This Week’s Woodland Grocery Specials
Peppergrass, Sheep Sorrel, Yarrow, St. John’s Wort, Grape Leaves, and green Black Walnuts
Peppergrass, or pepperweed, is a name applied to many different members of the mustard family. All of these plants have seed pods that whorl up the stem, with more mature pods below and flowers, or less mature pods, at the top. The pods vary in shape from round to oval to triangular to heart shape, and the different species have different flavors ranging from peppery to mustardy to horseradish-like to wasabi flavor. Currently, species with heart and triangle shaped pods are coming into season.
Sheep Sorrel is a great green for salads and sandwhiches. The sour, lemony flavor also makes an interesting addition to soup and a really tasty pesto. The plants are low growing, with leaves only a few inches long, and tend to grow in open, unmowed grassy/weedy areas. The leaves have a distinct spade shape with very prominent “thumbs” at the base. The thumbs, along with the lemony taste, make it easy to identify.
Ok, so yarrow is notoriously hard to photograph. It’s tiny white flowers and fine, feathery leaves make it difficult to get the plant in focus. When crushed, the leaves and flowers of yarrow have a distinct medicine-y smell. Which is fitting, because yarrow is a strong and versatile medicine. It has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, as well as being an astringent, a diuretic, and a febrifuge. It can be used topically on stings, cuts, poison ivy, and mosquito bites. And made into a tea it is useful for colds, flus, and UTIs.
St. John’s Wort is a common weed along roadsides and in open fields. The yellow flowers will stain your fingers red-orange if you crush and rub them. This is helpful for ID. The tiny leaves have itty bitty dots that can be seen when held in the light. These dots are the oil glands that contain the hypericin, the chemical that gives the plant it’s antidepressant and pain relieving qualities.
Grapes are pretty easy to identify. The only look similar, Canada moonseed, has unforked tendrils. Grapes have forked tendrils. You can use the young, bright green leaves minced in salads, rice, and pasta. Larger, more fibrous leaves can be steamed for 15-20 seconds to soften, and used to make stuffed grape leaves.
Black walnuts are dropping their aborted nuts. These little nuts, with their distinct walnut smell, can be fermented into a delicious liqueur known as nocino. Ellen Zachos did a great write up about nocino on her blog last year. Check it out here.