Month: April 2015

100 Miles in 100 Days: Looking back at Week 5

This past week of our 100 Miles in 100 Days walks yielded many exciting spots along the Raleigh greenways and several new edible plant varieties!  So far, we’ve documented 60 edible plants just in the last 37 days alone!

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We traveled mostly along portions of the Rocky Branch Trail and Centennial Bike Connector, going by and through the NC State Farmers Market, Pullen Park, Dorthea Dix [Park], NCSU Main and Centennial Campuses, and Lake Johnson.  Oh the things you can see!  Check out some highlights below.

Happy Earth Day on the Rocky Branch Trail from Meredith through NCSU and on to Pullen Park!

Beautiful Earth Day morning on the greenway! #earthdayerryday #riseandshine

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Wish we had smell-o-vision for this one, although y’all might be glad we don’t! #greenway #100miles100days A photo posted by Piedmont Picnic Project (@piedmontpicnicproject) on

#hybrid #buttercup

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Apparently muskrats live here in Raleigh! Who knew? Think this is a muskrat abode? #greenway #urbanwildlife #muskratlove #100miles100days A photo posted by Piedmont Picnic Project (@piedmontpicnicproject) on

#blacklocust flowers in bloom in the #piedmont… #edible and #smellsdivine. #foraging #wildfoodlove #100miles100days

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Rocky Branch Trail from NC State Farmers Market to Lake Johnson   

#wildrose in #bloom in the #piedmont! #foraged #100miles100days

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#foragelove #wherelovegrows #100miles100days #Raleighgreenways

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#tulippoplar #fallen #100miles100days #Raleighgreenway

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#jackinthepulpit #100miles100days #Raleighgreenways

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100 Miles in 100 Days: Looking back at Week 4

Have you been keeping up with our 100 Miles in 100 Days series?  Follow us on instagram for continuous updates.  We’ll be walking, photographing, posting, foraging, and cooking/preserving/fermenting from all 100 miles of Raleigh greenway over the course of the 100 days from the first day of spring to the first day of summer!  We’re about one third of the way there now…  See where we’ve been in the last week below.

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House Creek Trail north from Wade Avenue

#cornflower #bachelorsbutton blooming in the piedmont! #edibleflowers #foraged #100miles100days #nofilter #eattheweeds #wildedibles

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#woodsorrel starting to pop in the #piedmont! #salad #lemonade #foraged #eattheweeds #wildfoodlove A photo posted by Piedmont Picnic Project (@piedmontpicnicproject) on

#futureblackberry in bloom in the #piedmont! #100miles100days #raleighgreenways #foraged #wildfoodlove A photo posted by Piedmont Picnic Project (@piedmontpicnicproject) on

#mayapple #thestruggleisreal #100miles100days #raleighgreenways

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Walnut Creek Trail

Rushing water has the amazing ability to mask traffic sounds no matter how close the road #100miles100days #greenway #whitenoise #citywithinapark

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Piedmont Picnic at bEARTHday with Raleigh City Farm!

Piedmont Picnic Project had a great time teaching folks of all ages about foraging local weeds at our table and co-hosting the kids activities with Marbles Kids Museum at the Raleigh City Farm 3rd annual bEARTHday Celebration!  We loved teaching kids about creative reuse, wild weeds, nature art, seed starting, and recycling/composting with the fun activities below!  See full gallery HERE.

Foraging Local Weeds

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Paper Nature Crowns

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Recycle Round-Up

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Water Bottle Terrariums

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Wild Weed Bingo

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Rosebud… I Mean, Redbud…

As we’ve been walking the Raleigh Greenways as part of our 100 Miles in 100 Days series, we have seen pops of bright magenta in the trees all along the way.  This bright pink color is thanks to the Redbud tree, and not only is it lovely, it’s also one of my favorite wild edibles.

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Unlike many of the wild edibles we’ve posted about so far, this one is not an interloper from Europe or Asia; rather it’s a tree that is native to North America.  This is exciting  in part because it seems a rare quality among many of the wild plants we’ve been foraging, but also because it is perhaps a small peek at what the local landscape may have looked like before European colonization of people and of land.  It leads us to explore another part of our local history.

The Tuscarora tribe of Native Americans who made their homes in the Piedmont and coastal regions of North Carolina are probably familiar, at least by name, to those who grew up in the state. They were the people who first encountered the English settlers exploring their land, and they are the people whom the Tuscarora War references after fighting (unsurprisingly) began shortly after contact.

John Lawson was the official surveyor general of the Carolinas, and as part of his job duties, in 1700 he became the first recorded European to explore the area that is now Raleigh and Wake County. Here he is, looking just like he did after weeks living in the woods. Probably. (Image courtesy of Eastern Carolina University.)

John Lawson awaiting his death

In this cool painting, the Tuscarora have tied up John Lawson and two companions so that they don’t run away before being executed. The Tuscarora were initially open to contact with Europeans, but soon became unhappy that so many of them were being raped, tortured, and enslaved by the new settlers. After killing Lawson in 1711, they moved on to attack New Bern, which marked the beginning of the Tuscarora War. (Image courtesy of State Archives of North Carolina.)

While John Lawson was wandering around Raleigh–pre-Fayetteville Street–he encountered what we know as the Neuse River. That same year, the Neuse River’s ostensible namesakes, the Neusiok tribe of Native Americans, were experiencing their last known year of existence. There were only four remaining members in 1700, and they are believed to have been absorbed by the more populous Tuscarora.

Tying this all back to our 100 Miles in 100 Days series, these redbud trees were used by the Neusiok, Tuscarora, and other people who had been living on land that overlapped its habitat. They ate them cooked or raw, and used infusions of them to treat issues like fevers and coughs.

Plant Profile: Redbud

So what are ways we can use this versatile plant today?  The flowers are beginning to dwindle, so get them quickly!  But even if you miss them, they produce another product next – little snow-pea-like seed pods.  This is why it’s important to note where you saw the blooming trees, so you remember where to return for the next harvest!

Old pod from last season.

Old pod from last season.

Description and Habitat.  Redbuds are deciduous small trees or shrubs in the pea family.  They grow in the wild and are also grown ornamentally, so you could see them in forests, along greenways, or even in your neighbor’s lawn.  They generally bloom better with at least some sun.  Look for clusters of bright pink/purple flowers growing in bunches right along the stem or trunk in spring, for snow-pea-like pods hanging from the branches after they flower, and for heart-shaped leaves.

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Harvest.   Redbud blossoms can be harvested in their unopened bud stage or in bloom.  You’ll notice them blooming from late March to mid April.  When the flowers die back, the trees set small snow-pea-like pods that are also edible.  Get them when they are almost as long as your thumb but while they are still tender before they turn tough or dry out.

Small new pods beginning to set as flowers fade.

Small new pods beginning to set as flowers fade.

Flavor and Use.   Flowers and pods both have a very pea-like flavor and lend a delicious fresh crunch to salads, wraps, and sandwiches.  Unopened blooms can be pickled like capers, and blossoms can be made into jellies.  Eat seed pods as you would snow peas.  Young leaves are also edible raw or cooked.

Wild Flower Summer Rolls

Think of these as your new favorite portable way to eat salad.  Adding edible wild flowers to these makes for a stunning presentation as the colors show through the transparent wrappers.

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Prepare any of the following filling ingredients so that they are ready to assemble:  

spring greens, foraged or not (lettuce, baby kale, pea shoots, chickweed)

carrots, cut into matchsticks

mint and cilantro, torn in pieces

edible wild flowers, such as violets and redbuds

peas or redbud pods, fresh or blanched

rice noodles, prepared according to package directions

Now you will need your spring roll rice paper wrappers.

Dip them in warm water (about like bath water) until just starting to soften and bend (they will continue to soften as you work).

Lay out flat on a smooth work surface (note wood surfaces tend to stick).

Layer a mixture of fillings of your choosing from above in the center of the top third of the wrapper.

Stretch and fold top of wrapper down to just cover ingredients. Then fold in each end like a burrito.  Finally, roll contents to bottom of wrapper, keeping ends tucked in.

Serve with dipping sauce of your choosing – such as a spicy ginger-garlic peanut sauce [make by blending ginger, garlic, peanuts/peanut butter, soy sauce, and oil together to your desired taste].

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Raleigh Greenways: No shrinking violet

I didn’t need a calendar to tell me spring had arrived in North Carolina…  All I had to do was look out at my yard and the yards of so many others to see them blanketed in pink, purple, white, and yellow flowers!  I love this time of year before people pull out their lawnmowers, while they are still letting their yards turn into little wild places!  And even the smallest wild place can be a place to find some wild food.

Many of these flowers, including our featured plant today – violets – can seem so common that we take them for granted and ignore that they are just as beautiful as many cultivated flowers.  Many of them are also quite edible and useful!

This idea of something so prolific and common that we forget what a treasure it really is reminded us of our 100 Miles in 100 Days campaign.  To us, the 100 miles of Raleigh greenways are something we have often ignored and taken for granted, but as we explore them more and more of late, we see their value as wild places full of wild edibles and full of a rich natural and cultural history.

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 Where does Raleigh greenway history begin?

Speaking of wild places, they don’t all have to be remote locations, left undisturbed for generations to create a perfect, mystical balance of how nature should be. Your lawn, or the vacant lot down the road–or the edges of Raleigh’s greenway trails–all have things growing in them, right? But what a bummer it would be if there weren’t. If everything were paved over. Or plucked bare. Thinking of the Dust Bowl in the Great Depression? Or the Lorax? Pretty bleak.

When Raleigh was growing itself rapidly away from downtown in the 1960s and 1970s, voices began speaking out with concerns over what all the new construction and developments were doing to existing wild and natural spaces. Where were all the trees going? Or the people who loved them? And what about all the damn flooding?

The short version of a longer story is that City Council turned a report from a summer intern titled, “Raleigh: The Park with a City in It” into a reality.

The two main creeks, Walnut and Crabtree, would be protected to help manage the area’s floodplain, the surrounding wetlands would be a habitat for plants and animals, and the pathways would “give alternative to the automobile for short commuter trips” around the city. Ever since Central Park was created in NYC in the 1850s, there have been strong advocates for natural spaces within cities. However, the extent to which the Capital City Greenway is integrated into Raleigh’s business, residential, and other development was so unprecedented that it was considered the first citywide greenway system in the United States when it was begun in 1974.

Each section of the greenway has been added in the years since then, slowly working toward making them fully interconnected. As land is turned over to be cleared, or paved, it creates opportunities for new wild things to grow. Chances are, if you’re in Raleigh, you’re not much more than a few minutes away from a greenway trail at any moment. Which also means, you’re not much more than a few minutes away from discovering some of Raleigh’s coolest natural spots.

Plant Profile: Common Violet

One plant that is so common on the greenways (and probably in your lawn) this time of year is the common blue violet.  Sprinkle a handful of these blooms on any plate, and you will take it straight into gourmet territory.

Description and Habitat.  Violets like to grow in areas that are fairly moist, yet also offer some sun, which makes them bloom more prolifically.  Look for heart-shaped, somewhat glossy leaves about four inches tall and five-petaled purple flowers about one inch across.  Flowers have yellowish-white middles that are slightly furry.  Some violets are white blossomed with faint purple veins in the petals and are just as edible and quite striking!

Harvest.  Blossoms are present in early spring (late March to mid April), and are best harvested in the morning.  Leaves stick around most of the year.  They are best harvested when still very young and rolled up like a scroll.

Flavor and Use.  Common violet flowers (unlike their more fragrant English violet cousins) have a very faint scent – almost undetectable.  Their flavor is green tasting much like a salad green.  Generally, their use is more for their striking purple color which lends itself to garnish dishes or to be infused in syrups and liqueurs.  The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked – but when cooked can have somewhat mucilaginous qualities.

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 Violet Syrup

Place violets in a heat safe container such as the mason jar below.

WP_20150401_020Pour boiling water over the flowers – just enough to cover them.  Place a lid/plate over the steeping violets and allow to sit for up to 24 hours for maximum extraction of that beautiful purple color (cat optional).

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Drain violets, squeezing as much liquid out of the flowers as possible.  Gorgeous, isn’t it? Measure your liquid.

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At this point, you have two color options: pinkish-purple or bluish-black.

For bluish-black, warm your liquid with an equal amount of sugar (i.e., if you have 1 cup liquid, you’ll want 1 cup sugar) over low heat until sugar is fully dissolved.  Do not boil.  Pour into clean jar.   The color will lose some vibrancy but stay more violet.

Alternatively, add a few drops of lemon juice before sealing, and it will regain vibrancy but be a more pink-purple color rather than blue-violet.  This pinkish-purple shade is in the photo below (the other bottle in the background is a ground ivy syrup made in a similar way).

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What to do with this gorgeous purple syrup with an oh-so-delicate spring green taste?  Why not a cocktail?  We call it shrinking not for it’s flavor, but because it seems to disappear so quickly!

Shrinking Violet Cocktail

To make, shake the following in a cocktail shaker over ice and strain into a martini glass:

1.5 oz gin

1 oz violet syrup

1 egg white

juice of 1/4 lemon

Garnish with a violet, of course!

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Monthly Planting Guide: April in the Piedmont

April is a very exciting time for planting, as you can see by how long our list grows!  Since April 5th is this zone’s average last frost date, summer crops can start going out into the garden from mid-April on…  but make sure you keep an eye on those evening low temps!  Late frosts are not unheard of, and can decimate summer transplants.  If a late frost does happen, cover summer transplants with overturned cups, jars, or buckets.  Getting closer every day to that first ripe tomato…

April Seed Guide

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Wild History a Wild Success

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Saturday was our first Wild History Walking Tour of the spring, and it was great way to kick off the spring season and our 100 Miles in 100 Days blogging series – where we’ll be walking and looking for wild edibles all along the 100 miles of Raleigh greenway during 100 days of spring.

100 Miles3We met at Milburnie Park and headed down the Neuse River Trail to Milburnie Dam, taking full advantage of Raleigh’s gorgeous greenways.  We had a sold-out group of very enthusiastic foragers – such a fun group!

#WildHistory #foraging #bittercress

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We found lots of great examples of wild spring greens, and learned a little more about the history of the area along the way – including Milburnie dam and bridge.  

#PurpleDeadNettle #WildHistory

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The weather cooperated beautifully – with cool, crisp temps but also abundant sunshine!

The day ended with a delicious spread of hot henbit-ground ivy tea, wild greens pesto, wild greens salad, local cheese, local bread, and hickory nut cookies!  I received one of the best compliments I think I’ve ever had on our wild foods picnic – that it was better than a steak dinner.  Wow!  I’ll take that!

#WildHistory Picnic with foraged greens and maple syrup dressing from locally tapped maple. Oh, and hickory nut sandies!

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If you were one of our attendees, we want to thank you so much for making it such a fun experience!  If you missed us this time, don’t worry, there will be many more opportunities to join in the fun!

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