Foraging the Garden – Unlikely Edibles, Part 2

You’re stuck at home with nothing fresh and healthy in your fridge or cupboards. First, resolve to modify your grocery list (jk!), and then, look out to your yard for inspiration. When I go to my garden, I see quite a few things that I can use to add nutritional value to our meals. It’s not quite the “grocery garden” that I intend for it to be, but it’s getting there.

I enjoy gardening. I like to cultivate plants from seeds and cuttings. I get such a thrill from seeing green sprouts burgeoning out of the soil or green buds developing on stem nodes. Flowers have me doing a happy little wiggle, not only because they’re lovely, but they usually also mean that fruiting is at hand.

As much as I love plants that I grew myself, the excitement that a volunteer brings is something else. I will ruthlessly yank crabgrass from the soil, but with any other weed, I manifest a strange fascination. I’m always willing to let a volunteer grow more sturdy and then replant it in a separate pot, waiting to see what kind of plant it would turn out to be. More often than not, these weeds are medicinal, usually offering what could count as leafy greens as well. There have also been instances when volunteers turned out to be plants I would have grown willingly myself. For example, a papaya seedling suddenly showed up in a pot beside my dragon fruit plant. In another instance, a purple periwinkle (vinca) grew in a crack on the garden wall.

There is a popular volunteer, however, that tends to get overlooked since it’s common to see it as ground cover. I’m referring to the pansit-pansitan (pepper elder/ shining bush/ man to man). It’s characterized by shiny heart-shaped leaves and spikes with dotted tips, which are supposed to be their flowers. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), it also bears tiny round or oblong fruits, ridged, first green and later black. I’ve never seen a pansit-pansitan with fruit, or maybe I just haven’t been paying attention. Its presence is so ubiquitous that I tend to ignore it.

Pansit-pansitan is incredibly medicinal. It helps with various ailments from skin problems to diarrhea to gout, et cetera. And, as I’ve learned from various gardening groups I belong to, it makes for good eating too. So, I decided to try it out. I went to the garden and snipped the bigger leaves, washed them, and then included them in a salad. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a chopped up onion, tomato slices, and lettuce, plus the pansit-pansitan. I then drizzled it with a dressing concoction of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon essential oil, ground black pepper, and sea salt.

Now, as mentioned, I harvested the pansit-pansitan from my own garden. I know it’s clean since I garden organically. My main fungicides are baking soda and ground cinnamon, and my pesticide is a garlic-chili spray I made myself. I nourish the soil with natural fertilizers like vermicast, epsom salt, fermented fruit juice, et cetera. Don’t get your pansit-pansitan from the side of the road and other questionable spots.

Another word of caution involves use of essential oils. Not all of them may be ingested orally. Make sure you’re familiar with the list of edible oils before putting any in your food.

I’m interested to learn more about wild edibles. I would really love to suddenly find pako (fiddlehead fern) in my garden, but that’s probably not going to happen since I don’t live in a rainforest (I used to!).

Anyway, I’d love to hear about your own foraging stories. Please share if you have any. Hasta luego.

Foraging the Garden – Unlikely Edibles, Part 1

When word of a lockdown started buzzing across the nation, my brain went on prepper mode. If we couldn’t go out for weeks, would we have everything we needed at home? While I can’t say that I came face to face with my inner hoarder, I can say that the impulse to panic buy bucked and reared, ready to gallop straight to the nearest warehouse store.

Unfortunately, all this went down right before we were to do our weekly grocery shopping. Taking stock of our fridge, I could tell our supplies were running low. And while our cupboards boasted enough packaged and canned goods to last us a week (mainly items I tended to ignore since they weren’t favorites), the fruit bowl was beginning to collect dust and a desolate wind was whistling through the barren vegetable crisper.

Obviously, there was really no need to panic buy since the stores remained accessible. For a few minutes though, I had to rack my brain for ideas on how to make our then-meager supplies stretch. With the absence of fresh produce, I also had to think about other ways to source fruits and veggies.

Thankfully, we have a small garden, and it can provide us with some healthy edibles if the scenario we were anticipating had been realized. With my exaggerated perception of the situation’s urgency, I was googling “edible weeds” and “edible mushrooms” (not that we’ve ever come across an edible kind in our garden). Thankfully, pansit-pansitan (in English aka pepper elder, shining bush plant, man to man), which we often get, is always featured in the list of wild edibles. 

However, a really exciting discovery for me (because I’m a plant nerd; also, I’m lame) is that we can eat mulberry leaves. I know you can feed them to livestock (I wish I had goats. 🙁 ) and you can brew them for tea, but I didn’t realize we could eat them as leafy greens. According to several posts I came across in my local gardening Facebook group, you can pluck young leaves and fritter them as you would making crispy kangkong (Chinese water spinach), make laing (he’e lu’au in Hawaiian – we don’t need to make this with octopus in the Philippines) with them instead of taro leaves (you won’t have to worry about your tongue possibly itching either), and stuff them as you would grape leaves.

Since I tend to like most fritters, that’s the first option I tried. You basically make crispy mulberry leaves the same way you cook crispy kangkong. It mainly involves egg, cornstarch, flour, cold water, and seasoning. I tried frittering talinum (fameflower) leaves as well, which I have a lot of, but I think they’re too soft. I’ll stick to just mulberry leaves next time. Or throw in some actual kangkong as well. Since the last frittering attempt, I’ve grown both lowland and upland kangkong.

I didn’t know I’d be blogging about it, so the pictures aren’t very appetizing. I just sent them to my family to show them, hey, you can do this! 

In the same eating-off-the-land/foraging-my-garden vein, I will also post about making pansit-pansitan salad and sprouting chia seeds for microgreens.

If you also forage your yard for food, please share your finds and what you do with them. 🙂

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