This is a blog about the pursuits of Naturalist Alan Russo to incorporate all things Natural, especially Plants, into his daily life. Living close to Nature has always been a passion of mine and I try, with natures help, to live a Healthy lifestyle for myself and for the Earth.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ground Cherry

Plant with unripe Berries

Ripe Berries Fallen to the Ground

Berries inside Casing

  Ground Cherry is a novel plant, with it's fruit encased in a papery sack. Even with the drought we have been having and the extreme temperatures for extended time, the Ground Cherries are producing quite well while most other plants are having a hard time getting through this extreme period. Wild Edibles are few and far between this year, and makes me wonder how difficult it must be to be a hunter gatherer when the weather is uncooperative.
  I only learned about Ground Cherry since I have been in NC, I never noticed it in NY, so I assume it is not very common there. The plants are very conspicuous with it's leathery encased fruit. When on the plant the casing is green and the fruit inside is also green and should not be picked. Wait till they turn brown and fall off the plant to be sure they are ripe. I have heard the unripe fruit an be toxic if too many are eaten. When the casing is brown and has fallen off the plant, the fruit inside should be a creamy yellowish color. Now they are safe to eat in any quantity you like and I have seen recipes for pies and jams on the internet. Personally I just like to eat them as a fruit when out in the garden or I gather enough to have with oatmeal in the morning. If you have a big enough plant it will supply you with fruit till the cold weather comes along. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


  One of the plants I really miss after moving to NC is Chicory. Chicory was very common where I used to live, but I had never seen even one in the years I have been living in NC.
  At my last job, I had to spend time walking dogs in the parking lot surrounding the Vets office where I worked. On the side of the building coming up out of a crack in the asphalt was a plant that I watched , over time, get really huge over the weeks since I discovered it. For some reason, probably because it had been so long since I had seen one, I didn't recognize it right away. Than one day, after a long weekend, while driving into the parking lot, the plant was in full bloom! At this point I recognized it right away, it was the first Chicory plant I had seen since I moved here. I was very excited to say the least, but I also couldn't believe I didn't recognize it sooner. One day I came in early to do some tree trimming etc. around the building and one of the things I was supposed to do was to clean up the parking lot, so, I brought a pick to work with me to try to dig it out. It wasn't easy as the plants roots were under the asphalt and they were larger than the crack I was working in. Basically I butchered the poor plant and was afraid it was hopeless, not to mention the weather was really hot and transplanting a plant in flower is the worst time to do so. I cut the plant way back, placed what was left of the roots in a bucket of water, and transported it home. If there was going to be any chance of this plant surviving I knew I had to keep it out of the hot Sun and keep it well watered.
  The plant withered badly and I was afraid it was no use, but I kept watering it anyway. In a week or so the plant seemed to perk up a bit, than after about two weeks I started to see new growth! When it looked like it was doing well I transplanted it into my Medicinal Herb garden. Unfortunately, it was really hot, and though I shaded it as best as I could it still took a bad hit from being transplanted again, at the worst time of the year to transplant something. Persistent watering and shading helped and as you can see from the photo, the plant is in bloom again! I will leave it alone till late fall than find a permanent home for it and hope it multiplies to many plants over the years.
  I have only used Chicory as an edible plant though it is quite the medicinal plant also. The leaves are succulent in the spring and are good in salads and as a potherb. It is a bit bitter like Dandelion, so it's not everyones favorite, but it is a nutritious plant and is worth getting used too. The flowers are also edible and can be used as you would any other flower in salads or fritters etc.
  The most famous part of the plant is the root. You may have heard of Chicory coffee, something you can still buy in health and other stores. Chicory root is famous as a coffee substitute or additive. The large tap root is cleaned dried and cut lengthwise, than roasted in an oven or next to a fire until the desired brown color is reached. This is ground in a coffee grinder and added to real coffee to stretch its quantity so it lasts longer. It can also be roasted and used as a 'coffee' substitute by it self, though it tastes nothing like coffee, it is really good for you.
  Because I dug this plant out of a parking lot and the roots lived under asphalt, it is not usable due to any toxins it may have accumulated over the years. What I am hoping for is that this plant to be the mother plant for many others as I will collect the seeds and plant them hoping I get a viable stand of Chicory somewhere down the road.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Milkweed Seed Pods

Young Seed Pods


  The Flowers on the Common Milkweed Plants are spent and are beginning to be replaced by young seed pods. These pods will get up to 3" long and start to turn brown and open up by the Fall, so the wind distributed seeds will get a good start by next Spring.
   If you have been following along you may remember me writing about using the young sprouts back in April and than the Flowers in June. Using the young pods is the next step in using the Common Milkweed as it's life cycle and the seasons progress. The pods are edible and make a good vegetable that can be prepared many different ways but it is important to get them while they are young. Once the pods get larger than 1" long, they start to form the silk that will carry the seeds away. So if you plan to try to eat them, try to get them before they get larger than about an inch. My Milkweed plants have pods at varying degrees of size, some haven't even started growing yet and some are about 1.5" long already. This is good because this means the season for picking the pods will last longer.
 Today I decided to have pods for lunch. It's been really hot and I didn't feel like fusing too much so I just decided to sautee them with rice. I picked a bunch of young pods and found the stems exuded alot of latex so I though it would be a good idea to boil them first for about a minute to remove the excess. Next I drained them and let them dry for a little while so they wouldn't splatter too much when I cooked them. I sauteed them in a little butter and the only spices I used were salt and pepper. If it wasn't so hot I probably would have curried them or made a cream or a cheese sauce to put over them but I thought that would be too heavy a meal for such a hot day. The pods have a unique taste, they are definitely up there on the list of good wild edibles. Give them a try!