Friday, May 27, 2011

Jewelweed Time

Jewelweed, Impatiens canadense, has grown to just the perfect height for picking. Look for this rather unassuming plant in wet areas, along streams and brooks and even roadside ditches.

As a potherb, jewelweed falls into a category of its own. It offers only a brief timeframe for harvesting and has what I consider a unique taste.

To pick, gather whole plants. It’s best to trim each plant at the base, but if you simply pull it up intact, then just trim the roots with a pair of scissors. As long as the plant is somewhere between 2 and 4 inches tall, it can be used whole…stem and leaves together.

To prepare, simmer about one inch of water in a saucepan, add rinsed jewelweed and stir. It only takes a minute or two to cook. Then drain and add spices to taste.

Jewelweed grows in dense colonies and pulling entire plants does not harm the colony in the least. The stuff self-seeds with a vengeance, which accounts for its alternate name, “wild touch-me-not.” When the ripe seedpods sense any kind of pressure, as from a human thumb and forefinger, it literally explodes, sending seeds out in a great burst of energy.

A spring-like mechanism inside the seedpod unwinds upon receiving the signal to let go and that’s what makes the thing burst open. It’s one of the marvels of nature and rates up there as a true wonder.

Later in summer we can discuss alternate uses for jewelweed. But for now, at least for the next week or so, it’s time to enjoy the culinary aspects of this marvelously-hardy and useful wild plant.

Before closing, let me say how pleased I am with my new book, Tom Seymour’s Forager’s Notebook. It’s another release from Just Write Books, Topsham, Maine.

Hardcover, my Forager’s Notebook contains lots of old-time, money-saving hints, a yearly calendar consisting of five weeks per month (this makes it open-ended and good for any given year), a “wild plant of the month” and lots more.

Look for a cover photo and more detailed information on this blog…coming soon. Meanwhile, let me say again that I really like this book and have begun using it myself for my “wild” notes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Constant Rain Dampens Tom's Enthuiasm

I truly do not like tromping about outside in the rain. Oh, the occasional showery day presents no problems and sometimes, I feel something like comfort from a warm mist or all-enveloping fog. But day after day of rain wears thin.

Foraging for wild plants, at least for me, has gone on hold. On the other hand, I rely upon certain seasonal goodies and this unplanned hiatus from foraging has put a certain crimp in my lifestyle.

For instance, today, instead of any of the numerous fresh, wild greens I could and would have had for lunch, I was relegated to dine on home-canned green beans from last season. These are fine in winter, but in late spring, I don’t want canned. I want fresh.

So I’m just as antsy as can be, practically jumping up and down with anxiety and anticipation, wanting to get out and do what I do this time of year.

Fortunately, I’ve plenty of inside work to keep my mind occupied. Writing assignments galore tie me to the keyboard. But still, that little voice gnaws at my innermost being. “What’s up now? It’s time to harvest dock. Perhaps jewelweed is just right for picking,” A hundred similar questions plague my poor brain.

One thought gives me comfort. Soon, seaside foraging will come into play and at least walking along a beach does not include getting drenched from water clinging to bushes and trees. Rain or shine, seaside foraging can and will happen.

But oh, do I long for a dry, sunny day. It’s not up to me, though. All any of us can do is wait and hope for the best.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Protect Yourself From Ticks

Insect repellent with DEET was always my first choice for protection from biting insects. But DEET has the bad habit of eating the finish off of fishing rods, plastic items and it even makes the wood sticky on my pipe chanter.

So I recently decided to use Old Time Woodsman’s Fly Dope, which contains no DEET and is quite effective in keeping blackflies at bay. Besides that, it has (to me) an enticing scent.

Typically, I’ll douse my face, hands and neck with Old Woodsman’s before going outside. But this does not protect me from critters that might crawl up inside my pants leg. I found this out the hard way, just this morning.

Last night in bed, I noticed a “bug bite” on my inner thigh. I thought little of it and promptly sank into a sound sleep. This morning, I remembered the bite and decided to take a closer look at it.

I recoiled at the sight of a tick, partly dug into my hide. The usual alcohol treatment did not cause it to withdraw, either, so I used tweezers. But it still wouldn’t budge. Finally, by pinching the skin and keeping pressure with the tweezers, it let loose.

I called the doctor’s office and now must go in so that they can determine if I got all of the tick’s parts from my thigh. And since it was on me for an undetermined period of time, they plan to start me on a regimen of antibiotics, a very unpleasant prospect indeed.

Why do I mention this? For your sakes. If you are reluctant to use DEET on your skin, then go ahead and use whatever else works for you. But for your clothing, particularly socks and pant legs, please spray yourself with something containing DEET.

Also, it helps to wear light-colored clothing. This makes ticks easier to spot. I always wear jeans and this puts me at a disadvantage.

Finally, a nightly “tick check” is in order, at least for the next few months, when Lyme-disease-carrying ticks are most active.

I don’t remember having to worry about such things in the past. But times are changing and all manner of unpleasant insects have spread into the State of Maine in the last 20 years or so. Fire ants, for example, are a problem in Down East Maine. These are aptly named…I can say that from personal experience.

The bottom line is to please, do everything to protect yourself from the insidious threats posed by ticks. And don’t forget to do a daily body check.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Woodland Plants of The Mottled Shade

The steady passage of time bears heavily upon plant habitats. Pioneer species such as poplar and birch give way to taller, shadier deciduous trees. As this happens, a number of species that depend upon the mottled sunlight of spring die off as the forest canopy becomes thicker.

The process works the other way, too. Selective cutting often creates just the right environment for these early spring plants and they are quick to colonize.

Among these springtime treats are Clintonia, or corn lily, and large-leaved aster. Clintonia first.

This plant has two or three shiny, roundly-pointed leaves. These very slightly resemble the toxic lily-of-the-valley. But Clintonia leaves are wide in the middle and lily-of-the-valley leaves are rather slender.

When young, Clintonia leaves are delicious raw. They have a distinct cucumber taste. This is obvious when the leaf is crushed or broken and helps to make the distinction between Clintonia and lily-of-the-valley.

Often, people ask which domestic vegetables the different wild plants taste like, a difficult question to answer because every wild plant has its own, unique flavor and seldom does a wild plant taste much like any domestic vegetable. Clintonia is one of the exceptions.

I like my Clintonia snipped fine with scissors and added to a salad. It saves buying hothouse cucumbers, a real plus. When the plant sets blossoms, the cucumber taste becomes too pronounced and is no longer pleasant.

Another plant of the mottled shade, large-leaved aster is ready now. This unassuming plant grows in often-huge colonies in places with dappled sunlight. When young, the leaves make a fine potherb when boiled. I particularly enjoy the leaves before they have fully unfurled.

The window of opportunity for harvesting our edible wild plants at their peak of perfection is often short. In the case of the two plants mentioned here, it is too short. So if you aspire to sample either of these, better get out now. Soon, the plants will be gone by and it will be another whole year before the opportunity presents itself again.

The good news is that as one edible wild plant fades, another comes online to take its place. Stay tuned for more.

Contingency Plan For Summer, 2011

Cold. Wet. Windy. That describes our recent weather and also, the weather for at least one more week.

Shades of 2009, the year with little or no sun from June through mid-August. That year, my crops failed because my gardens were turned to wetlands. The saving grace, of course, was the wild bounty. Although my beans, chard, carrots and others failed, wild edible plants managed to pull through just fine.

While perennially optimistic, I must admit that this year is stacking up to be a repeat of 2009. Since such things are impossible to anticipate and we’ll only know for certain after the fact, it makes great sense to go ahead and plant our gardens but also, spend some extra time in woods, fields, wetlands, seashores and lawn edges, foraging for wild edible plants.

One of my favorite summertime favorites, and one that will soon be of a size to harvest, is goosetongue, or, as the old-timers would say, “shore greens.’

Goosetongue, Plantago juncoides, has long, slender leaves and a seedstalk very similar to common plantain. Great steamed or chopped and mixed in simple salads, this versatile plant freezes well and also lends itself to home canning.

So in only a few weeks, I plan to go out and pick enough goosetongue to can. It’s best to pick this plant early, before the seedstalks emerge. That circumvents the need to separate leaves from seedstalks.

While I fervently hope that summer 2011 will turn into a sunny, pleasant season, it’s good to have a contingency plan for just in case it doesn’t.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Trout, Fiddleheads and Japanese Knotweed--what more can a man ask?

What a difference two or three days make, especially in spring when wild edible plants are popping up all over like mushrooms after a September rain.

Friday, my efforts resulted in a handful of tiny ostrich ferns and some false Solomon’s seal to nibble on, plus some Japanese knotweed shoots. Not a bad haul, but nothing to put meat on the bones either.

Today, Tuesday, I picked a half-bushel of dandelions from my front lawn and a similar quantity of ostrich fern fiddleheads from a nearby stream. This grand effort took the better part of a day and was precipitated by the knowledge that rain is coming and will stay with us for at least three days, precluding any wild plant harvesting. At least for me, that is.

I wrote a friend the other day and concluded my message by saying, “life is good.” And for me it is.

Yesterday, after knocking off a column for the outdoor magazine I write for, I decided to head out and try and catch a rainbow trout. I had heard that rainbows were plentiful in a certain section of river.

Knowing where these silver-and-raspberry colored trout usually hold, I headed to the scene of past successes. It took much effort to crawl down a rocky bank, with loose rocks and clinging brambles, but finally I reached the bottom.

My hunch paid off. My efforts resulted in two, gorgeous rainbow trout, taken on artificial lures and ultralight spinning tackle.

Before leaving, I picked a bunch of Japanese knotweed shoots and put them in my fish creel.

Talk about a good day. And add today, with the bounty of fiddleheads and dandelions. For someone like me who lives rather close to the bone and depends upon seasonal offerings such as this, I must reiterate my closing salute to my friend: “Life is good.”

Before leaving, let me say that "NLO" wrote, telling me how excited she is in finding some of the wild plants that we discussed in this weekend's adult ed class in Gardiner, Maine. Well, NLO, I am equally as excited. I always get a thrill when people new to foraging for edible wild plants find something new. It is my pleasure and honor that I was able to assist you in this worthy endeavor. Thank you, NLO. And keep up the good work.