Wild Food as Medicine
Spring has taken its first wobbling steps just like the new lambs hitting the cold ground all around Western North Carolina, and we’re gearing up for the official start of Spring March 21st. Not long after that, on March 25th, we’re having our first topical class, Wild Food as Medicine. In preparation, let’s look at three wild foods you can find in Spring and their medicinal and culinary uses.
People often ask, why eat wild food? Well, aside from the fact that it’s free and just literally laying all over the place waiting for you to grab it, it’s also incredibly nutritious. An average adult male needs 5,000 I.U.s of vitamin A per day, and you can get that and more in a measly half cup of steamed dandelion greens. WHAT!? It’s hard to believe, but once you examine how wild plants and domesticated plants differ, it makes total sense.
Think of it this way, wild plants are all on their own. With no one to weed, water or pick bugs off them, only the strongest survive. This means that wild foods have developed complex chemicals and physical structures to help mitigate the constant stressors they face surviving in the wild. Domesticated plants, on the other hand, have these stresses removed by us!
We breed and select veggies and fruits for longevity, uniformity, color and other factors not necessary to their survival. Unfortunately, through the combination of the loss of our topsoils through bad farming practices and the poor vigor of domestic plants, we’ve hand picked nutritionally inferior stock for our dinner tables. These phytochemicals that they are sorely lacking are responsible for a host of amazing actions in our bodies, from fighting cancer to helping to prevent heart disease.
Nettles are just popping up now, and wow are they a vibrant shade of healthful, brilliant green. They are naturally high in silicon which is great for hair and skin. They contain 6500 I.U.s of Vitamin A in a 100g serving! They are also surprisingly high in protein at 5.5 grams per 100 grams. It’s best to eat these, rather than make tea, to get everything you can from these powerhouses of nutrition. Steam them, stew them, or fry em up in butter! However you please, just eat ‘em up cooked to remove the stingy hairs!
This despised lawn invader should really be celebrated for its divine nutritional content. Lowly dandelion, we are not worthy. It is very high in dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese just to name a few. Easy to find and ubiquitous, the roots are also excellent as a liver support tea, and taste delicious toasted as a coffee-like beverage. The roots are also edible when young and can be diced and spiced in the stir-fry pan. They are rich in inulin, a prebiotic which aids gut health. What’s not to love?
This plant is toxic to some livestock, but it’s no match for the human animal. Curly dock leaves are high in beta-carotene, vitamin C, and zinc and the seeds are rich in calcium and fiber while low in protein and fat. The greens have approximately 4 times more vitamin A than carrots! This common pasture and edge habitat weed makes a great “lasagna”. Layer in leaves like big flat noodles with sauce and cheese, nuts or whatever you feel inspired to pile in the pan. These lemony, somewhat bitter leaves stimulate digestive enzymes and aid in gastrointestinal health. The seeds can be finely ground, chaff and all, for a fine and lovely flour filled with helpful insoluble fiber, kind of like a brillo pad for the intestines, but in a good way!
Join us on March 25th to meet these wild edibles and more, and learn how to bring them to your table this season!