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This is what I found on my walk today. Well, the puffball anyway. The other mushroom and the dandelion greens I found in the lawn when I got home, and the chickweed was growing in a pot plant.
The puffball was a real treat and in almost perfect condition. It was sitting on the side of the path – someone had probably kicked it out of the way. I see this so often, puffballs in particular. There’s something attractive about kicking them I suppose, and I might too if I didn’t understand what a great food they are. With this one at least, it wasn’t broken, and I spotted a much larger and older puffball a few feet away that was too far gone to eat.
I’ve only been eating wild mushrooms for a year or so (other than field mushrooms of course). I’m comfortable about eating puffballs but am still learning about the species. Because of its proximity to the spent one I think the one I found today is the Giant Puffball, Calvatia gigantea even though it’s not very big.
(looking at further references, there are a number of Latin names in NZ being used for the Giant Puffball. Three according to Landcare.)
If you’re going to eat a puffball, it needs to look like this inside. Nice and firm, and white.
Puffball scrambled eggs
* slice the puffball and cut small enough to do well in the eggs
* fry in butter until golden on both sides
* add other frying ingredients – in this case garlic, but tomato would be nice too
* beat a couple of eggs with a pinch of salt
* pour over the ‘shrooms, add diced dandelion leaves, and scramble
* serve with chopped chickweed dressed in olive oil, herb vinegar and salt
That used up half the puffball so I sliced the other half in varying thicknesses and fried both sides. When it had cooled I ate it with avocado. Puffballs have a subtle flavour although certainly mushroomy. The ones I ate with the avo had a honey taste, not sweet. Maybe the frying in butter brings that out. The texture is tender.
(the other mushroom in the picture at the top of the post is as yet unidentified…)
I’ve been watching an old series of Jamie Oliver’s (Oliver’s Twist). In one the episodes his mentor Gennaro takes Oliver out into the streets of London to harvest wild food plants. They find plenty of overgrown wild places on roadsides and between buildings. Their harvest includes fennel (stalks, leaves and flowers), a plant they call borage but I think was alkanet, sheep sorrel, horseradish, rosemary and wild rocket.
Geek alert: One of my pleasures is looking at the ‘background’ of other British TV shows, dramas and such, and trying to ID wild plants. It made sense that there would be lots of weeds on the streets of London. British natural history writer and wild foodie, Richard Mabey, has a book called Street Flowers about weeds that grow in cities and how they manage to do that.
Sadly, here in the Land of the Long White Spray Cloud, city wild food is a bit harder to find. But not impossible. I’ve not seen wild rocket, but dandelion, chickweed, puha and the like are pretty common, as well as tree shrubs like elder and hawthorn. Old cemeteries, margins of back sections down alleyways and the harder to get to edges of Parks usually yield something. Railway lines are also a good weedy place. One of my earliest wildcrafting excitements as a teen was finding abundant yarrow in flower along a city railway track. Wellington wild food forager Joanna Knox has a wonderful blog on what’s around the Capital (probably applicable to most NZ cities).
Oliver and Gennaro took their harvest home and made a fish dish with the fennel. The stalks were used as a trivet to keep the fish off the bottom of a baking dish (laid in a flat bundle). The flowers and leaves where chopped and mixed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and then rubbed into cuts that had been made across the surface of the fish. Gennaro admonishes Jamie to crush the flower stalks – “that’s where the flavour is!!”. Looking at the prepared fish he also says that it is having a “glorious death” (being beautifully prepared not just fried up in a pan). What a cool man.
Oliver put sliced lemon between the stalks and fish, and squeezed the juice into the corners of the oven dish, not over the fish (as lemon juice ‘cooks’ it). The juice and oils formed a tasty sauce while cooking, to be spooned over the cooked fish, now lying on a bed of wild rocket and sheep sorrel.
As often happens, and one of the things I love about wildcrafting is that I go out to look for one thing and I find something else entirely. This time it was a cluster of oat plants going to seed. I’ve grown oats before, but rarely seen them growing wild, so I was pretty excited.
Oat plants are Avena species. In NZ no-one seems to talk about varieties, so I’ve never been sure what oats we have here. I’m guessing the ones I found grew because someone had dumped some seed there (it’s a well known spot for dumping garden waste). I guess birds could have brought the seed in too. Either way, it’s likely that it’s seed from commercially grown plants. I don’t see much oat growing wild (although admittedly it’s hard to spot before it seeds).
Identifying Oat plants
Like other grains, oat plants have three obvious structural parts: the stems, the leaves and the grain. The stems of oat are notably round and hollow – the straw of oatstraw. The leaves look like large blades of grass (hence the difficulty recognising them before they seed).
The seeds hang from a thin stalk that grows out from the main stem.
They are covered in an outer husk that separates off as the seed matures – you can see the empty ones at the top of that photo. Inside the green double husk is the oat proper. For medicine you want the oatseed when it is ‘milky’ – the seed is ripe but not dried and when you squeeze it you get a milky liquid. This is why some oat medicines are known as milky oats, to distinguish from other parts of the plant, or seed harvested later. Seed for making porridge is harvested after the milky stage, when it has matured and dried.
The seeds have a beautiful green and white stripe pattern to them:
Farmers seem to plant one oat crop a year, harvesting late summer I think. I found oat pretty easy to grow, even sowing later in the season. Oat is also used as a manure crop in gardening (planted in early spring or late autumn), so you could harvest the milky oats, and even some of the oatstraw, and then dig in the remaining plant. I’m not sure if whole oats from a store will sprout as the hull has been removed. But you can get oats for sowing in many places including organic stores. Koanga have an old variety hull-less oat for growing the grain, and Kings are selling Avena sativa seed specifically as a cover crop.
Oat is a superb nerve nourishing herb – it is both nutritive and healing.
US wise woman herbalist Susun Weed devotes a whole chapter to it in her book Healing Wise. She recommends taking it as an infusion (using the dried oatstraw) to access the abundant stores of minerals, especially calcium and silicon.
Oat also works on the hormonal systems, and is a lovely cosmetic and skin healer. If you don’t have access to oatstraw or milky oat tincture, then eating the oats themselves is also highly beneficial. You get the abundant minerals as well as the nerve strengthening properties.
I’ve use oat mainly as an infusion, and of course as porridge. It’s one of the mainstays of my health.
A word about oatstraw for sale in NZ. Oatstraw is sold in two grades: green and gold. Green is harvested when the plant is still vibrant and growing and the seed is milky. The dried herb should reflect this – there will be a green and light gold colour in the cut herb, and it will smell clean. It includes the whole above ground plant so there should be some seed in it as well as leaf and stalk before they’ve browned off. If everything is brown then it’s not green oatstraw even if the seed is there (they’ve just left it too late to harvest).
Gold oatstraw is the leaf and stalk harvested later, usually after the grain has been taken off. Theoretically it should be possible to harvest this well, but in NZ all the gold I’ve come across smells and tastes bad. I suspect it’s because the oatstraw is harvested after the grain has been cut, but it hasn’t been looked after well. Herbs need to be processed to dry as soon as possible after harvesting to retain the freshness. Gold oatstraw comes across as a leftover byproduct of the oatmeal industry. It’s cheaper because of this, but not worth the bother in my opinion. It may taste ok in blends or even as a tea, but made into an infusion it tastes like you’re drinking brewed grass clippings. A part of this will be because of the difference in chemistry once the plant has dried off before harvesting, but some of it seems lack of care in drying and storing.
Don’t buy oastraw that smells musty or mouldy.
I was out for the day yesterday, the first time I’d had to contend all day with the intense heat we’ve been having the past week. At a friend’s place for afternoon tea I went searching in his yard for something for a herbal brew and found some mallow. It wasn’t in flower yet, so I picked a handful of leaves, put them in a mug and covered with boiling water. I let this sit until it was warm (giving it time to brew), and then we drank it. It was mildly and pleasantly green tasting, and refreshing.
Mallow is perfect for hot dry climates and it’s a boon that it grows here. It’s rich in mucilage, which means it has complex sugars (carbohydrates) that form a gel like substance. The root of mallow’s cousin marshmallow was originally used to make the sweet marshmallow because of this mucilage. Mucilage in plants is thought to help the plant conserve water, and it’s also one of the properties used in herbal medicine – to help the body maintain moisture and not dry out.
There are a handful of different mallows growing in NZ. The one I found is probably the dwarf mallow, Malva neglecta, a low growing, almost prostrate mallow (or possibly it’s a small version of M sylvestris). On my travels later in the day I found the most fantastic stand of them flowering along the road.
Malva species are part of the Malvaceae family, a large group of plants that includes our native Houhere (Hoheria spp) which is also mucilaginous.
The common name mallow is used for Malva spp but also some others eg Lavatera arborea (tree mallow).
Mallows are fairly easy to ID. The flowers are distinctive, with five striped petals and usually purple or pink. The leaves are slightly furry, have a mild taste and will be a bit slimy when chewed. Here’s a few ID resources:
Mallows are edible and medicinal. The Malva mallow leaves and flowers can be eaten raw in salads, or made into tea or infusion. The leaves can also be cooked in soups and stews. I ate the leaves from our tea (a good way to experience the mucilaginous aspect of this plant). The green ripe seed pods are also edible and a traditional British wildfood treat known as ‘cheeses’.
When making tea or infusion there are several options. Mucilage extracts well into cold water, so a cold infusion is good if you have lots of plant and time. You can use leaves or flowers or both. Put a good handful of plant in a jar and cover with cold water. Steep 4 – 8 hours or overnight. Infusions high in mucilage will go off quickly so drink within a day or store somewhere cool.
As mentioned with the tea, mallow can also be a quick drink from fresh plant, made with hot water. The longer you leave it to brew the stronger the tea, bearing in mind this is a subtle plant – you won’t get much from just a few minutes. And it’s better on a hot day when it’s cooled a bit.
You can also make a hot infusion – use more plant and leave longer. If you have plenty of mallow, it’s nice to experiment and see how the different preparations taste and work in your body.
Mallows grow easily in the garden in a variety of climates – Malva sylvestris in particular is a great garden plant, putting out leaves and flowers over a long season for continual picking. Cut back in the autumn or winter for more lush growth the following year.
St John’s wort, Hypericum perforatum, is a weed of the dry and broken lands. It grows commonly on disturbed and/or degraded land, usually where it is stoney or gravelly or otherwise dry. You often see it along river beds or it appears the year after a new track or road is put in. It also grows extensively on overgrazed land. If you haven’t seen any locally yet look along river beds, in old gravel pits, new tracks or where there’s been any disturbance to the soil.
SJW reproduces by seed, which it produces copiously each year. Once it gets established in an area it tends to spread. I’ve been watching it expand its territory over the past 15 years. In Central it grows everywhere north of Cromwell, and in more select places and along roadsides as far south as Lawrence. It’s in Queenstown, making it’s way into Northern Southland. It grows in river beds and on roadsides in Fiordland (where it first turned up in tourist car parks, presumably having hitched a ride from Queenstown). It’s in places along the east coast where it’s dry (haven’t seen it in Dunedin environs, yet) – it’s in at least some of the east draining rivers.
I’d love to know where it grows in North Canterbury, Nelson/Marlborough and the West Coast, and the North Island.
In some places in Central it’s everywhere. Other places outside of Central it’s more localised, but it’s worth having a good scout around in likely places because it’s still getting naturalised and so hasn’t fully extended its range i.e. it might not be obvious but still there.
Farmers don’t like SJW because it can cause photosensitivity in stock (cattle at least) and a beetle was introduced to try and control it but doesn’t seem particularly effective. There’s a whole lot of bother about SJW causing photosensitivity in humans, but in fact that is rare and seems to be associated with commercial preparations (more on this in the SJW uses post).
SJW is a perennial (meaning it grows back each year from the same plant) but in some ways behaves like an annual – it seeds prolifically and its communities seem to move around a bit. Often a really good patch one year will be absent the following year.
There aren’t too many look alikes to confuse this with (ragwort, Senecio sp, from a distance, which overlaps its flowering with SJW), but here are some keys:
1. flowers are bright yellow and have 5 petals with a tufty centre, and are less than 2cm across.
2. branches and leaves are in opposite pairs.
3. leaves have oil glands, either clear or black, and visible when held up to the light. When crushed these stain the fingers red.
4. flowers also stain the fingers red when crushed.
5. it grows from a central point or clump in the ground and can be a single stalk a couple of inches high up to a largish bush of a metre.
There are other Hypericums in NZ. Tutsan, Hypericum androsaemum, is a garden shrub, but has obviously larger flowers and leaves, no discernible oil glands and generally isn’t considered medicinal because of this (it may have other medicinal properties). There are several native Hypericums, including two that are endemic (they only grow here). I don’t know if the native Hypericums are medicinal but they are rare enough to warrant not harvesting them (especially as the introduced SJW is so common).
I harvest the flowering tops of SJW (including leaves and stalk) for tincture and the flowers for oil. This is an almost perfect sample of what I like to make tincture from. A mixture of flowers and buds with some leaves and stalk, but not really any seed yet. It’s also ok to harvest older plants that have some new seedheads as long as the flowers and buds predominate.
If I was picking for oil I would take most of the top cluster of flowers with as little stalk as easily possible (don’t have to be too pedantic about it), leaving some of the lower buds to eventually produce seed.
Here’s the jar filled with the chopped herb from the basket at the top of the post.
I then filled the jar again, with 50% alcohol, capped it and will let it sit for at least six weeks before decanting.
SJW is famous for going a delicious and intense red as soon as you pour in the alcohol (this photo doesn’t do it justice). Oil takes longer but eventually goes a red colour too.
SJW usually flowers for a month or more. Some years it starts in mid December, but mostly I’ve harvested in January, sometimes even into mid February. It’s still going strong at the moment, some plants are starting to put out seedheads but there are still many in bud and flower. I’m going to make some more oil this week.
I’ve been craving greens this week so have been out looking for the summer weeds. Here’s what I found on my weed walk today. Most of these plants were growing wild.
Self heal, Prunella vulgaris. A low growing perennial, found in shady or damp-ish places. A member of the Lamiaceae family that includes mint. All members of this family have square stems and leaves opposite in pairs. This photo is a bit confusing because there is another plant there that looks very similar but with shinier leaves (self heal has matt leaves). I need to go back and find out what it is. This is a good instruction in paying attention and being certain that what you are picking is what you think you are picking. Unlike many others of the mint family self heal has no volatile oil. Tastes bland with a subtle pungency (that is stronger in wetter places I think).
Watercress, used to be Rorippa sp now Nasturtium sp (probably N microphyllum). Only very distantly related to the garden nasturtiums. Introduced from Eurasia, there are two species in NZ. Watercress grows mainly in streams with moving water, occasionally in boggy places. Most of this patch is flowering with long thin seed heads rather than leaves, but I manage to find a small handful of green shoots. A member of the cabbage family (Cruciferae, because the flowers always form a cross pattern), it is pungent and hot to taste.
Mallow, Malva sp. One of the smaller mallows, just about to flower. The leaves contain mucilage, which makes it cooling and moistening medicinally and food-wise. It’s related to the marshmallow and has similar uses herbally. The taste is bland.
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale. Grows everywhere. Needs to be identified to distinguish from lookalikes. Young leaves that have come up after being mown I think. Or maybe first year leaves. Either way, bitter taste but not too bitter. Older leaves would be more bitter and so best to use less of them.
Plantain/kopakopa, Plantago major. Smallish, gnarly plants from another patch of mown grass, but still lush. Notable for their five or more distinct ribs with a thread inside when broken open at the stalk. There are two species in NZ, this one and another that has long thin leaves (P lanceolata). The narrow leafed one isn’t that great as a food, but both medicinal. Taste is green.
Fathen, Chenopodium sp, probably C album. A relative of spinach, quinoa and amaranth. It’s been a traditional food in both the Americas and Europe. This is a young plant – adults can grow up to a metre when seeding. It’s a common first arrival in new soils and grows prolifically, so if you like the taste it’s worth letting it seed in the garden (it’s not hard to weed out from places you don’t want it). Taste when young is bland, tarter when older.
Sheep’s sorrel, Rumex acetosella. One of the docks, a small, usually low growing one. It has a distinct double ‘tag’ at the bottom of each leaf. With a similar tartness as the docks but more lemony (like garden sorrel) and suitable for eating raw.
A friend and I have had several conversations recently about hawthorn. One of the things we had both been thinking about was the scent of hawthorn blossom. To some people it smells lovely, to others it smells rotten. Apparently there are two things going on there. Amygdalin is responsible for the attractive smell (the marzipan one, smells like almonds) and attracts bees. The other smell is apparently like decomposing flesh, and attracts insects who like that sort of thing, who also help pollinate (presumably flies). I don’t really smell the rotten scent, it’s there as an undertone sometimes but mostly I find the smell divine. But my friend’s partner can’t stand the smell. She wondered if it’s a male/female thing. I wondered if it’s to do with who needs what medicine (and smell receptors in the nose and brain). Probably where the tree is growing, and what the climate is like will have an influence as well. British sources speculate that different species of hawthorn have more of one smell than the other, but as far as I know the local species are all Crataegus monogyna.
Smell is a very useful tool in learning about medicine and which ones to take. The smell of a plant will signal to the body certain things about what the plant contains. If the plant is taken over time the body gets to know it, and then the smell can signal at other times that it’s right to be taking that medicine. Possibly my friend and I would do well with hawthorn blossom as medicine, but not her mate.
Although I’ve used the berries in tinctures and vinegars I’m new to hawthorn flowers and leaves as medicine. My initial ways of getting to know the plant include tasting, making infusions and tea, reading other people’s experiences, talking to my friend and visiting the plant often to see what is going on.
I started by tasting the flowers and was a bit surprised at an obvious bitter taste. It wasn’t overpowering, and it lessened with older flowers, but I had read about making such delights as hawthorn flower syrup and wine cup where you would expect a strong pleasant taste. The bitterness wasn’t offputting though and bitter is a very good flavour for human health, one that is missing from most modern diets, so a little bitter in my hawthorn is a good thing.
However once the flowers are steeped in hot water, the tea brings out the true hawthorn flavour. The bitterness is there in the background, but also a distinct pungent almost sweet flavour. Not sweet like sugar, but the subtle nectar of a small flower*. There’s also a greeness, as expected from the leaves. I made some blossom and leaf tea, about a cup of fresh flowers to 3 cups water, and drank some after 10 minutes, 30 minutes, and an hour.
I found the brew almost immediately relaxing. It made me a bit sleepy, not a sedative but it definitely mellowed me out after a tense afternoon. The later stronger brew was even more so. I also found it relaxing to my digestive tract. After 10 minutes the tea had a green subtle taste. 30 mins and it was sweeter, still a bit green. In an hour a subtle bitter taste came through, might be from the bottom of the pot or the longer brewing.
Since then I’ve been making infusions and enjoying a couple of cups a day when I need to unwind. I’ve found hawthorn berry tincture has a similar kind of relaxant effect.
Hawthorn is well known as a heart tonic. In the US the focus seems to be on the berries, but I’ve been interested to see British and European sources talk about the leaves and flowers as the best medicine. Hawthorn’s ability to nourish the heart and assist in recovery from heart problems is well documented in traditional herbalism, contemporary herbalism and supported by science.
In the past week I’ve been harvesting the leaf and bloom clusters to dry for tea later once the spring is past. When you harvest make sure that you get flowers that aren’t too old. Give the branch a gentle shake and if some of the petals fall off it means the flowers are nearly done. They’re probably less potent and they’re likely to fall apart when you harvest and not dry so well.
The flowers and leaves seem to dry easily. I’ve got them spread out on a cane tray and give them a shuffle every now and again. It’s a good idea to keep each cluster as separate as possible, they dry better that way. When they’re crisply dry I’ll store them in dark glass or paper bags.
*I did watch the bees on the flowers one day, and they were definitely feeding on something I had trouble finding. Hawthorn flowers have a single central pistil (that’s the monogyna bit in the Latin name)…
The pistil is the yellow tipped bit in the middle. At the bottom of that where it meets the petals was were the bees were feeding from. I couldn’t see anything that looked like nectar, but taking the flower apart and eating that middle bit yielded the sweetness.
Btw, that photo is from flickr (not a chance on my cellphone camera), and someone has left a comment there about how the pollen on the stamens looks like tiny red hearts! Brilliant. The pinkness doesn’t last though, and on most of the flowers I harvested the stamen end was black.
Brigitte of myherbcorner has a recent post on hawthorn.
Susun Weed’s article on hawthorn as a heart medicine.
I swear up until a few days ago when I was driving round, there were no dandelions on the side of the road. And then suddenly, boof, there are zillions of them:
This is wildcrafter’s heaven:
As soon as we get a full day with no rain and some wind to dry things out, I will be harvesting dandelion flowers to make an infused oil.
Myherbcorner blogger, Brigitte, wrote about dandelion oil recently here. I use dandy oil as a general massage oil especially for gentle pain relief.
I went out today following my nose looking for weeds. My mood is good and I move past the harsh reality that I would have to drive at least an hour to find an intact native ecosystem or even a thriving mixed one. I will take what is on offer – there is comfort to be had from the land that is trying to heal. When I arrive there are 3 kahu hunting rabbits in the paddock. A good sign. One of the kahu is very large, which means it’s an older bird. But the rabbits are big too, I’d like to come back and see the hunt in action.
I wander around and down to the river. It’s all broom and willow and small plants of succession. It’s easy to understand why the river bed is the way it is (flooding limits what can grow here) but harder to make sense of the land up on the banks, rabbit riven, dry, sparse. The paddocks nearby are mown for some reason, but stock have been here too at some stage, which explains why there are so many rabbits (rabbits don’t like long grass) and why only the big trees, inedible shrubs and first sucession plants survive. There is no moving on.
Still it is a beautiful late afternoon and on my way back from the river I come across an oasis. It’s a large double willow. Underneath is a pile of what has been dumped earth and gravel, several metres high and four or five in diameter.. Over the top of this are the lush green plants, especially the annuals that bring advancing fertility each time they die and feed the soil.
I wander around the mound delighted in the abundance of edible and medicinal plants:
Chickweed – Stellaria media (the brighter green plant) and hemlock – Conium maculatum (the ferny looking one). Eat the chickweed and make medicine from it. Don’t do anything with the hemlock that involves putting it in or on your body, and take special care with look alike edible and medicinal plants from the same family (Umbelliferae) because hemlock is so poisonous. There was enough chickweed here today to eat handfuls while I was looking around. I took some care to make sure my handfuls weren’t mixed with hemlock though.
That’s the annual nettle, Urtica urens. A bit tricky to eat because it flowers so early and the leaves aren’t great on nettle once it’s flowering. But it makes fantastic fertiliser, so I am happy to see it in this garden.
Mullein – Verbascum thapsus. Darling medicine of dry lands, it’s a good general lung healing herb (more on that soon). Seriously not edible – furry and with small hairs that will drive your throat crazy – always strain herbal preparations through a cloth.
Horehound – Marrubium vulgare. Another medicinal plant, most well known as a cough remedy. Very bitter.
Giant puffball!!! – Calvatia gigantea. I’ve never seen one of these before, they’re apparently a bit rare. It’s past its edibleness, but still a very exciting find. The white bits are the outer cover that has peeled back as the ball had puffed. The brown bit is spongy and sends of clouds out brown spores when you poke it. Even better and more delightful was that once I’d spotted this one, I saw half a dozen others, more decomposed, hiding in the grass:
Yep, that is a puffball, collapsing in on itself. They were spread out around half the mound. The puffball bit is the fruit of the fungi. The body of the plant, the mycelium, is underground. I don’t know much about puffballs yet (other than they are edible and the small species is yummy), but mycelium can grow over a much wider area than what you see above ground so I’ve probably been walking on puffball the whole time.
Fungi are the coolest of the cool, very important for ecosystem health especially ones restoring, and they make fantastic people food and medicine. Expect more raving posts about them.
Yellow Dock – Rumex crispus, aka curly dock (you can see the curl especially on the left edge of the leaf in the bottom of the photo). Medicine and food. This is a lovely young succulent looking plant. Possibly even a first year, as I didn’t see any old seed stalks from the autumn. This suggests that the pile of earth has been dumped recently (and this plant came in with that or grew up through).
Broad leaf Dock – Rumex obtusifolia (I think). Interchangeable with Yellow Dock, but for some reason I prefer the yellow. Again a young looking plant. The leaves of both docks are tart with oxalic acid. Some people have a higher tolerance for this than others, but if you like it cook it well like spinach. Most edible weed books will have ideas about cooking docks.
Sheep’s sorrel – Rumex acetosella. Not growing in the garden but nearby. I wanted to include it because it’s related to the docks, and has a delicious sharp lemony taste making it perfect as a garnish or addition to salads. It’s on my to do list to collect seeds for inclusion in a wild greens salad growing mix. Sheep’s sorrel is a small plant, although these ones are a decent size. You can’t tell from the picture but the leaf is maybe an inch and a half long.
A mystery plant growing out in the mown paddock and on the flat around the willow. I broke the cardinal rule of wildcrafting and grazed on this while wondering what it was (don’t do this at home folks i.e. never eat a plant that you can’t identify). It’s dandelion like, but isn’t dandelion. Possibly chicory, and perhaps it’s been sown in this place in the past. It was bitter but not as much as dandelion, and fresh.
The beautiful tree that made all this possible. We have such a downer on wild willows in this country, but they are incredibly helpful plants. Not only are they medicine trees, but they assist degraded landscapes by keeping the water table high enough for other plants to grow nearby. A friend told me about this recently, and when I looked at this place today it was true that all around the tree, including on the north side, there is more lush growth than away from the tree. The lushness lasts well beyond the shade offered, and past the drip line.
After all that I lay in the grass and watched the sky and crescent moon overhead. It was hard not to think I had been brought here. You can take that literally or poetically, but there is no doubt that the more I open to nature the more it shares with me.
I went out today for dandelion roots. I knew of a large paddock that is kept mowed, that in the summer is covered in blooms.
I’ve always harvested dandelion root from gardens in the past, where it is pretty easy to find, the leaves are big, and it is often being dug out make way for something else (aka weeding). I’d harvested blossoms from the paddock so had a rough idea where they were. I wandered around for 5 minutes where I thought they should be, in the lusher, greener part of the paddock that seemed most advantageous for the dandelion and would give the most minerals to the root. I didn’t find any. At this time of year the leaves would be small and because the grass here is mown and left to dry it was hard to see what was growing underneath.
After a while I give up and wander over to the drier, more spartan part of the paddock. Sure enough, the dandelion are there in bulk. I start digging and soon find that for every five plants I get only one with adult roots on them. This makes me stop and think. It’s late winter/early spring, so there is very little growth above ground. The plants all have small leaves on them that are only just starting to grow after the hard frosts of winter. I look closely to see if the older plants have obvious crowns on them (the crown is the bit between the root and the leaves). That doesn’t turn out to be so helpful – some plants with obvious crowns have no adult roots. What I am finding is first year plants, that grew from seed last summer or maybe the summer before.
I want older plants that have been in the ground a few years and had time to dig down.
I look further afield, and now I see it. The older plants are dark green, and bulkier i.e they have multiple crowns growing. This may be a result of the paddock being mown several times a year. The younger plants are light green, much easier to see from standing up, and they generally have only one set of leaves on each plant.
This is a young plant, with only very thin roots on it:
This is an older plant, with a big taproot: