Lamb's Quarters

"Like a true nature's child,
We were born, born to be wild." -Steppenwolf

Some plants bore cultivation like a cross, domesticity like a burden. When their captors attentions and fancies turned to more trendy foods and flowers, some, like Lamb's Quarters, jumped the garden fence and took off for parts unknown. Wild at heart, Lamb's Quarters set its gaze on the horizon and never looked back.

A hardy weed with cunning survival strategies, it naturalized it's way across the globe to pop up year after year in my old potato patch, thousands of miles from it's European origins.

When fully grown, this adventurous, sprawling annual can be 3 feet tall. However the leaves are best when the young plant is just a few inches high. The diamond or arrow shaped leaves shimmer with a green/blue velveteen that feels like fine dust. When very young the leaves may have only one or two teeth near the base, but, like us, grow more teeth as they age.

Consume these leaves raw or boiled. Lamb's Quarters, like plantain and violet, was a precursor to domestic spinach and can be a modern "substitute". Lamb's Quarters provides more Vitamin A and C than spinach, however it also contains a similar quantity of a calcium absorption inhibitor: oxalates (Eating Wild Plants by Kim Williams). Which means moderation and separation from your calcium supplement.

Poultices of bruised leaves have been used on burns, wounds, inflamed eyes, headaches, and heat stroke victims. Additionally, a chewing of leaves is a reputed tooth ache reliever.

A tea of this plant has been recommended for stomach aches and joint pains.

Later in the summer tiny gray-green flowers will pop up like a blight on the branch ends. These are also edible, good for salads or, apparently, as cold cereal with milk!(Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies by Linda Kershaw)

These inconspicuous flowers give way to an astonishing 50,000 to 70,000 black poppy-esc seeds, which could be roasted and ground for coffee or flour, or whole in muffins or porridge.

Evidently, Napoleon relied heavily on these for making a black bread for his troops (Plants of the Southern Interior by Lone Pine). I can see him now: in thin woods, apron tied in a bow, cookbook lays open, one hand kneads dough, the other tucks securely into his shirt, the edges of a checkered tabled cloth flutters in the breeze, a bird chirps above him and a sense of domestic tranquility rests on his face, while the sounds of raging battle clang up from the valley below. The angry army fueled by his coal colored biscuits. I wonder if he then, gently placed poultices of Lamb's Quarters upon the wounds of his men. Perhaps he first washed their wounds with Lamb's Quarters roots, a soap substitute. (Kershaw).

Similar to the plant and perhaps even Napoleon himself, local native Americans also made use of what fate and nature provided them. Not being native-plant-purists, the Stl'atl'imx, Okanogan, Secwepemc, Flathead and Cheyenne all welcomed Lamb's Quarters into their routines. (Food Plants of Interior First Peoples by Nancy J. Turner)

The name Lamb's Quarters caught the attention of this mostly vegetarian writer, not only because it conjured images of slain baby sheep but also because the name causes subject/verb agreement issues. "Lamb's Quarters" is perhaps based on some sort of harvest festival, or confusion with another plant. The scientific Chenopodium album is the only name with any sense, meaning goose foot, as the leaves appear to be shaped like goose feet (Lone Pine). This is even less appetizing than Lamb's Quarters.

Think of the adventures this humble weed has been on! Ancient harvest festivals, war with Napoleon, unwelcome "transitions" with the Okanogan, and a quiet regularity on Cleveland Street. And all because it took a leap of faith from the garden row, lo, these thousands of years ago. Where the winds would blow it, it knew not. What soft or inhospitable landing it may have, it knew not.

God grant us such hardy versatility on our own journeys. When I eat these wild things, I hope to inherit their will to thrive in whatever rocky or lush soils fate should plant me.

Day Lily

        life is but a day;
A fragile dew-drop on its perilous way
From a tree’s summit;
-John Keats Sleep and Poetry

The poetry of the earth is never dead.
-John Keats On the Grasshopper and the Cricket

If you had one day to live, what would you do? It's a cliché "Youth Group" question, yes. But what Would you do? Not that you should live every day like that, especially if you want to make it to 90, healthy and wealthy. Yet the question intrigues.

Would you settle yourself down among tall grassy leaves? Would the clump be in your garden, or along the wayside, an emancipated feral? In the new morning, would you rise up from the center of the lush 1-2' tall, sword-shaped leaves? And like a butterfly from its chrysalis, would you crack open your green shell, letting the light soar in? Would you unfurl your magnificent six tepals (three petals, three sepals: and your six burgeoning stamens? What fantastic color would your tepals be? Would you be lemon yellow, vanilla, saffron, peach, or merlot? With tepals arched back, would you offer yourself to the brilliant generosity of the sun, to the seduction of the humming bee, to the play of a Palouse breeze, to the cleansing shimmer of rain, and to the joys and sorrows of being? Would you offer yourself to the magic of a day? Yes?

Then, you and I and the Daylily are kindred spirits. Daylily, the most popular, adaptable, hybridized, hardy perennial in America? Yes! And it's Edible!

The young green leaves can be consumed, raw or cooked. They are inoffensively mild and tasty. Be sure that you Know it's a Daylily, as green grassy shoots of everything look alike. If you planted it and have seen it bloom, you're probably in the clear, but don't quote me on your deathbed.

Apparently, if you have too many Daylilies (?!) and are beyond desperate for food, you can eat the long, teardrop shaped tubers: raw, steamed or boiled ( I have no experience in the matter. Even if I and the rest of this beloved planet had but one day left I would not prey upon the bulbs, on the off chance that the world went on for one more day.

And the flowers, yes, the fleeting moment of their lives ends in just one day. That is why I like to eat them for dinner, at the end of the day. Whereas eating the roots translates to No more Daylily ever, eating the flower merely deprives you of one flower for the rest of the day. Some recommend steaming the flower buds for 10 minutes, then frying (, however that would also deprived everyone from beauty of the flowers.

The flowers seem to vary in flavor by color, perhaps only by subliminal suggestion. The white might taste of vanilla. Some yellow Daylilies are actually called Lemon Lilies, both for color and flavor, I'm sure.

Daylily fritters and sautés seem popular, as does a BleuCheese Daylily recipe floating around the worldwideweb. I have never wanted to put much labor into my Daylily consumption. I simply pick a flower, remove any earwigs (perhaps they are edible too, I don't care), and toss the tepals in my salad. The richest kings and queens have never eaten a salad more enchanting than one with Daylilies.

Originally from China and Japan, Daylilies contribute to Chinese cooking and are rumored to be of medicinal value, though no one specifies what that means. Sold as "Golden Needles", they appear in Hot and Sour Soup and Buddha's Delight (I don't know what that is either, but I'll take it!) (Wikipedia).

The Latin genus for Daylily is Hemerocallis, based perfectly on the Greek for "Day" and "Beauty." Daylilies are not true lilies, not members of the Lilium genus. It will be important, if you Want to live longer than a day, that you not eat Liliums. Make sure your Daylily's long grass-like leaves grow straight from the ground, Not along a stem, and that the Daylily on your lips doesn't have spots. And if you want tomorrow to be free from diarrhea, don't gorge on the Daylilies.

Wild Strawberries

These are the gems of wild foraging: berries. I hesitate to write of them for two reasons.
1) They are so easy to spot and love that a forager barely needs encouragement or identification assistance. Wild berries are obviously enticing, radioing their bright red signals: "Berry! Yummy! Earth to Earthlings: pick me!" And
2) I'd like to keep them all to myself. But Wild Strawberries are a deeply delicious generosity of Nature that I cannot, in the end, in good conscience, hoard.

Latin: fragaria virginiana. The "fragaria" part I get. Just one of these tiny strawberries, whether fully ripened to red or still mostly white, has more flavor than a pound of store bought strawberries originated in California or Chile. The "virginiana" part could confuse as this wild berry is the original parent for 9/10s of all cultivated varieties of strawberries (Plants of the Southern Interior of British Columbia and the Inland Northwest, published by Lone Pine). Doesn't sound like she's been all that chaste to me. Perhaps virginiana is meant to indicate a wild, uncivilized purity of being, it's origins in the imaginative mechanisms of Nature, uncorrupted by the lesser imaginations of humankind whose only quest seems to be for bigger fruits with longer shelf-life's, irregardless of flavor and nutrition.

Locate: Admittedly wild strawberries are tiny and challenging to spot. They can be found in dappled shade, or shady sun in wet and dry areas alike. Secret (until now):  Field Springs Park, near Anatone, in June.  Small children will walk 3 miles or more to the lookout and back, without complaint, in the hunt for wild strawberries.

Identify: For those of you who have spent most of your lives on other planets, strawberries are the fruit of a low growing plant. The leaves, perky as wild virgins, stand about 6-10" tall, and are divided into three, green, toothy leaflets atop one stem. The berries are tiny, barely visible from under the stem-cap, and any where from unripe white (though perfectly delicious and edible) to red/fuscia (even more delicious) , and brown, if past it's prime. The berries of fragaria virginiana, and their accompanying white blossoms, grow in clusters lower than the leaves. The Wood Strawberry, fragaria vesca, of Field Springs Park, grows on a stem that is higher than the leaves. One berry usually tops each stem which leans over like a street lamp, and can be hard to spot from above.

There Are poisonous berries, however this edible berry is so distinctive that mis-identification is unlikely. Some suggest that Poison Ivy and Hookers Fairy Bells could be mistaken for strawberries. However, I doubt any person with 200/200 vision or better could mistake them. I suppose I should remind you, though, to identify your edibles with 100% certainty before devouring. You'll recall that strawberries have their seeds on the outside of the berry. This fact should help prevent you from making a stupid mistake.

If you've ever eaten a wild strawberry, you won't be surprised that they were a prized find among Native Interior people, who ate them fresh from the stem, as do we. Only very rarely did they dry them in cakes for later use.

Dried strawberry leaves make a good tea for relieving diarrhea and stomach aches (Eating Wild Plants by Kim Williams). You could combine it with mint for flavor and additional stomach ease.

Many wild edibles are difficult for our Western, corn-syruppy palates to appreciate. Wild Strawberries will not be. Your tongue will welcome them with songs and poems of praise and glory. These berries are an invitation to one of the most divine revel-ations this earth can minister to our senses. Welcome to the Church of the Wild Strawberry.

Stinging Nettle

"Tender-handed stroke a nettle,
And it stings you for your pains;
Grasp it like a man of mettle,
And it soft as silk remains."
– Aaron Hill, early 18th century,

The Sting by which we know this nettle is shot from tiny hairs on the underside of its leaves. Upon contact, these ferocious hairs shoot poison darts of uric acid into your skin, provoking a persistent sting and red welts. Stinging Nettle's Latin name is Urtica Dioica (medical name for hives: urticaria). The sting is a rumored therapy for arthritis and is apparently an aphrodisiac for some.

Three centuries after Mr. Hill's poem, the debate is ongoing among eaters of the wild plants: can you pick nettle without getting stung? The other side claims: pluck with intention, connection and permission of the plant. With one afternoon of such psychologically demanding nettle picking, my hands were uselessly swollen and painful; perhaps because I am a woman, rather than a "man," of mettle. Based upon other passages by Mr. Hill (quoted above) about women, as well as my personal painful experiences, this poem is obviously pure, male-chauvinistic metaphor. And since when is Not getting stung more manly than getting stung?

I realize I've said nothing thus far to cause any sane person to seek out this plant, much less pluck and devour it. But once you've experienced the powerful energy and rich flavor of this oft-feared, moist-land plant, she will become a coveted spring time treat.

In our arid prairie, nettle congregates along rivers and streams. I wonder what affect pollution of our local streams has upon nettles and subsequently myself.

Identification shouldn't be too hard; just reach out and touch it! The green leaves grow two at time up the stem, are mint shaped, with pointy ovals and toothy edges. When they are too old to eat and 3-9 feet tall, seeds dangle like elegant earrings beneath the leaves. Baby wild mint and baby red dead nettle look similar to baby stinging nettle. However, the mint is soft and red dead nettle has a purplish tinge to the leaves, under which emerge pink flowers. Whereas red dead nettle and wild mint aren't poisonous, indubitable identification is still a good idea. I once mistakenly picked red dead nettle, rejoicing that I had finally mustered the required mettle for a manly stingless forage. Then a Real nettle stung my hand and ego.

I choose to collect my nettles using a few basic tools: two plastic bags. I cover my sinister, incredibly dominant, left hand with one bag and hold the other bag open with my nearly useless right hand. I pluck the top few inches of each little baby plant (plants less than 10" tall) with my plastic-bag-gloved hand, dropping the tops in my other bag. Although less quaint than a basket and less dashing than leather gloves, this method was developed with a lot of passionate debate and experimentation.

Rest assured, most men and women of varying degrees of mettle do not Eat nettle raw. You have nothing to prove here. Steam or boil them for 10-15 minutes, after which time they cannot hurt you. Warning: don't use your bare hands to guide fresh nettles into their pot. They will continue to sting until they are cooked or dried.

I plop my lumps of steamed, phenomenally green nettles on noodles and marinara sauce, on rice with soy sauce, in soup, even in a lasagna layer. Any where cooked greens go, cooked nettles go too.

Dried nettle also works in soups, sauces and curries. Perhaps dried nettle is best as a nutritious infusion: pour boiling water over nettles (and whatever else), cover, steep for 4 hours. For the last 10 minutes, I toss in mint for flavor. Add honey when still warm. Strain/drink or strain/refrigerate/drink.

The nitty gritty on nettle nutrition (from Healing Wise, by Susun Weed): Very high calcium, magnesium; High iron, potassium, zinc, Vitamin B's and A;supply niacin, protein, vitamin C, D and K. Excellent for the liver, low back and anemia.

"Grasp it with a bag of plastic,
No test of mettle! It's fantastic!"
– Sarajoy Van Boven, early 21st century, Palouse


Plantain is an unusual type of banana sold in stores. Somewhere, sometime, those plantains were wild edibles, needing only to be deep fried in coconut oil for palatability. But not in these parts. The plantain of which I speak today is related as homonym only to the above.

Latin Plantago major does not mean Major Plant, or even God of all Plants and does not harken from the word Plant (from the Latin plante, meaning plant: Webster's Unabridged, 1954). Rather it means "foot-sole" for it's round flat leaves that hug the earth like the soles of gravity bound earthlings.

Some Native Americans referred to Plantain as White Man's Foot because it followed in the foot step of settlers (Growing and Using the Healing Herbs by Weiss and Weiss). The immigrant and one-time genocide harbinger, Plantain, is also called: Waybread, Waybroad, Snakeweed, and of course #@%!!! by obsessive lawnistas. Plantain overtakes a lawn in short order, which is lucky for us. If you don't have a lawn, visit your closest park. It will be there. A favorite place for plantain is the green slope at Gladish Community Center in Pullman. My six-year-old daughter has, perhaps unwisely, taught her pals to identify and devour the playground plantain at "recess". She claims it eliminates the need for packaged snacks.

You too can eliminate the need for packaged snacks by seeking out this earth-hugger.  It's rosette of ribbed, green, round, papery, juicy leaves grow on the ends of fleshy stalks. Pick plantain with rounder leaves as the kind with the narrow leaves is less tasty. From the center of the rosette, a tall thin stalk with cream-colored wispy "flowers" will eventually grow to almost 12". Hundreds of small seeds, suffused with lawn-conquering potential, will then hug the length of the stalk.

With certainty, identify this plant, far from any signs or signage indicating "this area just poisoned." Gather the young leaves before the seed stalk grows. Age causes the leaves to toughen unpleasantly and become a stringy gagging hazard, though not poisonous, per se.

The fresh spring leaves taste of mild mushrooms, though some claim a Swiss chard flavor. Use as salad greens, sandwich dressing, soup additions, and roasted side-dish. If you're hesitant about that "wild" flavor, this is your baby.

For your insignificant effort, you will be rewarded with Vitamins A, C and K. You will devour a mild mucilaginous laxative, anti-bacterial flavenoids, allantoin (good for tissue) and mild tannins (Edible and Medicinal Plants…). The FDA has not examined, approved, nor disapproved of these claims, nor is it expected to.

For the tiny additional effort of drying leaves, you will gain year round access to a tea with several centuries experience is soothing sore throats, bronchitis, coughs, etc. (Edible and Medicinal…)

Externally, Plantain poultices have been used the world over for rheumatic joints, insect bites, sunburns, poison ivy, blisters, and other skin irritations. Poultice: mash fresh leaves or dip fresh leaves in hot water and place them on area of concern. In the Wild West, fresh plantain treated snake bites, if they couldn’t be avoided. Ms. Weed, if that is indeed her name, recommends Plantain leaves for perineum support during labor, diaper rash, and hemorrhoid help (Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year).

A cousin of colon-cleanser Psyllium seeds, Plantago major seeds (available beginning mid-summer) similarly exfoliate the colon. Additionally, soaking the seeds in a little water produces a gelatinous salve for thrushy nipples or a natural hair gel, or both, if you have really hairy nipples.

Plantain roots have been recommended for toothaches, headaches and bad gums (Edible and Medicinal…).

It exhausts me just to think about it all. Clearly, if you ache, Plantain wants to help. This plant offers basically everything under the sun, even it's own earth-hugger energy. Although Plantago major does not even loosely translate into Major Plant, it should.

Plantain invites you to take off your shoes and plant your plantars in the dirt with him. You're soles easily remember how to hug the earth. In Remembrance, Take and Eat this scrumptious hugger. Plantain is the Waybread-wafer of redemption, as we return to the free gifts of this world: heaven is earth.

Pineapple Weed

Who will be the next Miley Cyrus? Who? A question, generated by internet news engines, which burns deep in the minds of the Palouse's more cosmopolitan residents.Will Hannah Montana be replaced? Can she be?

As a po-dunk, hokey resident with a strained relationship with the information age, my big question is: who would want to be the next anybody? Bob Dylan, Shakespeare, Judy Blume: would you be the Next? In my fuzzy dream of this world, no one should want to be a sorry copy of anyone else. Nobody sings their soul to be a second rate substitute.

And that is why our sympathies and understanding should be accorded Mr. Pineapple-weed. "Experts" compare Mr. Pineapple-weed to chamomile without flower petals. Mr. Pineapple-weed's Latin handle Matricaria discoidea is just one off from Chamomile's Matricaria recutita. The affects of Mr. Pineapple-weed's tea compare favorably to the mild, soothing reputation of Chamomile tea. And his English name, Pineapple-weed, announces his odiferous likeness to the spiky, tropical fruit.

How would you like to go through life with people saying things like, "Oh, I do know that Sarajoy. She's looks just like Sally and talks a lot like Arthur." No Thank You! Or perhaps you're name is Sally-esc or Arthur-itic. Compare and Contrast.

Therefore, I will refer to the edible, frilly, silly-looking plant of Pineapple-weed by a different name that hopefully doesn't compare it to something else: Mr. Weed. Admittedly this new "unique" name sounds much too generic and/or as if I'm comparing it to another plant with which, I assure you, there are no similarities aside from their propensity to photosynthesize and grow roots.

Unfortunately, in order to describe a new plant to you, I will need to do the dreaded comparing and contrasting on Mr. Weed anyway, whether I want to or not. His leaves are alternating and ferny, growing up the stems to the plant's height of a foot or less. The chartreuse flowers are like coney domes. It really does look just like Chamomile without the white flower petals and with more pronounced heads.

Where will you find the next Chamomile Pineapple? I have never looked further than my front walk. On second thought, perhaps I have looked as far as my gravel driveway. Unless you are missing the sense of sight, you've seen these around. Once mowed, Mr. Weed hunkers down with lawn, especially in municipal parks.

When will you find Mr. Weed? Barring the return of our over-zealous Warden Winter to imprison us, Mr. Weed should be hanging out in inauspicious places from May to July or beyond.

For such a humble and goofy plant, it's uses are many and mild. Mr. Weed can be steeped into a relaxing tea. The fruity floral heads are also passively nibbled by my young as they meander about the yard seriously attending to the business of play. Once Mr. Weed was introduced to the "New" world, Native American children also enjoyed grazing on the flower tops.

Apparently an insect repellent, dried Mr. Weed was sprinkled upon food to keep away flies by the Flathead of Montana. Mr. Weed also has a history with the Ktunaxa and Stl'atl'imx as air freshener (Food Plants of Interior First Peoples by Nancy J. Turner). And others used it as baby bedding and pillow filler. (Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies by Linda Kershaw).

Ms. Turner notes that Mr. Weed's scientific name means "mother-care". Ms. Kershaw concurs with a list of uses for pre-, mid- and post- natal care.

If you have an aster or ragweed allergy, use caution with Mr. Weed.

Mr. Weed may look and smell like many things, but the combination is ironically unique: looks like Chamomile without white petals but smells like pineapple. Nothing else really matches this description, although I can imagine a messed up scratch-n-sniff sticker.

Who will be the next Miley Cyrus? Nobody, not even Mr. Pineapple-weed.

As with any consumable, be sure you've got the real thing before you partake.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

April winds bring a curious alchemy to our dusty hills. The magic is this: dirt, our very own loess, is transformed into silver and gold. And the treasure chest of Paradise brims with the golden rays of Arrowleaf Balsamroot flowers and the silver sheen of their leaves. In our fields gone feral, on our hills un-bruised by human hands, in our parks, and upon our ridge tops, gold and silver tumble down.

More sophisticated than pure gold and far superior to actual silver, these wild flowers outshine those inedible, domesticated minerals of arbitrary value. This gold and silver can feed us, without the middlemen. From root to seed and all parts in between, these holy, shining fortunes sustain soul and body both.

Unless you have a sunshine allergy or severe agoraphobia, I am confidant that on some April day you have seen a hoard of yellow "sunflowers" around. And it was surely the gorgeous bounty of Arrowleaf Balsamroot (heretofore referred to as AB).

AB, of the Aster family, is nearly identical cousins with the Common Sunflower, reflected by layman's terms: Spring Sunflower and Wild Sunflower (Food Plants of the Interior First People by Nancy J. Turner). You can deduce from these common names that AB's flowers are sun-oidal with golden rays extending from a round gold center.

The leaves, as the name more than suggests, are arrow shaped, growing up to two feet long. A sheen of white hairs tones down their green to a trendy silver/green hue. These leaves clump together and produce a bevy of one-flowered stalks from 8" to 30" tall. The official sunflower sprouts many heads per stalk, but AB believes that flowering involves only one flower and one stalk, together for the rest of their lives.

The roots, which apparently smell of balsam, as the name in both scientific Greek Balsmorhiza sagittata and plain English indicates, are rich in carbs and fiber both ( "Rangeland Egosystems and Plants). Before miners dug the hills of North Idaho oh-so-unsustainably, Native Americans dug here for the roots of this real silver and gold. In spring, local tribes dug up smaller, carrot-sized roots, avoiding the largest taproots. Then the preparations began. First, they beat them to loosen the outer skins, then peeled, then pit-steamed overnight, then ate as is or dried and stored or powdered for flour. These roots were also boiled into medicinal teas for immunity, childbirth, headaches, and whooping cough. The roots were lit as incense in various Native American ceremonies. (Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies by Linda Kershaw).

I admit to lacking root experience for two reasons: 1) I have no sense of entitlement over any field of these enough to dig them up and 2) the extensive preparations are way to "slow food" for even me, maven of the 3 hour dinner.

The new shoots, however, are much more accessible. Before AB blossoms, the newest leaf and flower stalks are good enough to eat, peeling first if you like. Tasting akin to intense celery, the Nez Perce loved their páasx ( this way. Some eat the leaves as well, but the velour texture is too much of a mouthful for me, as is the name itself: Arrowleaf Balsamroot. The newest leaves can also be boiled as "greens".

The sap was used as a topical anesthetic, as well as anti: septic, bacterial, and fungal. Mashed, the leaves were placed on burns, small cuts, insect wounds and athletes foot (Edible and Medicinal Plants…) I guess moccasins weren't all they're cracked up to be.

The seeds were also a staple for Native Americans who roasted them or filled a buckskin bag and pounded them into a meal (Food Plants of the Interior). They can be used like sunflower seeds, in granola and breads.

According to Kim Williams in Eating Wild Plants, AB is ranked precisely third in importance to area tribes. This bronze medalist was bested by only Camas and Bitterroot. Clearly, a plant with all edible parts would be a top contender for favorite food, a reliable stock, and a secure investment. Silver and gold grow annually, freely, and in abundance here. As always,be 100% sure it's the AB silver/gold/green of natural-value before you bite into it.