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jeff Swart
Post     Subject: Botany in a Day Review - Part 10

Kyle wants to encourage folks to look into Samuel Thayer, from Wisconsin, who has books about finding food in the wild.

Here's an updated link to Samuel Thayer's website:
Adrien Lapointe
Post     Subject: Botany in a Day Review - Part 10


Summary prepared by Julia Winter

This is a softly spoken podcast (for the sake of a sleeping child) still covering the book "Botany in a Day." Now, we're moving on to the monocots, having finished talking about all of the dicotyledons.

The arrowhead family is first: the leaves can be used as a poultice, the root is supposed to help with high blood cholesterol. There are a few families in the arrowhead subclass, actually, including "pond weed" where you can eat the roots.

Spiderwort subclass and spiderwort order: wandering jew is in here and the sort that grows wild in Montana is apparently edible. Rushes: some are also edible. Some are so big that people built dwellings out of them!

(Diversion into talk of wildcrafting food and bears, most of it not serious.)

Kyle wants to encourage folks to look into Samuel Thayer, from Wisconsin, who has books about finding food in the wild.

Spiderwort subclass, sedge order. Some of these have tuberous roots that can be roasted and eaten.

Paul is eager to get to the grasses. Monocotyledon class, spiderwort subclass, sedge order, grass family. It's surprising to him that they are in there like that--in the sedge order. Grasses are flowering, although since they are wind pollinated they don't look like what you'd expect in a flower. All of our grains are from the grass family, and all of the seeds of grasses are edible (although if they are infected with the toxic ergot fungus you wouldn't want to eat them). Grasses with really small seeds can be too hard to harvest and try to eat. If ergot fungus is present, it will form a black or purple powder. It can be a source of LSD. (The witch hunts of Salem Mass. in the 1600's are thought to be secondary to the crazy behavior of people who had ingested ergot infested rye.)

So, if you have ergot infested organic feed, can you still feed that to animals and call it organic? Paul is worried that might be happening.

Grains must be well cooked or sprouted in order to get the nutrition from them--they are resistant to digestion. Grain seeds can easily pass through the gut of an animal and thus get "planted, with a lot of fertilizer."

Lots of kinds of grasses: not just the grains but also all the turf grasses and more. Back in the day, prairie grasses grew 12 feet tall (and had roots going 40 feet deep).

Harvesting grain on a big farm is done with a combine, but if you're growing your own grain, you will be harvesting with a scythe. This is usually done by cutting the plants pretty close to the ground. If you bundle the wheat up at that point and leave it outside for a while, apparently there will be some fermentation that happens that will help the grain be more digestible. After the sitting out period, you then need to thresh the grain (get the seeds away from the stalks) and winnow the grain. When you winnow, you are separating the wheat from the chaff.

Kyle points out that grasses make great insulation, beds, filters, and baskets.

You can eat grass, but you'll have to spit out the fiber. If the grass is giant, like corn or sugar cane, then you can chew on that all day. Grass juice (wheatgrass shot, anyone?) is a wonderful health tonic, but be sure the grass is fresh, because wilting grass can develop cyanide in it!

Monocot; spiderwort; cattail order; cattail family. Cattails are edible. The rhizomes are best from late fall until spring, but not too good in the summer. You can eat the starchy core of the plant during the summer (the white part at the bottom of the leaves). You could make flour from the root. Cattail pollen is edible, as well as the green flower heads--you can cook them and eat them like sweet corn, apparently. The brown "hotdog" shaped thing is not too yummy--it's got (tiny) seeds and fluff. Also, be sure that you've got cattail and not iris! (Iris can be toxic.) The goo inside a cattail plant is a nice thing to put on a little cut. (You would pull out some leaves and the thick clearish fluid would be inside and in-between those leaves.)

Monocot; arum subclass; arum order; arum family. Western skunk cabbage: it's usually growing in swampy areas. You can eat it, but it has a lot of oxalates so it must be well cooked. If you don't do a good job, it could almost kill you, which is why skunk cabbage is known as a "famine food."

Lily subclass; lily order; lily family; bunchflower subfamily: beargrass is in here and also "death camas." This is one NOT to eat, obviously. It is aptly named.

Now, the lily subfamily: most have bulbs and most are edible. Blue camas and wild onions are both edible, but be sure you haven't dug up a death camas! The onion can be identified by the smell of its bulb. The author recommends that blue camas only be harvested when in bloom, so you can be sure you've got the right plant. Paul talks about a video he made of Heidi preparing blue camas to eat--the death camas has a yellow ring visible when you cut it open. Paul tried blue camas boiled and thought it tasted like cream cheese. He also tried slow roasted camas (traditional preparation, in a pit) and thought it was sweet but tasted like "grandpa candy." Nutty, kind of like butterscotch, very sweet.

The allium genus includes chives, leeks, onions etc. They grow all over the place. Paul was surprised to hear that they grow in dry places as well as wet places.

Camassia, the blue camas. The bulbs are white, the flowers are blue. They can grow in groups by creeks or individually in fields. The carbohydrates in them (inulin, for example) are non digestible, but they will convert to fructose with slow roasting. Paul recalls hearing that native peoples got along with the white settlers pretty well, until the settler's pigs discovered the camas and ate 'em all up. Deep cultural misunderstandings ensue.

Lily subclass, lily order, asparagus subfamily. There is one asparagus species in Montana "escaped from gardens." Asparagus root is good to eat, it's called the "flying herb" in Chinese medicine. You eat them dried. Kyle loves Euell Gibbons book "Stalking the Wild Asparagus."

Lily subclass, lily order, agave subfamily. Agave and yucca are in here. Yucca flowers are nice to eat. Yucca fiber can make a nice rope.

Aloe subfamily, iris family and orchid family. Not much said here, except that iris also yield fiber that can be great for cordage or basket making.

A discussion on learning about wild foods, the value of wild foods, and stinging nettles in particular. Stinging nettles are easy to learn to identify, easy to harvest (if you have gloves), incredibly nutritious and actually yummy. Botany in a Day is great because it keeps pointing out possible confusion that could happen, in particular between edible and non-edible plants.

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