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Eat Your Medicine
By Susan Olcott
It’s June and everything is green and blooming as we are about to officially enter summer. What once was a foundling selection of seedlings, some stored root vegetables, and a few greenhouse herbs and greens is now a bountiful pile of all different colors – pink radishes, purple kohlrabi and bright green snap peas dazzle the eye. Even the first strawberries are out, their sweetness surpassing any candy, in my opinion.
But, all of this bounty is not limited to cultivated varieties. It can also be found in the wild. So, take your inspiration from the market, but use your gathering skills to see if you can find a few of these edible delights in the fields and woods around you. Many of them are not only tasty, but have surprising medicinal properties as well. Take the common dandelion, for example. These can be found nearly everywhere, brightening roadsides and bringing color to grassy fields. And while you may have known you could eat them, perhaps you didn’t know that dandelions enhance the liver’s function, helping the body to rid itself of waste. They also aid in digestion, stimulate appetite and boost the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful microbes and fungi. While you can eat the whole plant – leaves, flowers, roots and all, the problem is that they are a bit on the bitter side. But, cooking them gently helps to soften their flavor.
Another favorite flower of mine that can be found at the market or in the wild is the daylily. The large unopened buds of this stunning flower are delicious chopped up and lightly sautéed with butter and salt. No pepper needed, as they have a natural peppery flavor. And if you’ve missed the buds, the blossoms can be lightly fried like a squash blossom. The flowers and leaves promote good digestive health and are used in traditional Chinese Medicine to purify the blood. You can also eat their roots, which have a sweet flavor when boiled and have been found to have anti-cancer properties. One critical note here is that daylilies can be easily confused with tiger lilies or commercial lily varieties, some of which can be toxic. So, make sure to carefully identify them before you taste them.
You can learn more about these and other medicinal plants that you can likely find in your own yard at BTLT’s upcoming “Growing, Gathering and Using Plants as Medicine” garden workshop on June 27th. Lucretia Woodruff from Milkweed Farm will be presenting from 530-7pm at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. I also highly recommend Tom Seymour’s book, Wild Plants of Maine: A Useful Guide, a wonderful primer on edible foragables.
Now for a couple of fun ways to prepare these flowers – the first comes from Tom Seymour’s book courtesy of his friend, Ken Allen. The second is adapted from PBS’s Kitchen Vignettes food blog.
Dutch Oven Dandelions
1 large bunch dandelions
1 lb salt pork
½ t dry mustard
1 lb small, chunked potatoes
salt and pepper to taste
vinegar and butter to for serving
1. Put a piece of salt pork cut into five or six pieces into a Dutch oven. Add the dry mustard and cover the pork with water. Simmer for 1 ½-2 hours.
2. Add dandelions and salt and pepper. Cover and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally.
3. Bury the potatoes under the greens, cover and cook another half hour.
4. Serve with butter and vinegar.
Fried Lily Blossoms
1-2 lb lily blossoms
1 c flour
1 T baking powder
½ t sea salt
1 c ice cold bubbly drink (hard apple cider, beer or soda water)
2 c grapeseed oil
Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
Whisk in ice-cold bubbly drink until just combined.
Add about an inch worth of grapeseed oil to a deep frying pan and heat until sizzling.
Dip blossoms into batter and carefully drop them into the sizzling oil, about 5 at a time. Cook about 1 minute per side until crisp and golden.
Place on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
Serve sprinkled with sea salt or with your favorite dipping sauce.