Finding Free Food in a Pandemic Age (or Eat Weeds!)

It doesn’t take long to gather a hundred or so dandelion flowers.

There’s a fair bit of talk these days about coming food shortages—or at least challenges finding what you’re looking for. It has convinced lots of people to try gardening for the first time. So many, in fact, that a number of seed companies have more work than they can handle and have put a temporary halt on orders.

But there’s another way to become more food self-sufficient. Eat what’s right under your nose. Or toes. And what better time to start foraging for your own food than these early days of spring. There is so much deliciousness out there just waiting for you. The flowers of early spring, both wild and domesticated, are plentiful, easy to identify, a simple and fun introduction to food foraging, and they add a much-needed touch of elegance to mealtime in these stay-at-home days.

Bonus: If you have school-aged children at home right now, a little foraging in your yard or neighborhood is not only a great diversion, but also a perfect opportunity for interdisciplinary and experiential learning: a walk on the wild side (physical education), plant identification (science); food preparation (math; home economics). It won’t even feel like learning. They’ll appreciate the adventure.

In my neck of the woods, violets and forsythia are in full flower right now. Dandelions, too—and they will be with us all the way through fall. If you think dandelions are just weeds, think again. Every part of the dandelion—except the sappy stem—is edible (petals for jelly, syrup, tea, fritters, and more; tender young leaves for salad or steamed greens; roots for vegetable side dish, tea, or wine). And who can’t find dandelions?!

Dandelion syrup is my favorite, and it tastes almost exactly like honey. Here’s a simple recipe: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/264167/dandelion-syrup/ You can find a bunch of other recipes for the pervasive dandelion here: https://www.growforagecookferment.com/dandelion-recipes/

Years ago, the Gnome and I gathered lots of pretty little violet flowers from our back yard and turned them into the most exquisite, lavender-colored jelly. https://afarmgirlinthemaking.com/lilac-flower-jelly-a-delightful-floral-taste/ If your jelly doesn’t jell, no worries. You’ll have a delicate syrup to pour over vanilla ice cream or a simple cake. Yum!

Both the flowers and leaves of wild violets are edible.

Violet flowers can also dress up a salad; leaves can be added raw to a salad, as well—or steamed like spinach. By the way, the flowers of pansy and viola (Johnny Jump-Up) can add a colorful zing to your dinner salad, too—all edible, of course.

Then there are lilacs—try lilac sugar, lilac cake, a fizzy lilac mocktail: https://www.brit.co/lilac-recipes/

For other scrumptious ways to use lilacs, check out this site: https://practicalselfreliance.com/edible-lilacs/ (It’s not all about food, either.)

Did you know forsythia flowers are edible? Neither did I until just recently. It’s another way to create your own flavored syrup or homemade jelly. https://www.ediblewildfood.com/forsythia-syrup.aspx ;

https://homesteadlady.com/edible-flowers-forsythia-jelly/#wprm-recipe-container-12748

Magnolias are edible, too—both the creamy white flowers you see on Southern lawns and the delicate pinkish Japanese variety so prevalent in springtime. Try them in a cake. https://www.backyardforager.com/magnolia-blossom-cream-cake-recipe/ (By the way, this site is an excellent one to follow for all sorts of seasonal, easy-to-forage foods. Her book on backyard foraging is excellent, too.)

Magnolia blossoms taste slightly of citrus and spice. Use sparingly to adorn a salad. Or pickle them.

For a different take on magnolia blossoms, try pickling them. https://medium.com/invironment/pickled-magnolia-flowers-7c2aad06edf9

And yes, it’s another choice for syrup. https://www.eatweeds.co.uk/magnolia-syrup-recipe

Hosta shoots make a good asparagus alternative. Wild mustard and lamb’s quarters can cover the spring landscape and make excellent salad ingredients or steamed side dishes.

Clover flowers, purslane, chickweed, watercress, sorrel, nettle leaf, and plantain (all those weeds that are the bane of gardeners everywhere)  can be added to those violet and dandelion leaves for a perky spring salad with no trip to the grocery store needed.

Try the flowers of redbud trees, black locust (raw, fritters, stir-fry), and wisteria (flowers only—the rest of the plant is poisonous). Here’s a recipe with results too pretty to pass up https://www.wildedible.com/blog/wildflower-spring-rolls ,

In the electronic age, it’s never been so easy to find recipes for eating wild. But before you go on a hunt, be sure you know your stuff. Dandelions are easy. Some other plants are a bit more tricky; many have not-so-tasty (or healthy) lookalikes. A good field guide is essential if you’re unsure what’s what.

Four more caveats: (1) Be sure the plants you select are free from toxic chemicals, including car fumes (the shoulder of a road is no place to look for food). (2) Unless you have a permit, its’ a federal crime to pick plant parts from national parks, forests, and monuments. You’d hate to end up in a federal prison for picking flowers! (3) Harvest ethically—never take more than 1/3 of what you find. Leave some for the next forager. And most importantly, leave some for Nature. Bees need it. Birds need it. The plant needs it to continue to thrive. (4) Some of these links refer to home canning. If you try that, be sure to follow basic safety instructions from the US Department of Agriculture or your local or state extension service. (But you can always store your product in the refrigerator if you plan to eat it within a few days or weeks.)

Happy foraging. And happy eating.

Random Thoughts in the Midst of a Pandemic

Foggy Sunday, March 15, 2020

I took a walk in the cool fog today.

I like walking the fog. Fog is quiet, coming in “on little cat feet,” as Sandburg wrote. A stroll in fog is conducive to introspection and reflection.

On this day, fog seems to mean more. Walking in the fog, I can only see what is immediately around me. It seems an apt metaphor in these days of self-isolation. But in a good way. The safest place I can be is here, alone. My being here, alone, is the safest thing I can do for the people I love and care about, too.

I can look at the fog and my isolation as annoyances, as gray and depressing, as confining. Or I can look for the opportunities it provides. Time to read, write, catch up on chores. (Closet-cleaning, anyone? That’s what a cousin is doing today.)

Me? I’m about to introduce myself to a new friend over the phone. What better time than this? We found each other on social media when we realized we were each the daughter of our own mother’s best friend. We’re going to gossip about our mothers. Imagine them as teenagers. Invent stories about them. And keep each other company. We’ll laugh. We may even shed some tears.

We will connect. Even in the fog.

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

Tuesday Evening

I’ve had another thought. (Yes, sometimes that’s about how often they come to me.) It’s still foggy outdoors, and I’ve learned something. Fog looks better when I’m in its midst (or should I say mist?) than when I’m indoors looking out at it. I’m sure there’s a metaphor there worth exploring, but that’s not the thought playing in my mind just now.

What I’ve been thinking is that we just might see some real good coming from this coronavirus disaster. Now, I’m not equating potential benefits with actual devastating losses. But I remember once hearing something along the lines of, “There’s almost nothing, no matter how good for one person, that doesn’t have some bad in it for somebody else, and almost nothing, no matter how bad for someone, that doesn’t have some good in it for someone else.” It was an interesting observation and as I conjured up one situation after another, I could see how it works.

Again, I would never attempt to suggest equivalency, but the notion that most good contains bad and most bad contains some degree of good seems to hold true to some degree or other, no matter what scenario I throw at it. So I wonder . . . in this time of social distancing and self-isolation, what changes are we likely to see when we come out on the other side because some unexpected, even tangential, benefit has occurred.

Even in this highly technological and rapidly changing age, we often cling to archaic systems and structures. The coronavirus is changing all that. It’s been truly astonishing—and refreshing—to see how creative and generous individuals, businesses, and organizations have been in the face of this unknown. As stressful and challenging as these times are, people have risen to the occasion and proven their ability to adapt quickly and ingeniously.

I suspect we’re going to see some permanent restructuring after the urgent need for temporary solutions has run its course. Some of it may not be so hot. But . . . who is going to realize that some of the drastic and immediate responses to our current situation actually offer new, improved ways of doing things? How will our work change? How will schools change? How will you and I change?

I don’t know what and I certainly don’t know how, but I have this deep, deep feeling that we’re going to see some new ways of thinking and doing that will bode well for society as a whole.

That thought does me good. And I’m going to hold on to it.