Yarrow, Our Favorite Wound and Fever Herb

Yarrow is quite plentiful this time of year here in Central Kentucky.  The soft, feather like leaves are a common distinguishable feature that set this wild medicinal apart from other similar looking herbs.

Yarrow, Our Favorite Wound and Fever Herb via Kentucky Forager

Patch of young Yarrow leaves

We like to wait at least two weeks after the plant starts to bloom before harvesting, giving the flowers time to fully open. Along with it’s many medicinal uses, yarrow has a pleasing aroma and beautiful flowers, all of which make it one of our favorite springtime herbs. Once flowering, it will have white or light pink flower clusters and will stand 2-3 feet tall.

Yarrow, Our Favorite Wound and Fever Herb via Kentucky Forager

Yarrow Beginning to Flower

There are many medicinal uses of yarrow. The most common use being as a blood calming agent. Some practical applications include nosebleeds, wounds, hemorrhoids, normalizing blood flow, lowering blood pressure, and my personal favorite, healing and calming a nasty blood blister. It can be directly applied to wounds as a poultice (crushed and moistened), added to a bath, or ingested as a tea, infusion, or tincture.

Yarrow, Our Favorite Wound and Fever Herb via Kentucky Forager

Yarrow in Bloom

Yarrow is truly the cure-all herb, and is not just limited to treating cardiovascular issues. You can apply it directly to an injury to reduce swelling and inflammation and reduce symptoms of pinkeye by applying a poultice wrapped in cheese cloth. Taken internally, it can also help calm diarrhea and stomach upsets, and reduce fever associated with the flu. Yarrow relieves fevers by opening your pores to promote sweating and release toxins. Drying or tincturing is the best way to store the yarrow to ensure you will be prepared when winter flu season hits. If you are steeping it as a tea, you will only need about a tablespoon of the dried herb per cup. (About 3x that if you are using fresh yarrow.) If you are interested in making a tincture, click here to watch an instructional video by Mountain Rose Herbs.

Yarrow, Our Favorite Wound and Fever Herb via Kentucky Forager

Dried Yarrow

To dry the yarrow, I simply tied the bunches with twine, and hung it upside down in a dark dry closet for a few days. The yarrow is ready when dry and crisp. Remove the leaves and flowers and store in a clean dry container. Discard or compost stems.

Yarrow, Our Favorite Wound and Fever Herb via Kentucky Forager

Prepared Dried Yarrow

Yarrow is one of the first wild medicinals to bloom in late Spring. It is a common herb that has much to offer and is hard to miss if you venture out into an open field. It is a favorite of most, and if you can fend off the ticks, it is a worthwhile harvest that will keep you wanting more.

 

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Lemon Balm Syrup

Lemon balm has a ton of medicinal uses. Just Google it. You will find a long list of uses from mild sedative to mosquito repellant. Although it may look similar to other plants in the mint family, you wont mistake the lemony smell for anything else.

Kentucky Forager: Lemon Balm Syrup

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

As I mentioned in the previous post, we found a large patch of lemon balm growing wild. Other than adding it to tea, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to make with it. I posted in a foraging group on Facebook, and the most popular suggestion was to make syrup. Although it would make the 4th batch of syrup so far this year, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try it.

Kentucky Forager: Lemon Balm Syrup

I strongly suggest washing the leaves first. Mosquitoes may not like it, but plenty of other bugs do. To make the syrup, I simply added a 1:1:1 ratio of crushed leaves, water, and sugar to a saucepan, brought it to a boil for a minute or so, removed it from the heat and let it sit covered for 30 minutes

Lemon Balm Syrup via Kentucky Forager

After it has steeped for 30 minutes, strain out the leaves and you’re done! I used raw organic sugar so my syrup turned out brown. If you were to use white sugar it would most likely turn out pale yellow/green. Nothing spectacular. Not worth using white sugar for in my opinion.

The exact recipe I used was:

  • 2 cups lemon balm leaves
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 wedge yield lemon juice (approx. 1 tsp.)
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Free Salad for All

If you are willing to spend a little extra time, and do a little research, you can easily get half of your food for free. Today we were on a mission. Our mission was to gather a wild salad. We ended up coming home with a salad, a side, and and herbal tea.

The base for our salad was dandelion greens, field mustard greens, and garlic mustard.

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Field Mustard

 

The field mustard has the best, most mild flavor and the texture is similar to cabbage. My personal favorite part is the unopened flower pods. It is everywhere in Kentucky right now. We have seen entire fields completely full of it. The garlic mustard, on the other hand, is NOT my favorite. I have tried it several times raw and I just hate it. I thought I’d give it one last try; but in the future, I will not be adding it to my salad. If anyone knows any good recipes using garlic mustard let me know! It is so abundant and invasive, I want to learn to like it! Dandelion greens are bitter but I think they are quite good. Kind of an acquired taste

 

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Garlic Mustard

We topped the salad with wild violets, wild onion tops, and cattail shoots. The cattail shoots taste a lot like cucumbers, just be sure to forage them from a clean source. (They tend to grow in some seriously nasty places)

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Cattail Shoots

To pick cattail shoots, just grab the shoots at the base and pull slowly, the tender white shoots should pop right out. Wash thoroughly and peel off the outer later.

 

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Wild Onion

Here is the finished salad in all it’s glory:

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A delicious, beautiful salad, 100% organic and 100% free!

We also gathered some curly dock for a side dish.

Curly Dock

Curly Dock

I just chopped and sautéed the leaves in butter with wild onions and some not-so-wild garlic, then stirred in some parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper before serving. It was delicious. As long as dock is available, I will never pay for greens. (and for the record, the salmon was also wild caught…by some commercial fisherman.)

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We also found a patch of lemon balm. Lemon balm is very easy to identify because it has a very unique lemon smell. Robbie thinks it smells like lemon furniture polish. I, on the other hand, think it smells exactly like those chalky, old fashioned lemon hard candy sticks. (Does anyone know what I’m talking about??)

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We brewed a tea of the fresh leaves. It is believed that lemon balm can relieve insomnia. I’m not sure if it’s the lemon balm or the long day of foraging, but I don’t think I’ll have any trouble sleeping tonight.

 

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Wild Violet Syrup

I made my first batch of wild violet syrup last night. I had half expected it to taste like sugar water, but I was pleasantly surprised. It turned out to have a nice sweet floral taste and made a nice addition to my evening tea. I’ve always been familiar with wild violets, but never by that name. My grandma always called them fighting roosters, because kids used to compete by hooking the “crooks” behind the flower head together and pulling to see which head would pop off first. The person with a flower still attached would be the victor.

For this recipe you will need:

  • Wild violet blossoms
  • Water
  • Sugar
  • Lemon juice

I used white sugar in this recipe to achieve the ideal color, but I imagine you could use any type of sugar. Amounts will depend on the amount of violet blossoms you harvest.

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Wild Violet (Viola odorata)

Making violet syrup is simple. The most time consuming part of the process is picking the flower heads. Stooping and picking, and in my case, stooping and picking with a camera dangling from your neck. How many violet blossoms you use is up to you. The recipe is a 1:1 ratio so you can use as many or as little as you wish.

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Once you have picked your violets, place them in a jar or glass and add enough boiling water to cover the flowers.

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Let the flowers steep for an hour or two (until the water cools). Your violet water will look blue or green at this point, the violet color comes later when the lemon is added. At this point strain the flowers from the infused water and discard. Be sure it’s clear of any debris. Add equal parts violet infused water and sugar to a saucepan. It’s going to look something like this:

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Slowly add small amounts of lemon juice until desired color is reached. Now it looks like this:

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Pretty cool huh? Chemistry!

Now slowly bring the sugar water to a low boil for a minute or two. Keep an eye on it and stir occasionally. That’s it! You have violet syrup now! Taste it. Isn’t it good?! Who would have thought?!

Transfer your syrup to whatever container you wish. Just make sure it’s a clear glass container, because you are going to want to show this stuff off.

 

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The finished product!

Enjoy!

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Wild, Homemade “Horseradish” from Cutleaf Toothwort Tubers

After finding out how similar both the smell and taste of toothwort is compared to our common everyday horseradish, we decided to whip up our own prepared horseradish recipe substituting the toothwort tubers for the horseradish root.  Other than our blender and food processor not cooperating worth a hoot, we were pleased with the end result.  Both the flavor and smell were very similar to horseradish; even the spiciness (it was a bit weaker than horseradish, but a good alternative)!

The recipe can be found at the end of the post!

Cut-Leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

Cut-Leaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

Toothwort Tubers

Toothwort Tubers

 

Blending Time!

Blend tubers with 2 Tbsp of water in a food processor, add vinegar and a pinch of salt

The Final Product!

The Final Product!

 

Recipe

  • 1 Cup Toothwort tubers
  • 2 Tbsp. Water
  • 1 Tbsp. White vinegar
  • Salt to taste
  1. Process tubers and 2 tbsp water in a food processor until well ground.
  2. Add a tablespoon of white vinegar and a pinch of salt to the mixture. Pulse to combine.
  3. Using a rubber spatula, carefully transfer the grated horseradish to a jar. It will keep for 3 to 4 weeks in the refrigerator.

 

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A Feast in the Forest

We decided to take a trip over to Wilmore today, since this weekend was the first warm weekend to date. We were anxious and eager to find some Spring favorites, and I think we did just that!

The Trout Lilies are now out in full force. I don’t feel so bad about digging them up now that there are a few million of them to go around. They are named for their speckled leaves that resemble the markings of a trout. You will find them in rich, moist forests. They will most likely begin blooming in late March/early April each year.

(Erythronium albidum)

White Trout Lily Full Bloom Closeup w/ bulb

Trout Lily Body

(Erythronium americanum)

Yellow Trout Lilies in Full Bloom

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Forest Overview w/ thousands of Lilies!!!

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Mix of White and Yellow Lilies

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Yellow Trout Lily Flower Closeup

 

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White Trout Lily Flower Closeup

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Edibility

Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum/albidium) are 100% edible. The bulbs, which are the most desirable part of the plant, have a flavor similar to corn.  The flowers are tasty too, but some people think they have a slightly spicy flavor.  As far as the leaves go, I do not like them eaten raw. I think they have a very weedy taste, similar to chickweed. I have not tried them cooked yet, but Sam Thayer (Forager’s Harvest) even agrees they wouldn’t be any more palatable cooked than they are raw.

When harvesting trout lilies, keep in mind that digging the bulb kills the plant, so if they aren’t particularly abundant in your area you might want to consider just having a taste. Digging the bulbs is seriously tedious work but it is worth it. Trout lilies are only available for a short time in early spring so get them while you can!

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Signs of Life After a Long Winter

Today we went on our first forage of spring. Although we came back empty-handed, we had some great finds. Garlic mustard and wild onions are already in great abundance. I forgot my camera at home so I had to use my phone to take pictures, although I must say I am extremely impressed with the quality of my phone’s built-in camera.

Garlic Mustard

Garlic mustard

 

My favorite discovery of the day were these lovely little trout lilies. Trout lily bulbs are edible, but they were just too beautiful to eat and I couldn’t bear to extinguish them just yet.

Trout Lily

White Trout Lily

 

We also came across a patch of Toadshade (Trillium sessile). The entire plant is edible and has medicinal properties. I will go into more detail on the medicinal uses of Trillium, but that is another topic for another day.

Prairie Trillium

Toadshade Trillium

 

We discovered two rare orchids, both of which were entirely unfamiliar to us.

Adam and Eve Orchid

“Adam and Eve” Orchid

The first is called an “Adam and Eve” Orchid (Aplectrum Hyemale). They are sometimes referred to as “Putty Root” because they were once used by Native Americans to produce a glue like putty adhesive. The bulbs are edible but because they are quite rare in some states, it’s best not to harvest unless you do some research beforehand to make sure they are not protected in your area. They will eventually flower and have lovely purple and yellow blossoms.

Crane Fly Orchid

Crane-Fly Orchid

The second is the “Crane-fly Orchid” (Tipularia Discolor). Another native woodland orchid, the Crane-fly orchid also has edible bulbs, but is threatened or endangered in several states as well, so do your research before harvesting. The bulbs and roots are starchy and said to taste like potatoes. It will eventually flower and have a gorgeous cluster of blooms. You can identify the Crane-fly orchid by a single green leaf with a deep purple back.

Crane-fly Orchid back

Back of the crane-fly orchid leaf

The single leaf will appear in fall and last through winter. The leaf with then disappear in spring to make way for tall slender shafts topped with clusters of blooms.

Overall it was a great day with some great surprises. It was just the kind of day I needed to get past these long winter blues. (Although another winter storm is in the forecast for tomorrow.) When I took my dog out earlier tonight I heard the little frogs chirping and it reminded me that spring is right around the corner. I will be posting more in depth on each of these plants individually at a later date.

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A look back at 2012 and Solanum Ptycanthum (Eastern Black Nightshade)

Couldn’t resist looking back into the archives and reintroducing this common misnomer, the DEADLY NIGHTSHADE!

Unfortunately, most people are still unable to make a clear distinction between this highly edible plant (Solanum Ptychanthum) and its arch nemesis Atropa Beladonna (the REAL deadly nightshade). Here in central KY, the Solanum Ptychanthum is not only edible but has extremely tasty berries (edible ONLY when RIPE!).

Before starting this blog we came across a veritable feast of wild edibles.  This one usually strikes fear into the eyes of many first-time foragers, due to its apparent close relationship with Atropa Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade).  There are 4 distinct types of Black Nightshade scattered throughout the US, and this particular one is more prevalent in the eastern region of the US.

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Both Solanum Nigrum and Solanum Ptycanthum are two of the  interchangeable terms used to describe Black Nightshade here in Kentucky in accordance with the Solanum Nigrum Complex.  The reason for categorizing the plant in this way is for a clear distinction of which plant you are viewing, depending on the region in which you live.

Edible Parts

Both the young shoots and ripe black berries are completely edible and quite tasty.  Treat the greens like you would a Pokeweed plant and harvest early.   The greens become bitter if you wait to harvest after the flowers have appeared.

Harvest Season

Mid Summer

 

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