Thursday, May 7, 2009

I went to the woods...

Update: Thanks to a reader comment and some further research there seems to be some toxicity associated with at least one kind of wild ginger. (There are about 10 different species all together.) This site notes that the species Asarum canadense, the kind found in this part of the country, contains Aristolochic Acid, which is "a naturally occurring toxin that can cause cancer, mutations in human cells, and end-stage kidney failure." In light of this information I suggest avoiding this plant for edible purposes.

This week's wild edible lesson was a field trip to this beautiful forest, carpeted with white trilliums.

Peeking out between the trilliums, we found a lot of Spring Beauty.
(My picture didn't turn out, but you can see what a beauty it really is here.)
I did however catch a good shot of the bulb like root, which if you have the patience to harvest enough of these tiny roots, you'll find you have a tasty alternative to potatoes.

I'm excited to learn about wild ginger.

If you want to make sure you've found the right plant, look for the distinctive and beautiful flowers at the base of the plant.

Then you can dig up the root. Though smaller and more labor intensive than the domestic ginger you find in the store, wild ginger root is deliciously pungent, peppery and very aromatic.

For local foodies out there lamenting the lack of local ginger, this just might be a viable alternative.

From what I can tell, the plant makes a good ground cover, and grows easily in shady, moist soil. I dug up a plant and I'm going to see how well it does under the shade of the cherry tree in my garden.

This is the leaf of the crinkleroot, also known as toothwort. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the crinkly root, however I can tell you that it makes a wonderful substitute for horseradish. It would take a lot of time and effort to clean and process the roots, but after one taste, it's clear that it would be worth it!

After tromping through the forest for a couple of hours we walked to the edge of a nearby river and set out a wild feast of steamed fiddleheads and stinging nettles, a freshly picked wild greens salad, a sample of burdock root, Jerusalem artichokes with wild ginger and potatoes with crinkleroot horseradish. We washed it down with linden and nettle tea. For desert Martha made up a batch of tasty dandelion fritters. I am definitely going to try making these myself!

All in all, it was another fun filled and informative evening and I can't wait until next week!


J.Garlough said...

Your pictures are GREAT! Thank you for posting them & I need your help:
What were those small purple flowers that Martha had put in the salad? I'm certain they're a familiar flower, but can't remember the name.

And a minor poison-in-the-leaves alert... your wild ginger link is the west coast variety. I think the ones we saw were Asarum canadense.

Finally, a friendly request: if you should ever find out that crinkleroot are poisonous please do not tell me because they are delicious and i love them. (thanks!)

Theresa said...

Wow! The wild ginger has me very excited! I would love to grow some of that here and make my favorite tea out of it - thanks so much for posting about this!

Amber said...

Hi J!

Thanks for the clarification. My link was indeed for the west coast variety. I'm only just beginning to realise the many variations of kinds of plants.

Interestingly, as I looked into it further, I've been getting some conflicting information on the use of wild ginger. For instance, this site warns against the use of wild ginger. "Wild Ginger contains the constituent aristolochic acid. Health Canada is advising consumers not to use products containing Aristolochic Acid, a naturally occurring toxin that can cause cancer, mutations in human cells, and end-stage kidney failure."

I don't think I will use this plant for culinary purposes after all.

The purple flowers were violets. Martha calls them nature's vitamin plant. Here are some yummy sounding recipes.
There are violets growing in the backyard where I live. I think I might try them this weekend!

Theresa, as per my response to J, I'm sorry to say, I can't recommend eating wild ginger. I too was really excited about the potential use of this plant. :(
But there are still many wonderful wild edibles to try!

Anonymous said...

Many of these plants are slow growing. Digging them up obviously kills the plant. Please don't overharvest. Better to collect seeds and grow them out in your garden. A long term project you object? All the better reason not to harvest in the wild...

Here are some guidelines:

Harvest only on land you know the history of.


SoapBoxTech said...

What a productive trip to the woods. All I got last time was a truckload of firewood! I wonder who first decided to try eating the stinging nettle...

Inspirational and informative as always!

Amber said...

Thank you for the guidelines link EJ. That's very helpful. I also found some good guidelines for ethical wildcrafting here, here and here.

SBT- I'm enjoying the course so much and learning a lot! Last night I made cream of nettle soup and it was delicious.

Kyaroru said...

I'm so jealous - it sounds like a beautiful day! And you've made me so nostalgic for the taste of wild ginger (may dad used to dig it when I was little). Pity that it turns out to be poisonous.

Thanks as always. (This mega-tropolis dweller is living vicariously through you for the moment!)