I took an herb class one fall hosted by the owner of a local natural food store and presented on the grounds of her farm. I was amazed to learn that literally under our feet in the area in which I live, almost everything is edible, including grasses and grass seeds, and many common”weeds” are medicinal.
I went home from that wonderful evening excited to forage on our property to see what I recognized that could be used and eaten. Before the class I was only aware that mushrooms, wild nuts, ramps, and fiddleheads could be eaten from the forest and fields. My greatest wishes had been to catch the ferns in our woods before they unfurled so that I could saute them in garlic butter and to go on a mushroom hunting exhibition with an expert to find wild edibles. I had missed so many opportunities when we lived in Washington state for morel, and even truffle hunting, that it was still a culinary dream for me. Now I was walking the out of the way places of our property with my head down identifying all of the herbs our hostess had shown us and used to make our evening meal, of which I had taken notes and samples. It was all there, mixed right in with our grasses and ground covers.
I started collecting dandelion leaves while they were young for post-winter detoxes, and broad-leaf plantain leaves for salads. I also collected the seeds from the plantain to use as a grain, double checking all of the information she had given us by researching to be sure that the plants I used were safe.
One indigenous plant that fascinated me that she taught us about was the sunchoke, or Jerusalem artichoke.
She said that no matter how remotely she planted them they would pop up all over the yard and garden, as far as thirty feet away. Everyone was given a little sprouted nub of a choke and told that if they planted it, in an area they didn’t want overrun by the sunflower type stalks, that it would grow and spread into more. At the end of the season, all one had to do was pull up the flower stalks to find the tuber at the base which could be used in the same manner as potatoes.
I never planted that little bud but have enjoyed sunchokes over the years since I took that class when they have become available. I think they taste more like water chestnuts than potatoes and eat them raw or cooked. I am determined with this last batch of store-bought chokes to find an out of the way place for my patch of sunchokes. Apparently, March is the time to plant them, so I am way behind.
2 c. fresh cauliflower florets
1 c. sunchokes, peeled and sliced
2 T minced Vidalia onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2 T minced red bell pepper
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. paprika
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine all ingredients in a baking dish and toss to coat well.
Roast for 30 minutes.
Makes 4 servings.
Note: Any reference to herb use and foraging is from my own experience and not presented as advice. Any person who wants to forage in the wild should have detailed information as reference on what plants are toxic or edible or be accompanied by a guide who is an expert on the subject.