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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Common Milkweed

  When I first moved to NC,  I brought a bunch of plants with me that I knew I just didn't want to be without, not knowing if if I would find them around my new home. One of those plants was Common Milkweed. Milkweed is a beautiful and useful plant and is important to helping Monarch Butterflies recover their numbers from the onslaught of poisons used to eradicate the "weed" they need to reproduce. 
 I put the Milkweed in my garden till I could figure out where I wanted it permanently. Big mistake!  Turns out Milkweed is a persistent plant, and any small piece of root left behind will soon be many plants. So, for 4 years now every Spring I have to dig up the young shoots infiltrating my Tomato beds.
  I had never eaten the actual Milkweed plant before, though in the late summer I have eaten the immature seedpods. So this year I decided to give them a try.
  First of all Milkweed can be mildly toxic, so it has to be handled carefully to make it safe to eat. Boiling the plant in many changes of water removes the treat of toxicity. The procedure is a bit tricky. You need to have two pots of water on the boil at all times because you don't want to add cold water to the hot plants and have to start the boiling process from scratch each time. Once the water reaches a boil, let the plants simmer for a few minuets than drain. Immediately add fresh boiling water to the pot and simmer again for a few minutes. Continue till you have done this at least 3 times and on the last change, simmer till tender and discard the water.
 As you can see in the photo there was alot of white at the base of the plant that was underground when I pulled them up. This was the part I tasted first, and was very disappointed that the bitter principal had not been removed to my liking. Thinking the experiment was a failure, I tried the green part next and was happy that it was quite palatable.  I cut all the white off the plants and enjoyed the rest of the greens with a little butter. I ate them about 3 hours ago and I'm not dead yet so I figure it was a success! Actually, I'm not trying to scare anyone, the plants are not that toxic, I just want to emphasize the need to handle the plants safely.
  My conclusion is  that the amount of work it takes to make the plant palatable is not worth the effort unless you have alot of milkweed to make it worth your while or you are in a survival situation and need any food you can find. But I am glad I finally gave it a try, any Ethnobotanical Pursuit is a good Ethnobotanical Pursuit .

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Royal Paulownia Flowers, Natures Purfume

 I hate the smell of toxic fragrances and perfumes. Some containing hundreds of toxic chemicals including Toluene and Formaldehyde. To me, its just air pollution that doesn't need to exist.
 Nature has a cure, it's called Flowers! This time of year, when the Lilacs, Daffodils, Tulips are around, all you need to do is look to nature for a sweet smelling home and body. One of the strongest smelling flowers around are the flowers of the Royal Paulownia. The Royal Paulownia is fast growing tree that in the Spring is covered with thousands of lavender colored trumpet shaped Flowers that have a very strong beautiful sweet scent. Simply taking a hand full of  flowers and bringing them indoors will fill your home with the sweet natural scent of Natures Perfume. Put them in a drawer or in a closet for sweet smelling clothes also. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nettles/Potato Soup

I have so many Stinging Nettle plants I can barely keep up with harvesting them in time before they get too close to flowering.
Today I decided to make a Nettles and Potato soup. I had a bunch of Yukon Gold potatoes on hand that I cut up, covered with water and boiled on the stove till they got soft enough to puree. While the potatoes were cooking I took a bowl full of Stinging Nettle tops and cooked them in a separate pot by boiling them also. I cooked them separately because sometimes the stems of the nettles are too fibrous to puree well and I wanted to strain them before putting them in with the potatoes. Once the Nettles were pureed and strained I added them to the pureed potatoes and added water till I got a good consistency. All I added was some salt and pepper to taste and I was done. It was really good! The only thing I might change next time is to use some homemade chicken stock instead of water when I have it. Also, I have made this as a cream soup by adding heavy cream at the end, and man is that good! This soup is also good cold, so if the weather is getting too hot for hot soup, just chill and enjoy this incredibly nutritious soup.
PS: It freezes well also so save some for the winter.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stinging Nettles Breakfast

Nettles Breakfast

My Stinging Nettles patch is doing incredible. The plants are at the perfect point where they should be harvested, still young enough to be tender and before they show any hint of flowering.
 When most people hear me talk about eating Stinging Nettle, probably thinking back to their first encounter with the plant and they think I'm crazy. Well, I'm not as crazy as most people think, Stinging Nettle is one of the most nutritious plants on the planet. They are high in vitamins A and C and are also high in protein and trace minerals. If handled correctly, they make a extremely delicious vegetable. If you gather and prep them with gloves on there should be no problem, and once they are cooked or dried they loose their sting. 
 Today I decided to make a Nettles Omelet. I sauteed the nettles in Organic Olive Oil with just a touch of salt. They have such a good flavor you don't need to do more than that, though of course, you can add some other wild edibles like field garlic etc. The left over I just put in a bowl in the fridge and munched on them the rest of the day. A good hearty nutritious meal.
To see my Nettles patch and a little more info: http://ethnobotanist128.blogspot.com/2010/10/stinging-nettles.html 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mint Lemonade

Mint Lemonade
  This time of year my Mint patch is at its best. Perfect timing too, as the warm weather starts to appear and it gets hot working in the garden, it's also the time of year for lots of Lemonade !
  Lemonade is great stuff on it's own, but adding some Mint to it makes it ten times better and supper thirst quenching. Adding mint to lemonade is so delicious, if you have never tried it, you are in for a great surprise.
  Make your lemonade as you normally would. Take several sprigs of Mint and crush them in your hands, helping to release more of the essential oils, and simply stick them in the jar with the Lemonade. Place it in the fridge for a couple of hours to cool and give the mint flavor time to infuse into the lemonade. I keep the mint in there till I'm done with the jar and the longer you keep it in, the stronger the Mint taste. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wisteria Water

 A fun thing to do this time of year (in NC) is to gather a bunch of Wisteria Flowers and make a cool delicious drink with them.
 Wisteria Flowers are edible and can be used in a variety of ways. They can be eaten raw as they are or mixed in salads. Wisteria Flower pancakes are a fun way to start your day.
 To make a refreshing drink, make a cold infusion of the flowers by adding a bunch of flowers to some cool clean water and allow it to sit for a while or even over night. If you plan to let it sit over night it is a good idea to put the bottle in the fridge. Try to take as many of the flower stems off as you can (as you can see I didn't do such a good job of that). Use only the flowers, as the rest of the plant can be toxic if ingested, so never eat the seeds or leaves. The water will take on a slight lavender color and will have a flowery/sweet taste, so when it's ready, strain the flowers and put the drink in the fridge, it will last a couple of days. Don't let the flowers sit in the water too long or they will start to decompose and cloud the drink. Enjoy!