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Spring Greens

wild spring greens for salad dandelion and wild carrot greens (photo by jhy)

Early spring is the perfect time to augment your salad with wild greens. Even though hardly anything here has greened up yet, I found young dandelion and wild carrot (Queen Anne's lace) sprouts. The only tricky thing about any of this is to learn to identify the plants while they are still small and hiding in the grass or the leaf litter from the previous year. You want young leaves before they become bitter. Both are edible when mature, but the taste isn't as nice.

Common dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is pretty familiar to most everyone.
dandelion sprouts young dandelion plant (photo by jhy)

Wild carrot, Daucus carota, is recognized by most people when it flowers, but the young leaves are quite distinctive. They have a definite carrot odor when broken.

wild carrot sprout young wild carrot plant (photo by jhy)

Collect them by simply breaking off the leaves. Plants growing near road edges will have more grit, but you'll want to wash the leaves anyway. Place in a colander and remove any grass, sticks, etc. Wash gently and shake or pat dry as desired.

I like to mix them with regular lettuce to make a nice salad base, but if you collect enough, you don't need lettuce. The iceberg lettuce does ameliorate any bitterness of the wild greens.

wild salad greens mixed with lettuce dandelion and wild carrot greens mixed with lettuce (photo by jhy)

Milkweed Buds

milkweed buds milkweed buds ready to harvest (photo by jhy)

Milkweed buds can be harvested when they are still tight like little broccoli florets. Try to get them as early as possible when they have little color other than green. These will have the best flavor. The ones shown are probably as far along in terms of opening as you want (eating the flowers won't hurt you, but the flavor is different from the buds). Even if some of the flowers on a stalk have opened, there may still be buds near the top of a plant that will be fine to take. This is common milkweed, Ascelpias syriaca.

collected milkweed buds and leaves note the milky sap oozing from the cut ends (photo by jhy)

I just snip them off the plant with scissors. You can see that I've also taken some small leaves, which also taste great. The milky sap oozes out of the cut ends, and it is bitter, but cooking will eliminate that problem. Wash the scissors right away if possible, as that sap is like glue!

milkweed buds cooking cooked milkweed buds will turn bright green (photo by jhy)

Boil some water, with or without added salt as you wish, add the milkweed buds and boil gently for 2-3 minutes. They will turn bright green as they cook. Discard the cooking water as it will be bitter. If you are going to add the florets to a soup or stew, I suggest cooking them separately and adding at the last minute so that bitter sap will not leach into your broth.

milkweed buds served on a baked potato milkweed buds as a baked potato topping (photo by jhy)

You can see that tonight I'm using these as a topping for a baked potato, just like broccoli. Add any other toppings you like, or just use the greens. They can be eaten straight as a vegetable, or added to other dishes. The flavor is mild.

Autumn Olive Juice - Traditional Juicing Method

gallon of autumn olive juice gallon of autumn olive juice (photo by jhy)

You will need:
  • Autumn Olive berries- any amount, probably at least a quart to make the work worthwhile
  • sugar or sugar substitute to taste

gallon of autumn olive berries gallon of autumn olive berries (photo by jhy)
Wash the berries (see Harvesting Autumn Olive), removing woody twigs, leaves, and other unwanted items. From this gallon of berries I removed three Asian Lady Bugs, a Cutworm, and a Stinkbug. None of those would have improved the flavor of the juice. However, you don't need to bother removing the small gray stems from each berry.

Place your berries in a large kettle with about an equal amount of water. This doesn't have to be measured very accurately, but you want to leave plenty of space above the level of water in your kettle. Bring the berries to a boil.

boiling autumn olive berries boiling autumn olive berries (photo by jhy)
My kettle is too full! As the berries began to cook, they float, and this boiled over before I could catch it.

Simmer for about 30 minutes. Skim off any foam with a metal spoon. Let this cool until it's a temperature you can handle, but the warmer the better.

squeezing autumn olive juice autumn olive pulp in a jelly bag (photo by jhy)
Squeeze through a jelly bag until the pulp is quite dry.

As you can see, the resulting juice is a milky pink. This looks funny, but doesn't taste bad. I added a little bit of sugar, but it didn't need much. This can be added strictly to your own taste. If you really want a red color, you'll need to add food coloring.

I tried this method instead of the Cold Pack Autumn Olive Juice method because I was hopeful of getting a more tart flavor. The berries are pleasantly tart, but the cold pack juice method yields a juice that is very much like fruit punch. I was disappointed that this method does the same thing. The tartness must be all in the skins, and is not released even with the cooking the way it is with grapes.

Store in the refrigerator for quick use, or process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, for longer storage. See

Purslane- Tart, Healthy Green

common purslane, hogweed common purslane (photo by jhy)

Common purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is grown as a vegetable in many cultures, but in the United States it is usually considered a weed. What a weed! You can easily get several servings of vegetables from one healthy plant, for free! The plant is an annual.

Identification is relatively easy. Look for this plant, also known as hogweed, in disturbed soils. It grows in a flat rosette, radiating in a slightly off-center manner. The stems are reddish and the entire plant has a somewhat succulent appearance. You can gather it throughout the summer, up through the time it has tight buds. The earlier pickings will be more tart. When the buds form, the flavor becomes milder.

It can be eaten raw, or cooked in several ways. Today, I boiled the leaves and stems and ate them as a green.

Pull up the entire plant, or cut the stems at the base. Wash thoroughly and pull off wilted or sunburned leaves. Tight buds are fine to eat, and won't change the flavor.

common purslane, hogweed yield from three purslane plants (photo by jhy)

I like to use scissors, because it's a very easy way to cut the plant into pieces of similar size. I cut the largest stems into sections 1 to 1.5 inches long and throw them into boiling water first. Then I continue with the smaller stems and leaves. Boil until cooked to taste. I prefer them slightly crunchy, 2-5 minutes.

Rinse and serve immediately with your preferred condiment (oil, salt, etc), or eat plain.

Early plants will have a tart, citrus taste. They remind me of beet stems.

Purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable, more than some fish. It is also high in vitamins A,C and E, and magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron. Anti-oxidant properties come from betacyanins and betaxanthins present in the plant.

It is high in oxalate, which can contribute to kidney stone formation, but cooking reduces that risk, and many vegetables we eat regularly contain oxalates. As with any food, it makes sense to vary the menu.

Lime-Mint Creamy Salad Dressing

peppermint leaves peppermint leaves (photo by jhy)
You will need:
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar or sugar substitute
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/2 c. whipping cream OR 1/2 c. yogurt
You can use the cream for a fuller flavor, or the yogurt to keep things light.

Combine 1 T. mint (peppermint, spearmint, etc.) with the sugar in a small bowl and crush the mint against the side of the bowl with a spoon. Stir in the lime juice and continue to crush the mixture until the mint juices are released. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes.

Press the mint extract through a sieve and discard the crushed leaves. Slowly add the juice to the cream/yogurt. Add the remaining T. of chopped mint. Mix well.

For good flavor allow this to sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Overnight is best.

This dressing is good on a cole slaw of green and Savoy cabbage, cucumber and onion.

The first time I made this, I didn't discard the crushed leaves, but just mixed them in. It seemed to be fine.

Preparing Elderberries for Use

Elderberries make great juice, jelly, and pies. However, they are a really labor-intensive fruit. The berries are less than 1/4 inch across, usually closer to 1/8 inch.

However, it's one of my favorite flavors, so it's worth the work to me to do something with some fruits most years.

Watch the video to actually see how the fruits can be removed from the stems. Basically, you want to wash them, dry, and roll them off the heads.

Some people like to freeze the heads before they remove the berries. I tried this. It did make the berries come off easier, but it also made the stems brittle so I got more bits of stem in the bucket of berries that I didn't want to have to sort again. You can choose which "evil" you are willing to accept.

No-Mess Elderberry Juice

canned elderberry juice elderberry juice right after processing (photo by jhy)
You will need: elderberries- 1 c for each quart
3/8 c. sugar, or 1/8 c sugar and 1/4 c sugar substitute for each quart
quart canning jars
lids, rings
jar lifter, potholders, etc

This method of making juice does not result in a beverage you can drink immediately, but it's incredibly easy. You have to wait a few months to drink the juice.

I've used this method of making juice with several different kinds of fruit, but this post will focus on elderberry. It is very easy, except for the task of taking the elderberries off their stems.

Wash and sterilize as many quart jars as you think you will need. You can cover with a clean towel and let them rest until you have the fruit ready.

You'll need one cup of clean elderberries for each quart. Try to remove all the small purple stems, but it won't matter if you miss a few.

dry pack elderberry juice elderberries and sweetener, before adding boiling water (photo by jhy)
Set water to boil- enough to fill all the jars you plan to use. Then, in each quart jar put 1 c of berries and 3/8 c of sweetener. This can be all sugar, or part sugar and part substitute. I have not tried it with all sugar substitute, but it would probably work since there is no texture issue in this recipe as there is with baking.

Fill jars with boiling water, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Clean rim, put on lids and rings. Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath. See basic instructions for hot water bath canning. canning.

The just-processed juice will be clear to translucent. When the jars have cooled, remove rings and place the juice in a pantry or somewhere to store for at least three months before opening. Over this time, the juice will develop.

When you open a jar, strain and remove the remaining fruit. The juice is then ready to drink.