Archive for June, 2008

Milkweed: Really, Pretty Gross

June 24, 2008

It had to happen.  I’d been pleasantly surprised by my foraging experiences, and enjoyed the new foods I was trying.  My latest experiment was not so pleasant.  Preparing milkweed is rather involved process, and it’s possible that I botched the preparation, but I don’t think that’s the case.  There are several other edible stages of milkweed, and I will try those before I write the plant off, but I’d have to be quite hungry to repeat my most recent experience.

Finding Milkweed

There is a great picture of common milkweed on the Wikipedia site which might help with identification.  It’s most identifiable feature, however, is the mini-avacado-like fruits, which split open to reveal its seeds, each of which is connected to a silky strand of fiber.  It is usually found along roadsides, although I found it often among the sand dunes along Lake Michigan as a kid.  Monarch butterflies use it as a food source on their way through our area.

Harvesting Milkweed

There are many different edible stages of milkweed.  In the spring, it can be harvested like pokeweed.  The leaves can be eaten as greens.  The pods can be eaten, when they are young, before they get to the rubbery stage.  I tried to eat the flower blossoms.  I found a patch near my house, cut off several flowerheads that had not yet opened, and put them in a plastic bag.  The stems bleed a gluey white substance, so minimal handling is ideal. 

Preparing Milkweed

The gluey goo gives milkweed an inedibly bitter taste.  To eliminate this taste, milkweed must be dunked in boiling water repeatedly.  I rinsed my flowerbuds, pulled off any leaves, and put them in a stockpot.  In a larger pot, I boiled enough water to fill the smaller pot several times over.  I poured boiling water over the milkweed, and put them over heat until the water started boiling.  I then poured off the water, and repeated the process twice.  After boiling the flowerbuds three times, I seasoned them with a little salt and butter. 

Eating Milkweed

Not good.  I didn’t get a bitter flavor, so I assume I’ve done the preparation correctly, but it was still not good.  The flavor wasn’t bad, but the texture was really unpleasant.  Not only did the plants absorb a lot of liquid, giving them a really watery quality, the flowerbuds had a clothy texture.  I’m not sure that word has been used in an epicurean sense before, but eating milkweed buds was a lot like eating a bit of wet cheesecloth. 

I will try the pods when they are ready, but the flowerbuds were supposed to be the most desireable stage of milkweed.  Given the amount of work necessary to prepare it, the unsatisfying results are enough to put me off milkweed until a period of extreme hunger. 

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Lamb’s Quarters: Foraging for Beginners

June 5, 2008

This will be a brief post, to reflect the rather unremarkable experience of foraging for lamb’s quarters. The Wikipedia Link doesn’t have a very good picture, but any field guide should provide a picture that will lead you to this very common weed.

Finding Lamb’s Quarters

I’ve got it coming up uninvited in my garden, but it can be found in just about any open ground, empty lot, or lawn in the midwest. I don’t see it in “the wild” very often–it seems to be more common on the fringes of civilization. It shows up to fill in bare patches of earth, which don’t occur too often in nature, I guess.

Harvesting Lamb’s Quarters

I’m trying to stick to the format established in the Pokeweed entry, but there isn’t much to harvesting lamb’s quarters. I had a lot of plants growing uninvited in my garden, so I pulled them up whole, and pulled off the top several sets of leaves before depositing the plant in the compost pile. Some of the lamb’s quarters plants have weird purple blotches on the leaves; I avoided these, but that may be purely cosmetic.

Preparing Lamb’s Quarters

Every guide I’ve read suggest that lamb’s quarters are a spinach substitute. None of them specify that they don’t mean you can eat it raw, as you would in a spinach salad. I chewed on a couple of leaves while I was pulling them off the stalks, and the hairy texture of the leaves was unpleasant at best. The leaves are meant to be cooked as a “green”. I have yet to find a great “greens” recipe, so I threw the leaves into a rice-and-beans type dish for the last few minutes of cooking.

Eating Lamb’s Quarters

As stated in the opening paragraph, this was an unremarkable experience. I’m adding lamb’s quarters to my diet, but not with any great enthusiasm. It’s readily available, very nutritious, and easy to add to any dish. It fills the greens gap between cool-season spinach and the hot-weather greens, and I’m pulling it out of the garden anyway–might as well serve it up. There wasn’t much in the taste or texture to really distinguish lamb’s quarters from any other leafy vegetable.

For those of you looking for an easy way to get into foraging (at least until wild raspberry season), this might be the way to go. Lamb’s quarters are easy to find, easy to prepare, and not foreign-tasting in the least.