Cooking With Wild Herbs
By Deb Jackson
Recipes at end of article!
Use wild plants as food at your own risk! To learn more about wild plants as food,
There are many great flavors to be had from the wild. I?ve learned that many wild herbs have a very unique and pleasant taste. I use them regularly in my kitchen for spices, garnish, appetizers, snacks, and even as main dishes. One of my favorites is mint jelly, so good and easy to make but hard to keep around. Ever had mint jelly on a hot buttered biscuit, or a favorite for kids mint jelly and peanut butter sandwiches, for some hors d?oeuvre try mint jelly and cream cheese finger sandwiches.
Substituting some of the everyday culinary spices with wild herb spices can be tricky but some are indistinguishable and did I mention the best thing about using wild herbs? They?re FREE! Yarrow for instance, when dried taste like sage, dried and ground Toothwort like black pepper or crushed fresh it taste exactly like horse radish, dried and ground Sweet Cicely root like fennel seed has an Anise like flavor for pizza, spaghetti sauce and other Italian type dishes. Wild garlic or Bear?s garlic is as good as cultivated and is said by some to be better. Mountain mint is a good substitute for basil, in fact one of its common names is wild basil. Wild Bergamot can be used as oregano but is a bit spicy so use less.
Wild Ginger (Caution: Contains Aristolochic Acid, a naturally occurring toxin that can cause cancer, mutations in human cells, and end-stage kidney failure. DO NOT USE INTERNALLY!
is another favorite of mine, the root crushed and saut?d in butter then thickened with corn starch or flour water, makes a fine sauce for chicken. Wild Ginger and Sweet Cicely roots are good crystallized in sugar, they make great treats and freshen breath, and I can?t help but mention how wonderful they work when you have a sore throat or cough.
There are so many wild herbs available for cooking as pot herbs it would be hard to mention them all, but a few excellent choices are Wild Mustard greens, Dandelion, and Lamb?s quarters. Each is good alone, but I like to mix the three and always remember to blanch with two changes of water, also season with bouillon or meat drippings. If you like home made bread and who doesn't, try throwing in some wild herbs and you have herb bread, very aromatic and delicious. I?ve just recently discovered that several types of Avens roots, Water avens and White avens among them, are used as chocolate substitutes and are actually called Indian chocolate, I intend to try them this year when they bloom. A good book I would recommend for learning more about using wild herbs in cooking is The Complete Book of Herbs by Lesley Bremness, just looking at the photos will make your mouth water.
Crystallized Roots: Start with fresh crispy, clean roots, slice in half and cut to about 3 or 4 inches long. Soak in a mixture of 2 parts sugar dissolved in 1 part water, enough to cover root pieces, overnight or at least 8 hours in the refrigerator. Pour all contents into a glass or enamel coated pan, place on med. low heat stirring occasionally, bring to a slow rolling boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool, strain but do not allow to dry, while still wet, roll or coat pieces in dry sugar, leave them in the sugar till dry. I like to use a bag so I can shake them occasionally. Remove and allow to air dry for a day or two in a cool dry place, this is to ensure that the pieces are dry in the center and will not stick together in storage. Store in airtight containers and they will keep for about a year, if the kids don?t find and eat them up! OH and the syrup that is strained of the roots, great cough syrup!
Wild Mint Jelly: Gather and wash mint leaves of your choice, about a pound, I like a mixture of Spearmint and Peppermint. Place in large enamel or glass pan with 2 quarts water, bring to slow boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 30 min. Strain and pour liquid back into pan, add about 3 pounds of sugar, stir until dissolved. Add 2 pkgs. of sure jell stir until dissolved. Simmer on low heat for 30 min. Pour hot, into sterile small jars, tighten lids and allow to cool, you will hear the lids (pop) as they seal, if cool and some lids did not seal, refrigerate and use them first.
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