The Culinary Adventure of Wild Autumn HarvestsKaren Stephenson September 1, 2013
September is truly a wonderful time of year because we’re able to reap the benefits of fresh Ontario produce. There is a growing trend amongst consumers toward shopping at local farmers’ markets and either drying or freezing their finds to enjoy throughout the winter months. September is also the month to consider harvesting plants that are only attainable by foraging; burdock root, wild grape vines, and autumn olive berries are some of the favourites amongst foragers.
Wild grape vines (Vitis riparia or Riverbank grapes) can be considered a nuisance and invasive depending on where you are, yet these are an incredible source of food that has gone virtually unrecognized in Canada.
As the common name indicates, wild grapes are often found by riverbanks and streams, along the margins of woods, and in thickets all across Ontario. They like good sun exposure and can be found covering fence lines. This native vine is deciduous and it either climbs or trails, often ascending into very tall trees.
In Mediterranean countries, grape vine leaves are used primarily as a wrap, and here in Ontario they can be used the same way. Be sure to collect unblemished, healthy looking leaves. Nutritionally these leaves are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamins A, K and manganese. They also contain trace amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, vitamins B2, B3, B6, B9, C, and E.
Raw grape leaves have a pleasant tangy taste, and snacking on them while on a hike is a great way to enjoy them. The leaves can also be frozen, but blanching first is a must. Package what you generally would use for one meal in one freezer bag and remove all the air with a straw. Once stored in the freezer, the grape leaves should not be jostled around because they do become brittle. When thawing, be sure not to move them until totally thawed. Should the leaves become damaged then simply toss them into a smoothie, soup, stew or stir fry.
The berries (or grapes) are also edible and loaded with goodness. Wild grapes contain resveratrol as well as antioxidants, phytonutrients, manganese, potassium, and vitamins B1, B6, and C. The seed of the grape has the richest concentration of antioxidants.
Collecting wild grapes is best after the first frost because they will taste sweeter, but if you don’t want to wait that long you can harvest them as soon as they turn purple. As with the autumn olives, wild grapes can be frozen, made into fruit leather or jams, tossed into smoothies or made into juice.
Autumn olive berries (Elaeagnus umbellate) are largely unknown by most people yet are highly anticipated by wildcrafters. The olives grow on large shrubs that were introduced to North American soils around 1830 as an ornamental, to attract wildlife, and to prevent erosion.
These berries have been extensively studied and surprisingly are a rich source of lycopene, a carotenoid that helps to protect the body from various cancers and other ailments. Autumn olives also contain carotenoids such as phytoene, phytofluene, and beta carotene. In addition, these incredible berries have high levels of vitamins A, C, E, flavonoids, and essential fatty acids.
In 2001, Ingrid Fordham, a horticulturalist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research service, said that when she learned that these brilliant red berries were edible she made them into jam. Fordham and her colleague, Beverly Clevidence, analyzed the berries and discovered that – ounce for ounce – the autumn olive berry is up to 17 times higher in lycopene than a raw tomato. These berries ranged from 15 to 54 milligrams of lycopene per 100 grams, compared to 3 mg of lycopene per 100 g for fresh tomatoes, 10 mg per 100 g for canned tomatoes, and 30 mg of lycopene per 100 g for tomato paste.
So when can we start picking these nutrient-rich olives? Although they are out there now, chances are they won’t be ripe until the back end of September. But be warned, it takes a good frost before they taste good! These berries freeze well so you can use them year round; after washing and drying the berries, place two cups into a freezer bag and remove all the air with a straw.
If you want to experience something different, you can make fruit leather with autumn olive berries; there are many recipes online for making leather. And creating juice from these berries is easy. Place about 2 cups of berries into a large pot of water. Bring to a boil and turn stove off. Slightly mash the berries and let sit two hours. Strain, add sweetener of choice and refrigerate. You’ll notice that it doesn’t take long before all the lycopene settles to the bottom of the juice container so be sure to stir well before pouring yourself a glass.
Autumn olive berries can be tossed into a smoothie, be made into jams, and there is even a healthy vegetable dip you can make that will impress all your house guests.
Burdock (Arctium lappa) is a biennial plant which has a two year life cycle. The root of the first year plant can be harvested as a nutritious food from August through to October. For stronger medicine, herbalists who use burdock in herbal tinctures wait until after the first frost to do their harvesting, because the frost sends the strongest medicine down into the root.
Burdock has long been recognized as a blood purifier in herbal medicine, and is one of the key ingredients in Essiac, an ancient Ojibway herbal formula used by nurse Rene Caisse to treat cancer patients from 1934 to 1942. Today this formula continues to be used by people around the world as a dietary supplement for cancer prevention and immune boosting.
Burdock’s medicinal properties come as no surprise when one considers its storehouse of nutrients – vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, inulin, Omega-3, Omega-6, fibre, protein and carbohydrates are all to be found in this plant. Herbalist Susun Weed describes burdock as a nourishing tonic: “Even occasional use of burdock root, or any part of the plant, will help provide optimum nutrition to the glandular and immune systems, liver, kidneys, blood, lungs, and nerves, as well as providing overall power and emotional stability to the whole being. Burdock nourishes the most extreme, buried, and far-reaching aspects of ourselves, and breaks the ground for deep transformation.”
In addition to the (below) recipes there are some easy ways to use burdock root. Yes, you can make a nourishing herbal tea (or let it steep longer to make an infusion) and drink it straight. Or you can make lots of this tea to use instead of water for making rice, quinoa, or couscous. It can also be used as soup stock.
When foraging, be sure to use a good quality spade because the roots are huge. Start digging several inches away from the base of the plant in order to get as much of the root as possible. A good tip is to find burdock on a hill because less digging will be required. For those who don’t have time to harvest their own burdock, many health food stores carry fresh burdock root during the fall season.
Before going out on a harvesting expedition, be sure to familiarize yourself with the rules of foraging. Avoid private property and polluted areas. (Harvesting on private property can get you arrested. Knowing the location is critical as well in order to avoid areas that have been sprayed with chemicals. EdibleWildFood.com is a website that has great ‘how-to’ foraging information.)
In addition to enjoying the free food that grows in abundance all around us, the benefits of wildcrafting are far reaching because getting outdoors provides a wealth of fresh air and helps us to reconnect with nature.
For this recipe you will need a 3 litre size glass or porcelain container.
- 2 lbs. wild grapes
- 1 1/2 lbs. sugar
- 1 tsp yeast
- 1 Tbsp wheat kernels
- 6-1/2 cups water (boiled and cooled completely)
(Makes about 2 cups)
- 2 oz fresh goat cheese
- 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup autumn olives (pureed)
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil
- 1-½ cups sliced onions
- 2 (local) garlic cloves minced
- 1 cup burdock root chopped fine
- 1 cup carrot cut into 1” pieces
- 1 cup celery cut into 1” pieces
- 4 cups mushrooms
- 3 medium unpeeled sweet potatoes cut into 1” chunks
- 3 fresh tomatoes chopped finely
- 2 cups cooked lima beans
- 1 8oz can of tomato sauce
- 1 tsp each: thyme, salt, pepper, and turmeric
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 Tbsp flour
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup red wine
- 1 cup burdock root (fresh is preferred but dried can be used also)
- 1/2 cup carrots
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp sugar or honey
- 2 Tbsp dry sherry
- 1 Tbsp saké
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil
• Healing Wise by Susun S. Weed, Ash Tree Publishing, Woodstock, NY; 1989
• For more information on Essiac, call 613-729-9111, visit www.essiaccanada.ca, or see ad in Vitality magazine.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Karen Stephenson is an author, writer, public speaker, and expert wild food educator. She is a chartered herbalist and is a certified Acute Canine Herbalist. Karen has lectured for schools, a multitude of community groups, and is a sought after speaker for many notable events including the International Herbal Association and online events hosted by Lakehead University. She has been interviewed on national radio, has been written about in a variety of media and has appeared on television. Karen's website is: <a href="https://www.ediblewildfood.com">www.ediblewildfood.com</a>