Ask the Bartender, Ask the Plants, Ask Karoline #72

    I was in San Francisco today, doing my weekly walk from the Mission to the post office to Maximum Rock-n-Roll and I was mentally starting this column in my head. It was a gorgeous HOT day here in the Bay Area...the kind that we usually only get in October. A rare and wonderful thing. During my walk, I kept track of all the medicinal/edible plants that I encountered along the way. Here’s what I saw: rosemary, lavender, mullein, nasturtium, fennel, sage, calendula, gingko, red raspberry, mint, dandelion, honeysuckle and eucalyptus. These are just the plants I’m familiar with...there are probably many others that I see every day and just don’t recognize yet. Next time you are out in your neighborhood/city take a minute and try to identify what’s growing near you...you don’t need to be in the woods to spend a little time with a guidebook and get to know the local foliage.
South America...
I just returned from a month in South America, with stops in Brazil (2 week tour with What Happens Next? and the super awesome folks from Mukeka di Rato and Discarga), Bolivia (seeing the luscious Karin and biking down the world’s most dangerous road) and Peru (Machu Picchu). It was incredible and I could probably ramble on for pages about all the adventures we had, but I’m just bringing it up to mention the bits related to herbs/plants and the like. There are Homeopathic pharmacies all over South America. I came across a store called Emporium Productos Naturais in the interesting yet slightly odd town of Joinville, SC in Brazil that featured an incredible selection of medicinal bulk herbs, tinctures, huge TVP balls and assorted vegan treats. I’m sure that there were other towns in Brazil that probably have similar natural product stores, but it is always exciting to come across one on tour, especially in a small town. Villa Velha (home of Mosine, our wonderful tour Jefe and his super rad Mom) also had an incredible natural food store (tiny, but with an all you can eat veggie/vegan buffet). While in Villa Velha, we were fortunate enough to be able to taste the local frozen treat called acai (pronounced ah-si-ee) which is made from a crazy fruit in the date family (according to our hosts) that is packed with protein, minerals and vitamins.  Apparently ju-jitsu fighters eat this all the time, as each serving is in the neighborhood of 2,000 calories...a fact we didn’t find out until we had eaten it three nights in a row. Oh well, it sure tasted damn good...mixed with bananas, guarana and ginseng. Yummy! In La Paz, Bolivia, we got a chance to walk through the Witches Market (Mercado de los Brujos) and there were about 50 carts piled high with good luck charms, hand made statues to Pachamama (the earth mother) dried llama fetuses (ew!), bottles of strange liquid that looked like blood, and bunches and bunches of herbs...both dried and fresh. I would’ve loved to have had a conversation about herbal remedies with anyone of these women, but my spanish isn’t that hot and all those sad little shriveled llamas made me feel a bit sick. It looked like the locals were definitely buying herbs for both cooking and medicinal purposes. I also saw a few herb stands just out on the regular streets with herb books, salves, teas and a candy made out of garlic, cayenne and sugar (which sounded interesting, but it was bright green and looked like bath beads so I decided to pass).  I didn’t see too much in the herb department in Peru, but I’m sure it was there...we were much too absorbed with the journey to Machu Picchu (the famous lost Incan city/ruins). Suffice to say that it was the trip of a lifetime!
Oakland...
I just recently took an amazing class with Wendy, Jerry and Emily that was all about cooking with medicinal plants. We spent five hours at the home of a local herbalist, Diane, and had a great day listening to her and Billie Joe (also an herbalist) talk about nutrition, digestion and health. They gave us a ton of handouts (I’m only about halfway through all the info) and then they cooked a stupendous meal using many of the plants we had talked about earlier in the day. Nettle soup, beet and kale salad, a mixed veggie salad full of flowers from Diane’s backyard (nasturtium, passion flower, borage, garlic flower, geraniums, dandelion, and a few others that I can’t remember at the moment), and berry pie. Magnificent! On that note, I’m going to pass along two recipes that just might tickle your tastebuds.

Nasturtium and Marigold Salad
4 nasturtiums or other edible flowers , 2 marigold blossoms’ petals , 8-12 red clover blossoms , 4 sprigs fresh basil , 4 sprigs fresh rosemary , 4 leaves kale (I recommend very lightly steamed first) , 4 red lettuce leaves , 4 green lettuce leaves , 8 dandelion leaves , 12 violet leaves
Toss all ingredients together, top with dressing of choice (try mixing some flax seed oil into your favorite dressing...it is super healthy for you - omegas 3, 6, 9 - and has a great nutty flavor). A note about eating flowers...any with bright orange and yellow colors will be high in bioflavanoids and vitamin C. Those with blue and purple colors will be a good source of potassium.

Nettle Soup
3 tablespoons olive oil , 3 cups potatoes, chopped (or try yucca root), 1 onion, chopped, 2 medium sized leeks - chopped, 5 cups vegetable broth , 1 cup young nettles, washed and chopped , 1 cup plain soy milk , salt, pepper and nutritional yeast to taste
Heat oil in a soup pot. Toss the potatoes, onion, leeks in the oil once it is hot. Season and let simmer until potatoes are getting a little soft. Add the vegetable broth. Bring to a rolling boil, reduce heat and add the nettle leaves (you might want to wear gloves, as nettles can sting you). Simmer just a few minutes. Add the soy milk. Pour into blender and blend until smooth. Serve hot. Oh yeah, this is just a basic list of ingredients...feel free to play around with the seasoning and add other veggies.
     You might be wondering where to find nettles. I would recommend either trying your local farmer’s market or grabbing a little plant identification book and hightailing it out to the woods. Don’t gather nettles near trails...go off the beaten path. Don’t ever clean out a whole section of nettles, pick sparingly (only what you really need) and pick from different sections and pick before it starts seeding (otherwise it is full of acid) Wear gloves and bring some sturdy scissors/pruning shears. Happy hunting!
Finally...
    The best bit of knowledge that I picked up in the aforementioned class is this: don’t get in a food rut. Don’t eat the same things day after day. Constant consumption of the same thing can lead to food allergies and digestion problems. If you always have soy milk, try rice or oat milk instead. If you always eat tofu, give tempeh a try. Peanut butter a main staple in your daily routine? Go for raw almond butter next time. You don’t have to give anything up, just go for more variety. Eat the veggies and fruit that are in season where you live...find out where your local farmer’s market is and get to know what’s growing when! Challenge your tastebuds! I just discovered that I absolutely love sauerkraut...and it is a great source of lactobacillus acidophilus (great for vegan digestive tracts). You never really know what you might like if you don’t try it at least once. Talk to you in the fall! Huge thanks to all the amazing friends we made in Brazil especially Junior (our vegan babysitter and all around incredible guy) and all the old ones (Alexandra and Farofa have the most gorgeous baby girl ever!) we got to see again...too many to list, but you know who you are! Congratulations to Rebecca and Ernie on their upcoming wedding...the hottest couple on the West coast and the biggest AC/DC fans ever, they can shake me all night long!
- karoline / roadiegirl@hotmail.com