Saturday, December 17, 2011
Tom Tries New Plants
What a fall season we have had. Foragers, gardeners and fishermen were able to get out and glean from nature at a time when, in years past, extreme cold and snow would have surely ended our outdoor pursuits.
As for me, some late-season Swiss chard, kale and even dandelions, have kept me in fresh, green vegetables. And the two early-season snowstorms melted quickly, leaving plants and even lawns, looking green and lush. And it doesn’t look as though any major change is due any time soon.
While thinking on plants and such, I wish to mention that my publisher from Just Write Books, Nancy Randolph, has asked me to revise my book, Wild Plants of Maine, A Useful Guide. This should, hopefully, be accomplished in time for a spring, 2012, release.
An upcoming meeting between we two will determine just which new chapters we will feature in the revision. I expect to offer at least a few common plants that should elicit comments such as, “I can’t believe it,” or perhaps, “Those are edible?”
My summer, at least part of it, was spent sampling new plants and trying new or different ideas. Some of it was rewarding, but two were big letdowns. Specifically, I had long read that northern white cedar, Thuja occidentalis, makes a vitamin-filled tea, a tea that tastes like “evergreen.” The leaves of this common tree are said to be edible as well.
And so on supposed good authority, I brewed up a big pot of cedar tea. The resulting aroma had a pronounced pungency, something that got me wondering if the stuff was going to taste the same as it smelled. Much to my dismay, it tasted far worse than it smelled, and it didn’t smell very good. My overall feeling regarding white cedar tea is that it tastes something like a mixture of turpentine and skunk essence. After that initial sip, I simply could not choke any more down.
While I’m sure that white cedar contains all kinds of wonderful vitamins, I can’t think of any palatable way to ingest them. The aftertaste of the infusion, or tea, lasted for a very, very long time. Most unpleasant, as my English friend Malcolm would say. Other plants, though, excelled and those will appear in my book revision.
The other failed experiment, at least to my mind, involved the winged fruits of red maple, Acer rubrum, also called “Keys,” or “gyros.” Various authorities list these as edible out-of-hand, as “trail nibbles.” So back in early summer, when trees hung heavy with these fruit/seeds, I had at them.
The words, “pucker,” and “astringent” come immediately to mind. And as with northern white cedar tea, the taste of maple gyros lingered far longer than I would have wished. I understand that boiling in several waters can reduce the astringency. After contemplating this, it seemed to me that such trouble was simply not worth the while. In a case of starvation and extreme need, boiled maple keys would probably make a nourishing food. But the end verdict, at least as far as my experience goes, is “Yeccc!” Don’t bother. It’s not worth it.
None of these failed tries will appear in my book revision, space being limited and it being reserved for useful, not offensive, plants. But I mention them here for the benefit of anyone reading this blog who had ever wished to try the plants mentioned here. Hopefully, I have saved someone out there from an unpleasant experience.
At the least, you can be assured that everything listed in my book is something that I personally value and most certainly, eat or have eaten, myself. And I think that is vitally important for any book on edible plants.
Meanwhile, if I don’t get another post out before than, let me wish all my readers a merry and blessed Christmas and a happy, healthy and productive new year.