Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#4

Ready for another seldom-discovered edible treat from Mother Natura? Another edible treasure you should look for in the woods is the creamy white blossom of the honey locust tree.

I love this tree. It’s useful for firewood, for fencing, and (though not many people know it), for wild dining. The mature tree produces white flowers that form a sort of drooping cluster, much like wisteria, that will cover the tree in the mid-to-late summer, depending on your location. 

The best way, I was taught years ago, to enjoy these delectable flowers, is to snip off the cluster at the stem and immediately dip it into a bowl of ice cold water. Then simply, and gracefully, eat the cold, sweet blossoms. Heaven!

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#3

If you’re prone to wandering around in the woods for hours at a time and nibbling on anything that looks half-way tender, you might have come across young Solomon’s Seal shoots (Polygonatum bi-florum). These poke through the forest-floor mast in early, early spring and look less like asparagus than they do little slender whorls of green. They tend to have a greenish/bluish/grayish cast about them, and are usually smaller than the diameter of your finger.

Solomon’s seal leaves themselves are not edible, but the shoot is. That is, the stem growing south of the leaves that heads down into the rich, shady soil. Grasp carefully at the soil level with the fingers and thumb, and slowly pull straight up. The entire root will come up (which is exactly why you need to practice restraint and only pull up 1 for every 10 you see). Wipe off the dirt and you have an edible, crunchy, sweet, juicy hors-d’oerve, ready to enjoy immediately.

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#2

Lemon balm’s cousin, mint, is well-known and beloved as an edible all over the world. Called herba buena in Mexico, and used all the way across the world in Moroccan green teas, as well as everywhere in between, mint is a versatile, welcome addition to many world cuisines. Southern U.S. custom has us sipping mint juleps, but there are other wonderful ways to use this culinary (and did I mention medicinal?) herb. Chopped or sliced, the fresh leaves are the traditional garnish for tabouleh, and many grain dishes enjoy the addition of mint and/or lemony herb leaves.

Mint comes in all flavors and sizes. When I was the head gardener at the historic Mast Farm Inn in the lovely Valle Crucis, North Carolina, I routinely harvested bouquets of fluffy apple mint from the sides of the creek that ran by the centuries-old cabin. Many gardeners grow chocolate mint, or pineapple mint, but my favorites for medicine and eating are plain old peppermint (Mentha piperta) and spearmint (Mentha spicata).

These two mints are noticeably different: peppermint usually has larger leaves and a more pungent, sharp flavor. Spearmint has smaller, more petite leaves, and a much sweeter flavor. When preparing sparkly sun beverages with children, use spearmint, as it is generally tolerated better by picky eaters, and when making a summer blend with zingy flowers such as hibiscus, combine both peppermint and spearmint for a well-bodied beverage.

Mint is known to increase blood circulation and can be helpful when you’re feeling sluggish; this is why it’s often included in hot chocolate concoctions and given in the depths of a cold winter.

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Holly’s Top 10 Edible Herbs

Of course, on any given day, my list of favorite and most-used herbs will be somewhat, or even radically, different. It’s seasonal, naturally, and based on what’s going on in my life and the lives of my family members. And are we talking top 10 wild plants that I get to go look for in the dark green forest and spend a lovely afternoon foraging for? Or are we talking top ten culinary herbs that have made their way to me via our amazing herbal heritage and, miracle of miracles, are either growing in my own garden right now or are waiting for me on the grocer’s shelf? Regardless of the provenance of these herbs, or how dirty my hands became in the process of acquiring them, these are the ones I love, that are dearest to my heart. In general, I tend to gravitate toward a couple of handfuls of plants for my edible and medicinal needs. These are my favorites, the plants I adore, those that give my spirit the nudge it needs occasionally and those that make my body radiantly healthy. Here are the top ten edibles; the next article will showcase the top ten medicinals (and beware: it just might grow a little, to say 12, or 20). I apologize in advance; I can’t help it.

Let’s start with a zinger: Lemon Balm. Melissa (which means bee) is a lovely moundy round shrub of an herb, with stalks that reach upward and yet keep themselves in more or less of a mass. The flowers are rather diminutive and are barely noticeable, aside from belying their minty ancestry, but it’s their leaves that we’re interested in here. These leaves are roundish, ovate as botanists like to call them but really closer to just plain round. They’re indented on the edges (serrated), and they’re nice and thick. Held in your hand, they feel feather-light but are actually substantial, especially if compared to really delicate leaves of, say, the jewelweed.

Lemon Balm smells of lemon, hence its name, and it tastes of lemon too. This is thanks to its high essential oil content, which is a boon for those of us who love citrus flavor of all kinds, and who tend toward melancholy or even colds and flu in the winter. I use lemon balm in all my winter teas because it is a wonderful anti-viral, particularly against the herpes simplex virus. (For this reason, by the way, it makes a stellar lip balm for cold sores.)

Lemon balm is so medicinal I can’t help but say oodles about it, but we’ll save the majority for Holly's Top Ten Medicinal herbs because I have a sneaky suspicion it’s going to end up on the top 10 list there, too. Lemon balm is useful in so many medicinal applications, especially those dealing with the mind or the emotions.

Edibly, lemon balm makes a tasty addition to salads, can be nibbled raw, chewed like tobacco, or sliced and enjoyed at the moment you put a bowl of quinoa or tabouleh on the table. The best way to enjoy lemon balm is to make a beverage with it. Lemonade springs to mind, of course (and blended with tangy tops of sumac this is a supreme summer iced beverage!), and lemony hot tea in the winter makes for a mouth-puckering, health-inducing warming, healing beverage. Simply dry the leaves in a cool, drafty, dark place, and crumble one teaspoon of them per cup of boiling water. Steep at least 8 to 10 minutes, though steeping for much longer gives a bolder flavor to the tea. (I recommend 20 to 30 minutes). And if you use fresh leaves, double or even triple the quantity as fresh leaves give a milder tea.

To Your Whole Life,