Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Asheville Spring Herb Festival

Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum)
As I'm sure this audience well knows, foraging is fantastic, but let's not forget how good it feels to garden! Many of our foraged plants can also do well in your home gardens. This way you need not travel far and wide for your wild edibles and medicinals but rather just reach into your planters or raised beds. Now sure, you could wander out to your woods and track down these wild plants, dig them up and carefully transport them to home soil or you could simply come to
Asheville's 26th Annual Spring Herb Fest at the WNC Farmer's Market this weekend!
Not only will there be starts and seeds of just about every herb you could desire from the common culinary herbs to practical medicinal plants to simply intoxicating aromatic lovelies, but you can also count on prepared herbal products such herbal soaps, oils, lotions, and elixirs.
And of course I will be there with my book, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail. Drop by the Master Gardener's Table where I'll be set up to grab a copy or simply talk plants or trail!
WNC Farmer's Market (Exit 47 on I-40)
(5/1 - 5/2) Friday and Saturday 8:30 - 5:00
(5/3) Sunday 10 - 3:00

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Eating Wild: Identifying the Wild Edible Plants in Your Own Backyard

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of plant and people faces! Mother Earth News Fair had an incredible turn-out of 18,000 people, welcoming folks from throughout the Southeast as well as a good number from up North who traveled all the way down to Asheville for the event. In Hot Springs, I had the pleasure of greeting a good smattering of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers who had journeyed 275 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia and walked into their first town sitting literally on the trail.

Since the Mother Earth News Fair, I've had some requests for a recap of my presentation, Eating Wild: Identifying the Wild Edible Plants in Your Own Backyard. Here is that to follow. Please know that this summary is not complete with edible, inedible, and poisonous look-a-like information. Therefore, do not rely upon this summary alone before you go out picking in your yard. This is meant only as a recap. Thank you to all who attended!

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) - This species now includes several species once thought to be distinct. As a result, the flower color can range from purple to purple and white to pure white. Leaves will be long-stalked and basal.
The Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) with a purple and white coloration
Violets can be identified by their irregular, spurred flowers and can range in color from purple, purple and white, white, cream, to yellow. Many Violets will bear only long-stalked basal leaves, although some will have alternate. Leaves are almost always heart-shaped, with a few of our mountain species possessing rounded bases, and palmately veined. Leaves will most often be toothed, although some species will be lobed.

Typical heart shaped leaves of the Violet
The lobed leaves of the Early Blue Violet (Viola palmata)
There are nearly 600 species of Violet in the world, with as many as 30 in our North Carolina mountains and piedmont regions.

Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucllata) - look for this species beside streams, rivers, and seepage areas. The flower perches atop a particularly long stalk reaching above its still long-stalked basal leaves.
Canadian Violet (Viola Canadensis) - Look for this species at higher elevation, in woods, oftentimes amidst thick vegetation. This Violet will bear alternate leaves and can grow particularly tall, reaching 8" in height
Look for Violets in grassy areas such as on lawns or trailside, residing in partial sun to full sun.

All species of Violet (Viola spp.), except for those that bear yellow flowers, are edible. Even these may sometimes be consumed, but they cause some folks nausea and I find them to be more rare, so simply better to be left alone.

Viola sororia adorning deviled eggs with paprika and dill

Violet flowers can range in flavor from sweet to spicy to minty and are best eaten raw. They make a  fresh decoration to cakes, pasta dishes, salads, or as you can see here, deviled eggs. You may coat them in egg wash and sugar them for candied Violet. They look lovely frozen in ice cubes and added to lemon water or an herbal iced tea.

Leaves may be eaten raw or cooked (this is preferable later in the season when they become more fibrous), and have a spinach-like quality. Steam or sauté and add them to pasta, eggs, stir-frys, or bake in lasagna, quiche, or croissants. If you are picking leaves without the presence of a flower, worry not about discerning the yellow Violets from the other species. The 3 species in our region have very distinct leaves that look less desirable anyway, being hairy, rounded, or mottled, and simply tough.

The basal rosette of Garlic Mustard (Alliara officinalis)
Garlic Mustard (Alliara officinalis) will begin in its first year as a basal rosette sitting close to the ground. However in its second year it can grow up to 3 feet tall with leaves alternate on the stem. Leaves are heart-shaped, long-stalked with spidery looking palmate veins, and scalloped margins.

Flower buds of Garlic Mustard (Alliara officinalis)
 Being that Garlic Mustard is a member of the Mustard Family (Brassicaceae), the same family as say, Broccoli, its parts bear a certain resemblance to its relatives. The flowering buds can look like little broccoli florets before opening up into small 4-petaled white flowers.

As many of the gardeners probably already know all too well, Garlic Mustard is highly invasive, taking over the edges of lawns, lining hedges or fence-lines, and lining roadsides. Originally from Europe, there are no insects here that naturally feed on it. It also produces a chemical that suppresses the mycorrhizal fungi that other plants require for health. This chemical of course does not affect native fungi. Deer also have no interest in this plant and do a good job of trampling the soil while eating all the plants surrounding it, and planting the seeds that the plant has flung.

Orzo pasta salad with Garlic Mustard pesto, cherry tomatoes, and black olives
The good news is that all parts of this plant are edible! The flowers, flowerbuds (which I find to be tastiest), and leaves all impart a flavor you would expect, that of garlic with a hint of mustard. Add the leaves, flowers and buds raw or cooked leaves to anything you wish to impart that flavor to such as eggs, chili, veggie stews,  salads and wraps. They also make any excellent pesto when pureed raw with your typical pesto ingredients (see my post: for a recipe). The roots have a strong horseradish-like flavor and may be used to impart heat to any dish.

Creeping Bluets (Houstonia serpyllifolia)
Bluets (Houstonia) are weak-stemmed tiny plants with proportionately tiny opposite leaves. Flowers are 4-petaled, white to blue, and only 1/4 - 1/2" wide. There are two species in our region, Creeping Bluets (Houstonia serpyllifolia) and simply the Bluet ( Houstonia caerulea) that are very difficult to discern from one another, however it matters not as far as edibility.

Look for Bluets amongst grassy areas, such as meadows, lawns, grassy trails, or amongst tufts of grass at the bases of trees. I tend to use these like sprouts, and it is easy to harvest a clump of them, given that they will often grow in mats or at least abundance. All above grounds parts are edible. Simply grab a handful and with a sharp knife, slice at base of stems. They are best added raw to salads or sandwiches, as they will not hold up to cooking.

Common Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweeds consist of 2 genus, Stellaria and Cerastium, with Stellaria being the tastiest of the two. Flowers can grow from 3" to a couple feet tall. Leaves are opposite, stems are succulent with a clear juice when broken. Flowers are 5-petaled and so deeply cleft that they appear to be 10-petaled. Stamen are conspicuous, being brown-tipped, numbering 5-10. These are one of the first plants to flower in spring.

Great Chickweed (Stellaria pubera) - found in woods, oftentimes at higher elevations.
Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum) - this species is best consumed cooked unless you don't mind a mouthful of fine fur, which covers the plant.
All of the above ground parts of Chickweed are edible and are best raw before the plant has gone to seed, and better cooked afterwards. The entire plant is sweet and crisp. Chickweed is a nutritional powerhouse containing Vit. C, B6, D, A, rutin, biotin, choline, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, phosphate, and manganese. It is also considered a traditional spring cleanser, increasing the efficiency of the entire glandular system. Add to salads, sandwiches, wraps, or stir-frys, or simply make a tea using 1 large handful of plant to 12 oz of water for nutritional benefits.

Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Cleavers (Galium aparine) is an all-over prickly plant due to its tiny rough hairs. Its stem is square and leaves are whorled, 6-8, and evenly spaced along stem. Two flowering stalks arise from each leaf axil, 2-3 flowers to a stalk. Flowers are white, 4-petaled, and less than 1/8" wide, and turn to bristly seeds come summer and fall.

Find this plant along the edges of your lawn or garden, and in thickets of weeds. Cleavers will create tall-standing carpets.

All above ground parts of edible and should be cooked so as to not irritate the throat. However, they may be eaten raw if rolled into a tight pill-ball first and then eaten. Otherwise, sauté or steam and add to eggs, stir-frys, oats or grits. Ol' timers considered it a spring cleanser as well and would stew it in oats to "increase lankness."

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion, the common sunny flower of our lawns and roadsides. Flowers are made up of a collection ray florets cupped by green bracts. Each plant produces just one non-branching hollow stem with one flower. The stem arises from a basal rosette of deeply lobed leaves, lobes downward pointing.

Dandelion leaves
Although this may be another loathsome weed, the good news again is that all parts are edible! As well as highly medicinal, however I will save that for another blog post.

Roots may be sautéed, boiled, or roasted and served with sweet veggies to balance their inherent bitterness. They possess inulin, a pre-biotic, when harvested in the fall.

Leaves may be eaten raw in salads or sandwiches when young or sautéed, steamed, or boiled as they age and become a bit tougher. They will become more bitter after the plant has flowered, however boiling in a couple changes of water will decrease this flavor, although you will also sacrifice its nutritional value. Dandelion leaves possesses Vit. C, B, E, D, biotin, inositol, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.

Veggie quiche with Dandelion leaves, florets, and Violet leaves
The flowers may be battered and deep-fried or used to adorn salads or baked goods raw. The florets pulled from the bracts are a nice addition to baked goods as well such as breads, cookies, and pancakes.

Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis)
Last but not least, there is Wood Nettle (Laportea Canadensis), not to be confused with the also edible, but also medicinal and non-native, Stinging Nettle (Urtica diocia). Although not at part of its common name, Wood Nettle is still distinguished by its many needle-like translucent stinging hairs. Leaves are alternate and egg-shaped, with toothed margins. Male and female flowers are on separate plants and gathered along racemes.

Fine needle-like hairs of Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis) 
Look for this plant in your wooded yards or along the edges of woods, as well as streamside and trailside.

The leaves of this plant are incredibly edible once cooked rendering them harmless. Sautee, steam, or boil the leaves adding them to stews, stir-frys, eggs, casseroles, or croissants. Use as you would cooked spinach. They have a very mild green pleasant taste. They possess calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, silica, iodine, sodium, sulfur, Vit. C, A, and B.

The trick to harvesting Wood Nettle is to pluck with confidence! Or wear gloves. Check out my post: for more information on Wood Nettle.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hot Springs Trail Fest

The Appalachian Trail along the French Broad River and a portion of the plant walk I'll be leading on Sunday.
What's better than springtime in the mountains? Why, it's springtime along the Appalachian Trail in the mountains ... complete with a hot springs spa, delicious food, foot stomping music, and a thru-hiker parade!

Come join me this weekend, April 18th and 19th, beginning at 10 am, for the Hot Springs Trailfest!

This festival has been created to celebrate the Appalachian Trail that runs literally though the center of town. The town will most certainly be filled with thru-hikers making their journey to Maine and having a rip-roaring good time as they stop and rest for a spell. Besides the hiker talent show, parade, and camp-stove cook-off, you can expect yoga, hula hooping, live music, local food, an evening bonfire, oh and a duck race...I'm not sure if this literally involving waterfowl competing for a finish line but I do hope so!

On Sunday at 10 am, I'll be leading a plant walk along the Appalachian Trail, identifying our edible and medicinal plants located along the trail, and providing plenty of information on how to identify, harvest, and utilize them while out on your own hike or meanderings. The hike will begin at the Silvermine Trailhead parking area, travel 1 mile up to Lover's Leap (there is a 500ft elevation gain here as we climb from the river to the overlook at 1800 feet, however there are lots of switchbacks and we will be stopping frequently to examine the plants), and descend the mountain for about 1/2 a mile on the Lover's Leap Loop Trail, ending up back to the parking area. Duration is expected to be about 2 hours. All ages are welcome!

If a plant walk is more than you can muster and you'd rather spend your day eating, dancing, and soaking in the hot springs, then by all means, do! But come on by anytime Saturday or Sunday (except the hours of the plant walk of course), talk trail, talk plants, and grab a signed copy of my book, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail.

Me and Harvey atop Lover's Leap - this handsome fella may be joining us as well!
For a full schedule of weekend events, directions, and more info, please visit:
See y'all there!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Mother Earth News Fair Comes to Asheville

 Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)
This week has been packed full of wild plant goodness. On Wednesday I filmed a clip on WLOS Asheville offering a demonstration on how to make Purple Dead Nettle Pesto and on Thursday I had the pleasure of leading an enthusiastic group of ladies Diamond Brand's Diva Day for a midday plant walk and book signing in the evening.

Now I would like to invite you all to join me at the Mother Earth News Fair Saturday and Sunday here in Asheville. You can find more info on speakers, workshops, and vendors at this link It will be a full weekend offering rain barrels, truck loads, and wheel barrels of information on homesteading, herbal medicine, livestock, and all things to do with natural living.

On Saturday, 4/11, at 2:30 you can find me in at the Ingles Real Food Stage giving a talk titled, Eating Wild: Identifying the Wild Edible Plants in your own Backyard. Then from 3:30 - 4:30 I will be conducting a book signing at the Mother Earth News Bookstore. If you can't make it for the talk, I'll be in the bookstore all day Saturday and Sunday (except for when I am presenting of course) as well.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Calling all Divas!

This is a shout out to all divas that this Thursday, April 9th, you can join Diamond Brand in their Outdoor Diva Day! This attire is not mandatory, but I had to get your attention somehow, and by all means if you feel like getting done up, then please do. A diva can certainly still be a diva in her hiking boots and yoga pants. This event will take place at the store on Hendersonville Road. The festivities will be as follows:

8:15 am - Yoga with Happy Body Pilates
12:00 noon - Guided hike on the MST led by Hannah and Greg of Diamond Brand, and myself identifying the edible medicinal plants along the way
2:30 pm- A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail - book signing and time to chat trail and plants
6-8 pm - A presentation from AT record-holder Jennifer Pharr Davis, and Outdoor Expo with lots of info, fun, and clinics from various outdoor nonprofits and gear makers.
All parts of this event are FREE. Come for part or all!
For more info check out this link from Diamond Brand:

Presto, Garlic Mustard Pesto!

Cleavers (Galium aparine) and Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officinalis)
It is official...the wild edible greens are growing! Each day, a new shoot seems to emerge from the cold soil and a fresh flower face opens to greet the sun. I greet each warmly and then grab a pair of garden clippers. Now is the time to cut back on buying the salad greens and herbs that have traveled from across the country packaged in so much plastic your recycling bin is filled in minutes, to rather, opening your back door and wandering out into the backyard to harvest some green morsels.

Harvested Garlic Mustard laying in wait for the blender
I've been particularly busy this week preparing for a clip on Carolina Kitchen to promote my talk "Eat Local: Identifying the Wild Edible Plants in Your Own Backyard" and book signing at the Mother Earth News Fair this coming weekend 4/11. It will be airing at noon on April 8th, so be sure to catch it (I'll also be posting a link here after airing) for a demonstration on how to make your own Purple Dead Nettle Pesto. However this pesto recipe also works well with Garlic Mustard, a well known, often times loathed, weed.

Garlic Mustard begins as a basal rosette in its first year, growing just 6-8" tall, however in its second year it can grow up to 3 feet with stalked, alternate, heart-shaped leaves with scalloped margins and four-petaled white flowers. Before the flowers open they resemble little heads of broccoli , which is not surprising given that Garlic Mustard and Broccoli share the same family, Brassicaceae.

Garlic Mustard flower buds
 Garlic Mustard is so invasive for the same reason as most other invasives, it is non-native, introduced from Europe, and therefore does not have its native insects or fungi that would normally go to work keeping its populations in check. However, it also has another advantage in its ability to produce allelochemicals, which suppress mycorrhizal fungi that other plants require for optimal growth (fungi help to break down and transport nutrients to the roots of most plants). Interestingly enough, these same chemicals do not affect the mycorrhizal fungi that would be in Garlic Mustard's native habitat. Also, although deer like a whole lotta greens, they are picky eaters when it comes to Garlic Mustard. Instead they happily mow down or trample every other plant, carefully eating around Garlic Mustard, giving it not only more space to proliferate but also working its seeds into the freshly "tilled" soil.

However instead of making enemies with Garlic Mustard which is certainly not going anywhere, why not make pesto with it? Or add it to your eggs, or salads, or wraps, or gazpacho for that matter?

Garlic Mustard Pesto tossed with orzo pasta, cherry tomatoes, and black olives
As you would expect, its greens, flowers, and flower buds taste of both garlic and mustard, but with a hint of bitter, which increases after it flowers and with age. Garlic Mustard's roots are also edible, tasting strongly of horseradish. Archeological digs show evidence that this pest was actually a beloved food plant in Europe for thousands of years before we decided we needed to kick it out of our gardens to make room for less hardy plants, so lets at least make use of it since its laid its claim on our lawns.

Garlic Mustard Pesto
3 c of packed Garlic Mustard Greens
3-4 Garlic Mustard roots diced (optional)
3/4 c of olive oil
3/4 c walnuts
3 cloves garlic
1/2 c parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Combine greens, roots, walnuts, and garlic in a blender or food processor to combine, gradually adding olive oil to desired consistency. Add parmesan cheese to combine and, salt and pepper to taste.
Yield: 2 c pesto
Toss with your favorite pasta, spread atop a pizza, or smear on a wrap with veggies and cheese.