Something for Nothing – Wild Mustard Greens


Sometimes there is such a thing as a free lunch, which was the case for us yesterday after discovering a large stand of white mustard (Sinapis alba) growing at the end of a nearby dead end street. Mustard grows all over the neighborhood, but rarely in a place out of dog pee range like this little patch. Classified by the USDA as a noxious weed, the leaves have a pleasant and pungent flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. From the Plants for a Future database entry:

“Leaves . . . A hot pungent flavour, especially if eaten raw. Young leaves are used as a flavouring in mixed salads, whilst older leaves are used as a potherb. Seed – sprouted and eaten raw. The seed takes about 4 days to be ready. A hot flavour, it is often used in salads. A nutritional analysis is available. The seed can be ground into a powder and used as a food flavouring, it is the ‘white mustard’ of commerce . . . The pungency of mustard develops when cold water is added to the ground-up seed – an enzyme (myrosin) acts on a glycoside (sinigrin) to produce a sulphur compound. The reaction takes 10 – 15 minutes. Mixing with hot water or vinegar, or adding salt, inhibits the enzyme and produces a mild bitter mustard.”

And speaking of urban foraging, we’ve been inspired by our visitor from Chicago, Nancy Klehm. Hear an interview with her, “Foraging for Food on the Streets of L.A.“, on Weekend America. Happy foraging . . .

Arundo dorax

My native Los Angeles and Houston, where Homegrown Evolution is in temporary residence, have a lot in common. Both are real cities, unlike the Disneyfied theme parks that New York and San Francisco have become. Both Houston and Los Angeles have lots of heavy industry and working ports. Visit the docks in Manhattan or San Francisco and you’ll find expensive restaurants and boutiques. Like the port of Los Angeles, along Houston’s Bayous you’ll find refineries, factories and scrap metal yards. And both L.A. and Houston have clogged mega-freeways.

Add to these parallels, an abundance of Arundo dorax, a giant invasive reed known by the popular name, Carrizo. According to Delena Tull’s excellent book, Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest, Arundo dorax seeds can be ground into a flour, the young shoots are edible and a kind of candy can be made from the stems. Just like bamboo, the tough stems make excellent building materials, which is why the plant was originally imported to California in the early 19th century.

Arudo dorax often finds a home alongside river banks, and in Los Angeles massive amounts of it wash up on the beach after big storms. The plant’s prodigious spread and ability to crowd out native species puts it on many a bad-ass plant list. Homegrown Evolution’s attitude is–like it or not it’s here, so we might as well learn to work with it, just like the folks I saw the other day who repurposed this abandoned (and wind damaged!) gas station for an impromptu barbecue.

Sadly I wasn’t able to get a picture of them, but the BBQ smelled good.

Feral Tomatoes on the Bayou

While walking along Houston’s Buffalo Bayou, just next to a concrete plant and under a bridge we stumbled on some feral tomatoes. We theorized that some fast food meal pitched in the gutter found it’s way into this meandering, heavily industrialized waterway. The tomatoes separated from the cheeseburger, floated to the surface of the water and were deposited on the muddy banks of the bayou. Houston’s hot and humid climate sprouted the seeds and the result is the plant below.

Back with more foraging tales soon once we’ve returned from Texas.

Gardening Classes at Silver Lake Farms

Local gardening guru Tara Kolla, who we met in the course of writing our book the Urban Homestead, will be hosting a series of very reasonably priced classes at her beautiful urban farm in Silver Lake beginning in March. Topics include vermicomposting, organic gardening and more. Full information on the Silver Lake Farms website. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, we highly recommend taking a class or two, and sign up early as space is limited.

How to Homestead

Homegrown Evolution’s Self Watering Container video is up on the brand new site How to Homestead, described by its creators as:

“the only site on the web providing you with a collection of how to homestead videos to stream or download. No longer relegated to the rural sphere, homesteading can be done anywhere and we are here to show you how.”

With many homesteading activities, from chicken slaughtering to tortellini making, internet based video is a useful resource when you don’t have a friend or relative to show you a skill first hand. Kudos to the How to Homesteaders and we look forward to future episodes on this nicely designed site.

To celebrate the launch of howtohomestead.org, director Melinda Stone will be presenting an evening of short films and performances about self-sufficiency and sustainable DIY activities at San Francisco’s ATA space, located at 992 Valencia Street on March 29th at 8:30 p.m. For more information on this screening see www.othercinema.com.

Mallow (Malva parviflora) an Edible Friend

In late February, towards the end of our winter rains, it’s high weed season here in Los Angeles–folks in other parts of the country will have to wait a few more months. We await this season with anticipation, since it’s the best time of year to forage for wild edible weeds. We’ll highlight a few of these edible weeds in the next few months beginning today with Mallow (Malva parviflora also known as cheeseweed because the shape of the fruit resembles a round of cheese), which grows in great abundance in lawns and parkways.

Malva parviflora does not have an especially strong or exciting taste, but does make a pleasant addition to salads and can be cooked as a green. Both the leaves and the immature fruit are edible. An assortment of cooking ideas can be found on Of the Field, maintained by wild food author and self described “environmentarian” Linda Runyan. A Turkish blogger has a recipe for mallow and rice here. We’ve used mallow in salads, and it would also do well cooked Italian style in a pan with olive oil, garlic and some hot peppers to spice it up a bit.

Malva parviflora comes from the old world–the ancient Greeks make it into a green sauce and use the leaves as a substitute for grape leaves for making dolmas. Modern Mexicans also make a green sauce with the leaves. If any of you readers have recipes, please send them along.

If that ain’t enough, the mucilaginous nature of the plant can be exploited by making a decoction of the leaves and roots to use as a shampoo, hair softener, and treatment for dandruff.

And yet, like so many other gardening books, the oh-so-bourgeois Sunset Garden Guide only tells you how to get rid of mallow, and fails to note its many useful qualities.

Spent Grain Bread–We Brew Econo


D. Boon from the Minutemen (the musicians, not the rifle clutching revolutionary war dudes or the contemporary anti-immigrant racist dudes) dreamt of a day where every block would have its own band, a distributed and democratic D.I.Y network of musical creativity encircling the globe. Why trek to faraway Hollywood when you can jam at home in San Pedro?

With the band on every block, Homegrown Evolution would like to add a brewery in every kitchen (seems like a obvious combination). Last week we made our first attempt at beer, in the improvised two gallon plastic tub on the right, and next week we’ll know if it’s worth drinking or if it’s compost. We’ll do a taste test and report back on the whole process when we crack the first bottle.

What we do know was a success is using the spent grains, the leftover malted barley and crystal malt that we used in the beer recipe, which are strained out before the beer is put away to ferment, as a flavoring for our wild yeast bread (recipe and instructions for making that bread here—we added 4.5 ounces of the spent grains to the dough–and we just threw them in whole without grinding them up as some folks on the internets suggest). The rich, smoky taste and the dark color these grains imparted to the bread makes us want to brew another batch of beer soon, if just to make bread. The spent grains we didn’t use for bread got fed to the chickens who clucked appreciatively.