Monday, May 13, 2013

New foraging book and blog

I'm retiring 'Wild Picnic' to focus on my new blog A Forager's Treasury, which has a book to go with it - hurrah!

I've loved doing Wild Picnic, and one of the best things about it has been the contact it's allowed me to make with other foraging enthusiasts.

Thank you to everyone who has ever read it or commented on it. The experiences, ideas and knowledge shared have been immeasurably valuable.

Please come along to A Forager's Treasury - the blog or the Facebook page, and continue to comment if you'd like to.




Tuesday, July 24, 2012

RIP Margaret Mahy, Forager

As tears and tributes flow for children's author Margaret Mahy, I thought it would be nice in this little corner of the blogosphere to pay tribute to her life as a gatherer.

In her wonderful, far-reaching essay Notes of a Bag Lady she has written, 'I am a natural scavenger and symbolically at least I live a bag lady life.' In the same essay she describes her foraging:

I am an obsessive collector of pine cones, portable sticks and satisfying small pieces of wood for the fire, but there are other things as well.

Tissues have reduced the number of handkerchiefs one sees lying on the side of the road (though I pass the occasional one with regret), but as a child I used to rescue handkerchiefs from gutters and bring them home triumphant to my mother, who would look at them with distaste, before immersing them in boiling water and in due course  ironing and recycling them. 

These days I collect stones, shells, or small bouquets of wild flowers … Prunella vulgaris, buttercups and daisies, foxgloves, broom, black medic, shivery grass, tansy, plantain and yarrow.

Of course I gather mushrooms if I come across any, along with stems of watercress and wild parsley.
Over the years I have collected many jandals from strips of sand and from in between rocks. Wearing jandals that don’t match doesn’t bother me. And only this morning I found a perfectly good bucket (probably dropped from some boat) and carried it home filled with pine cones. It had a comfortable handle and was certainly more robust than a plastic bag.

And at the same time as this abstracted collecting is going on I am scavenging in other ways too, studying the strips of sand, the rocks and drifts of shell, the surface of the world, in the hope that something will be revealed - something ordinary but capable, if struck against the right surface, of flaring into profitable gain. Once I wrote (and earned money with) a story of jandals swapped over by the sea.

------
I will think of her now, whenever I see an old jandal lost on the roadside or beach! Maybe I will pick it up and keep it in her honour.


P.S. Notes of a Bag Lady was published in 2003 by Four Winds Press as part of its Montana Essay Series, and is only available second-hand now. Someone should reprint it. It is hilarious, moving, and thought-provoking.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

The long reach of the Food Bill (no conspiracy theories here, just facts)

I promise I will get back to blogging about wild food soon. I've made some new-to-me discoveries and am keen to share!

But, before I do - I want to plug a new Facebook community page that realistically discusses how the Food Bill will affect small-scale and hobby food producers, i.e. 'cottage producers'.

This does affect a lot of us.

The page is for those producers themselves, but also for people like me who really appreciate artisan and home-made food, and love being able to buy from or swap with the people making it ... (I don't want that threatened, which frankly, the Food Bill does, however much some government officials pooh-pooh the notion.)

If you're interested, please come along and 'like' the page.

And if you know anyone else this is relevant to, feel free to forward the link to them:

Cottage Food and the NZ Food Bill Facebook Page 



Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chewing over the Food Bill

Interrupting normal transmission to discuss important legal and political stuff ...

A proposed overhaul to NZ's Food Act (the Food Bill)  has been in the media a bit lately, but I was finding it hard to untangle the facts. After being commissioned to write an article about it, I decided the only thing to do was read the whole darn Food Bill myself.

Okay, yes, I did skim some bits! But others I read thoroughly and repeatedly - especially those that applied to small-scale trading of food within communities. I found things that concerned me.

The article will be out next month [update 30 Oct: It's in the November issue of Taste, and I think it hits stores this week].  In the meantime I've put up a note on Facebook, containing my interpretation of and personal concerns about the Food Bill.

I have strong sympathy with the view that very small-scale home food trades should be treated like gifts - i.e. not covered by central government legislation at all. But unfortunately I don't see this happening, so my focus is on how the way they are covered by the legislation should be altered.

Particularly I think many of these very small-scale trades should be explicitly exempted from having to register a food plan (or having to apply individually for an exemption from registration).

Direct swaps and sales of your home-grown horticultural produce already are explicitly exempted from registration in the Bill. But more processed food like home-made jams, pickles, baking, cheese, etc. do - according to the Bill - require you to register a food plan in order to barter or sell them - even in the tiniest amount. That seems silly and wrong to me.

If you want to read more of my summary and thoughts, they're here on Facebook.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pink Pepper (Schinus molle)

Colin Pearce of Lower Hutt has found he has this beauty - a pink pepper tree - growing in his garden. His neighbour is similarly blessed. I wonder how widespread these trees are around New Zealand? I haven't paid attention to them before.


Their fruits (and those of their close relly Schinus terebinthifolius) are a widely used spice - dried or brined as 'pink peppercorns'. These trees are native to South America, but people have carried them around the world, and in parts of Australia and South Africa they're invasive. 


Note that in New Zealand Schinus terebinthifolius is on the National Pest Plant Accord, however, Schinus molle (which Colin seems to have) is not. One distinguishing feature of Schinus molle is its longer, narrower leaf.  

More good ID photos on google images.



Culinary uses
Pink pepper trees are not related to black pepper trees, but are actually in the Sumac family. Their peppercorns have a mild, sweet taste variously described as aromatic, citric, fruity, and floral. They spice up desserts as well as savoury dishes:
Bake them in Biscotti
Candy them
Poach fruit in them
Crush them into meringues
Sprinkle them over panna cotta or infuse them into icecream.


There's been concern over allergic reactions and/or stomach irritations from eating Schinus peppercorns. So maybe at first, don't eat too many at once. Try a little, wait, and make sure of no reactions.


Medicinal and cosmetic uses
Overseas pink peppercorns are distilled into an essential oil, used often in perfumery as a top note. I have some - it's gorgeous!


Pink peppercorns have traditional medicinal uses, too.


Colin plans to harvest his peppercorns, then dry some and brine the rest. I can't wait to hear how it goes. (And thanks to Colin for these photos.)


If you have pink peppercorn trees growing near you, or have harvested their fruits yourself, I'd love to hear about it. (Also - I'm interested to know, is there any evidence that Schinus molle could become a pest here like Schinus terebinthifolius?)


P.S. Blogger is driving me nuts right now with its crazy ever-lengthening paragraph breaks! Am I the only person this is happening to? Is there something I'm meant to do that I'm not? Help welcome! :o)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fuschias


Earlier this year, writer Sharon Astyk blogged about 'edible landscaping' - or 'stealth gardening' - planting ornamentals that secretly (or not so secretly) double as food plants. Fuchsias could fit into such a garden nicely, with their surprisingly edible berries and flowers.

Fuchsia is a genus of plants and within it are many species and varieties. The NZ Fuchsia Society website has three photo galleries which are good for identifying the different species and varieties of Fuchsia grown in NZ. (Scroll down and look on the left hand column of the front page.)

This is useful because, while all Fuchsia berries and flowers may be edible, there is a wide range of sizes, flavours, and textures. Some are definitely more appetising than others, and it's good to keep a personal track of which are which. (Maybe someone should start an online list.)

The berries
Ripe, squishy Fuchsia berries are made into jams, jellies, pies, and wine. A number of recipes suggest mixing the berries into apple pies. Try the basic Fuchsia jelly recipe here  or the jam and jelly recipes here, or just google it.

In parts of South America Fuchsia berries are cultivated and sold.

The flowers
When eating the flower - generally the sepals are fleshier and milder. The petals and rest of the flower inside are more bitter.

The colours they can add to a salad or as a garnish are dazzling. And of course the smaller ones (or unpopped buds) casn be dipped in batter and made into that ubiquitous foragers' treat - flower fritters.

Small flowers can be crystallised (coated in eggwhite and then sugar and left to dry) - as a decoration for cakes and other desserts.

Native fuchsias
New Zealand has native Fuchsia including Kotukutuku, the only tree Fuchsia in the world, with berries that are especially nice.

Apparently NZ has another unusual Fuchsia too. Wellington botanist Phil Garnock-Jones explains on his blog!

Above photo of Fuchsia Magellanica courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)



We've just moved from Wellington to the lovely little Wairarapa town of Featherston - and I do believe it may be the Purslane Capital of the World. 

Back in Wellington I was excited when a lone purslane plant decided that of all the places in the neighbourhood it could sprout, it would choose my garden. I never found another in our vicinity.

Here in Featherston, purslane ranges across parking lots and around railway tracks, and has carpeted several of our garden beds.

I'm excited because purslane is a uniquely yummy and nutritious vegetable. It's full of all sorts of good stuff, but most notably has the highest known Omega-3 content of any green. (The Omega-3 it's particularly rich in is alpha linolenic acid, which our bodies can't manufacture, and must get from our diets.)


Eating purslane
You can eat the leaves, the smaller stems, and the flowers. (Though some recipes call for only the leaves.)

It has a sour, salty taste, like beach spinach. That sourness indicates its oxalic acid content so  - as with spinach, beach spinach, rhubarb, and wood sorrel - avoid it if you have kidney stones, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or other health issues where you must beware oxalic acid.

It's unusual in the world of commonly eaten greens in that it's a succulent - its fat, juicy leaves have evolved to store moisture and nutrients over long periods of time. Like other succulents it's also full of mucilage - a protective slippery slime.

Slime doesn't sound very appetising, but I have found it an addictive food texture,  a taste I acquired rapidly once I started on it.

Purslane can be eaten raw, and complements cucumber especially nicely, for example in salads and raita.

It's also a lovely addition to many cooked dishes. Fry it quickly to retain its satisfying volume and firmness, or cook it for longer to give it an almost melt-in-the-mouth quality.

Because it's so widespread around the world, there are recipes for its use from many countries.

Once you pick purslane, use it straight away, or to keep it fresh and juicy for more than a few hours, trim off the roots and stand the stems in water.


More on mucilage
Mucilaginous plants like purslane are used widely in herbal medicine around the world, as mucilage soothes and protects.  (Plant mucilages also often contain antiseptic chemicals).

These plants can be used externally on wounds, burns and stings. They're also consumed to soothe the respiratory and digestive tracts. But that's not all. When it comes to digestion, mucilage doesn't just soothe - it both absorbs water and creates bulk. That's good for, as they say, keeping you 'regular'.



Rellies
It's in the same family as miner's lettuce, which many people also know either as a weed or a food.  While purslane likes hot summers, its cousin, miner's lettuce, prefers cool, shady winter and spring temperatures.


Purslane on google images

Buy purslane seeds if you can't find any growing wild 


Friday, January 28, 2011

Harakeke/NZ Flax (Phormium tenax)


(Reposted from January 2009, with a few changes and additions)

Harakeke is one of those all round super-useful plants, used by Maori in many fine arts and useful crafts.

I'm no weaver though, so for me the two most exciting discoveries (both shown to me by other people) have been the seeds in the pods and the gel at the base of the plants.

(New note: Since I wrote this post two years ago, I've taken up spinning.  I'd be interested to know of anyone who has tried spinning harakeke fibre (muka). The strands are so long, I'm not sure what would be the best way to do it?)

Seeds

The seeds are highly edible. When white or green they are sweet and meaty. When black and shiny they are bitter. The sweet ones are nice on their own or sprinkled on a salad.

What I have noticed is that the plants with short, fat pods seem more likely to contain sweet white seeds - and after a while you can predict which pods will contain the sweetest seeds, because they have a slightly more yellow-brown tinge to them than the other pods.

It seems that the easiest way to extract the seeds from the pod is to snap it in the middle and squeeze the seeds out from each end.

They are nice in salads, and I am keen to try adding them to a paste or dip, probably ground up.

I haven't had much luck with cooking or drying them. They tend shrivel to almost nothing.

Other edible parts
You can get a lot of sweet nectar out of the flowers. Maori have used it as a sweetener.

My friend Jane, who introduced me to flax seeds, says she has a friend who collects the pollen from flax flowers as a nutritional supplement. Flax produces a LOT of pollen, as I found when I looked down at my clothes after brushing up against flax flowers!

Soothing, healing gel
The plant's gel can be found by pulling apart the leaves at the base. It has antiseptic qualities and makes a good substitute for aloe vera gel. I've used it to make a skin lotion.

Paper making
Andrew Reilly, an artisan papermaker in Bulls, has revived the art of making paper from harakeke, and produces a range of lovely papers. You can visit him on Facebook.


History
You can find loads of info on harakeke and its history as a resource and commodity at Te Ara.

More NZ Flax links
Plants for a Future database
Google images
My blog post on flax seeds

Friday, December 10, 2010

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)


















(Reposted from November 2008  with new bits.)

Elderberry flowers are still blooming in many places, so get them while you can, but leave lots to turn into berries!

Moore Wilson is selling elderflower cordial for about $14 per 500 mls. You can make your own for the cost of about 250g of sugar.

As well as cordial, the flowers can be made into wine and tea. They can also be used in flower fritters and more.

They have strong cooling properties, so whatever you make from them now, you might want to save plenty for midsummer ... and then for winter.

In herbal medicine, Sambucus nigra flowers have long been used in many cultures for colds, coughs fevers, and inflamed sinuses. They promote sweating, are anti-inflammatory, and work as an expectorant. They also contain anti-viral compounds, with some research strongly suggesting they are effective against the symptoms of certain strains of flu.

The berries have similar medicinal properties. Only eat the ripe berries - and  cook them. While a few people seem to be able to tolerate the raw berries, most find them highly indigestible.

Some ways to keep elderflowers and elderberries to have all year round:
* Dry the flowers
* Freeze the berries
* Make wine from the berries or flowers
* Make preserves from the berries
* Make cordial from the berries or flowers and freeze it

Making elderberry and elderflower wine
There are some good links below to all sorts of elderberry and elderflower recipes, and an internet search will bring up hundreds more!

It's worth saying a bit more about making wine at home though. You can have a go at making elderberry and elderflower wine in a simple, time-honoured way, with very little or nothing in the way of special equipment.

Sandor Ellix Katz, author of the modern classic Wild Fermentation, gives a recipe for Ethiopian t'ej -  a mead. You can find the recipe all over the net, including at this site. As Katz points out in his book, the recipe can be adapted to ferment almost any sweet liquid.

So make your elderflower or elderberry cordial according to your favourite recipe, and then follow the t'ej instructions for fermenting it.

If you're not having much luck, or want to cheat a little, you can add a tiny bit of store-bought yeast to get it going. Winemakers yeast is probably preferable, but breadmaking yeast will also do.

(The principles behind making wild wines are very similar to those that underpin starting your own sourdough.)


Elderberry links:
Plants for a future database
Google images
My elderflower blog post
Lots of Elderberry recipes from Just Berry recipes
Elderflower recipes

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jasminum polyanthum


Researching this plant was a fascinating study in the issues around pest plants here. I love this plant, but many hate it, and I couldn't blame them.

There are also a lot of misconceptions around the legalities to do with pest plants. ('Noxious weed' is no longer an officially used term here).

The ethics and rules around these plants are complex, and I'd especially like to thank Melanie Newfield at MAF for helping me negotiate my way through these!


About our wild jasmine
Jasmines are plants in the Jasminum genus. Gardeners here grow several species of jasmine which generally stay well contained. But one has become a pest plant and grows wild - Jasminum polyanthum.

It looks a lot like one that is not a pest - Jasminum azorica, or star jasmine.  It has a similar shape and size and climbs. But Jasminum polyanthum has a distinctive pinkish colour to the buds and younger flowers. Sometimes it's called pink jasmine.

Because it hails from China it's also called Chinese jasmine.


Friend or foe?
Jasminum polyanthum isn't a pest everywhere - in England the British Royal Horticultural society gave it their Award of Garden Merit. It's very well behaved there.

In New Zealand and Australia it grows more profusely, takes over gardens, and escapes them. But even within this country it behaves very differently from region to region. In some places it struggles to get a foothold in the wild. In others it runs rampant.

Round the north of the North Island and in Nelson it causes the biggest headaches. In these places the local authorities have included it in their Pest Plant Strategies.

However, in most parts of New Zealand it's actually not officially a Pest Plant - so there are no rules around it.

Lots of introduced plants behave differently in different parts of the country, and that's why strategically and legislatively so much focus is on managing these plants at a local authority level.

You can find out which plants are on which Regional Pest Management Strategies here.  Just scroll down and enter the species of plant you're looking for. (Or choose from the menu.)

There's also a National Pest Plant Accord that lists plants that are to be dealt with as pests throughout the entire country. Jasminum polyanthum is not on the national list. You can see which plants are on it here at Biosecurity NZ .


Dealing with Jasminum polyanthum
Often it spreads by people dumping their garden waste into a public area. It can grow from tiny bits of stem, and it sends out runners far and wide. It doesn't usually fruit, except occasionally in some warmer areas like Auckland. In that case birds may eat the berries and disperse it.

If it's part of a Pest Management Strategy in your area, you can't generally 'sell, propagate or distribute' it. In practice this means you can't do anything with it that would be likely to spread it.

If it's not part of a local Pest Management Strategy, but you still have concerns about it, ethically you may want to follow the same protocol as if it was listed as a pest plant.

If you're gathering it in the wild you may also want to think, if I have the time do this - should I actually be spending that time on helping get rid of it?

Melanie Newfield talked a little to me about how pest management teams often prioritise their time - which may be relevant to how you treat Jasminum polyanthum.

The teams are more likely to spend time on getting rid of pest plants from areas where they are just starting to show their faces, rather than work on trying to get rid of them from a place where they've already taken over and would be frustratingly time consuming, if not impossible to remove.

They take a stitch-in-time-saves-nine approach, and consider it the most efficient use of their time and resources.


Working with authorities
People sometimes fear that the council is going to come and demand they remove pest plants from their property, or fine them for having them - but in practice local authorities follow a more collaborative and educational approach.

They want everyone to work together on helping reduce the hold of pest plants, they don't want to come down heavy on people.

I'm told their whole approach these days is based on spreading information on pest plants and offering encouragement to people.

Their work also involves acknowledging that different people have different perspectives on particular plants, and they don't want to inflame what may already by a polarising issue.


Uses for jasmine
Jasmine in its various different species and varieties is a staple of the perfume industry, and you can make your own jasmine tinctures at home for fragrance.

Jasmine is a strangely beguiling smell. Some are horrified to learn that one of its peculiar charms is that it shares a molecule in common with faeces - indole.

That partly explains the love-it-or-hate-it thing that people have for the fragrance. (Other flowers contain indole too, but jasmine is especially noted for it.) Perfumery has always walked a fine line when it comes to animalic smells!

Jasmine flowers are edible - and an interesting addition to  salads or used as garnishes.

You can also add them, dried or fresh, to green tea, to make your own mock jasmine tea.

They dry well, so collecting them and drying them and keeping them in a jar for tea is very doable.

There are numerous recipes on the net for jasmine tea infused vodka. I haven't tried it as a drink, but I'm sure you could do this with the straight flowers as well.

Above photo of Jasminum polyanthum courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ti kouka and relatives /cabbage trees (Cordyline species)

Trees in the Cordyline genus grow all round the Pacific, and are amazingly useful. New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Hawai'i ... in these places and more they have long histories as sources of food, medicine, and fibre.

In most places, 'Ti' is part of their name - indicating that knowledge of these trees has been vital and carried widely around the Pacific.

Maori brought at least one species over, and found several more when they got here. In some parts, they selectively bred and cultivated them.

The most widespread of the Cordylines here is the native Ti kouka, or Cordyline australis, pretty much a national icon.

There's a great run-down, with photos, of the different species of Cordyline in New Zealand, here at The Bushman's Friend.


Cordylines as food
Ti kouka, along with others in the genus, provides a quick meal up the top, and a larger one, requiring a lot more prep, down the bottom.

If you take a leaf head and peel back the tough outer leaves, inside is a paler shoot and heart - with a delicious mix of sweet and bitter tastes. Trial and error during cooking will tell you how far you need to peel back the leaves till you find the tender shooting ones. (Better to strip away too few than too many to start with.)

Cook for 6 minutes or less, depending on its size, then treat it like an artichoke heart. I hope to put up a photo next time I do this!

You can boil them or bake them. If you throw them in with some baked veges, put them in towards the end, when there's about 10 mins left to go.

The inner trunk and the tap root of younger, smaller trees can be stripped, dried and baked, then made into a sugary, high-carb paste or meal.

Cordylines as medicine
Maori boiled the leaves up as a tea - a treatment for dysentry, and also a topical wash for wounds.

Cordylines as fibre and kindling
The leaves are tougher and more weatherproof than harakeke leaves. All around the Pacific they've been used to thatch roofs, and made into sandals, traps, mats, and more.

Old cabbage tree leaves can be folded or bundled up and make great kindling for your fire - catching alight fast. (The drier the better, but green ones burn too.)

The future of Cordylines in New Zealand
Grazing animals, and a bacterial infection called 'Sudden Decline', both threaten cabbage trees to some extent these days. If you scroll down, this page on the DoC website has good info about it.

Sustainable harvesting is all-important - growing your own, best of all. Cordylines need sun, but  grow easily in all sorts of soils.

Above photo of Ti kouka courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pelargonium species

I grew up calling these useful and delicious things Geraniums and it's hard to get out of the habit. But the name 'Geranium' should really be reserved for their cousins.

Actually anything that can be done to reduce the confusion round these plants' taxonomy is welcome to me! Pelargoniums do my head in with all their species, sub-groups and varieties. The most reliable and clear explanation of them all that I can find is at PAGS - the Pelargonium and Geranium Society in Britain.

They also have a little Pelargonium cookbook available in their shop - 'Geranium cookery'. (They do mean pelargoniums though! :)


Are they really foraging fare?
Well, they are a lot like lavender and rosemary, in that they haven't escaped from gardens and become weeds ... they just look like they want to.

They stand on the edges of gardens, poking out through fences, or at the street ends of driveways, or out on grass verges, just public enough that you can whip a few leaves or flowers off. And they grow vigorously.


Using pelargoniums
They hail from South Africa, where they have a long history of medicinal use - for many different ailments.

They all have edible leaves that you can boil as a vegetable, and the petals are a pretty addition to salads.

Most exciting of all are the scented Pelargoniums. The leaves have glands that give off a strong scented oil. The fragrances range from apple, to mint, to rose, to lemon, to spice ... and more.

Pour boiling water over them to make tea, flavour ice cream or jelly with them, chop them up and put them in biscuits, or line a caketin with them for the flavour to permeate the cake.

Here's a lovely webpage with a brief look at their history in the west, as well as some delicious looking recipes, both sweet and savoury.

Google will reveal many more recipes.


Pelargonium graveolens
On This Way Up, Richard and I looked at a Pelargonium graveolens - often known as a 'rose geranium'. (Its essential oil is a staple of the aromatherapist's and natural perfumer's palette!)

Richard thought it smelled more like lemon; I thought it was more rosy, although I get a bit of the lemoniness too.

From what I understand (please someone correct me if I'm wrong!) there are range of different fragrant compounds in Pelargonium graveolens, and in some varieties (and perhaps individual specimens) one scent will come to the fore, while in others, another scent will.

I'm guessing this particular Pelargonium graveolens had a lot of both the rosy and the lemony scent, and Richard and I, with our different noses, each perceived the overall fragrance differently .... Kind of like two people will look at the same colour, and one say it's blue while the other will say it's green.

Identification
Pelargoniums are not flowering much round here yet, but their leaves are both diverse and distinctive. Here are some google images.

Above photos of Pelargoniums courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel was introduced to New Zealand by settlers, probably as both a culinary and medicinal herb. Among the first to introduce it may have been the sealers on Whenua Hou or Codfish Island (just off Rakiura - Stewart Island). Here local Maori and sealers formed a community, and around 100 years later fennel was reportedly growing rampant around the island. (I wonder if it still is?)

Wild Fennel has edible stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, and pollen - a great delicacy. You can try the roots too for flavouring; they're a bit tough to eat!

Fennel has a natural affinity with dairy in both sweet and savoury dishes. (Fennel and white chocolate sauce on ice-cream, mmmm.)

The fennel 'roots' or 'bulbs' you buy in stores are really the fleshy base of the stalks - from a variety of fennel, Florence fennel, specially bred for this purpose.

If you're eating wild fennel stalks, choose the younger, tender ones. You may still want to strip away the outer layer if it's a bit stringy - just try and see.

Medicinally fennel is particularly useful for digestion, and is most famous as a carminative (gets rid of gas). It's at least partly the anethol which does it; the same compound that gives fennel its aniseedy flavour. Anise, star anise, and licorice all contain anethol too.

Fennel essential oil is used in aromatherapy and perfumery, and is one of the few essential oils grown and processed here in New Zealand.

Here are a few useful links:

A recipe for candied Angelica stalks which you can use for fennel stalks just as well

101 ways to make cream of fennel soup

Gathering and using fennel pollen

Above photo of fennel courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Pine (Pinus species)

I'll preface this with the warning not to eat or drink piney things if you are - or think you might be - pregnant. I don't know much about why this is, but there are strong warnings out there about it, so it seems only responsible to repeat them!

We're most of us in New Zealand not much used to thinking of pine as a herb, but in parts of the Northern hemisphere it has a long tradition of use in cuisine and medicine - notably amongst Native American nations and in and around Scandinavia.

By pine, I mean species in the Pinus genus (which are a subset of the larger group - conifers). In NZ there are no native Pinus. But we now have 10 or more introduced species. Pinus radiata, Scotch Pine and Douglas Fir are three of the most common.

This is certainly a mixed blessing, and in some parts they have become invasive pests. Ever since a friend talked to me about the way pine forests here slowly kill other trees and plants under them, and stop other things growing through the soil with their rain of needles,  I have found walking through pine forests a slightly eerie and sinister experience! There's just pine - and a strange silence.


Pine as a drink or a dessert

There are plenty of pine needle tea recipes on the internet. This is a great one, especially as it talks about the variations you can use - either steeping or boiling the pine, and using different parts of the tree. It all depends how strong you want it, and what particular flavour you're after.

(Note though that if you just use pine needles in your tea, not any other bits of pine, the colour of the tea will be very pale greenish, not reddish as this recipe says.)

Fresh pine needle tea has long been considered a cold remedy. That's partly because of all its vitamin C, but by all accounts it contains a lot of other good medicinal things as well.

As well as being medicinal, it's also a really yummy, fresh-tasting drink, hot or chilled, with a sweetener or without.

You can add it chilled to some fruit juice or concentrate as well. My family liked it with apple juice and/or lemon drink.

To add an interesting flavour to fruit-based dessert recipes, try stewing the fruit in pine tea, or making a sweet pine syrup


Pine in savoury dishes

For a start you can make pine vinegar to use in all sorts of dishes. And here I can't resist linking to Wildcrafty - one of my new favourite NZ blogs - and her post on making herbal vinegars in general.

Restaurant chefs in the Northern hemisphere have been doing interesting things with pine on their menus in recent years, so this could provide some inspiration as well. Pine needles (and baby cones) are good for smoking fish and meat, and for using in casseroles and marinades.

You can't really eat pine, so use it like Rosemary - i.e. let the flavour permeate the food then remove it. Pine is nice buddied up with other herbs including thyme, bay and juniper (another conifer although not a pine.)

You can also apparently eat the inner bark of pine - I haven't tried it, but would love to hear from anyone who has.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Coprosma species

According to the Bushman's Friend, a great resource, Coprosma fruits are a 'succulent globose drupe'. How could your mouth not water? (Botanist-speak can be so evocative!)

Coprosma is a genus containing over 100 species of tree and shrub, most with edible berries. New Zealand, Australia, and other places around the Pacific all have their own native Coprosmas, and the berries have generally been well known to the indigenous people in these areas.

Around Wellington, two of the most common Coprosma are Karamu and Taupata.

Taupata is perhaps most instantly recognisable by its strong, super-shiny leaves. Clearly it's well adapted to withstand salty coastal wind, but it grows quite far inland as well.

Coprosma berries often have a high ratio of seed to flesh (certainly Karamu and Taupata do), so while it's fun to pick them off the tree and nibble on them, the best use of them is in cooking - where you can boil them up with a little water and some sugar to taste, and then push the result through a sieve to make a sauce for either sweet or savoury purposes!

You'll need to get quite a few handfuls to make it worthwhile.

Of course, make sure you know for sure that it's Coprosma. For help with ID'ing, google images for Taupata and Karamu is useful, but a book packed with photos like JT Salmon's Native Trees of New Zealand is invaluable.

A cup of coprosma, anyone?
In 1886, settler JC Crawford was hopeful about the possibilities for a coffee substitute industry in New Zealand, based on Coprosma seeds. The Coprosma genus is in the same family as coffee plants.

It never quite took off, but over the subsequent decades various NZ foragers like Andrew Crowe and Sheila Natusch have tried making coffee from Coprosma seeds, and been underwhelmed by the results.