Posts Tagged ‘perennial greens’

Glorious Greens, with Notes on Alfalfa

I once read that people who regularly ate leafy greens other than lettuce were, on average, 11 years slower to develop cognitive problems than their non-greens eating peers. This would be easy to check out in scientific literature, but I never have, for this simple reason: I prefer to believe that it’s true and don’t want to discover that it isn’t. I love greens and take it on faith that they’re a wonder-food, and what I do know for a fact is that some of the longest-lived and healthiest peoples in the world eat a lot of them. So chow down.

Most of my spring harvest comes from perennial plants. I will specifically mention scorzonera, shown above, because it is easy to start from seed, long-lived, drought resistant, the leaves are mild and acceptable to almost everyone, and the young flower stalks are another delicious food. I never see any mention of it in books about permaculture  and I will never understand that, because it is one of the most easy and useful things that I grow. In seed catalogs it is sold as a root vegetable, but to my palate the roots are pretty uninteresting and I stick to the above-ground parts.

Nettles, dock, dandelions, and others are well known perennial sources of nutritious greens in the spring. But today I want to say something about a plant that is seldom thought of as a food plant for people: alfalfa. In the picture at the top of this post, you see a huge clump of it about 18 inches across. It’s a tough drought resistant plant that is good for feeding animals,fixes nitrogen and improves soil, makes wonderful bee fodder, and grows easily from seed, so I have a lot of it around my yard. I have sometimes thrown tender tips in stirfries or put a few of them in a smoothie, but I haven’t really explored alfalfa as a human food. There are varying reports about whether it can cause any problems. My assessment after a lot of reading is that eating the seeds is a bad idea, and sprouts can be problematic, but for healthy people eating some of the greens is probably not an issue. Do your own research, and don’t trust your safety to a stranger on the Internet, ever. I don’t write about what is safe for you personally to eat, just about what I have eaten.

I wrote in a recent post about my experiments with leaf ales, and we enjoyed them so much that we regretted running out. Then it occurred to me that some of them had been made from kale, and clearly they could be made from any leafy greens that don’t have too strong a flavor (and even some that do, thanks to the magic of fermentation.) And here I am with large amounts of alfalfa, so I am experimenting with alfalfa ale. To make a 2 gallon batch I proceeded as described in the leaf ale post, using a generous gallon of loosely packed  alfalfa shoots about 6” long and 2.5 gallons of water to make the brew, and I had been given a large bag of oranges that had minor bad spots, so I used the juice from them as the acidic element. The general method was the same as in that post. It’s still in primary fermentation so I don’t have a report yet, but can say that even at the initial stage it had no strong or objectionable flavor. The orange juice wasn’t very acidic, and I had to add a tad of malic acid. I used plain table sugar as the sweetener, aiming for a finished alcohol content of 3.5-4%, meaning one pound of sugar per gallon of water. I didn’t add any flavoring to the initial cooked brew, and am going to try “dry-hopping” it in secondary fermentation with bronze fennel or a little rosemary. I’ll post results several weeks from now, but wanted to throw this idea out there to get people thinking about new ways to use spring’s abundance. If you don’t want to fool with alfalfa, what do you have a lot of in your garden? Is there some unexpected way to use it?


Mulberry Heaven

Near my home there is a mulberry tree that has delicious black fruit and low-hanging branches. When the fruit ripens, I throw my ketogenic diet temporarily out the window and go every evening to stand under it, gorging myself, while my dogs eat dropped fruit off the path. This is one of the greatest joys of the summer season. But it isn’t by any means the only use for mulberry trees.
On my own property I don’t have any mulberries big enough to fruit, but I do have two mulberries that I harvest greens from. The leaves of all mulberries are edible when young and tender, but flavor ranges from tasty to nasty. By hanging around a local organic nursery and surreptitiously tasting leaves, I got a couple that had fairly good-tasting leaves. At my last home I had a mulberry with delicious and large leaves, but alas, that tree is no longer mine, and I didn’t try rooting cuttings because I had no clue how hard it would be to replace. But the ones I now have are passable. The trees will rapidly grow tall if you let them, which I don’t. From the time they are 4 feet high I start managing them for leaf harvest by keeping them small. At first this is a matter of a little delicate trimming and weighting some branches so that they grow out nearly parallel to the ground. Later on in their lives, much harder cutting is needed, and by the time that they are 5-7 years old, they need coppicing (cutting off a few feet above the ground) to keep them in check. Coppicing keeps them from producing fruit, and incidentally they also don’t bloom and produce their incredibly allergenic pollen when managed this way. They do produce masses of young tender tips that can be pinched off at the point where they are nonwoody and break easily and cooked as a green, a good green that fills in gaps between cold-weather and hot-weather greens and contains resveratrol as a bonus.
At the point when my coppiced trees start producing more greens than I can use (which is a few years down the road,) I will start harvesting bigger branches for my goat, who thinks that mulberry branches are the food of queens. Mulberry leaves can also be dried to make tea, although I think the resulting tea is pretty insipid stuff and needs other herbs for interest. I would also use “extra” cuttings for mulch and spare biomass.
For more about mulberry trees, see the link below for a terrific and very comprehensive post about mulberries in permaculture. Don’t miss the wonderful pictures of stuffed mulberry leaves! The recipes are available too, and I plan to try this soon.
Temperate Zone Permaculture mulberry post
This image of stuffed mulberry leaves, poached from the Temperate Zone Permaculture post linked in above, looks especially interesting to me. Check out the recipes in that post.
The stigmata of the mulberry fancier. Consider yourself warned.