F224: Forage for Food

Now this is something on my list for sustainability skills. It appeals to me as much as the idea of being a Freegan. A couple weeks ago I wrote about the nopales of the prickly pear, the cactus leaves I currently purchase at the farmer’s market. I believe I could find these with ease in the wild without much problem.

I’ve written about dandelion weeds, but intend to expand my weed foraging repertoire in the next year.

The plan to plant Borage and Flax at the street parking is stuck in phase 1 as I haven’t cleared the pine needles yet. If I plan and plant it isn’t really the same as foraging, right? I guess my goal is to let this kind of planting become volunteer planting for the future.

By this time next year I’d like to be able to map for myself the free food available within my immediate neighborhood and the larger neighborhood (4-5 square miles) where I can walk and bike daily. I wrote in early March about how difficult it is for me to join, to be a part of community. But, I keep trying. Right now I know that I have neighbors who have offered up their 1) avocado tree, 2) banana tree, 3) pepper bush and 4) lemon tree. I hope to find orange trees, nut trees and berry bushes growing in public spaces.

The other terrain is the coast. Here I am at the Pacific coast and I just know there is food before me. Recently I asked my son, who was on his way to the beach, to keep his eye out for Rockweed. It is the most common seaweed. I found a recipe for Rockweed crisps and wanted to try it with him. Well, he had no luck. We will both keep looking. What I have found for today’s foraging is Ice Plant. It grows at the coastline, along the Southern California highways and right in front of us along the street parking. This incredibly strong plant is an invasive species and our community is combating. Just how that is being done, I don’t know.

Meanwhile, I have found a recipe that my son and I are going to try tonight. Yes, I am aware that not only is it not local – with the bacon and buttermilk, it isn’t vegetarian either. Oh well. . . I will update the post after preparing and eating.

Dressed Ice Plant
¼ lb bacon; diced, fried and drained
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp flour
¼ cup buttermilk
½ cup water
dash of pepper
1 qt Ice Plant leaves

Combine all ingredients except Ice Plant and cook, stirring constantly, until dressing thickens. Pour over Ice Plant and toss. Serve while warm. Serves 4.

Meanwhile here are some fun facts to know and tell. For the sake of consistency I have settled on Ice Plant as to capitalization and the two separate words. I didn’t do much editing as I found it all quite fascinating.

It is believed that Ice Plant came from Africa in the 1800s when sand (carrying Ice Plant seeds) was used as ballast for ships traveling to San Francisco and Monterey. When the ships arrived they would dump their ballast in the harbors and Ice Plant seed washed up and down the California coast. Caltrans also planted lots of it to keep roadsides from eroding, and from there it naturalized. One can see vast monocultures of Ice Plant along the ocean highways of California.

That was from a discussion on sand dunes and what is required to keep them healthy found here.

Ice Plant described by an Australian source:

Leaves and stems - raw or cooked. They can be used as a spinach substitute. The leaves have an acid flavour, they are thick and very succulent with a slightly salty tang. They can also be pickled like cucumbers or used as a garnish].

Adaptive responses to the Global warming challenge
Climate Change's predicted warming, reduction of overland flows and reduced soil moisture will impose severe habitat limitations on our indigenous plants and animals.

However certain plants within families such as the Ice Plants, Native Grasses (Poaceae) and the Cactuses (Cactaceae) will be competitively advantaged and potentially increase their natural ranges.

Remarkably, Ice Plants have evolved a separate mechanism to be known as 'Night- time breathers' or technically Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) that will increase the plants adaptive capacity to Climate Change. By storing Carbon, in the form of organic acids produced during night time respiration they do not need to absorb Carbon Dioxide, by opening their stomatal pores. Hence CAM plants stop moisture losses through their pores during the heat of the day. This endows them with added xerophytic abilities that enhance their succulency mechanism to accumulate moisture and halophytic characteristics to survive in highly saline areas.

The tasty 'Greens’ were highly valued by early Explorers
As mentioned in the introduction, Ice Plants form an important historic connection with our Tasmanian convict ancestry. This arose as a consequence of Captain Cook's 1768 voyage to observe the transit of Venus. He satisfied his scurvy-stricken crew's desperate need to savour fresh greens by harvesting the pot herb NZ Spinach, T. tetragonoides, from the NZ's shoreline. Following discovery along the Australia coast by Cook and other explorers, of large swards of both T. tetragonoides and Botany Bay Greens, T. implexicoma, they soon came to rely on these greens as dietary necessities, to enhance their Spartan rations. It is interesting to note, if the early explorers and colonists had shown a little appreciation for the Aboriginal way of life, they would soon have selected today's popular bush tucker treats but instead limited their choice to only those indigenous plants that reflected the image of English vegetables. Besides the Ice Plants these included Sea Celery Apium prostratum and Botany Bay Greens Atriplex cinerea.

So impressed was Sir Joseph Banks with these Ice Plants, he sent their seeds to Kew Gardens from where it rapidly gained favour in high society cuisine as a summer spinach. In 1779 Banks' fondness for this plant's ability to provide reliable quantities of nutritious greens, was portrayed exuberantly in the House of Common's inquiry delving into the relative suitability of Australia compared to West Africa as a convict-based colony. He obviously left a strong impression and the rest is now history.

As alluded to earlier, the Ice Plant family primarily consists of hardy and environmentally resilient plants. Their tolerance is a consequence of their efficient methods of seed dispersal, ease of propagation from cuttings or off sets, their succulence, pest and disease resistance, fire resistance, xerophytic and halophytic abilities all supported by their CAM metabolism. In light of the global warming impacts, it is predicted that their recent popularity as landscape, erosion control, bush tucker and revegetation species will increase.

Disappointingly these competitive advantages also result in the prevalence of many more exotic members menacing indigenous vegetation communities as invasive weeds.
The next source tells about how this plant thrives on neglect and can be killed with kindness. Now that speaks to me. The fact that it is a fire resistant element and a perfect candidate for a roof garden is what made me initially interested in researching Ice Plant.

An African source follows with more on the Ice Plant, including medicinal qualities:

Carpobrotus edulis
An easy-to-grow succulent groundcover, ideal for low-maintenance and water-wise gardens. It is also a useful first-aid plant with edible fruits for the herb or kitchen garden. A robust, flat-growing, trailing perennial, rooting at nodes and forming dense mats. The succulent horizontal stems curve upwards at the growing point. The leaves are succulent, crowded along the stem, 60–130 x 10–12 mm, sharply 3-angled and triangular in cross-section, yellowish to grass-green, and reddish when older.

Flowers are solitary, 100–150 mm in diameter, yellow, fading to pale pink, produced mainly during late winter–spring (August–October). They open in the morning in bright sunlight, and close at night. Look into the centre of the flower and you'll see many stamens surrounding a beautiful starfish-like stigma. This species is easily distinguished from the others as it is the only one with yellow flowers.
Fruit is fleshy, indehiscent and edible, 35 mm in diameter, shaped like a spinning top, on a winged stalk, becoming yellow and fragrant when ripe. The outer wall of the fruit becomes yellowish, wrinkled and leathery with age. The seeds are embedded in the sticky, sweet, jelly-like mucilage. The fruits can be eaten fresh and they have a strong, astringent, salty, sour taste. They are not as tasty as those of C. acinaciformis and C. deliciosus which are sweeter.

Conservation status
Carpobrotus edulis is not regarded as threatened in its native habitat, but it is invading natural areas in other parts of the world and threatening the survival of other species. In California, where it has been used since the early 1900s to stabilize the soil along railway tracks and roadsides and as a garden ornamental, it has naturalized and is invading coastal vegetation from north of Eureka to Rosarita Bay. It is known as the highway Ice Plant in the USA. It has naturalized along the west coast of Australia from Perth to Albany where it was also used for soil stabilization and is known as pigface. It has naturalized in parts of the Mediterranean and on the south coast of England.

Uses & cultural aspects
The leaf juice is astringent and mildly antiseptic. It is mixed with water and swallowed to treat diarrhoea, dysentery and stomach cramps, and is used as a gargle to relieve laryngitis, sore throat and mouth infections. Chewing a leaf tip and swallowing the juice is enough to ease a sore throat. Leaf juice or a crushed leaf is a famous soothing cure for blue-bottle stings—being a coastal plant it is luckily often on hand in times of such emergencies. The leaf juice is used as a soothing lotion for burns, bruises, scrapes, cuts, grazes and sunburn, ringworm, eczema, dermatitis, sunburn, herpes, nappy rash, thrush, cold sores, cracked lips, chafing, skin conditions and allergies. An old and apparently very powerful remedy for constipation is to eat fruits and then drink brackish water. Syrup made from the fruit is said to have laxative properties. A mixture of leaf juice, honey and olive oil in water is an old remedy for TB. The leaf juice also relieves the itch from mosquito, tick and spider bites both for people and their animal companions. The Khoikhoi took an infusion of the fruits during pregnancy to ensure a strong, healthy baby and an easy birth and smeared leaf sap over the head of a new-born child to make it nimble and strong. In the Eastern Cape it is also used to treat diabetes, and diptheria.

Fruits are eaten by people and have been since ancient times. Archaeologists have found plants covering ancient middens along the coast and sometimes marking Khoikhoi burial sites (UCT Summer School lecture). The sour fig is frequently cultivated as a sand binder, groundcover, dune and embankment stabilizer, and fire-resistant barrier and also a superb water-wise plant.

Update: Astringent doesn't begin to describe the taste of these leaves. I could not stop laughing at my kid's face when he tried to eat this. We both laughed until we cried (and I farted).

First of all, we think we'd cut the leaves into smaller pieces and blanche them first - before adding the 'dressing.' Did I mention that the recipe is from 1881? Anyway, we would also begin with a roux made from the bacon grease. Isn't this a b├ęchamel sauce?

I am still puzzled about the eggs. Should they be hard boiled? Should they act as an emulsion, like a hollandaise or mayonnaise? Or should the whole business be baked? I don't get it. I don't know what to aim for here? This is totally outside of my eating experience. I'm intrigued enough to want to try again. The kid (who is really a man to the rest of the world)too.

Did I mention that the fruit, the figs, were delicious? These we could have in our salads all the time. There was sweetness with sourness on top of a salty taste. And we both thought a bit like a grape taste.


Anonymous said...

That stuff grew all around my junior high school, where it was used to stabilize a slope, and in the yard of the house where I grew up. It's beautiful when it blooms, with all those gorgeous, vibrant colors. I had no idea it was edible!

Regarding foraging, I have a question - how do you decide what's safe to eat or not? There are huge fennel(?) plants growing wild in a parking lot nearby and they look great but I'm not sure the ground they're growing in is clean.

katecontinued said...

I don't really know. I did hear someone talking about sampling a very small portion and waiting as one suggestion.

No, I see for myself a great deal of research ahead for any real experimentation in foraging.

Did you happen to see the movie, "Into the Wild"? I loved that movie. I don't want to include a spoiler, but I will say that this movie illustrated the complexity of surviving in the wild.

I also believe our bodies process a great deal of poisonous crap. From what I have read, the meat industries have some very serious bacteria, disease, pharmaceuticals in the meat and little to no oversight in this reign of Bushies. Our bodies are miraculous.