So, today is a blog about two lovely green things you can find just about anywhere in Nova Scotia–red raspberry leaves, and dandelions.
I was turned onto red raspberry leaf tea years ago in my undergrad as a great way to curb PMS cramps (among other things). I’m not a huge fan of the straight up leaf taste (so I add a fair amount of lemon and honey to mine), but I do love how cheap and easy this tea is. All I’ve ever had to do is know where the closest raspberry bushes are, and practically, voila! Instant happy Penny.
In almost all the reading I’ve done in harvesting red raspberry leaves, the best time to harvest is in the early spring before the raspberries bloom. I don’t actually know why this is–it might have something to do with the younger leaves tasting better, but who knows? (if someone knows the reason and could let me know, I’d appreciate it!) Because you’re going to dry your leaves in order to make tea, it’s best to pick much more than you actually think you’re going to need (the leaves will shrink when you dry them).
Once you’ve got your leaves picked and washed, you want to separate the leaves from any of the prickly stems. Now, you’ve got a couple of different options for drying: if you live in a hot,dry climate (like Alberta in the summer!) you can leave your harvest out to dry in the back of your car or or a windowsill that gets a lot of direct sunlight. If you live in a cloudy, rainy, humid climate (like I do in Nova Scotia) you can stick your leaves on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven. It’s best if you can put your oven on a very low temperature (like 150 degrees Fahrenheit would be ideal), however, most ovens don’t got down that far. I have an older oven that starts at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, so I put my two cookie sheets of leaves in the oven for only about a half hour or so on 250, and then turned the oven off. I let them sit in there for another half hour, and checked to make sure the leave and stems were entirely dry.
Once your leaves are dry, you can bag them in a ziploc bag or another airtight container. I try not to crumble my leaves until I’m going to use them for tea simply because I think it helps to maintain the taste of the leaves, but that’s not scientifically proven or anything like that. I only use about a teaspoon or so for a cup of tea.
So, picking my red raspberry leaf tea for the season was a good enough reason to go for a walk this morning with Nicole, but as luck so happened, we also ended up happening upon a lot of dandelions along the forest trail as well. I’d been wanting to do a blog post about dandelion green for so long and just hadn’t gotten around to it, so today seemed like the perfect day to try out these new greens!
Dandelions get their name from their saw-toothed green leaves. (dent de lion is French for “Lion’s teeth”) When the leaves are younger, the saw-toothed edge is less pronounced (in fact, it’s kind of rounded), but as the greens get older and they start to produce flowers, the tooth becomes more pronounced (as you can see in this picture). From the little reading I’ve done on harvesting dandelions, it’s best to pick them when they’re young (ie: before they start to produce flowers). You can still eat the bigger, older ones, but they’re much more bitter than the young ones (trust me!).
Nicole and I picked a few different sizes of leaves today just to see for ourselves whether this whole bitterness factor was true. In the forest, we managed to find some dandelions that still hadn’t flowered yet, all the way up to some that had very pronounced teeth. (*As a reminder, it’s important trick your dandelions somewhere where you know there isn’t a whole lot of pollution from cars.trucks, salt from the roads, or fertilizer chemicals…) I ate one of the smaller leaves on our walk just to see whether I was going to hate these things or not, and to my surprise (I don’t know why I was surprised), it tasted like I was eating a dandelion. I’m not super huge on that smell, let alone that taste, but figured that once we cooked them things would be different.
After washing up the greens, we sauteed our dandelion greens in with some kale, red peppers, mushrooms and chicken in a lemon herb sauce.
The chicken and veg was served on top a bed of basmati rice with a side of cauliflower and cheese sauce (kind of a down home cooking night for us). In the end, I’d have to say I was not really a fan of the dandelion greens. I’d read that the larger ones were going to be really bitter (and they were). They tasted all right for the first few seconds, but then there was this really intense aftertaste. The smaller dandelion leaves weren’t so bad, though. All in all, I’m not sure I’d take the time to harvest these leaves again–I mostly felt like I was doing a good job by eating “healthy” tonight whenever I bit into an extra bitter bite of food. However, I’ve read that after the first fall frost, dandelions tend to be less bitter again, so perhaps I’ll try them once more in the fall. Because really, how can i turn down a cheap source of super nutrients that grow right in my back yard? Also, I know there’s possibilities to bake with the flowers, so stay tuned for something alter this summer on dandelion muffins, just for curiosities sake…
Until then, happy foraging!