There are some shade-loving, spiny-leather-leaved shrubs known as "Oregon Grape" (Mahonia). At least one variety is native to the Rocky Mountain area, but nurseries sell different, -bigger- ones for use in landscaping.
The berries ("grapes") are very tart but make delicious jelly. They're free, too!
Pick the berries when they're completely blue. They'll have a greyish-blue coating on them that will rub off, this is normal. You don't have to rub it off. For this size batch of jelly, I had about four cups of berries.
Rinse them, then put them in a pan. Mash them, then add water, 1" deeper than the berries. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 20-30 minutes, until they're very soft. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, a few layers of cheesecloth, or a single layer of cotton fabric. Let it drip for ten minutes or so. You can press down on it with a spoon to get more juice, but this will squeeze more solids into the juice, yielding cloudy jelly.
Follow the directions for grape jelly from your brand of pectin, or use these quantities:
Combine 5 cups juice with 7 cups sugar, bring to a full boil for two minutes. Stir in one box of pectin (THIS WILL FOAM UP!- use a bigger pan than you think you'll need.) and return to a full boil. Let it boil 2 minutes more, then pour into your sterilized jars. Top with new lids (warmed in water), screw on the bands. Process for 10 minutes. This makes 7 tp 8 half-pints of jelly. If you used a big enough pan, you can scrub it out, put 1" of water in the bottom, bring it to a boil, put the jars full of hot jelly into this pan, cover with a lid, and let it steam (simmer) for the ten minutes of processing time. Lift out carefully and put them on a dry dishtowel on the counter. Cool completely.
When the jelly is completely cool (usually the next day), wash the jars and remove the rings. Dry the tops, label with the year and what's in the jar.
For more detailed instructions, see a post at one of my favorite websites, http://www.pickyourown.org/grapejelly.htm
For Part 1, including general collecting guidelines, see here
Leucanthemum vulgare This is the earliest-blooming tall daisy I know of, blooming a month before the Shasta Daisy. It’s actually been declared an invasive weed in several states.
Eat the young leaves raw. They get bitter with age, but they’re very good when young, before the plant blooms. I read someplace that they are used in a salad mix in some high-end restaurant. I’m not surprised.
Portulaca oleracea L.
Known as “verdolagas” in the Hispanic world. One of the absolute best non-meat sources of omega 3’s. (Hey! I can’t raise salmon in my yard, but I can sure grow purslane!) These are commonly sold and used in Mexico and India, among other places. If you have a Mexican market around, you may find bunches of these for sale. They are a little lemony, and slippery inside. They’re good both raw- in salads and sandwiches- and cooked. Look for Mexican recipes calling for this! A couple sites I’ve found are http://chanfles.com/comida/verdolagas/index.htmlhttp://www.culinarymusings.com/2008/06/purslane-not-a-weed-but-a-wonder/
The greens taste like arugula; they are in the same plant family. They’re pleasantly peppery - though I seem to be allergic to this one. I break out in hives the day after eating these. Then again, I break out in hives the day after eating several other, ‘normal’, foods, too.
Photo from USU Extension.
A pleasant surprise. While weeding out some Bull Thistle one day, I decided that I might as well see what it was that my pioneer ancestors ate one hungry spring. I scrubbed peeled, and sliced the root, then just microwaved them until tender, treating them like carrots. My kids all had to taste it, then tell me what it tasted like (they didn’t see me prepare it). The general consensus was that it tastes like a cross between carrot and potato. I found it tasted similar to artichokes. (Artichokes are giant thistles!) One of these days I’ll make me a nice Hot Artichoke- I mean Thistle- Dip.
Thistles are biennial, which means they have a two-year life cycle. The first year they grow only a rosette, fairly flat, like the photo above. The second year they send up a stalk, develop flowers, and set seed. I've read that the leaves are good to eat, once you scrape off the thorny parts. My best guess is that the roots are best the first year; they are probably tougher the second.
Photo from USU Extension.
Rumex crispus L
The photo is of the seeds. I'll have to track down a plant to get a photo of the leaves for you.
In the same family as sorrel, this cooks similarly to spinach, and is lemony/sour. Harvest while young and tender. Look up sorrel recipes online. One simple way of preparing them is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/h/curldock.htm
Amaranthus retroflexus L.
Use the greens as you would spinach- cooked or raw; seeds can be harvested and used as a small grain in baked goods or hot cereal. It’s used in curries, soups, and stir-fries from India to the Philippines. The roots are edible, too. Check out the Wikipedia article on it,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaranth This plant is in the Amaranth family. I pulled up the plant for the photo so you could see its trademark 'red root' (though it's usually more pink than red).
‘usitatissimum’ means “most useful”.
This doesn’t grow wild in my yard; I plant it for the beautiful flowers. It is native to my area, however. The tough inside stems are woven to make linen. The seeds are eaten and are high in omega-3’s, fiber, and lignans. Toss into baked goods, or grind and use in small amounts in baking, smoothies, or any of a bunch of things. Lots of recipes are online for this. You only get the nutrients, though, if the seeds are ground. Otherwise, they serve just as fiber. Seeds, either whole or ground, form a gel when soaked in water. This is handy for replacing eggs in baked goods. It works like the eggs do to help firm up and bind together whatever you’re making. Eggs also have some leavening power, which flax doesn’t, so use ½ tsp. baking powder for each egg you’re replacing. To replace one egg, grind 1 Tbsp. flax seed, stir in 3 Tbsp. water, and let stand five minutes. Or add it dry; it will gel in the batter.
One of the goals last year was to learn what "volunteer" foods there were in my yard, and learn to use them. Most people call these foods 'weeds', but that's just because they normally don't get used. The definition of a weed is just a plant in the wrong place
One unexpected side effect of this project was that I do a little less weeding, and a little more harvesting! Below are some of the 'free food' plants in my yard.
Should you want to try this at home, here are a few common-sense guidelines:
1) Eat it only after you're SURE what it is and if it's edible. Look at different photos of the plant, or have someone who knows come check it with you. I prefer to identify it from two sources, to be sure.
2) Eat only the parts you know are edible. Just because the leaves are edible doesn't mean the seeds are. Remember the potato plant: the tubers (roots) are great, but the tops are poisonous.
3) Try a little bit first, wait a while to see if you react to it. Even if it's edible, you could be allergic to it.
4) Notice where it's growing, think about if that's a problem. Plants growing alongside busy roads will most likely have picked up extra chemicals, externally as well as internally.
With all that out of the way, for additional information on the plants, try the database at Plants For A Future
and the identification handbook Common Plants of the Yard and Garden. My new favorite book is Wild Edible Plants; From Dirt to Plate, where the author, John Kallas, not only tells you what is edible, but how to prepare it.
Lambsquarter, Wild Spinach
Chenopodium album L
EXCELLENT green, fresh or cooked. I like it much better than, and have stopped planting, spinach. It belongs to the same plant family as quinoa. The leaves are a little thicker, like spinach, and have a slightly lemony/sour flavor. They don't have the tiny crystalline structure that spinach has that leaves your teeth feeling gritty. Most tender and flavorful when young.
Lactuca serriola L
Both this and Sow Thistle are good if picked really young. I've eaten them in salads. Older ones are more bitter and -surprise!- prickly.
An interesting feature of this plant is the tiny, Velcro-like hooks all over it. Because of these, the plant feels sticky. You DON'T want to chew this up fresh; it'll stick in your throat. It is supposed to be a very 'cleansing' plant; I make a sort of homemade liquid chlorophyll with it. I grab enough to pack into a tight softball-sized wad, then put it in the blender with about three cups of water. Blend until well pureed, then strain through cheesecloth or a doubled-up dishtowel. An ounce or two a day is plenty, unless you want cleaned out in a hurry!
(L.)My daughters love to nibble on the heart-shaped seed pods. Leaves are good raw or cooked, but definitely best before the plant starts to get tall. That's all I've done with the plant, though Plants For A Future lists a lot more possibilities.
Oh, you knew this one would show up on my list, right? Is there a more common yard weed?
I've NEVER thought they tasted good! Apparently that's because I've been eating them plain; the old-timers who used these as an actual vegetable dish say to sauté them with onion and bacon for best results. Leaves that have been well-watered and partly shaded seem to be the least bitter.
Common Mallow, "Cheeseweed", "Cheeseplant"
Scientific names can be hilarious! Take this one, for instance, or Tribulus terrestris(puncture vine). Anyway, I digress...
My children like the “cheesies” (round, button-shaped seeds) so much that one son transplanted some INTO his garden. All parts of this plant are edible- root, stems, leaves, and fruits (cheesies). They are pleasantly flavored, and can be used like okra to thicken things. The section on mallow, alone, in John Kallas' Wild Edible Plants is worth the price of the book!
Redstem Filaree, Storksbill, Cranesbill
A couple of the common names refer to the beak-like shape of the seed pods. This is a fairly flat-growing plant, unless there are plants close by to support it. It grows in a rosette, radiating out from the center. If you rub the plant, it smells a little like parsley. It also tastes a little like parsley. :-) I love it in salads.
Hot, fresh pancakes are simple to make.
What else can you do with all that summer squash you have? Make it into leather! Yes, I know your children won’t think that’s the best snack around, but it’s not for them. At least not by itself. Better yet, turn it into powder.The idea behind this is that pureed squash can be added to soups and breads (as in Zucchini Bread), and it takes a LOT less storage space when it’s dried. There are at least two ways to get dried pureed squash:(1) Puree it, pour it on food dehydrator sheets, dry, and roll up, and (2) Slice the squash (1/4” wide is good), dry it like that, then run it through your blender when it’s crispy-dry. This vegetable powder takes up even less storage space than the leather, plus it reconstitutes faster. If you're doing this with pumpkin, steam it before slicing; it will dry quite a bit faster and not have that raw taste.(3) Store it in something fairly airtight, in a dark area. Canning jars are great, especially if you seal them by using a new lid, the ring, and an oxygen packet. (see Dry Canning.)
Now, how do you use it in recipes? And how much do you use? Remember thinking in school that you’d NEVER use math in ‘real life’? Ha! It’s incredibly useful in the kitchen, especially when you start doing your own thing.Measure and write down the quantity you start with, then measure and write down what you end up with. Write it on your storage container, trust me, you’ll forget otherwise. For instance, I started with 2 ½ lbs of yellow squash, which is 5 cups of puree. I ran it through the blender, poured it on my (SPRAYED) dehydrating sheets, and turned on the dehydrator until it was dry and curling up on the edges and thin spots. My sheets can fit two cups of puree each, which is one pound, so each roll of ‘leather’ is worth that much in a recipe. To use it in a recipe, tear it up in pieces and soak it in just under 2 cups of hot water, for probably 30 minutes or so. Then use it just like fresh puree, in whatever recipe you have. There are photos and more detailed information on the Zucchini Powder post.For making the powdered squash: the latest batch, 5 cups of puree, became just 10 tablespoons after drying and powdering. That means to make one cup of puree, use 2 Tbsp. powder along with just under 1 cup hot water. Isn’t that amazing? Think of the space that saves! Five cups, which would have taken up freezer space, now stores in the space of about 2/3 of a cup. The pumpkin I dried requires 3 Tbsp. plus water to make a cup. This pumpkin powder bakes up beautifully in pies and breads. When I make vegetable powder, it usually sticks to itself in a big lump after storing a little while. Normally I just whack it a couple times to break off what I need, or chop around in the jar with a butter knife. This time something new occurred to me- sometimes a little cornstarch is added to powdered sugar to keep it from lumping. It’s a good moisture absorber, so my most recent batch has a little cornstarch added to it. So far, so good. We’ll see in six months how it really works. Just in case that quantity messes with my recipes, I wrote how much cornstarch is there, on the jar of powder. In this case, it’s 1 Tbsp. cornstarch per 2 cups reconstituted puree. It looks like maybe more than necessary, but so far nothing is sticking! You can powder about anything- think what you ever use in a pureed form, and make that into vegetable powder. Tomato powder is great, it can be used to replace tomato paste, tomato sauce, or tomato juice, depending on how much powder you use with how much water. Mushroom powder is nice for cream-of-mushroom soup, or for extra flavor in soups and stews, onion powder goes almost without saying, carrot powder is good, too, and beet powder is sneaky but awesome. Throw it in almost anything. I mostly use it to color frosting, though, since one of my boys can’t have artificial colors without his eczema flaring. It’s also great way to use beets that stayed in the garden a little too long and became a bit woody. Try this out, and see what you think! Foolproof Pancakes -for my size family, we triple thisMakes 10 3" pancakes (You can also turn this recipe into Pumpkin Pancake mix.)1 cup flour (white or whole wheat) 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk 1 tsp. sugar 1/2 tsp. baking soda 1/2 tsp. salt 1 egg 2 Tbsp. butter, melted, optionalCombine all and whisk lightly. Cook on a greased or non-stick skillet, on medium-high, using 1/4 cup batter per pancake. Cook until bubbles form around outside edges, then flip and cook until other side is browned.The original recipe called for 3/4 cup buttermilk and 1/4 cup whole milk, but what I've got above works great.For blueberry pancakes, stir 3/4 cup of blueberries into batter. For banana pancakes, slice one banana into batter.
Cook pancakes on high heat, either on a greased or nonstick surface. When the bubbles around the edges stay 'popped' and the edges are not runny, flip the pancake.
Cook until the other side is golden as well. The pancake will puff up when you first flip it, and then it will stop rising. If you're not sure if it's done, poke one in the center. It shouldn't be runny. If you flip the pancakes a second time, they will deflate and be more dense and flat.