Wednesday, September 15, 2010

wild edibles-sassafras

Sassafras is one of my favorite wild edibles. Even though one doesn't generally eat it,it has many uses around the homestead  as a food/drink, medicinal purposes and as a natural dye(yellowish), so I classify it as  an edible.

First and foremost, the FDA has classified sassafras as a carcinogenic, so don't go eating 50 pounds of it in a session or you might get ill. I personally go by the rule, all things in moderation. I know many "foods" that are a carcinogen and they allow the use of them . I will not hop on my soap box but,  will allow each as an individual to decide for his/her self.

Sassafras is one of the easiest to identify plants/ trees  out in the wild. The leaves make it very easy to pick out as they often times look like mittens and they do not have just one shape of the leaves. One tree can have several  leaf shapes on it.

My favorite uses for sassafras are for making teas and in  making soda. Tea is made by steeping  the bark,  leaves or root of the tree  in water. In England, the tea is mixed with milk and sugar to make saloop, a morning beverage. I prefer it with just a touch of honey. To  make soda or traditional style root beer, make a simple  syrup and follow the directions for soda making.
Simple syrup
2 cups of broken-up sassafras twigs or root
 2 1/2 cups water
  2 1/2 cups sugar
 1  teaspoons citric acid or lemon juice
 Peel some of the green bark away from the twigs. The bark has most of the flavor.  Cover the twigs with the water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover and let steep overnight. Strain the sassafras tea through a strainer to remove any debris and measure it. You should still have 2 1/2 cups. Add as much sugar as you have tea, stir it to combine and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat and let it cool. Add the citric acid, 1/2 teaspoon at a time
Store syrup in the fridge in a closed jar.  Keeps for up to a year.

Another great use for sassafras is as a thickener in soups, stews and gumbo.  Gumbo would not be traditional gumbo without using file. To make, simply dry the leaves of the sassafras and crush or grind. Add it to your recipe as the thickening agent rather than a flour or corn starch thickener.

Medicinally, sassafras is said to have value as a stimulant, pain reliever, astringent and treatment for rheumatism. Skin problems may be bathed in an infusion from the leaves. . It is said that chewing on the bark may help break the tobacco habit, however, the  FDA says it isn't good for you and well... you know. I have known a few folks that have used the twig chewing to aid them in breaking the nicotine  habit and they have not died from cancer.

Here is another recipe that I have not tried, but thought I would include it since  it sounds good. I am going to make my own version of it here on the homestead soon, replacing  what I have on hand  for what I do not have in the recipe.

Sassafras peanut sauce
2 tbs. peanut oil
2 red onions, chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup toasted peanuts, finely chopped
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup water
3 tbs. lime juice
1/2 tsp. sassafras root bark (cambium) or cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. liquid stevia
Saute the onions and garlic in the peanut oil 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer 10 minutes.
Puree in a blender or food processor if you prefer a smoother sauce.Serve hot or at room temperature. You can cook vegetables or tofu in this sauce. Serve over rice or pasta.

Here is another link that has some jellies, mead and candies  using sassafras.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

sun dried tomatoes

I am still getting a ton of what are supposed to be cherry  and grape tomatoes,  but since it has been so dry here they are more like currant sized fruit, rather than  grapes or cherries. While this makes them easy to use in salads or to just pop in your mouth, finding any other use for them has been difficult.

A few weeks  back, I decided to see how well they would  dehydrate in the solar dehydrator so that I could then use them in soups and stews or grind them into a powder to make quick tomato paste. They seem to dry quite well  although they do take a bit of time, well quite a bit of time. Since I have a dash of hippie in me, I try to make or take short cuts when ever I can to save myself a bit of work. This means I leave them whole to dry rather than trying to cut those teeny tiny buggers in half. Besides, I might could chop my finger off attempting to do such a thing. On nice, dry sunny days, it is taking about 3 days to dehydrate them to proper dryness. If I cut them in half, it easily takes a day off the drying time but I am in no rush, and  why rush a good thing.

While I use both our solar oven and our solar dryer, you do not have to have anything but a screen to set them on, the sun, low humidity, and time.  At night I just cover them up with a tarp or bring the screens  they are sitting on  in the shack  to keep the dew off.

To make quick tomato paste, I simply grind the tomatoes in to a powder and add a bit of water to make a quick paste of them. It works great for recipes where you do not need an entire can of paste and when you are cooking for just two people, that is the majority of the time. I also like to grind the dried tomatoes up somewhat small and add them to salad dressings , they really add some great flavor and zing to anything you put them in.