|Wild Foods: Face Cream, Smilax Bamboo Stirfry, Wild Mustard Vinegar, buckwheat||by Ann for everyone|
Who says we have to limit wild food plants to just gastronomique delights? Our skin happens to be our largest organ, and it ‘eats’ and absorbs what we put on it. When I was introduced to California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) I had to let out a big yeehaw! It is commonly known as cowboy cologne, since it’s said that the cowboys used to rub it all over their bodies before a night out on the town. Well, it’s 2007 and this wanna be cowgirl reckons it’d be alright for the ladies to partake as well.
I have been making my own lotion for some time, not wanting to feed my skin with the colorings/fake scents/preservatives/etc. so often found in today’s skin care products. The following is my favorite face cream recipe, adapted from Rosemary Gladstar’s original. Smooth it over your body as if you’re anointing yourself with precious balm.
Cowgirl Face Cream
2/3 cup distilled water
1/3 cup aloe vera gel
¾ cup apricot, almond, or grapeseed oil
1/3 cup coconut oil, or cocoa butter
½ to 1 oz beeswax
4 Tbsp dried California sagebrush, packed loosely
Use some cheesecloth to tie up the California sagebrush into a ball. Then drop the ball into a crockpot dedicated to infusing oils, or set up a double boiler on your stovetop (see photo below). Infuse your oils on the lowest heat setting possible for at least 4 hours. If using double boiler method put on lowest setting and cook for ½ hour. Turn off the heat and let stand, reheating when you are ready for the next step.
The next step is to take out your cheesecloth ball of California sagebrush. Sqeeze out all of the oil being held inside and add your beeswax. Oftentimes you will not get an already measured piece of beeswax, but they will have written how many ounces you have on the front of the bag. Heat a knife over your stovetop and use its heat to help cut the beeswax into one ounce pieces. You will then be ready to place your 1-ounce of beeswax into the infused oil (and if you cut the whole chunk into 1-ounce pieces you’ll be ready for the next time you make face cream).
While the beeswax is melting over low heat, in either your crockpot or double boiler, mix your waters. Set the waters aside for later. Once your beeswax is melted into your infused oils, pour them into a blender. Let cool until they become creamy looking (you can speed this process by putting the blender in a cool area). Once it becomes a cool semisolid, turn on your blender at its highest speed and SLOWLY drizzle the room temperature waters into the oils. The key to this emulsion is to pour the waters into the oils, not the other way around. Blend just until it looks like frosting, but don’t over beat…it will thicken as it sets. Pour into cool sterilized glass jars and keep away from heat.
Break out your chaps and leather jacket! Catbriar season is on on the east coast, and the more you can protect yourself the more of those crisp delicious tendrils and shoots you can harvest. This plant also goes by the name of greenbriar, and a few other nice and not-so-nice names. I believe the one in the photograph below is Smilax rotundifolia. Bend the end of the vine where still flexible and it will easily snap off (thorns on the flexible shoots are soft and flexible as well).
I spent a few days in Maryland, just south of Washington DC, with family. How patient they are with my wild food experiments. We ate the dish described in the recipe below for nearly every meal. The wild garlic and bamboo shoots are widely available right now as well, and along with the smilax can also be eaten raw. Snap off young bamboo shoots (photograph below), peel off outside skin until you reach tender inner core, and slice. Continue slicing and removing tough outer skin as you move up the shoot.
Smilax Bamboo Stirfry
4 c smilax, cut in 4 inch segments
1 c bamboo shoots, sliced
1/8 c oil
1/2 c wild garlic bulbs and tops, chopped
1/2 t wild ginger powder
1/8 c soy sauce
Put oil into pan over medium-high heat. Once oil is heated add sliced bamboo shoots. After about 1 minute add wild ginger powder. After one more minute add wild garlic and smilax. Stir thoroughly, turn heat to high and add soy sauce. Let cook for one minute and serve immediately.
Check out that bee’s back leg! It looks like its bubble is about to burst. This bee has trapped a fine amount of pollen into what I think is its leg pouch. While they gather nectar from the blossoms, they also get some pollen into their leg pouch to bring back to the hive to feed to the larvae. The pollen that sticks to their leg hairs helps to pollinate other plants. Bees are not the only pollinators on the planet though, click here to read more about the birds, bats, butterflies, moths and others who all play a part in fertilizing 3/4th’s of our food supply. When I found this patch of wild mustard there were well over a hundred bees buzzing around. That buzzing, that buzzing! It felt like their wings were going to buzz me to someplace I’d never been buzzed to before.
These wild mustard flower tops make for a very jazzy herbal vinegar. I picked those flower tops and added about 1/8 cup flower heads per 1 cup apple cidar vinegar. Ha’s Apple Farm makes wonderful unpasteurized, unfiltered apple cider vinegar. They sell their products at various farmer’s markets in the LA area, and also market them on their website. Making herbal vinegars is fun and easy to do, but be sure to put your mixture into a clean jar, with no metal lid (vinegar will react with the metal – or put wax paper between metal lid and jar). Soak plant material for about a month and then strain it out.
I actually found a few Calfornia buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) flowers in bloom on the trail to Eagle Rock, in Topanga Canyon State Park, last weekend. This really speaks to the amazing biodiversity of this plant. I’ve been harvesting it since September, and will continue to do so until the rains wash the seeds away. This extremely wide range in harvesting time isn’t as common in cultivated plants, which are designed to perform under a more narrow set of conditions.
When you are 100% certain that you have correctly identified Calfornia buckwheat, you can begin to harvest it. I think the leaf structure is similar to another common plant of the chaparal, chemise (Adenostoma fasciculatum). And although the seed head balls of the buckwheat are distinctly rust colored, the seed head balls of black sage (Salvia mellifera) could be confusing to the beginner. So again, once you are 100% confident of your identification, harvest the seeds and clean out any sticks, twigs, or insects. Place the seeds and chaffe into a coffee grinder, spice grinder, blender, or mortar and pestle. Grind until you have a fine flour. This flour does not have gluten, so you will need to mix it with a gluten containing flour if you wish to use it in a similar manner.
I learned to make chapati over an open fire . If you do not have an open fire, or gas stove in your kitchen, simply skip the open fire method described below and let them cook longer in the pan. Chapati’s are a bit lighter than tortillas, and I’ve found they’re good for the more fibrous consistency of the buckwheat.
California buckwheat chapati
1 c California buckwheat flour
1 c unbleached white flour, or flour of your choice
clove of garlic
Mix California buckwheat flour and unbleached white flour in medium-sized bowl. Pour in small amounts of water until you have a pliable dough. Separate dough into 5 separate balls and cover with a hand towel. Take one dough ball out and roll it out onto a well floured flat surface using a rolling pin. Roll as thinly as you can and place into a hot pan (I like to use cast iron) for roughly 10 seconds on each side. Then use tongs to pick up your chapati, move your pan to the side, and place the chapati directly over the open flame until it puffs up. Make sure to fire both sides and watch the air bubbles expand. I like to then brush them with butter, rub them with a garlic clove that has been cut in half, and lightly sprinkle with salt. Serve immediately.