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Posts Tagged ‘Wild Foods’

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It’s Stinging Nettle season in the Okanagan.

I get pretty excited leading up to this part of the year and start to dream up stinging nettle recipes weeks before the nettles are ready to pick. I also have an irrational tendency to panic over not having enough nettles to last me a year even if I have jars and jars of dried nettle leaf and plenty steamed, chopped nettles in the freezer. And why wouldn’t I?

Nettles make you feel good…

Nettles, as a food, deeply nourishes and restores arguably better than any other. It’s absolutely delicious as a green vegetable, mineral dense and slightly salty, so rich in broths and green smoothies.  It dries easily and blends well with many other herbs for nourishing infusions, and a pinch added to tisane blends adds depth of flavour and colour.

I like to blend nettle tea with red clover and peppermint for an enjoyable, full flavoured tisane that not only tastes great it supports the adrenals, balances hormones, boosts fertility, settles the stomach, and helps prevent cancer; all while being rich in vitamins, minerals and life giving vibrancy.

I’m not going to go in depth as to why nettles are awesome, today. Instead I am going to share a recipe. I’ll probably make a nice monograph for nettles another time.

I’m in the mood to make, taste and experience good food made from nettles, so when I got home with the first of my harvest I made a batch of this delicious and nourishing soup. It is a creamy soup but not your traditional stodgy, thickened with flour, cream of chicken soup. It is light yet rich, made with fresh spring cream and scratch made chicken broth . A simple seasonal dish that is easy to make and very delicious, if not a little French rustic.

Creamy Nettle & Chicken Soup

nettle soup

Ingredients:

8 cups of freshly picked nettles

1 whole chicken, rinsed well (Pasture raised, organic, is best but work with what you’ve got.)

2T olive oil

1T butter

2 onions, fine diced

5 cloves of garlic, chopped

4 carrots, sliced

1T apple cider vinegar

Bay leaf

1 cup fresh cream (Again, the best is from pastured, organic cows, and watch out for funky additives.)

Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper

Chopped spring chives and chive blossoms to garnish

In a stock pot that will accommodate a whole bird, sauté the onions and carrots in the olive oil and butter until they soften and become deeper in flavour, releasing their aromatics. This will be your flavour base for the soup. Don’t over colour your onions and carrots, this soup is on the delicate side of flavour profiles. You want to enjoy the subtle flavours of nettles, broth, cream and chives and a more fresh and purifying sense in the mouth, unlike the colder months rich, slow cooked, winter soups.

Throw in the chopped garlic and bay leaf and sauté until there is a release of aroma. Add the vinegar and stir to deglaze the pan. Drop your bird into the pot then cover with fresh, cold, filtered water. Add a good tablespoon of salt and some cracked pepper to the pot and turn up the heat. Bring the broth to a boil then immediately turn the heat down to a gentle simmer.

After about 10 minutes a little bit of scum will surface. Grab your ladle and skim it off. Now you can use the pot’s lid to partially cover the stock pot so that the steaming broth can baste the top of the bird, as it will tend to float a bit as it cooks.

Leave your broth to simmer for an hour. While the broth simmers you can very lightly steam the nettles in a pot, just until they turn a gorgeous, bright green. Strain them, reserving the green liquid to add to the broth. Once they cool enough to handle roughly chop them up and set aside for serving.

After the broth has simmered for about an hour, test the doneness of the chicken. The meat should slip easily off the bone. Remove the cooked bird, strain the juices that run off but pour them back into the pot. Keep the broth simmering uncovered to reduce and concentrate the flavour while you deal to the chicken meat.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle pull the meat off the bones and chop half of it for the nettle soup. Save the rest of the meat for another dish tomorrow, it will have a lovely flavour and should be anything but dry.

Once the broth has reduced enough to your liking, take your ladle once again and skim off any undesired fat. There will be a layer floating on top. You may wish to keep it all, it is good fats after all. Or, like me, you may prefer a less oily soup and leave only enough to make yummy looking pools of goodness around the edges of the bowl. Now add the chicken meat back to the pot, add the cream and check the seasoning….

Is it good? No? Try more salt. Scratch made broth needs a good amount of salt in it. Not too much though, the nettles are a bit salty as they are mineral dense, but you won’t notice so much as not need extra salt once served.

Let everything warm back up together.

When ready to serve, portion the nettles into each bowl then ladle the hot soup on top of the greens.

Garnish with chopped spring chives and chive blossoms. Season if desired.

Serve with a salad of wild spring greens and slices of baguette spread with fresh butter.

Enjoy your yummy, creamy, nettle goodness.

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I have some more nettle greens recipes to share and I might do some tutorials on preparing nettles for the freezer, in vinegars for nutrient dense vinaigrettes,  and drying them for teas and infusions.

Or I might not. I have a strange perspective on blogging right now, currently feeling it’s a bit vain and self promoting, because, well it kind of is, hah! But on the other hand there are some great benefits, like getting to nerd out and write a monograph that has to be good because it will be scrutinised.

And I like that I have decided to share recipes. I have a skill and a passion for food, and now that I am not working in the culinary arts I no longer have to treat food (crap quality, so-called food that is) as a profit margin.

I love that I am falling in love with my culture of food and dining all over again. It’s like re-immersing myself into my true beliefs towards preparing and sharing nourishment that also tastes amazing. It’s about home grown and hand gathered, about slowing down, taking time, sharing with the ones I love and hanging out in bliss over a dish with a good glass of wine. Remembering my own food culture actually helps me deal with my homesickness. Now that’s got to be healthy.

It’s just too good not to share. We shall see what happens next…

Until next time, eat your weeds!

Danika.

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A Spring outing with my son to gather Arrowleaf Balsam Root leaves.

Well there goes May, and with it Spring leaves me as early Summer rolls on in. My month of May was impeded by a chest infection but I still managed to get out to my Herb School classes and spend time wildcrafting and medicine making. I have welcomed into my life the act of prayer. In the past I had always associated prayer with religion and so avoided it. But as I grow older and connect deeper with Nature through my studies and passion for herbal folk medicine, my perception of life expands and opens, and my heart asks me to be more still, more quiet, so I can listen to the voices of the forest, of wild water and animal chatter, and if I am lucky perhaps for a moment I will hear the song of their Spirit. Prayer gives me a way to offer my intentions to all of creation here on Earth, be it of healing given or needed, love shared and received, joy and sorrow. It opens the door to communion with loving, healing, spiraling consciousness. And maybe it does far more… For me it is also a way to give offerings of love and to announce my intentions when working with the plant world.

Belly to the Earth, intoxicated by the scent of Oregon grape inflorescence.

Arrowleaf Balsam Root (Balsamorhiza sagittata)

Leaving the magical Nettle forest…

May brought fresh Nettles once again, something that makes me very, very happy. I have a weird fear of not having enough Nettles! I can’t live without them. On Mothers Day, I drove out to a friends farm with my son and husband and we spent the day picking beautiful, vibrant green Nettles. I dried about 10lbs, steamed off some for the freezer, made nettle infused oil for an under eye cream I am working on for Herb & Petal, my herbal skin care line, and cooked with nettles to my hearts content. I made a very yummy rustic nettle and goat cheese pie with whole grain sage pastry. I wasn’t completely happy with the result, next time I will add more creamy goodness to it like cultured cream cheese and mix the filling well with it, rather than leaving the cheese in chunks, to make for a richer, moister pie. When I have perfected my recipe I will share it with you…

Drying Nettles on an old screen.

Chopping Nettles for oil infusion.

Making Nettle oil infusion for skin care.

Cooked Nettles.

Making Rustic Nettle and Goat Cheese Pie with Sage Pastry.

Nettle and Goat Cheese Pie.

May also brought a ‘Super Moon’, which was very beautiful, although by the time the Moon rose over the mountains behind my house I had  missed the effect of it’s largeness. It was still an energy charged night and I was determined to have a fire outside to enjoy it. I searched around for a second hand brazier to enable backyard campfires but there was no way I was going to pay much for one. So I got my spade out and dug a lovely fire pit for free. 10 minutes later I had an awesome, rock lined fire pit and we have been loving it! Besides, I can cook on my backyard fire pit. Braziers are for….

The full Moon as it drifted over my side of the mountain.

I also had the opportunity to go to Summerhill Organic Winery for the Fertility Festival and interviewed local folk punk band The Dirty Earth. Lots of fun, yummy food and wine, artists, artisans, music and beautiful, shining people everywhere. I’ll post the interview in a separate blog entry soon!

The Dirty Earth played in the Kekuli at Summerhill’s Fertility Festival this May.

Well, I had more to say but I am fading in my enthusiasm presently. It’s been a long week, motherhood has been trying for me lately with low energy levels and the lingering infection in my lungs. Finding time to do all I must and rest to recover is almost impossible. I haven’t even set up shop at my farmers market yet this season, something that bothers me to no end. I must persevere and hope that I am filled with boundless energy soon!

Thanks for stopping by, see you again real soon!

Danika.

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Elderflower

Hello there! I’m back, finally! It’s been a month since I began composing this article and then life took me on a whirlwind tour of the unexpected and uncontrollable. I’ve been riding a roller coaster of emotion, both good and bad, pain and relief and it’s all been such an overwhelming distraction. I find myself feeling soothed to be sitting here writing about my heartfelt purpose, the goodness of learning and working with plants for medicine, food and beauty. As I write this I can smell my pot of elderberries and spices simmering gently into a tasty and healthful decoction that I will soon blend into a syrup. And that is the theme of today’s long awaited article… The Elderberry.

I love the elder tree. I love the way it looks, I love its dreamy, creamy blossom clusters and I adore the dark blue elderberries it so freely gives to those that know of its generous bounty. What could be more satisfying than seeking to find and work with such a giving plant that is steeped in a rich history of centuries old folklore, legend and medicine making ?

Back home in New Zealand, a few years back, I watched an interview on the local news about a girl who was going around the old Southland farms and sheep stations asking permission to harvest the blossoms and berries which she then crafted into elderflower and elderberry cordials. I had to try them for myself as I was so intrigued and what a delight they turned out to be. On a hot summers day nothing beats a tall glass of cold elderflower cordial blended with sparkling spring water.

The species of Elder that is native to my region: sambucus cerulea

Since then my relationship with the elder tree has deepened and grown as I learn more about this remarkable plant. I’ve recently learned of a species of elder that is native to the Montane Cordillera eco-zone I live in: Sambucus nigra ssp cerulea. I’ve heard it grows in the southern Okanagan so you can imagine my excitement! I’m eagerly awaiting the spring when I will go searching for its tell-tale blossom clusters in hopes of harvesting the flowers and later in the summer the berries as well, to dry and blend into remedies for my kitchen apothecary.

While I wait for winter to finish doing her thing I am happy to work with my stash of dried elderberries I purchased from Silk Road Tea and Herb Company. I also have a little packet of dried elderberries that came with my herbal medicine making kit from Learning Herbs so hey, let’s make a simple elderberry syrup! I’ve decided to make the recipe that came in my herbal medicine making kit, from Learning Herbs.com as it includes other herbs such as ginger and cinnamon, excellent allies in times of illness caused by cold and flu viruses.

Now as if you need a convincing reason to make and enjoy an elderberry syrup! But this is a somewhat educational blog for me and for you and writing about medicinal uses of plant helps me learn faster, so now, a little about the healing powers, myths and other uses of the wonderful elder…

The elderberry is traditionally used in the treatment of the flu virus. A common folk remedy blends elderberries with yarrow and peppermint and is used as a diaphoretic, that is to induce a sweat, at bedtime to help break a fever. This is a great example of herbs working with your body’s healing process to return to a balanced and whole state of being rather than the allopathic tradition of suppressing symptoms, a practice that I am at odds with as symptoms of illness are the body hard at work in healing mode. Not that I don’t wish to relieve the discomfort of illness when my son or husband or even my self gets sick, I just go about it in a way that supports healing function and a return to balanced health sooner. Anyways… Back to elderberries!  Traditional Herbalist Kiva Rose speaks highly of her experiences working with elder. She blends it into an elixir tonic not only as a remedy for influenza but also she has “found it useful in a variety of situations, especially chronic hyper or hypo immunity, extended illness and other depletion syndromes”. I should also note it has a tonic effect on the mucous membranes. Oh yes,  it tastes great too, what a bonus! That’s not always true of many medicinal herbs.

The branches of the elderberry have a soft core and are easily turned into whistles but be warned, the bark contains alkaloids one may find nauseating. No nibbling on elder whistles! The elder is also thought to be connected to the fairy world and according to Doreen Shababy, author of The Wild and Weedy Apothecary, there are several legends that tell of an Elder Mother inhabiting the tree and she rightly reminds her readers to be thankful for the bounty they harvest from her branches.

Have I peaked your interest yet? Want to learn how to make that elderberry syrup? Then read on my friend for its ready and cooling on my counter top and it could be in your kitchen apothecary too with a few ingredients and a little instruction so here we go!

How to make Elderberry Syrup:

Gathering the ingredients to make an elderberry syrup

You will need to gather your ingredients and equipment before you get started. For this recipe we will use:

1/2 cup of dried or 1 cup fresh blue elderberries, 5 cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 tablespoon roughly grated or chopped ginger, 2 cups fresh filtered water and 1 cup unpasteurized wild flower honey.

Next pour the water into a medium size pot that has a lid. Add the elderberries…

Dried elderberries going in the pot

Then the cloves, cinnamon and ginger….

Adding the spices to the brew

Then cover the pot and bring to a boil.

Cover up for less energy waste!

Once it’s boiling reduce the heat and let your decoction simmer for about 20 minutes. You want it to reduce in volume by half.

Now it's boiling reduce the heat, cover and let simmer for 20-30 minutes

While it’s simmering let’s talk about honey… I feel the best honey to use for its medicinal qualities comes from bees that forage wild area’s away from monoculture, genetically modified crops and pollution. Actually I feel the best medicinal honey in the world is Manuka honey. It is the most potent honey out there for treating all kinds of ailments but in the interest of using what is available to you locally, go and support your local bee keeper. And make sure you buy unpasteurized honey. It is powerful yet delicate stuff and loses much of its useful qualities when heated. I’m using organic wild flower honey from Armstrong, right here in the Okanagan. It’s cold today so you will notice my honey is a little grainy but that’s alright, it will dissolve into the decoction just fine.

Wild flower honey from the Okanagan

Now the decoction is reduced by half so I strain it through a fine mesh strainer into a glass bowl…And use a spoon to press all the juice out of the berries.Now it’s time to add the honey…

Mmmm... honey!

And stir until the honey has completely dissolved.Now it’s ready to be poured into a sterile glass storage vessel. I’m using a re-purposed Grolsch beer bottle as they have rubber stoppers on top. I actually buy them just so I can have the bottles for home-made syrups and sauces but it’s kind of fun emptying them of their original contents with my hubby…

Use a funnel if your going to pour your syrup into a bottle for storage, it helps prevent wasting your precious syrup by spilling.

Now just let it cool down before you seal it. You could make a cool label while you wait.

That’s it! You just learned how to make elderberry syrup at home for a fraction of the cost of a bottle of store bought elder extract pills that probably don’t do much anyways. Make sure you store your syrup in the fridge. It will keep for a couple of weeks. Give a tablespoonful a day to your family during the cold and flu season as a preventative measure. I’ll probably be serving mine over vanilla bean ice cream and yoghurt too. You’ll see. It’s tastes awesome.

I hope you try this for yourself, it really is worth it. For more elderberry recipes check out Putting Up With The Turnbulls blog site for their Elderberry Maple Syrup. You can also make jams and jellies with the fresh berries but that will be an article for another day when I have a glut of them in my kitchen to be dealt with. I really hope the wait was worth it and I look forward to sharing more of my herbal adventures with you all as Spring is about to arrive and with her all the good green herbs I have been so impatiently waiting for. 🙂

Happy herbal adventures,

Danika.

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