Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants of Bree-land

A lecture originally presented at the Bree-town Hall by master scholar Nallo the Younger as part of an ongoing lecture series.

Tonight, I am going to discuss fifteen common edible plants, and fifteen poten healing herbs. All of them can be found in and around Bree-land with little trouble.

Edible Wild Plants

Naturally, berries of all sorts make one of the most evident wild food sources, being high in food value and full of flavour. Almost all berries you will find in the wild are edible, though some, such as honeysuckle, pokeweed, yew, and mistletoe, are toxic if consumed. When in doubt, keep in mind that very few sweet-smelling berries are poisonous.

Nuts make an excellent emergency food source in the wild. Walnuts, hazelnuts, acorns, and beech nuts all make for find eating, particularly when roasted with salt and herbs. Beech nuts are a wonderful survival food due to their high oil content. They can be roasted and brewed much like coffee beans.

It would be irresponsible of me to tell you to go out and collect mushrooms with abandon, as many can be fatal if ingested. However, there are a number of edible varieties that make for excellent eating. Hen of the woods, a bounteous, frilly, and fleshy variety, is numerous in hardwood forests, and has no poisonous look-alikes. Remember when harvesting mushrooms to cut from the stem, so as not to damage the mycelium from which they grow.

Bullrush, or reedmace, is a fantastic edible resource. The roots may be boiled, roasted, mashed, or ground into flour. The young shoots may be boiled or eaten as a salad vegetable. Young flowerheads make excellent snacks when roasted with butter, and the pollen can be collected as a sound flour substitute.

Milkweed does not strike many as an edible plant, but when boiled it makes for an excellent green (the bitterness dissolves in the boiling process). The immature flowerhead scan be cooked much like cauliflower, and the young seed pods boiled. Immature milkweed silk and seeds, when boiled, interestingly become very cheeselike in consistency and taste.

Asparagus makes for a good emergency food because it is abundant, easy to recognize, and has no poisonous look-alikes. The entire plant is very high in nutrients, and cooks quite well. In a pinch, the plants can also be eaten raw without consequence.

Chicory makes for a good roadside snack, as the entire plant is edible, and it is easy to spot. The flowers and young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. If you do not mind a little digging, chicory roots make for a tasty dish after boiling or roasting.

My uncle advised me against including wild carrot on the list, being that it so closely resembles poison hemlock. However, wild carrot, when young, is unparalleled as a natural food source. The easiest visible difference is that poison hemlock produces a cluster of small white flower-heads, whereas wild carrot flowers are broad and umbrella-like.

Most gardeners revile purslane because of its seeming ability to dominate any soil. Luckily for them, it also happens to be quite tasty. The fleshy stalks and succulent leaves retain a great deal of water and are high in nutritional value. Eaten raw, the plant has a refreshingly sour taste.

Wild garlic is easy to spot due to its jagged, triangular leaves and bright white flower clusters. It can be picked with abandon, and added to almost any dish to give it extra flavour. It is most commonly stir fried as a green.

There are more uses for elderflowers than for any other type of blossom. The aromatic blooms and berries can be eaten raw, cooked, dried or powdered, and added to cordials, wine, salads, fritters, cakes, biscuits, jellies, jams, tea, and meat dishes. They are crisp and juicy, and can also be eaten raw straight from the tree.

Dandelion is a cheeky weed that also makes a fine, if bitter, salad green. Younger leaves can be eaten raw by the bushelful, and of course make a bitter but refreshing tea. Even the cheerful flowerheads can be added as a garnish to your wild salad.

Hawthorn used to be referred to as "bread and cheese," as the leaves sandwiched between slices of bread were once a staple food in the spring. The leaves can also be added to salads, made into a tea, or consumed straight off the branch. Hawthorn berries, bountiful in autumn, make a fine jam or fruit bread.

Nettles tend to be avoided thanks to their well-known propensity for leaving painful welts on the hands of the picker. However, the tiny barbs are no match for a good pair of gloves. Among other things, they can be used be make tea, soup, beer and even haggis. Boiling will get rid of the sting. Try to harvest them while they are still young.

Mallow leaves have a mild flavour and a distinctive gummy, glutinous texture, making them good for bulking up salads. Deep-frying the leaves makes satisfying green "crisps," while the seeds have a delicate, nutty flavour. The mauve flowers have a similar flavour and texture to the leaves, and are also a good addition to the salad bowl.

Medicinal Wild Plants

The delicate, feathery lady fern useful for minor cuts, burns, stings, and insect bites. Crushed and mashed, they make a simple poultice that will ease the pain of surface wounds. They are particularly good at dulling the burn of all that stinging nettle you'll be gathering for your soup.

Commonly called "the father of all plants," alfalfa is a meal all on its own due to the high nutritional value, abundance, and ready availability of the green. However, it is also a powerful healing herb. It is often used as treatment for a woman's morning sickness, for nausea, kidney pain, and urinary discomfort. It is also thought to cleanse the body, and can be eaten at any stage of maturity.

We are all familiar with catnip as an incentive for our feline friends. However, the leaves can be brewed to relieve cold symptoms, break fevers, and ease stomach aches and fevers. A mash can also be applied topically to staunch bloodflow and prevent swelling.

Sage! This sturdy, fuzzy plant is widely considered the mother of all healing herbs. It aids digestion, relieves cramps, reduces diarrhea, dries up phlegm, fights colds, reduces inflammation and swelling, acts as a salve for cuts and burns, and cleans wounds. It is even said to bring colour back to graying hair!

Red clover is as useful as it is ubiquitous. The dried leaves and flower heads make a sweet, pleasant tea. The plant blossoms can also be used to treat coughs and colds. When mashed and applied to open wounds, they make an excellent blood purifier.

Most of us know to recognize the sunny faces of feverfew, but it is less known what powerful healing plants they are. Ingesting the leaves can ease the swelling of joints, and soothe severe headaches. Herbalists often recommend it as an antidote to general anxiety.

The sweet violet is as useful as it is pretty. It can be brewed into a mild syrup that eases sore throats and reduces muscle and body pain. It is worth noting that the blossoms, when soaked in sugar water and then dried, make for excellent candies.

The vibrant yellow root of the goldenseal plant makes a powerful poultice that can be used to keep wounds clean and draw poisons and other foulness from the body. When ground and consumed as a powder, it is said to strengthen your body's ability to fight illness, and also draws impurities from it.

All above-ground parts of chickweed can be used to treat severe maladies of the throat and lungs. It helps with everything from sore throat to chronic diseases of the lungs. It is a popular remedy in the springtime, because it is said to cleanse the body after a long winter of eating heavy foods. It is also thought to generally strengthen the frail.

The seeds, blooms, and leaves of the wild mustard plant can be eaten to stimulate appetite. It is generally believed to promote a "fire in the belly," particularly after prolonged illness. A poultice can also be used to clear congestion and fight the effects of pneumonia, though it should never be applied directly to skin, as it can cause burns and rashes.

The bark of willow branches may be chewed to effectively reduce pain, particularly headaches. If peeled, young willow shoots also make an excellent emergency food because of its nutritional properties. The young leaves are excellent at preventing scurvy which, while not so common for those of us who dwell in land-locked Bree-land, is not so fun a malady to contend with in any circumstances.

The shaggy yellow shrub called witch hazel is popular for cleaning wounds, healing bruises, and easing the pain of burns. It is useful to both young and old, as it is also an effective cleanser of skin blemishes and unsightly veins. Midwives also use it to prevent swelling after childbirth.

Chamomile flowers, of course, make a lovely medicinal tea, and few of us make it through childhood without exposure to this plant. It is used primarily to treat sleeplessness and anxiety. However, it can also be applied topically to treat hemorrhoids and other inflammation.

Motherwort is one of, if not the most effective remedy for easing menstrual cramps in women. It can also be used to treat general muscle spasm. It is sometimes used as a mild sedative, and aids in insomnia, headache, and dizziness.

And last, we revisit hawthorn for its extraordinary effectiveness at promoting heart health. It is thought to strengthen the heart muscle and to cool the blood, helping to prevent sudden heart stoppage. It is less frequently used to treat stomach and kidney pain and complications, though still effective.

And there we have it: fifteen edible plants and fifteen healing herbs, all of which may be collected simply by wandering out into your back yard.

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