Update 05 May 2015: Here is a Poke Sallet recipe and video. The original article is below.
Poke Sallet Recipe
Just FYI, I don’t actually follow this recipe; I include it because Poke Sallet is toxic at various stages of growth, and this recipe detoxifies it. I suggest picking the leaves young, before the leaf stem and vein turn red.
- 1 – 2 lbs fresh poke sallet leaves
- handful of diced bacon
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1/2 medium onion, diced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 eggs (optional)
- To detoxify, triple-blanch poke sallet leaves, with fresh water each time. Discard blanching water.
- Meanwhile, fry bacon in skillet
- Add diced onions and fry until clear
- Drain the blanched poke sallet and add to skillet, stir-frying until heated through.
- Splash with white wine.
- Optionally, scramble 2 eggs into the mixture.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
In the video, I demonstrate how I prepare the poke sallet, but I don’t recommend you follow that recipe, because your poke sallet might be toxic.
It’s spring, and if you’re looking to supplement that Food, Inc. diet (with its state-regulated, factory processed, chemically treated, genetically modified ingredients), now is the perfect time. Fortunately, even if you live in a suburban area that affords a little undeveloped land and some woods, you should be able to find a few common herbs out there.
Some are edible, some medicinal. All are fun to discover. Plus, going out foraging makes for some good times with the young’uns.
This week, I’ll show you where to find them. Next week, I’ll show you how I prepare poke sallet.
WARNING: Some of these plants are toxic, or have toxic parts, or are alternately edible and toxic at various stages of maturity. Also, some people are sensitive to foods that others can consume safely. You need to know what you’re doing when you go out foraging and eating unfamiliar plants. If you have kidney disorders, stay clear. My favorite book on this subject is The Forager’s Harvest, by Samuel Thayer. He dispels a lot of myths about toxicity, breaks down the edible plant parts from season to season, and generally demystifies the whole process of finding and eating wild plants. I’ve learned most of what I know about foraging from this book.
As far as identifying foraging grounds, the key is to find some land, hopefully your own, that hasn’t been too aggressively maintained. If you heavily fertilize your lawn and spray it with weed killer, you won’t have much to choose from. Same for the understory areas — to encourage wild volunteer growth, don’t be so hasty to pull all those weeds. Generally, it’s a good idea to leave a patch of land undisturbed. If you have that on your property, great. If not, venture off your land and check the common areas or the neighboring woods.
Seven Common Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants
1. Poke Sallet
Poke sallet is so popular, they make Spring festivals to celebrate it. The plant is toxic and must be double or even triple blanched to rinse out the toxins (along with all other nutrients). That’s the official view, anyway; I can’t stand to go to all that work and then just throw out all the food value, so I pick the leaves very young, while the leaf stem is still green and not red, and steam it just like spinach before stir-frying in bacon grease. I eat a spinach-sized serving along with other foods. It has never made me sick, but of course you should experiment very carefully and put safety first, and remember that children are more vulnerable. According to the poke sallet wiki, the lethal dose in mice appears to be about 300 g per kg of body weight. That’s the equivalent of a 175 lb. human eating more than 50 lbs. of the stuff.
Now, if you eat enough it will “clean you out,” if you know what I mean, but sometimes that’s a good thing, right? Just make sure you’re not traveling after your meal.
Don’t eat the roots, no matter how prepared — they can’t be made safe.
I love this one. One of my earliest foraging experiences was harvesting lambsquarters with my dad. It grew in dense patches around the farmyard. He prepared them like spinach, and like spinach, it does have a mildly unpleasant “sticky” feel on the teeth. But hey, nothing’s perfect. It tastes better and is a lot less work than cultivating garden greens. It’s also more calorie and protein dense than many of them. Here’s a lambsquarters nutritional comparison with spinach.
This one is edible, but not all that tasty, with one exception; the stalks are good added to a salad. It’s similar to rhubarb. The roots have a cathartic effect (also called a “stimulant laxative,” in that it accelerates bowel activity; a “laxative” works by softening the stool). The stewed leaves have a laxative effect, but they don’t taste all that good; they’re better used as an herb to flavor gamy meat like grass-fed beef or a tough buck.
Medicinally, it is used to treat bacterial infections, skin diseases, scurvy, and various other conditions. See the WebMD entry for dock.
4. Wood Sorrel (Sourgrass)
Wood sorrel is very distinctive and easy to find. It is rich in vitamin C and adds a wonderful tartness to raw dishes like salads, salsas and slaws. My kids pick it and munch on it while doing yard work, and I add it to diced avocado with lemon juice, salt, and onion. It contains oxalic acid, and is officially toxic in excess, or if you have bad kidneys. I think you have to eat a shipload to make you sick, but I’m not sure. You’ve been warned.
It also has medicinal value as a diuretic, antiemetic, appetite stimulant, and relief for indigestion. Further reading about wood sorrel.
The plantain herb (as distinguished from the banana-like fruit by the same name) is as common in urban and suburban areas as it is in the country. It is rich in iron and other vitamins and minerals. Personally, I’m not crazy about the taste, but it’s subjective. It comes in at least two varieties; one with a broadly rounded, shiny leaf, and another with a long, narrow, less shiny leaf. Both are edible, but the broad one yields more for the work. Livescience article on plantain and other “weeds.”
The broad leaf variety is also juicier, which makes it more valuable medicinally. It is a very practical and handy remedy for skin irritations. If you’re stung by a bee, grab some plantain, crush it with your fingers or your teeth, and press the mash on the sting. Relief is almost instantaneous. It also works its magic on nettles stings.
My wife makes a terrific salve out of plantain, olive oil, coconut oil, beeswax, and various essential oils for fragrance. We use it for rashes, itches, mosquito bites, and basically whatever skin irritation ails us. It really works.
The hated dandelion is nutritionally quite dense. It has four times as much calcium, 1.5 times as much vitamin A, and 7.5 times as much vitamin K as broccoli. It has more iron and riboflavin than spinach, and provides vitamin E. Dandelion greens nutrition facts. It is also diuretic. The tender young leaves are tasty in a salad, and the young blossoms are a real treat when stir fried in butter with a little garlic, salt, and pepper. Show it some love and let it grow, at least in the back yard.
I love thistle. I used to eat it canned in Europe, but as an adult I learned how tasty it is when fresh. Except for the seeds, every part of the thistle plant provides an edible item. The roots are good if you dig them up when they’re not as fibrous. That’s during the winter when there’s no plant top, which makes them hard to find. The peeled leaf midribs are tricky to get to, but they’re excellent. So are the peeled stalks, picked young, before they get stringy. The ribs and stalks are excellent prepared in a casserole, as you would do for cauliflower. I’ve also baked it like scalloped potatoes. When chopped into two inch pieces and stir fried, they’re superb. Even the flower bud has an edible heart similar to artichoke, but it’s tiny and hardly worth the trouble. Still, it’s good to know.
The trick with thistle is to harvest at the right time, before it becomes fibrous. That means early, so you have to pay attention to your surroundings. Do a little experimentation.
The most informative text on thistle and other wild edibles is Sameul Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest. Order it at Amazon, and have some fun with the kids!