Tree Tobacco as a Stinging Nettle Cure

Tree tobacco or Nicotiana glauca. Image from Wikipedia.

Yesterday’s Solanum nigrum (Black Nightshade) post reminded me of a fascinating tidbit about another plant from the nightshade family that I learned from foraging expert Pascal Baudar: the leaves of tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) ease stinging nettle rash. We were out gathering nettles with Pascal, so the lesson was much appreciated–and field tested. All you have to do is rub a Solanum nigrum leaf on the sting–make sure some of the leaf juice gets on there– and the sting goes away. So if you plan to harvest nettles, I’d recommend you keep a tree tobacco leaf in your pocket.

The classic herbal antidote to nettle stings is Jewelweed, but I don’t believe it grows in the southwest–at least I’ve never seen it. Tree tobacco is a good substitute for folks in our region

Native Americans smoked Nicotiana glauca and used it as a topical medicine. It is poisonous if taken internally.

A late note from Kelly, who is out of town and so didn’t get to consult on this post before it went up: 

As Erik says here, Nicotiana glauca totally works for nettle stings–I highly recommend it– but I have some contradicting information regarding Native American usage.

I took a herbology class with the late Cecilia Garcia, who was a Chumash medicine woman, and she told us that Indians used this plant as an appetite suppressant during hard times. The adults would drink tea made of its leaves so they could give what food they had to the children. This sad story always gives me chills when I think of it.

That said, I would never drink it myself! There are safer appetite suppressants out there. The toxicology report Erik links to seems to indicate that the fatalities occurred in people who mistook it for an edible green and ate a lot of it.

As always…toxicity is related to dosage!

Also, I wouldn’t smoke it. If you want to smoke natural tobacco, it would be safer and probably better tasting to grow an interesting old strain of heirloom smoking tobacco. Native American smoking blends tend to be mixes of many plants, so I’d be wary of a 100% glauca cigarette. Again…dosage!

Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum) is Edible and Delicious

Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum)

The issue of the edibility of black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) came up in the comments on our post on forager Pascal Baudar. We’ve blogged about the confusion between the edible Solanum nigrum and the toxic “deadly nightshade” or Atropa belladonna in a post last year. But Pascal left a link to an excellent article by author and forager Sam Thayer that puts in the nail in the coffin of the myth that Solanum nigrum is poisonous.

Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)

Two lessons here. As Thayer puts it, “myths of toxicity are commonplace (in fact, I’d argue that they are a universal feature of human culture) while myths of edibility are exceedingly rare, since they are soon discredited.” I strongly suspect that there are many other plants wrongly accused of toxicity. Remember that tomatoes were long thought poisonous, in part due to similarities in appearance to Atropa belladonna, and associations with witchcraft.

The second lesson is the importance of using scientific not popular names when describing plants. Much of the confusion surrounding Solanum nigrum is caused by “experts” confusing it with Atropa belladonna due to the similarity between both the appearance of the plant and the popular names. Solanum nigrum is, by the way, much more commonplace. 

Unripe (green) fruit of Solanum nigrum does contain solanine and should be avoided, but the ripe fruit is perfectly edible and quite delicious. People all around the world eat Solanum nigrum. In parts of the US Solanum nigrum berries are made into pies. I’ve snacked on Solanum nigrum berries from the backyard and I was lucky to be served Solanum nigrum prepared in a balsamic reduction sauce by Pascal’s partner Mia Wasilevich…and I’ve lived to tell the tale!

Pascal Baudar: Rock Star Forager

Photo by Mia Wasilevich

Los Angeles is home to a new rock star of foraging, Pascal Baudar. Originally from Belgium, I met Pascal through the Master Food Preserver program. Pascal teaches some amazing foraging classes in the Los Angeles area that you can sign up for via his meetup group: Los Angegles Wild Edibles and Self Reliance. He also has a website, Urban Outdoor Skills.

What makes Pascal different from may other foragers is that he has collaborated with his partner Mia Wasilevich, to figure out innovative culinary uses for the “weeds” we find in our local landscape. His Facebook page is full of stunning photographs such as the one above:

Quick wild edibles snack for lunch. Steamed Cattail heads with butter and habanero infused salt (homemade). Sauteed yucca flower buds and lambsquarters with aged balsamic vinegar. California Black walnut hot sauce (very similar to A1 but with a kick and more sweet). Some wild radish and mustard flowers as well as home made infused California bay salt.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of eating a foraged green salad, soup and “deconstructed potato salad” that he and Mia cooked up. It was, no exaggeration here, one of the most amazing meals of my life. That green salad that Mia prepared and Pascal foraged looked like this:

Photo by Mia Wasilevich

It consisted of:

Yucca flowers and bud in a nighshade berries redux sauce, sow thistle, curly dock, amaranth, wild radish sprouts, wild radish pods, cattail, radish flowers, mustard flowers, purslane in a lemon (secret dressing) and on the right, pickled yucca shoot, radish and walnuts with goat cheese.

All of the items in both dishes are easily obtainable here and many other places in North America. Proof that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to eat gourmet. 

Pure Vegan

Root Simple pal Joseph Shuldiner has pulled off something of a miracle with his new book Pure Vegan: 70 Recipes for Beautiful Meals and Clean Living. You’ll find no bizarre attempts to mimic meat. Ted Nugent might even dig the recipes in this book if you didn’t show him the cover.

Shuldiner has no agenda other than cooking up pure deliciousness. The recipes in this book just happen to be vegan. What you will find are some of my favorite ethnic foods: a nut mixture called Dukkah and roasted red pepper paste from Armenia called muhammarah. There’s also an idiot proof bread recipe that I teach at the Institute for Domestic Technology that Shuldiner runs. And, do I need to mention the vegan cocktails?

Full disclosure: Kelly and I helped test a few of the recipes in this book. Neither of us are vegans, but I’d happily make this book a part of our library and use it when the Nuge comes over for dinner.

Scrambled Eggs, Tomatoes and Bulgar

I believe we’ve mentioned Vegetarian Dishes from the Middle East by Arto Der Haroutunian here before. Given our obsession with our local Armenian supermarket it’s a must-have reference in our house. Lately we’re overwhelmed by eggs. I went to this book looking for something new to do with eggs and whatever basic ingredients I had in the pantry. I tried this recipe and liked it very much. It’s not pretty. It’s quick and tasty comfort food. I think it will be going on regular rotation.

The description says it was served in taverns throughout Turkey and Armenia early this century. I like to imagine sitting in a shadowy cool tavern eating this with fresh flat bread and drinking a cool beer.

It’s basically a simple scramble made substantial with bulgar wheat (aka burghul). See notes below for more on this ingredient.

Havgtov Tzavar (burghul with eggs)

1 onion, finely chopped
About 1 pound of tomatoes, either canned or fresh ones which have been blanched, peeled and chopped
4 ounces of fine bulgar wheat (the package may read #1/fine) (aka burghul)*
6 eggs
Spring/green onions for garnish, chopped
oil and/or butter for frying
salt, pepper, chili pepper

Two frying pans, one with a lid

***

Start by frying the onion in oil until soft. Then add the tomatoes and salt to taste. Simmer for about ten minutes, stirring occassionally, until the mixture thickens some.

Meanwhile put the bulgar in a bowl and rinse it with water until the water runs clear.  When the tomatoes and onions have had their 10 minutes in the pan, add the bulgar and stir it in well. Then put  a lid on the pan and set it aside for 10 minutes or so. (This is all the cooking the bulgar needs.)

Go to your other pan and scramble the eggs– be sure to add salt, pepper and a little chili pepper or powder for heat, if you want.

Cook the eggs until they’re just set, then dump them into the pan with the the tomato mix and toss.

Transfer to the serving dish immediately, garnishing with the green onions. Enjoy

*Regarding bulgar wheat aka burghul: This is whole wheat which has been parboiled, dried and ground. You may be most familiar with bulgar as the grain found in tabbouleh salad. Look for it in health food stores and Middle Eastern grocery stores or in the specialty aisles of some supermarkets. In the U.S. (and maybe elsewhere) it is sold in 4 different grinds, #1 being the finest and #4 the coarsest. These numbers are on the packaging. This recipe calls for the fine grind, which almost looks like Cream of Wheat, but is not quite that fine.

**Regarding substitutions:  I know there will be substitution questions, because there always are. Fine bulgar is really fine and creates a very specific texture, so I don’t know of any direct substitution. Couscous is the closest, but not quite the same. So while I’d say you can’t recreate this recipe exact to spirit without fine bulgar, I will also say that scrambled eggs tossed with pre-cooked grains of different sorts can be quite good–even if they are not Havgtov Tzavar. Try using cooked leftover rice, for instance, and see what happens. I also like the old Italian trick of scrambling eggs with leftover pasta (and leftover sauce if you’ve got it), which is something different altogether, but quite good.

Don’t store your cucumbers in the fridge

Image courtesy of UC Davis. Photographer: Don Edwards

Just in time for cucumber season, some news that surprises me. Did you know that you should store cucumbers at room temperature?

Credit for my enlightenment goes to UC Davis. (May I just say bless UC Davis for all the good it does?) In this case I’m referencing their department of Post Harvest Technology. According to them, cukes should be stored at room temperature. If you do feel the need to put them in the fridge, they can tolerate up to 3 days of cold storage if they are used soon as they are removed from the refrigerator.

Seems that cucumbers are susceptible to cold injury if held more than 3 days at temperatures lower than 50F/10C. Signs of cold injury are wateriness, pitting on the outside and accelerated decay

Another factoid: Cucumbers are sensitive to ethylene gas, which is put off by some ripening fruits and vegetables. So for longest storage, don’t keep your cukes near melons, tomatoes or bananas.

Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are also damaged by cold, so keep these on your counter as well.  I’ve highlighted cucumbers in this post, because I think most people refrigerate them as a matter of course–I did, at least. Whereas its more common, I think, to leave tomatoes to ripen on the counter. If you want to read up on any particular fruit or veggie, see the fact sheets linked below.

UC Davis Fact Sheet on Cucumbers

Index of all their many fact sheets

“Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Better Taste” — a handy .pdf chart to print out and hang on your fridge.

Four Ways to Preserve Prickly Pear Pads (Nopales)

For my final project in the Los Angeles Master Food Preserver Program I attempted to see how many ways I could preserve the abundant pads of the prickly pear cactus that grows in our front yard. Of course they are best fresh, but I like them so much that I wanted to see if I could preserve some for use later in the year. Incidentally, I prepare them fresh by first cutting them into strips and boiling them for five minutes to remove the mucilaginous texture. After boiling I pan fry them and serve them with eggs. It’s a meal that comes, except for the salt, entirely out of the yard. What follows are the methods I used to preserve those tasty pads.

Dehydrated
I removed the spines, cut the pads into 3/4 inch strips and boiled them for one minute. I then marinated them for ten minutes in soy sauce and dried them until brittle in an Excalibur dehydrator at 135º F for a couple of hours. Prepared this way they actually taste a bit like beef jerky. You definitely need to spice them–when dried plain they have a bit of a dirt note in terms of taste. Next year I plan on trying some more dried “nopalitos” with some different marinades.

Frozen
Once again, I removed the spines. cut them into strips and boiled them for one minute. I then packed them in to freezer bags. Freezing is the best method in terms of taste and nutrition. It’s easy and it works great.

Pickled
I used the this okra recipe from the National Center for Home Preservation for my pickled nopalitos. They turned out very tasty.

Pressure Canned
Prickly pear is sold canned both in water and with a small amount of vinegar.  Unfortunately there are no tested home canning recipes for pressure canned prickly pear pads (this needs to be rectified but is difficult in an era of reduced funding for Extension Services). I used a tested recipe for okra and consumed the product immediately as I don’t trust my own untested pressure canning recipes. The results were acceptable but not exciting–basically they tasted like canned vegetables and had a slightly mushy texture. If I had a tested recipe to work with, that used a small amount of vinegar, perhaps the processing time could be reduced, leading to a crisper result.

Lastly I should mention that I’ve dried and made jelly with the fruit in previous years. If you’ve got a favorite way to preserve the pads or fruit please leave a comment.

Remember to Label Those Jars!

“Label, label, label!” This was one of the most important lessons I learned in my Master Food Preserver training. You’ll note, from the jars above, that I’m not very good about this. When were those jars canned and what’s in them? I have no idea. They were probably the result of some late night canning frenzy two years ago. At the time I probably thought to myself, “I’ll label them in the morning.”

Not only should the jars be labeled, but it would also have been nice to have some notes on the recipe I used and where the fruit was sourced from. To this end I’ve started a preservation diary in a useful program called Evernote.

Perhaps I should get a tattoo on my forearm that says, “Label, label, label.”

Three Days of Earth Oven Building Compressed Into a Short Video

We just finished a three day earth oven workshop taught by Kurt Gardella and Ben Loescher. Many thanks to all who participated: Laurie, Brian, Leslie, Jenny and Connie.We’ve got to let the oven dry for a few weeks before we put on the final coat. But it’s basically finished. The base is made with traditional adobe bricks and the dome is cob.

Don’t worry, we’ll explain the process in future blog posts. Right now we’re too exhausted to write about it. In the meantime, please enjoy our highly compressed video version of the past three days.

Should Reuseable Bags Be Washed?

Root Simple’s stylish new norovirus shopping bag.

Kansas State University’s humorously named Barf Blog has been following the story of a norovirus outbreak related to a reusable grocery bag that sickened 13 members of a soccer team. Norovirus, incidentally, is the most common foodborne illness–when you get food poisoning or the “stomach flu,” odds are that it’s probably norovirus.

So should you wash your reusable bags to prevent norovirus? It’s probably a good idea but, according to Barf Blog, there’s not a lot of evidence about the question–just one study on the matter.

In fact it’s not clear if the bag in this 2010 incident was to blame or the fact that the bag, stuffed with food, spent some time on the floor of the bathroom where, “viral particles likely floated over from the toilet.” Yuck! No wonder the Barf Blog folks avoid potlucks.

So how do you dodge norovirus? Food safety professor Doug Powell, writing for Barf Blog has this list of factoids and suggestions:

1. Norovirus can spread infection through contact with surfaces and objects contaminated by aerosolized particles.
2. Noroviruses are highly contagious, even in low concentration, and the viruses spread efficiently from feces and vomit by direct and indirect contact.
3. Noroviruses are the leading cause of endemic diarrheal disease across all age groups, the leading cause of foodborne disease, and the cause of half of all gastroenteritis outbreaks worldwide.
4. Whenever possible, ill persons should use a separate bathroom to reduce the potential for spread of the virus. Notify family members or cleaning staff about the need for thorough disinfection of surfaces.

There goes my business plan for a combination bathroom/salad bar at the airport! But it does seem like washing hands should be a higher priority than washing reusable bags.