Category: All

Himalayan Blackberries

BlackberriesYour standard Himalayan blackberry is an invasive weed that tends to start producing ripe fruit in August and finishes sometime mid-September with the straggler berries.

Don’t encourage Himalayan blackberry in your yard unless you are prepared to deal with the consequences. It takes some serious goats to gnaw those things to the ground, and they will just come back. Instead, go to one of Seattle’s many blackberry patches for pretty much all-you-can-pick. Vacant lots, undeveloped hillsides, and parts of certain parks (Carkeek being my favorite) are havens for the blackberry.

There is also native blackberry, and black raspberry, which are unfortunately somewhat hard to find in the city in my experience!

Dandelions

Dandelions are not native to the Northwest US, but they sure are plentiful. Sometimes I dig up dandelion clumps in the vegetable beds and give them to our chickens – who will eat just about anything green. They’ll eat them down to the root in half an hour. But when they are actually roaming around the yard, they’re too busy digging up bugs and worms to be bothered eating dandelions – so it seems to be a food to toss in the coop after gardening.

Humans can eat dandelions too. You may have heard that the greens are edible in salads or cooked too – young leaves are best, before the flowers bloom. Doug Benoliel’s Northwest Foraging states that the leaves are less bitter if you “blanch” them first – not by putting them in hot water, but by covering them with a board or something. He doesn’t say for how long to do this though.

But never fear! The flowers will appear. Then you can make tea with dried flowers or wine with fresh/frozen flowers. Then you can dig up the root, wash it, dry it, grind it up, and use it for a hot drink. Dandelions have also been used as a hops substitute in beermaking (though hops are generally used because they help the beer last longer – and you can definitely grow hops in Seattle).

Basically, dandelions are amazing except that they are a pesky weed! But if you make good use of it, maybe it won’t bother you as much.

dandelions

Salal

Our noble native salal is called t’áqa in Lushootseed, the Native American language spoken around much of Puget Sound (1). The berries are, in fact, edible, despite the claims of some sources. Salal grows well in shade and sun. This picture is of some salal on a pretty bare and exposed landscaping area, where the adjacent ferns completely died due to dry soil and too much sun.

Salal Ripe and Unripe Berry Pictures

Propagation

In April 2011, I pulled a couple of shoots of salal out of the ground near where the above photo was taken. I read that you shouldn’t try to propagate salal until the summer, and some even say to just scatter the berries for seed (2), but I’m impatient. I divided the roots into four pieces and planted two outside in a partially shaded area of the front yard, and two inside in pots. The indoors ones will eventually go into the back yard. This is of course assuming they live. A week later they all look pretty much the same. Not growing but maybe not dying either.

By August 2011, two of the shoots are still alive, and I planted them in my front yard. They don’t seem to be growing very fast, but I suspect they are still settling in and I’ll see more vigorous growth in the next year. (Update: they completely died! I should be more patient next time with planting.)

August starts salal berry picking season! I picked 32 ounces of salal berries in early August and expect to start collecting even more in the next few weeks as more berries ripen. It appears that like other berries, the ripe ones are the ones that are relatively easy to pull off the plant. Most of the berries will come off with a short stem attached, which you’ll need to remove if you eat the berries raw or cook them.

Two good uses for salal are jam and wine.

updated May 22, 2014

Wild Ginger

In June 2011, a group of us went on a weekend camping trip to Kalaloch, on the Washington coast. We camped in a forested campground right on the beach, and edibles were growing everywhere (though unfortunately it was too early in the season to eat most of them, and others I couldn’t identify conclusively while we were there).

Several of these grow in Seattle as well, but you’ll need to find a good forested area, probably a park. The next several posts will focus on plants I saw at Kalaloch.

Wild Ginger

Wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) is so named due to its ginger smell when the leaves are crushed. The most interesting thing about wild ginger to me is that each leaf has its own stem, and 2 stems connect to each node. (1) The wild ginger propagates by rhizomes, which are located more or less underground – this quality also makes them easy to divide and propagate in your own yard, if you have a mostly shaded forest-y yard. (1)

Wild ginger has heart-shaped leaves that grow close to the ground. Flowers appear in April (this picture was in June).


You can eat the leaves of wild ginger in salads and stir-fries, but because some studies in rats show that the asarone it contains causes illness or tumors in high doses, it’s recommended that you use it as a garnish, condiment, or minor ingredient. (2) I very much doubt it can really do you any harm, since people tend to like to feed rats insanely high amounts of substances just to see what happens. Nevertheless, this warning appears most places that wild ginger is described as an edible plant, so better safe than sorry.

There are also other species of wild ginger that occur elsewhere in the world. (3)

Fennel

Fennel grows as a weed in Seattle, though if you’re looking for those luscious giant bulbs you see in the grocery store sometimes, you’re going to be disappointed. Our fennel is almost exclusively Foeniculum vulgare vulgare, which has long deep taproots and nothing bulbous, as I discovered when I eagerly dug up a fennel plant in my yard a few years ago. The bulb fennel is Foeniculum vulgare vulgare, variant azoricum. (1)

According to the American Herb Society, fennel is related to cumin, anise, dill, and caraway. (1) It looks extremely similar to dill, which you may also find growing in gardens around Seattle, so check for the familiar licorice smell before picking any.

The American Herb Society says fennel grows to just under 6 feet; the fennel in my yard has exceeded 8 feet some years.

Harvesting

If you’re looking for the leaves of fennel to use as a garnish, an herb in cooking, or a salad green, you can harvest these as soon as they come up, starting in early-to-mid spring. Avoid leaves (also called fronds) that are turning brown or yellow.

The major produce of non-bulb fennel, however, is seeds. To avoid massive new fennel crops in the next year, you need to harvest the seeds or remove the plants before the seeds fall too profusely.

I use scissors to cut the seed-producing clusters off each fennel stalk into a large bowl. Then I rub the clusters between my hands to agitate the seeds off the stems. I’ve managed to get over a cup of fennel seeds from one year’s harvest of 20-25 fennel stalks, growing in 5 or 6 clusters, more than anyone can use in a year unless they REALLY enjoy making their own body care products, tea, sausage or spaghetti sauce.

Cultivating

I strongly recommend NOT growing your own fennel, as it is adept at spreading itself around your yard and quickly grows deep roots that are extremely difficult to remove in their entirety. They will grow new plants even from just a small root piece.

Look for fennel plants in overgrown areas along roadsides, or in your neighbors’ yards.

More on Fennel
http://www.epicureantable.com/ffarticles/fennel.htm
http://www.cookinglight.com/food/in-season/discovering-fennel-00400000001166/