but if you want a better flavor you can opt for different “wine” strains of yeast found at winemaking/brewing stores. I’ve used Montrachet as it’s recommended to balance the flavors of berry wines.
    • Bottles and Corks. I save all my bottles from other purchases like wine, vinegar, juice, and so on. I purchased “mushroom” corks since they don’t require a tool to insert them into the bottles.


    • Campden tablets to sterilize equipment, remove stray yeast and bacteria (highly recommended unless you have problems with sulfites).
    • Tannin, citric acid, or Earle Grey tea for flavor balance in sweeter wines.
    • Extra sugar or wine conditioner to sweeten and brighten finished wine.
    • Pectic acid for removing extra pectin and “clarify” wine.
    • Yeast nutrient to feed yeast. Recipes without nutrient require extra sugar.

    You can purchase all of these items from a wine and beer making supplier or spend a little more energy and locate many things locally. I purchased my airlock, water cube, yeast, campden tablets, and corks from E.C. Kraus. for less than $50. The rest I found locally or did without.



    Elderberry Jam

    from the Ball Blue Book, yield about 3 pints

    • 2 quarts crushed elderberries (ripe berries, stemmed)
    • 6 C sugar
    • 1/4 C vinegar
    1. Combine berries, sugar and vinegar. Bring slowly to boiling, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves.
    2. Cook rapidly until thick. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking.
    3. Pour, boiling hot, into sterilized jars. Adjust caps.

    Yield: about 3 pints.

    I hope you get the opportunity to sample some elderberries in one form or another this year! The purple stains are worth it!!

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    We live on 10 acres, mostly pasture with a small stand of evergreens and lined at the edges with wild blackberries.  Our property is a perfect square, with our house smack dab in the middle.  To the north of our farm is a small family run dairy farm.  To the south is my mom’s acrage  To the east is another 10 acre farm that raises beef and sheep.  To the west…well to the west used to be over 50 acres of just open space with a creek and an old dilapidated saw mill.

    Now it is a housing development with homes on lots from 1 to 2 acres.   On our Western flank we have 3 neighbors.  It is the #3 neighbor that I will be speaking about today.

    As I was driving home the other day I noticed that the blackberries along the fence line bordering #3 neighbor were turning yellow.  I stopped the car and got out to take a look.  As I got nearer it became obvious they had been sprayed with some sort of herbicide (all of our roadways around our town are sprayed the same way so I knew immediately how it looks)

    I got back into my car grumbling about the nerve of someone to spray the blackberries on my property.

    The next day and the day after that I visited #3 to speak to her about spraying on property that wasn’t her’s.  She was never home.

    Meanwhile I have called the county to find out the rules about this.  They were clear that no one had the legal right to spray on another’s property, even if it was blackberries (which if you lived in Western Washington you realize that they are considered a nuisance plant.)

    Anyway on the 3rd try I stopped by her daughter’s house at the beginning of the housing developement and was going to leave a message to have her mom call me.

    Of course the daughter was concerned about what I was wanting to contact her mom about (I would be to if a neighbor wanted to talk to my mom who lives on her own)

    So I proceeded in the nicest way possible to tell her daughter that I was concerned that her mom was spraying my blackberries.  I explained that not only did my kids pick and eat the blackberries all over our property but we also were beekeepers and that these berry bushes were an outstanding source of pollen for them.

    I was clear that there no legal standing to do this.

    The daughter although polite kept asking me “you mean you want blackberries?”

    I explained to her about making jam and gardening organically and feeding bees.

    She told me how she and her husband had spent months and months clearing their 2 acres of the native ‘weeds’ so they could put in their expansive lawn and borders.  She certainly didn’t want my blackberries infesting her mother’s equally manicured lawn and she didn’t blame her mom from spraying.  She frankly thought I had a screw loose…

    It finally boiled down to yes I want those blackberries and they are on my property and could she please tell her mother to call me when she returned from vacation so I could speak to her.

    Why do people want to move to the country and then clear out all vestiges of said country and plant lawns that look just like those in town?

    Why would someone think that just because they want to keep their perfect lawns that it could possibly ok to use killer spray on someone else’s ‘weeds’?

    Have we come so far from our roots that the manicured lawn is now the norm and I’m the oddball?

    Kim can also be found at the inadvertent farmer where she raises organic fruits, veggies, critters, kids, and…a camel!

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    Compared to the start of our Real Food Challenge, getting local food is a breeze this time of year. How much more local can you get than your own backyard? Spring is good for items like ramps and morels. Summer in our region has quite a few beauties to look out for. If you don’t have immediate access to wild foods ask around. Sometimes people are happy to share their sources. If you find a source of wild food be sure that it’s not on private property before harvesting. If in doubt, ask the owner for permission.

    Disclosure: Please note that I am not an herbalist or a doctor and trying any new and/or wild foods should be done with caution. I highly suggest having an experienced someone help you forage until you are comfortable with your own knowledge. Just like other foods, wild foods can cause allergic reactions and even death in some instances. Please proceed with caution.



    wild blackberries

    Wild berries are a must! Blackberries and raspberries are starting to come in here. I picked my first ripe blackberries yesterday. I’ll be hitting the hillside every few days throughout June and deep into July to get bucketfuls. For what? Oh, let’s see – there’s cobbler, buckles, sorbet, syrups, jams, and my favorite, wine. Whatever’s left gets frozen for fruity toppings for pancakes and smoothies later in the year.




    Sassafras grows like mad on our property. The roots can be used to make tea, root beer, candy, and jelly. It can even be used to make mead and wine! (See a connection here?)  Sassafras was at one point completely banned because it was linked to cancer in lab rats. If you ask my opinion anything can cause cancer when given in such large doses. Even if you don’t feel like consuming sassafras I recommend at least picking off a leaf or two just to smell the amazing fragrance!


    chickasaw plums

    Chickasaw plums

    Fruit trees are a glorious source of nommy goodness. Down here we’ve got Chickasaw Plums which are a very small fruit in comparison to the cultivated or imported types. What are they good for? Jam and … can you guess? Yep! Wine!




    While springtime is fabulous for dandelion green salads, in late spring and summer I like to pick the flowers to reserve for tea, jelly, and you got it: wine.


    sumac berries

    sumac berries

    Last but not least is the Sumac family. Not to be confused with Poison Sumac, these trees can grow upwards around 30 feet and have brilliant red berry cones that ripen in early to mid summer. You know they’re ripe when you can touch the outside of the berries and get a tart flavor. Note that if you are allergic to cashews or mangoes to avoid the sumac tree. Native Americans use the sumac to make a type of lemonade. The fruit contains high levels of citric acid giving it a tart flavor. Native Americans also used a brew to treat blisters and sunburns. I have yet to try either of these recipes. I wonder if it can be used for wine?

    What kind of wild edibles do you look for this time of year?


    Jennifer can be found at Unearthing this Life where she snarfs and blargs about her life in the country with a Kid and Hubby.

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    Foraging for Wild Food

    Here at Chiot’s Run, we love finding foods that we can forage from the wild without having to cultivate them. Each year we learn more and more about wild edible plants and we’re enjoying the nutritional benefits they add to our diet. It can be an overwhelming and scary thing to learn about wild foraged food. Knowing what you can and can’t eat from the forest is one of those skills that’s been lost along the way. There are plenty of books you can read and websites where you can learn how to identify free edible wild food (see below for a few that you might find useful).

    Of course you want to make sure that you’re correct on your plant identification before harvesting and eating something since some plants are poisonous. It’s also wise to harvest and eat just a small amount to make sure someone isn’t allergic to the new wild food.

    I’d also suggest taking it slow and learning a few new wild foods each year. When you do it this way to learn to properly identify different edible plants during the entire growing season and you can practice cooking and using them medicinally. It can be overwhelming to try to learn them all at once and the information is often forgotten. You also run the risk of making a mistake when harvesting if you’re not 100% percent familiar with what the plants look like during each season. We make it a point to learn a few more wild foods each year. Several years ago we started eating morels that we find and last year we started eating a lot of garlic mustard as well as bittercress. We started using plantain for medicinal purposes and a few other weeds. This year I’m hoping to harvest some nettles for tea.

    This summer we’ve been enjoying a lot of wild greens and flowers in our spring salads. Since I didn’t get any spinach overwintered, we’ve been relying on garlic mustard, bitter cress, wild violets, and dandelions for our salads. We’ve also been enjoying wild flowers, they really make the salads beautiful (who wouldn’t want to eat one of these salads). The wonderful thing about wild plants is that they’re nutritional powerhouses. This is one of the reasons we started eating more wild foods. We’re always looking for ways to ramp up the nutritional quality of what we eat.

    As with plants you grow in your garden you want to make sure the wild plants you harvest are not in an area that is sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals. I’d stay away from plants in ditches along the road as well since they’re most likely covered in exhaust and chemical and salts from the road. I’d also stay away from gathering near large commercial farms since they use lots of chemicals. I found a few nice stands of wild asparagus, but they’re in a ditch right by a field that they spray with sewer sludge, so no wild asparagus on our plates.

    Do you harvest any foods from the wild? What’s your favorite wild food to eat?

    Susy can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op.

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    Last year was our first year sugaring our maple trees. We started late in the season and didn’t really know what we were doing, so we made a few mistakes. We learned a lot and are looking forward to putting that knowledge to use this year. I’m still reading a few books to refresh my memory and learn some new tricks from home sugarers. We’re really looking forward to being able to sugar through the entire season this year and adding a few more taps. Hopefully we’ll end up with a few gallons of maple syrup from all of our hard work.
    Sugaring season will be here before we know it, so I’m getting everything ready now. We’re going to buy a few more spiles/spouts this week and I’m getting all my jars washed and ready to go. I can’t wait to spend my days gathering sap and boiling it into delicious syrup. We’re hoping sugaring season coincides with the Winter Olympics since we’re planning on taking time off during those two weeks. That way we’ll be able to empty the sap buckets and boil down the sap in between our favorite events.

    If you’d like to tap a couple of your maples trees you’d better start looking for some supplies. You want to make sure you have everything in order so you’re not caught off guard. If you don’t need tons of supplies Tap My Trees is a great place. I go my local Lehman’s store to purchase what I need. All you really “need” is a few spiles, you can use mason jars or milk jugs to collect the sap in. We use a big waterbath canner over our firepit to boil down the sap and we finish it off inside on the stove.

    Do you or have you considered tapping your maple trees?

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    When you hear the word ‘blackberry’ many people now think of the handy dandy phone that does most anything…

    Well here in the Pacific Northwest we think of the monster vines that threaten to take over the western part of our lovely state of Washington.

    I affectionately call them the vines from hell…

    I hate them most of they year…there is an exception to this loathing though, it is right now because…

    It is blackberry picking time!

    blackberry picking1

    Even I must admit that they are quite lovely hanging there…

    But be warned they are a highly thorned adversary!

    And they get big…I mean BIG

    blackberry picking3

    These are well over 10 feet tall…

    I have seen them grow up two stories into the canopy of trees!

    blackberry picking4

    I suppose what I am doing is technically foraging for food,

    Since they grow wild and all…

    But it hardly seems like foraging when they practically fall into your hands there are so many!

    It takes no time at all to fill a bucket full…

    Then another and another!

    blackberry picking6

    Even with the kids…and dog…helping themselves it took less than 15 minutes to fill a bowl full enough for two cobblers!

    blackberry picking2

    We have three different kinds of blackberries growing on our property.  Two grow upright and bear fruits of different sizes…large and GIANT!

    There is also a ground growing blackberry that is delicious but the bunnies get most of those.

    blackberry picking5

    What do we do with all those blackberries?

    Well there is jam and jelly, blackberry syrup, putting them  in muffins and pancakes…there are always blackberry crisps to be made…

    blackberry crisp

    We must not  forget the kids’ favorite…

    Blackberry Smoothies!

    blackberry smoothie

    So next time I am wounded and maimed by one of these monstrous vines I will remember that for a small window in late summer they give back to me by the bucket loads!

    And besides…they’re free

    It’s hard to argue with that!


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    a bowl of sunshine

    a bowl of sunshine

    as an herbalist, i believe fully that medicine is something you should eat as well as take. prevention of illness can go a long way if you make it a habit to dine on nature’s bounty.

    there are so many ‘weeds’ that grow commonly throughout the united states and even the world that are very nutritious and healthful. they include burdock root, dandelions (everything but the stem), violets, chickweed, plantain and red clover.

    dandelions are one of the world’s most nutritious plants! 1 cup of dandelion leaves contains 1 1 / 2 times the recommended USDA daily requirements for vitamin A alone! It also contains vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E, P, and D plus biotin, inositol, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.

    i won’t go into all the uses of dandelion, but i will tell you it is an excellent diuretic that does not deplete the body of potassium. so, anyone that needs to flush out their the liver and/or kidneys will benefit from drinking dandelion root tea and eating their greens.

    this recipe is one i found online several years ago and then tweaked for myself. it is delicious and could have so many variations. the possibilities are endless.

    cream of dandelion soup

    4 cups chopped dandelion leaves
    2 cups dandelion flower petals
    2 cups dandelion buds
    1 Tbsp butter or olive oil
    1 /4 cup chopped wild leeks (or onions)
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    4 cups water
    2 cups half-n-half or heavy cream
    2 tsp salt
    2 tbsp Butter
    2 tbsp flour

    Boil dandelion leaves in water. Strain and add more water. Boil again.

    While boiling, sauté wild leeks/onions and garlic in butter until tender.

    In a soup/stock pot, add 4 cups water, dandelion leaves, flower petals and buds, salt and sautéed onions and garlic.

    Simmer 45 minutes. Add cream and heat until simmering.

    While simmering, melt 2 tbsp butter and sprinkle in salt, mixing thoroughly until bubbly.

    Add 1 /2 cup soup broth to mixture and whisk. When thickened, add to soup base.

    Garnish with more dandelion petals. Serve with dandelion salad and some thick crusty bread.

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