Making a life off of your land is nothing short of one
big adventure. People who are serious about it are the committed
type. The dedicated type. The stubborn type. Homesteaders will try
anything to make it work, and folks who’ve been at it a while have
stories and scars to attest to the fact that they have tried
everything in their pursuit of the simple life.
A homesteader looks at the basics: food, shelter, and
water as necessities that can be foraged, built, and stored rather
than purchased. In this homesteader’s experience, fewer vegetables
are wasted when they were grown by sweat on the brow and soil-stained
knees. Every part of the pig gets used with you have to grow, kill,
and butcher it yourself.
It is this functionality and efficiency that appeals to
the type of person who dreams of a life separate from society’s
norms. And it is a special type of person who manages to find true
beauty in such a way of living. Not everyone can appreciate beauty.
It’s not an important quality to everyone. For some, competency is
enough. I’m not that person, beauty is important to me.
I’m confronted by a small lake and national forest
outside the window behind my laptop as I write this now. There’s an
orchid on my desk. And a stained glass lamp. I design my garden with
aesthetics in mind as much as efficiency. It helps that vegetables
grow in such beautiful colors and interesting shapes, of course. What
beauty really inspires me though is the illuminating brilliance of
flowering blossoms. And in order to spend my valuable, limited time
cultivating these stimulating blooms, I had to find a use for them
other than just “pretty” and “good for pollination.”
How about, “edible?” That quality is pretty tough to
argue with, even for a rough-around-the-edges country man who doesn’t
find beauty compelling and prefers function above all. My country man
in particular is a big fan of foraging. He likes mushroom hunting; I
can’t help myself from picking flowers when we go. I love finding
mushrooms, too, but morels aren’t really as pretty as they are tasty.
What’s pretty as well as tasty is a bed of Nasturtium,
not to mention nutritious. On the efficiency scale, they’re a ten.
The whole plant is edible. It is also loaded with vitamin C and
iron. As for flavor, think spicy, like Arugula. The seeds can even
be a substitute for black pepper when dried and ground, that’s how
spicy. These gem colored beauties are high in Vitamin C and
antioxidants. Nasturtium comes to us all the way from the Peruvian
Andes and was first valued as a food product in the ancient orient
where the petals and buds were consumed raw and used to make tea.
The most common variety is Empress of India, though
there are over one hundred to choose from. Some types climb upwards
of 15 feet, though most will stay closer to the ground, growing not
more than ten or twelve inches. If you intend to eat Nasturtium,
steer clear of blooms purchased from a florist or nursery, those
plants have most likely been treated with chemicals you shouldn’t
ingest. By growing them yourself you can be sure you’re getting the
valuable phenolic compound, Anthocyanin (otherwise found in
blueberries and red cabbage). This phenol helps neutralize damaging
free radicals and is great for protecting you from cardiovascular
disease and cancer.
If you add Nasturtium to your salad, throw them in
after your vinaigrette, to prevent wilting. If you can’t eat them
fresh, try pickling the buds to use as an alternative to capers. Your
other option is saving and drying the seeds to add in with your
standard old peppercorns in your pepper grinder.
Put down the weed-killer. Dandelions are among the
most nutritionally dense green foods you may ever consume. Full of
potassium, and a strong diuretic, these yellow gems are wonderful for
those suffering from high blood pressure. They are also useful in
detoxifying the liver and blood and have been valued by herbalist for
easing the strain of arthritis and eczema. Also good for your eyes
(apart from just being easy on the eyes), dandelions are packed with
Vitamin A, as well as Vitamin C, phosphorous, and calcium.
The young greens are the sweet part of the plant,
whereas the bloom can taste somewhat bitter. Use the greens in place
of lettuce on sandwiches for a tasty switch from the norm. The greens
may also be sautéed or steamed as any other green. If you do want to
eat the flower, blanche it for just a moment to remove the
bitterness. You will lose a lot of vitamins and minerals this way,
but plenty of beneficial nutrients will remain.
Of course, you may know that dandelion roots can be
ground and used as a substitute for traditional coffee. That’s the
sort of bitterness you find in the blooms, a nice sort of bitter.
What you may not know is that the French have a wonderful recipe for
Cream of Dandelion Soup.
It goes like this:
2 lbs (6
Cups) Dandelion Greens
Tablespoon Butter or Olive Oil
Leeks, white and light parts only, cleaned and sliced
Carrot, cleaned and diced
2 ½ cups
Tablespoon Dijon mustard
Pepper to taste
Dandelion blooms or leaves for garnish
Heat Butter or Oil in a large pot to medium high heat.
Add greens, carrot and leeks. Cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes.
Add vegetable stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Reduce
heat to medium and whisk in milk. Stir frequently until slightly
Puree mix until smooth. Season to taste with salt,
pepper, and Dijon mustard.
Serve in bowls and garnish with dandelion leaves or