Sun. June 7
My chore today was to pass the hat after the foraging walk Nance lead at Garfield Park. She leads these walks on a regular basis, introducing people to the edible plants that grow abundantly in public places. I did a walk with Nance once before, through Chicago’s medical district in May 2008, and it was eye-opening. Our group that day was really focused on linden trees, as they had just flowered (the flowers make lovely teas and are helpful for coughs), and juneberries, AKA serviceberries (“sarvisberries” if you’re southern or an old-timer) which were in full and delicious fruit.
The walk at Garfield Park, a beautiful park on Chicago’s far west side was less fruitful in terms of stuff to eat. The plan had been to assemble a big salad for the group, but most of what Nance showed us was not edible without washing, due to the dog pee factor, proximity to car pollution, or potential insecticide spraying. Not that there weren’t plenty of things to sample and learn about. My big discovery on this walk was that the broad and narrow-leafed plantain, one of the most common plants in large grassy areas, is soothing to burns, scrapes and cuts and pulls out infection. The seeds are psyllium – that’s right, psyllium husks, the laxative.
Other edible / medicinal plants that we encountered were:
Garlic mustard (apparently a terrible invasive, but edible)
Mulberries, which I know well from my time in the Czech Rep
Red clover flowers are a good blood cleanser.
Yellowdock is a very important medicinal plant. Its leaves can be eaten early in the spring. It grows a “toothy” cluster of bright yellow roots that are good for digestion and liver cleansing. The seeds are high in protein and can be crushed and cleaned for consumption.
Lady’s thumbprint is a good salad green
Creeping Charlie is a headache cure if crushed and inhaled. It also can be used as a bittering agent for beer, or as a base for pesto, but it is too delicate to cook well.
Willow is another headache cure; you can chew on a young twig or let the twig dry, grind it into a powder and capsule it. If the leaves are steeped in water for a few days, the water will serve as a rooting hormone for other plant cuttings.
Motherwort – the original ‘Mother’s Little Helper,’ Motherwort soothes distress and anxiety related to menopause, menstruation and childbirth. It also promotes blood flow.
I should put a disclaimer here that none of the above is intended to serve as any sort of official medicinal or plant identification advice, because I’m definitely not an expert on either.
Many of these plants only have a limited window when they are edible (or they may be bitter or tough once they get past their prime).
Log of my chores and activities at the Urban Homestead, Tuesday June 2, 2009
In return for my stay at the Urban Homestead, I perform daily chores. Tonight my assignment was weeding the garden / gathering salad greens for dinner. Nance showed me several edible weeds growing in her garden (and probably yours): wild spinach AKA lambsquarter, wild sorrel, gobo (AKA burdock), shiso, and of course the classic dandelion. This whole exercise is a revelation. I buy burdock roots at the PCC like they’re a delicacy (and they are, at $5 a pound) – at the same time I’m pulling them out of my garden. Ever the engineer’s daughter, I love the efficiency of being able to accomplish two tasks with just one chore. The salad is delicious. Any weeds we don’t want go to the chickens.