I started reading wildflower guides and books about using wild plants for food, medicine, paper and dyes when I was nine or ten years old. Over the years, I've found that some wild foods are too much trouble (cattails, fireweed shoots) but others are delicacies worth every effort (stinging nettles).
|Behind my garage, daylilies, chicory, rocket|
and mustards are visible. Raspberry canes
are hidden behind hollyhocks and
string beans are in there somewhere too.
While I've already been making some of the things in the book -- dandelion flower jelly, candied rose petals (Leroux's recipe is for violet flowers), spruce tip tea, and rose petal jam -- there are recipes I found new and exciting.
I grow two kinds of mint but tend to use only peppermint (fresh or dried for tea), so I was eager to try Leroux's spearmint recipes. I adapted the Cucumber and Wild Spearmint recipe, substituting grated, roasted beets for the cucumber. It was so good, I've made it twice. Today I made Chocolate-dipped Wild Spearmint Leaves. What a treat!
The recipe for Tempura Fried Aralia Buds (made from the Japanese Angelica tree) at first made me think of beignets that I prepared once in France using Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus) blossoms. But then I read the description more closely and realized that it is the young leaf buds that are used, not flower buds. They are described as having a "light aftertaste of sap and aromatic pine." This sounds delicious, but aralia doesn't grow this far north, unfortunately.
Some plants that do grow in my yard but I haven't thought of eating include pineapple weed (Pineapple in Pineapple Weed Syrup), lamium (Deadnettle Veloute), and artemesia (Artemesia Rice Crisps). While absinthe is the first thing that comes to mind as a use for artemesia, and I'm not planning on experimenting with that, the recipe for rice crisps sounds intriguing. The herb is used to flavour sticky rice as it cooks, then the rice is spread thinly on a tray, dried, broken into chunks, then fried. I'd like to try it.
A field identification key (with colour photos) makes up the first section of the book. Wong writes "Believe it or not, human brains are actually hardwired to remember plants visually and to distinguish them better than phone numbers, computer instructions, or standardized-test multiple choice questions." Wong also stresses the importance of foraging sustainably. Plants are coded green (naturalized and invasive; safe to forage without limit), yellow (generalist native plants; harvest no more than 20% of what you find); and red (specialist and conservative native plants that should be only collected from your own garden).
|Dipping fresh mint leaves into chocolate.|
|It's fiddly work with delicious results.|