Transformational Gardening

Disclaimer: Foraging can be fun, rewarding and provide health benefits. As a novice forager, I will be sharing my foraging experiences. However, in order to be safe, always consult with local foraging experts and guidebooks before beginning foraging. Children should learn to forage safely by being guided by experienced adults. Never ingest anything unless you are certain of the identification and safety of the plant. Some plant species are inedible and some are poisonous.

October 2010 Foraging Experiences

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October 1, 2010

I receive a fantastic gift from my friends Mike and Judy. They gave me the following book:

The Wild Vegan Cookbook: A Forarger’s Culinary Guide (in the Field or in the Supermarket) to Preparing and Savoring Wild (and Not So Wild) Natural Foods
by “Wildman” Steve Brill

October 2, 2010

Autumn Olive (Japanese Silverberry) (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Picked 5 cups of Autumn Olive berries today. Learned a lot about picking them. Tried to roll the berries off the stems to avoid getting the berries with stems attached. It is easier using two hands and doing this process on berries at chest height. But if you have to reach way up for most of the berries, it is very hard to get them without the stems and keep them from dropping on the ground. Better to get these on a step ladder or chair. It is slow and messy to pick through the berries afterwards to get rid of the stems, so better to do a clean job while picking.

Then I decided to make Autumn Olive berry jam! Never made jam before. First, I had to decide if I wanted to grind up the pits and mix them in as they contain healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. But I decided to remove them using a $39 hand-crank food mill (Endurance brand). By reading up on canning online, I learned that it is important to have all of the kitchen equipment and ingredients laid out and ready to use.

I ended up making the jam twice. The first time it came out way too watery, so I opened up the sealed jars and tried again. Below, I will detail the tools and ingredients I used for the final recipe and then detail what I did wrong the first time.

Kitchen Equipment
After running the Autumn Olive berries through the food mill to remove the pits, I slowly heated the puree on the stove. At the same time, I warmed the closed canning bottles in a pot under low temperature. This insures that the bottles stay hot and sterile from before the jam is added until the canning is complete. I added the Apple Juice, Wildflower Honey, Lemon Juice and then added 2 Tablespoons of Agar Agar Flakes as a thickener. Here is where I made my first mistake. I should have added much more Agar Agar. It gels after it cools in the refrigerator and I didn’t know until the next day that with only 2 Tablespoons of Agar Agar, the jam would not gel. After adding the Agar Agar and stiring and heating slowly until nearly a boil, I pulled the jars from the hot water, opened them up and carefully added the heated jam to about 1/2 inch from the top. I wiped the sides and edges, sealed the jars and then added them to the heated water in the 20 quart pan. Brought water to a boil and let it boil for 5 minutes with the jars covered with water. Turned the burner off, let cool, removed from water a couple hours later and then refrigerated so the Agar Agar could gel.

One of the mistakes was to add only 2 Tablespoons of Agar Agar. Probably would work will for at least 6 Tablespoons for every 2-1/2 cups of puree (or approximately 3-1/2 cups after adding all of the other ingredients). I ended up using 9 Tablespoons of Agar Agar. Another mistake is that I probably did not need the Apple Juice. Once you start heating the Autumn Olive berry puree, it becomes more watery and no other liquids will need to be added. I probably could have gotten away with 1/4 cup of Wildflower Honey. If you pick the berries too early, they tend to be very tart and may need more sweetener. I picked the berries a week after I tasted tart ones and these were very sweet and only slightly tart. Finally, the Agar Agar is fairly expensive, but worth a try. I may try using Kudzu next time. I am glad I went the natural route and mostly used products that could be harvested locally.

Below is a picture of the finished product after I started munching on this very tasty jam!

October 3, 2010

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

October 9, 2010

Mapleleaf viburnum (Dockmackie, Maple-Leaved Arrowwood) (Viburnum acerifolium)

I came across this Mapleleaf Viburnum on a walk this afternoon. I was lucky that the fruits were still showing or I probably would have mistaken it for a young maple tree.

Mapleleaf Viburnum is a 3-6 foot tall shrub with maple-like leaves (3 lobes). The leaves are arranged opposite of each other. The tops of the leaves, edges of the leaves and especially the twigs are hairy. The backs of the leaves have tiny black dots. In the Spring, the plant produces a flat-topped cluster of white flowers (not shown: see here). In the Fall, purple-black berries (drupes) are produced. These berries have a single seed. According to Steve Brill, these berries are unpalitable and inedible.

There are two other species of Viburnums in New Hampshire that have maple-like leaves: Squashberry (Viburnum edule) which has red berries, occurs at higher elevations in the Northern part of the state and has only slightly lobed leaves; and European Cranberrybush (Viburnum opulus) which has red berries and glands near the top of the petiole (leaf stalk) (unlike the Mapleleaf Viburnum). This web page at Cornell University is helpful in differentiating between Viburnum species: Which Viburnum is it?

Not all Viburnums have stipules (fang-like appendages) at the base of the leaves. But the Viburnums with maple-like leaves have stipules. You can see the thin whitish stipules next to the buds in the first picture above on the left if you click on it to expand and click on it again to expand it further. If it did not have stipules, it would most likely be a young maple tree.

October 10, 2010

Picked 2-1/2 gallons of acorns today. The first 1-1/2 gallons appear to be small, White Oak (Quercus alba) acorns. I would like to get at least 10 gallons before the end of the Fall. As you can see, I do not have drying trays yet. Off to the store tomorrow.

October 11, 2010

Black Locust (False Acacia) (Robinia pseudoacacia)

On the bike trail looking for acorns, I came across a group of small Black Locust trees. Black Locust has black-tinted bark, the leaves are arranged alternately on the stem with each leaf having many large, oval untoothed leaflets (pinnately-compund). At the base of each leaf are two very sharp thorns. The leaf stem (petiole) is swollen where it attaches to the branch (between the thorns). The thorns are prominent on young trees and apparently are not prominent on older, larger trees. In the Spring, the Black Locust will produce white, pea-like flowers.

There are two other Robinia species in New Hampshire:
  1. Bristly Locust (Rose Acacia) (Robinia hispida): Similar to Black Locust but has very long, red hairs on stems and has a pink-colored, pea-like flower.
  2. Clammy Locust (Rose Acacia) (Robinia viscosa): Similar to Black Locust but has the braches are covered with numerous, sticky short-stalked red glands and has a pink-colored, pea-like flower.
In addition, the Black locust has similarity to the Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos). It is once or twice pinnately compound leaves. The leaflets are not nearly as broad as the Black Locust leaflets. The Honey Locust has numerous, sharp 3-part or multi-part branched thorns.

The Black Locust tree is prized for firewood (extremely dense wood), fence posts (resistant to moisture and rot), furniture (low rate of expansion/contraction), hardwood floors, support timbers (great structural strength).

While most of the plant, including the bark is considered toxic, the flowers have been traditionally used for tea to treat rheumatism and can also be used in making jam and pancakes. Small doses of the bark are considered a tonic by some, while larger doses of the bark are considered emetic and purgative. More information on the uses of Black Locust can be found in the Plants for a Future database and Henriette's Herbal web page.

Northern Arrowwood (Smooth Arrowwood) (Viburnum dentatum var. lucidum) (Synonym: Viburnum recognitum)

October 11, 2010

Drying 2-1/2 gallons of acorns on my balcony. For the first hour, a squirrel was winning the battle of the acorns. It would reach under the screen I laid down over the acorns and grab it to take it home and then come back for more. Now that I have the edges of the screen weighed down, it’s just slobbering over the acorns.

Autumn Olive (Japanese Silverberry) (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Made more Autumn Olive jam. This time I used way too much money. I used 3/4th of a cup of Wildflower Honey for 3 cups of Autumn Olive puree. In the future, I should use an absolute maximum of 1/2 cup of honey per 3 cups of puree. Also, the jam did not solidify as well as last time (October 2, 2010) even though I used 9 Tablespoons of Agar Agar. It might be because I did not add Apple Juice this time. Or perhaps it was because I used too much honey? Or maybe I just needed a bit more Agar Agar since I had 1/2 cup more of puree this time.

October 14, 2010

Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)

Picked 1-1/2 cups of Japanese Barberry berries. I waited way too long to pick them. Should have done it 3 weeks ago. There were many fewer berries available (animals probably got them) and the quality was poor. Even with a decent amount of honey and apple juice the taste is: yuck! Next year I will catch the berries earlier. (Note: The first picture on the left below is from September 16, 2010.)

Scouringrush Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale)

Picked Scouringrush Horsetail to use as a pot and pan scrubber. The silica crystals in the stem were traditionally used for scouring. I tried it on dirty pots, a wooden spoon and glass bowls and it worked extremely well and it kept working without any loss of scrubbing capability.

I saved some Scouringrush Horsetail so I can lash it together and try to make a more stable “scouring pad.” Also, I want to repeatedly reuse the stems to see how long they last.

In Japan, the stems are boiled and then used as fine sandpaper to finish furniture and other workworking projects. Reportedly, the Scouring Rush Horsetail works better than fine sandpaper to provide a smooth finish. I boiled up the stems, but I don’t know what to do with them next. I’ll try letting them dry, lashing them together (or perhaps cutting them into flatter pieces) and then using on a piece of red oak that I recently finished with natural stain and resin.

The picture on the lower right shows two bundles of Scouringrush Horsetail. The bundle on the left was used for washing dishes, especially pots/pans. The bundle on the right was in boiling water for 20 minutes and then dried for a day. I used it as fine sandpaper on a piece of finished wood.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

I got my Country Life Grain Mill in a week ago and have been using it. It does build up the muscles making flour from a hand-crank grain mill. The first time I used it I did not have a way to clamp it down and it was amazingly difficult to hold the mill with one hand and grind with the other. As you can see from the picture, I built a base from a piece of oak, drilled holes and attached the base to the grain mill with carriage bolts. Then I can clamp the ends of the base to a table for stability. I got the idea for a base from a Youtube video I saw.

I made two loaves of bread, one with honey and one with maple syrup. The ingredients for one loaf is as follows:
The sourdough helps deactivate the phytic acid in the wheat so that it does not bind with minerals in our body and cause poor health over time.

I mixed the ingredients, kneeded the bread for about 6-8 minutes and let it rise for 5 hours. Then I punched it back down and kneeded it again for a while. I let the bread rise for another 2 hours. Then I punched it down and molded it into a glass bread pan that had been oiled with olive oil. Baked at 350 degrees Farenheit for 60 minutes.

I accidently let it go too long and the crust got too hard. But the bread tastes very good, especially the one sweetened (but not oversweetened) with honey.

Next idea is to make wild rice bread. The acorns I have been picking are not ready to use for bread. They still have to dry and then I need to open the acorns and leech out the tannins.

October 18, 2010

My friend, Jennifer, made Autumn Olive muffins and they were excellent!

Since the start of October, I have taken pictures of numerous plants, but have not had the time to identify many them and put them up on the web. Hopefully, later this week or next week.

I have about 4 gallons of acorns collected and they are in the processing of drying. I want to get about 15-20 this Fall to last me through the year. I have collected 150 milkweed stalks and would like to get about 1,000 to use to practice making cord over the Winter.