Saturday, June 22, 2013

Eating Milkweed and Nopales

Thistles, Green Milkweeds, Horse Nettles, and Johnson Grass have had us out mowing with the scythe this week. On the second day of selective mowing, I looked up these plants and found that thistles and green milkweeds are edible. Allegedly.

Thistles can be stripped of their leaves, then the outer, fibrous portion of the stem . The inner pith of second year plants (they are biennial) can be steamed "like asparagus," I read, but found that the stripping process yielded so little vegetable to be unworthy of the caloric expenditure. Maybe they get bigger, though I hope not to find out. I looked around for first year roots, also supposedly edible, but couldn't find any of large enough size to bother with.

The milkweeds worked out better. I picked young seed pods less than two inches long and boiled them in water for twenty minutes. Though this worked, I found the mush of veg that was left to be bland. I may try it again, cooking for less time next year. I did not find the pods to be bitter, and I've read this is the warning of toxicity. I have read that the young shoots, flowers, and buds are also edible. I will also try those next year. In the week since that first experiment, most of the pods seem to have matured beyond the range of food, and are working on becoming fiber. I will try to collect whatever fiber is available from the milkweed we don't manage to kill before it releases seed.

The sumac berries are out, and I have considered making sumac lemonade. I have an awful dermatological reaction to the urushiol oil found in mango skins and poison ivy, and it is unclear whether or not I am actually allergic to them. They are both related to sumacs. I thought making sumac lemonade could be an interesting experiment to test my sensitivity, though Caveman has made it clear that this idea is retardulous. So we'll see.

I had nopales for the first time, ever, yesterday for dinner. I have found a couple of young plants on the property and harvested some pads a few days ago. Cleaning them really sucks. I looked up several ways to do it on the internet, and they all resulted in me picking tiny glochids out of my fingies. I will purchase some rubber gloves. Cleaning by rubbing with a green scrubby while wearing rubber gloves is definitely better than cutting off the glochids. Other than the slime, the nopales steamed nicely, and they made a nice taco of my homemade whole wheat tortillas.

Nopal Tacos:
1 cup cleaned nopal cactus pads
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded or diced
2 or 3 chopped tomatoes
1 chopped onion
1/2 chopped pepper, seeded
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of one lime or lemon
salt to taste

Shredded cheese
Refried beans or mashed pintos
Flour tortillas

Slice or chop cactus pads, then steam to desired tenderness. Pour off liquid. Add half of the chopped onion, the salt, and the chicken, cook until well heated. Add tomato, remaining onion, pepper, cilantro, and lemon juice, or serve these 5 ingredients separately as pico de gallo. Serve on tortillas with cheese and beans.

2014 Calendar of Wild Foods:
Starting April - (Morels, didn't find any this year), Yarrow
May - Mulberries, Dewberries, Milkweed
June - Plums, Blackberries, Cactus Pads

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