Mid-may is technically late spring, although the cool weather has retarded the growth of plants at the moment. Still, old friends are slowly making their way to the surface, to rise and shine and offer up their bounty again!
There have been a few days with brilliant sun, and one day I took the opportunity to "forage" ---aka "weed"--- my neighbor's garden!
What manner of goodies, or shall I say plant friends, did I find?
Violets. I mentioned in my last post that you can infuse the flowers in honey, although I am not one who does that. Instead, I love to add the mucilaginous leaves to salads, soups, smoothies and stews. Because of that slippery feel to the leaves, I DON'T use them in green juices. I like to add the leaves either fresh or dried to soups and stews and use fresh leaves in smoothies. I also dry the leaves and flowers and then add a tiny bit to herbal infusions, especially infusions that are bitter or astringent (e.g. horsetail infusion). Adding a touch of mucilaginous herbs is HIGHLY recommended in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as it helps to protect tender mucous membranes and helps to alleviate the body from getting too dried out (in TCM speak, it helps to protect the yin).
Gardening-wise, Violets are VERY easy to grow and they make one of the BEST plants to grow in the shade!! I have found leaves as huge as my palm when I've found Violets hiding among some other plants and also along a forest trail. Definitely consider planting some Violets, Pansies or Heart's-ease if you have a shady patch in your garden :)
Creeping Charlie. Gardening-wise, if you have a patch of empty earth, consider planting this creeper. That's right, Charlie is a real creeper and will creep all over that bare earth in no time! Being in the mint family, as I mentioned in the last post, you can add the flowers and leaves to soups, stews, salads and even smoothies. I also mentioned that she has a particular taste (<-don't mind me, I call all plants "her" in reference to the divine Mother Earth as opposed to calling a plant an object "it") which is rather astringent. Thrown into a smoothie with fruits or into a soup or stew, trust me when I say you won't even taste her. For soups and stews, may I recommend that you puree them and add in some sweet veggies like carrots, beets and potatoes. It's my go-to trick for adding bitter herbs to a big pot, cooking everything up and then pureeing. Once you do that, no one will have a clue what goodness is in that puree!!
Dandelion. Speaking of which, Dandelion is a good one to add to soups and stews and pureeing makes all the difference! I add the greens fresh or dried to soups and stews. I like to juice the greens with some other less bitter greens like kale or chard, then take this green juice and blend it up in the blender with some sweet fruit like mangoes or some veggies such as carrots and tomatoes. Again, the taste of that sweet fruit or veggie masks any bitter taste from the greens!! Oh and if you were wondering why on earth we should be eating dandy greens: because they are exceptionally good for your liver and are high in Vitamin C and many minerals. Dandy greens are FREE FOOD...and your neighbors will be more than happy to let you weed their garden for free!! Free food for you and a happy liver---win, win!! Remember that you can dry the leaves, store them in a paper bag and then use them during the colder months :)
Plantain. Really, perhaps we should just call her Plantago, because when we say plantain people think of that fruit that looks like a banana. Plantago has small leaves which are cooling and likes compacted soil. Where there's one, there's more! Leaves are quite small at this point, but they are perfect to add to salads because they are tender---they toughen as they age. Fresh or dried, add them to soups and stews, and add the fresh leaves to smoothies and green juices. I also add them to infusions for their healing and cooling properties. They are a green which is recommended to help those dealing with digestive inflammation, such as Crohn's, colitis, IBS, etc. You can even take the dried leaves, grind them to a powder and then pack them into empty capsules (you can buy the capsules online or sometimes at health food stores).
Forget-me-not. These blue flowers are such a pretty addition to the garden, but they do spread and can be rather invasive. The flowers don't have much taste, but they do pretty up a salad and make an OK garden nibble. I had a flower or two while I was perusing the garden :)
Malva or Mallow. This wild one is in the malvaceae family and all plants have a soothing, mucilaginous property that is sought after by those with inflamed intestines. She's another one that you can dry ALL parts of her and use her to help offset the drying effect of bitter and astringent herbs. You can find her growing in the wild and she's often sold at flower markets. Some of them have pretty striped flowers while others are solid colors, like solid pink or purple.
I like adding the leaves fresh or dried to soups and stews, and adding the fresh leaves to smoothies or chopped up in salads. Some of the leaves can be as huge as your palm and make for excellent leafy green wraps!! That'll be later in the season, though, because at this point they are still small and need to grow.
I transplanted 2 of them into a shady area of a little plot of land close to my house and I will see how they fare in the shade.
Tulips. Tulip petals are edible, yes! They make for tasty additions to salads and I like to stuff them with pate. The inner part is NOT edible and you do NOT want to eat flowers (any flower) from the flower shop. No pesticides or herbicides, please! Tulips do come in different colors and that means each color has a different taste I rather fancy the red and yellow ones, which are reminiscent of bell peppers. The white ones aren't bad tasting and the pink one I tried wasn't to my liking. I spotted an orange on on the way to work today but I'd have if I could have a nibble to see what that one tastes like! See which ones tickle your taste buds!!
Garlic Mustard. I spotted a plant the other day and have yet to have a peek-see behind the mall, where I found a big patch last year. Some people say the leaves are less bitter BEFORE they go into flower and I do tend to agree. HOWEVER, if you are adding them fresh or dried to soups and stews, you won't notice the difference in taste. Some do add the leaves to salads and some add them to herbal vinegars. You can also dry the leaves and then grind them to a powder and use as a garlic powder substitute. This plant does have a window of time where you can pick her, FYI. Generally, by June she's all dried up with the heat, so befriend her now while she's around :)
Hostas. Yes, these plants which many plant for their ornamental and hardy nature, are edible! They are in the same family as asparagus and are quite tasty! When young and furled like in the photo, they are called hostons. At this stage and when the leaves are growing in, they are the best tasting. I add them fresh to soups and stews. I've also juiced them with veggies, but prefer them cooked. When they are older, the leaves toughen up and they get holey with snail bites. I've still juiced them and have even added some of the bigger leaves (cooked) to pate recipes and have found them to be a bit more on the bitter side, but still tasty. There are different varieties but they are all edible! Knowing this, you can plant them in your garden and have FREE FOOD all season long! The flowers are also edible, although not much in the way of taste, and I've added them to salads to pretty them up.
Strawberry Leaves. The white flowers are out! And yes, the leaves are edible! I add them at any stage to salads, soups and smoothies. I also dry them, store them in paper bags and then add them to soup recipes as "greens" during the colder months. They do have an astringent property about them and you can dry the leaves, make an infusion and drink to help with diarrhea. Blackberry leaves in an infusion, FYI, make a much better medicine for diarrhea.
As I write this post today, I know there are other plant friends that I am sure I will talk about in future posts. Friends like Creeping Bellflower, Lamb's Quarter and Sow Thistles --- all of which have leaves to add to the soup pot, juicer or blender! And then there's Red and White Clover...and perhaps some Yarrow...ah, but such encounters will have to be seen!
Enjoy the good weather while it's here, sunshine, and keep burning that light steady on :)
Balcony Gardening Ideas, Eating Dirt to Rebalance Gut Flora (soil based probiotics) &Spring Planting
Lots of goodie news, not sure where to begin!
So, the past few days have been sunny and nice. Typical 20C spring weather, not humid at all, just lovely, bright, sunny and gorgeous weather for...foraging and gardening! As for the former, I tinkered with the idea of visiting Bellefield, for which as far as I know they will be tearing up the land and putting up condos. I had seen some Garlic Mustard whizzing past on my bicycle to work, but I was thinking more about...Nettle! May-June is the time to harvest Nettle, BUT if you continue to prune Nettle so that she doesn't go to seed, you can potentially harvest her all summer and fall long. I wish I knew my Botany better (yes, yes, I'm taking the course now and there are A LOT of plants in the world, as I'm sure you must know) because I'm not sure which species of Nettle she is. Oh yes, she does sting, but I think there are several that do... Sigh, botany is a work in progress ;)
Now, getting to gardening, hot diggity, have I been busy! I spent a couple of days mixing the old potting soil with compost and then filling in all the pots. I have a back and front balcony and I have pots lining the side of the house on a small plot of land behind the front balcony.
Update: remember how I had the idea to make a little garden there? Scratch that! My landlord, whom one of on my neighbors sarcastically calls Mr. Smiley was quite put out that I left my pots to overwinter under the balcony. There was just a few bags of compost left and one planter and then I was going to clean the area, when mister decided to take things into his own hands and haul all the bags to the shed out back and clean it up, leaving me a posted sign to KEEP IT CLEAN, LADY. Clearly, the man has control issues, as all my neighbors are aware of his antics, including his obsession of spraying the house for spiders, spraying the Rose bushes against bugs and spraying the lawn against weeds. Just a little psychology here, but when you meet someone who is constantly grumpy, you have to wonder why. It's not that he's a mean person, actually, but when you dig a bit deeper and find out that the man has several health issues, including knee pain and hypertension, you start to understand that pain can translate as negativity. Company, however, does not like misery!
Long story short (too late), I decided to not even bother to ask about a garden and remembering all those chemicals in the soil made me not even want to plant anything there anyway, so I just did what I did last year and put out all my pots alongside the house. I added 2 bamboo baskets, lining them first with mosquito netting (yep, the kind you buy from hardware stores that fit on your screen door) before adding the earth. And I also added this really long basket that would be so wonderful to use in the garden to collect herbs and produce, but as I don't have an actual garden, I lined it with mosquito netting, added soil, and it and all the other pots are waiting for seeds to go in.
Well, not all. Yesterday I got to planting seeds on the back balcony. Really, I don't know why I bother to make these charts of what I'm going to plant on the back balcony and where, and the same thing for the front balcony and side of the house, because when I got the sowing seeds yesterday I just stayed in the present moment and let the seeds dictate where they wanted to be planted!!
I have 3 large pots and 1 pot that fits onto the railing that need potting soil~ so I can plant even more goodies in there~ but so far here is a list of what's been sown and expected to grow up big and strong on the back balcony:
Each one of them has their own pot, but the thing about balcony gardening is that everything will be in miniature. Rosemary, for example, is a small shrub, but just a tiny thing in comparison in a pot! Seems like a lot of plants, I know, but I use the concept of vertical gardening to my advantage: I use a table to grow food on top and under the table, and I also use a kitchen cart that has 3 shelves, which holds about 4-5 pots on each shelf, for a total of about a dozen pots. I also use pots that fit on the balcony railing (6 in all ) and I have a stackable planter with 3 tiers that fit on top of one another, each tier being able to house 4 mini plants, so able to hold up to a dozen plants. In short, when you're growing in a small space, you want to think about how you can create "levels" or ways to use the space vertically, and there have been a few creative ideas out there: re-purposing an untreated wooden pallet, hanging up a shoe rack against the wall, using an old bookcase.
I'll probably take some pics later on in the season, no point now as there's nothing but bare soil ;)
SCORE! Saw my neighbor who happened to be weeding today. Guess what goodies I got to bring home? A big bag full of dirty Dandelions! You bet I'm NOT going to wash them! If you're thinking, ew, that's gross, then you should be aware that soil based probiotics are known by herbalists and are now being sold for a pricey bit of money in health food stores. Why bother when you can eat dirt for free from your garden? If you want to read more about it and you have digestive issues (in the form of leaky gut), I'd recommend you check out Dr. Axe's book Eat Dirt. Good read, highly informative.
Also got to try some red Tulips, yum! Made my neighbor try and she was surprised at how sweet it was. Yes, I was telling her, I told my botany teacher about Tulips too and he didn't know they were edible either!! But they are! And different colors taste differently and they are oh-so YUMMERS! I like to stuff mine like squash blossoms, but you can add the petals to salads or even soups and stews. PETALS, NOT the inner STAMENS. The inner stamens you need to remove. Go ahead and try it (just not store-bought chemical-laden ones, OK?).
Also had a nibble of Forget-me-nots flowers. Eh, nondescript taste, just OK. Gill-over-ivy, aka Creeping Charlie had my adenoid glands tingling, never been fond of the antiseptic taste, but as she is a mint, I'm sure she'll be just fine once I add her to the soup pot.
Now to get to my front balcony and the side of the house. Tell you what I planted next time, sunshine, because the soil and seeds are beckoning me to come and play :)
SPRING IS HERE!!
The sun is shining, there's zero chance of snow on the horizon. No clouds, just blue sky and folks are out about doing their spring cleaning thang: cleaning out the garage, getting the bikes oiled and tuned up, taking off the winter tires, and getting out the top soil! I smelled someone having a BBQ on my way to the mall, where the local supermarket had several pallets of top soil. Only topsoil, unfortunately, but bags had already left the pallet and were getting some good use somewhere.
No need for hat, scarf or gloves, even a jacket was a bit much. I had myself started with my own spring cleaning by taking out the spring clothes and starting a pile of items to donate, but after seeing someone in shorts, I may have to rethink the wardrobe and take out some summer goodies already!
Aaah, spring! Yesterday the Tulips were peepin' through and today I saw Periwinkle. Yes, a few Periwinkle flowers on a salad is just fine. Toxic in high doses, but then, just how many flowers do you wanna eat? A few make a salad pop and the taste is not much, like a road side nibble, but with a lot of colorful appeal :) They look like Violet flowers, but not quite, and like Coltsfoot, you notice the flowers first before the leaves. A bit like Violet with a slight mucilaginous quality and both are laxative, but as I said, a few and no harm will it you do...
And you knew that Tulips were edible, right? Oh, yes indeed, and they taste different depending upon what color they are. NOW, the petals are edible but the inner bit with the stamens are NOT. I remove the inner bits and then stuff them, you know, like mini squash blossoms. Best eaten the same day, because like other edible flowers, they don't keep long. Sure, you could always take off the petals and then freeze 'em and throw 'em in a soup come winter time ---I'm rather biased when it comes to soups, I confess, because I throw so much in my soup pot cauldron!!
The soup I just made had half of wild greens, like Motherwort leaves, Plantain leaves, Violet leaves, Wild Carrot leaves, Mallow leaves, Red Clover leaves and Goldenrod leaves. 'Course, I added in some root veggies and Italian herbs to smooth out the taste of all that greeny goodness ;) Woulda been nice to add in some sundried tomato, but they were out at the grocery store. Maybe next time I'll add in some Yarrow leaves, forgot about them!
Soups are always good, even in the height of summer you can make cooling soups like Gazpacho or green smoothies. I find the concept of a green smoothie much like pureed soup, only that greens are blended with fruit and it's drunk cold and not warmed up. Greens are always HOT, as you may have noticed, at ANY TIME of the year. Greens are the new black, is what I say. Always trendy, always in!!
And speaking of soups, they'll be lots of yummy plants to look out for during the spring time: baby Violet, Dandelion and Plantain leaves; Garlic Mustard, Mustards like Dame Rocket and Barbara's Cress (think of them like mustard greens, flowers are edible and can be used in salads), Wild Leeks (also called Ramps) and Japanese knotweed. Small Hostas when they are furled (called hostons) are a tasty treat ~yes, add to soup~ and don't worry, they'll grow back in no time. If you're wondering about taste, kinda like asparagus.
Most of the wild edibles like Dock, Wild Lettuces and Sow Thistles will have small green leaves that are just slightly bitter, great for soups, fine to chop and add to salad. As the plants grow, you'll still want to be eyeing those leaves for that bitter element: they make excellent greens to add to green smoothies and green juices. Dandelion, Violet, Plantain, Wood Sorrel, Lamb's Quarter and so many others also make yummy green juices and smoothies which I'll be writing about as the months progress :)
Also be on the look-out for spring flowers such as Linden, Coltsfoot and Violet, which you can dry and use for infusions later for colds and flus. Dandelion flowers should be a-plentiful soon enough. They're edible (sure, the lil green bits on the back of the flower are a tad bitter, so what) and you can infuse them in honey and vinegar, or add them to salads and soups. Some people like to fry them with a batter (tempura batter) and make fritters while others like to chop 'em and add 'em to pancakes and quick breads like muffins and loaves.
Two years ago I infused Dandy flowers in honey. Notes: make SURE they are absolutely dry (wait 2 days after the last day it has rained). They will make the honey runny and yep, slightly bitter. I wasn't too crazy 'bout it, even being the Crazy Cat Lady Who's Mad Keen on Bitters ;)
Last year I added some flowers to pancakes and smothered the tops of them in a rare treat of molasses and brown rice syrup. After eating pancakes my belly was plumb stuffed full! Right, exactly why I only eat such rich treats but once a year ;)
Not sure what fun concoction I'll do this year. I had gotten the idea about drying the flowers and using in part as a flour, but like Goldenrod flowers, timing is crucial as they'll burst into fluffy seeds right there as they're drying if you pick them too late.
Dandy flowers always make me think of timing and the preciousness of time. Suddenly, they are all there, bright fields of yellow flowers abundantly and beating against every hot brick wall and fence of every store and house everywhere. And the window of opportunity to enjoy them is so short: 2 weeks maybe, and then !poof! all gone. Funny how so many people curse that blasted weed Dandelion, but there's nary a flower to be found come summer. Well, there are rare exceptions but yellow flowers in summer are usually Sow Thistle and Wild Lettuce dandy-look alikes. Edible, too, and slightly bitter, almost...dandelion-ish. Here are some Dandy ideas fer ya :)
Hoping to get some compost tomorrow. Going to have to plant more seeds as it seems so many have not popped out into seedlings. I know the soil is poor in nutrients, it's the same potting soil as last year's, but it could also be the seeds, they might be old. I usually plant more than 2 seeds per space to make sure I have enough, but this year I planted exactly 2 seeds and I shoulda been a lot more generous!! That's alright, because once I get the compost I can plant directly into the pot and it'll save me the extra work of having to transplant them....
Aaaah, SPRING is here and summer lovin', hot diggity do and fairy fun are all on the menu! And gardening, foraging and the rest of it too, of course ;)
Enjoy the sunny beat of spring, sunshine :)
Curiosity Got The Cat: