Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

The marshland down the sreet from my house is home to a wild edible feast!

Need water? Look for cattails. A sure sign of H2O, these bushy-topped marsh lovers do a lot more than just look cool – they’re actually a versatile and nutritious wild edible!

See if you can recognize them in the picture. Luckily, they’re pretty easy to identify by their tall, sword shaped green leaves and center stalk topped by a cigar shaped, furry looking seed head. In the wintertime, the seed head turns white and dies, but will frequently remain on the plant until spring along with the stalks, making them identifiable in even the darkest days of winter.

Nearly every part of the plant is useful. In the spring, pick the young shoots (which will eventually grow to form the center stalk), peel off the outer layers and eat raw, in salads, or cooked in stir-frys. The sticky jelly that comes off while peeling can be used to thicken soups, and was also used by Native Americans to soothe burns and wounds.

In early summer, the green flower head can be cooked and eaten similar to corn on the cob. Later on, the pollen from the male flowers can be used as flour or eaten raw, used as a spice would be. The Wild Man Steve Brill, my favorite scavenger, lists three great cattail recipes on his website – cattail fried rice, pasta with cattail, and raw cattail soup. (Be sure to also check out his tours featuring local wild edibles if you happen to be in the New York area) In the winter, the rhizomes, or roots, can be dug up and eaten by either boiling, or drying and grinding into flour. They can also be mashed in water. Let the mix sit for a few hours, drain off the water and the remaining starch can be used as a thickener for soups.

The dried outer leaves can be used for weaving projects, and the cattail was hugely popular with Native Americans for this purpose. The “fur” from the top of the plant is frequently used to help start campfires, as it is highly flammable. in addition, Native Americans burned cattails for their insect repelling properties.

Not only do cattails have nearly infinite uses, but they’re good for you, too! Low in saturated fat, sugar and sodium, they provide Iron, Phosphorous, Fiber, Vitamins K and B6, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese, and also contain anti-inflammatory properties.

If you see any around, try them in your next meal! Not only do they taste good and are good for you, but if found in the wild, they’re free! (And what’s better than free???) Just a couple disclaimers, though, before you go traipsing through wild marshland:

Stay away from cattails in marshes close to highways and farms, as the marshland they grow in may be polluted with runoff.

Stay away from the wild iris, which looks similar, but has a blue-purple flower, and no furry cattail top to the plant – its poisonous!

Be aware of your surroundings. Cattails usually grow in shallow water, but be careful not to venture too far into any marshlands, as the depth may unexpectedly increase.


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Step outside of the garden with me for a moment, and take a look around. Do you see what I see? In the last ten years there’s been a change. Its become cool to be green and carry reusable shopping bags, while the Prius has become the ultimate post-modern hipster statement of cool.

Environmental impact aside, the recent recession has brought even more of a “make do or do without” mentality to the people.

For me, its been a give and take. I try to follow sustainable practices and develop thrifty habits for both my wallet and my world, (and NOT because of the coolness factor) but there’s certainly a learning curve attached to any changes that I make. I plain English, well, I basically screw up everything I attempt the first time around. Whether it be composting,

What could be more thrifty than turning someone else's hideous fashion trash into my treasure?

gardening, bulk cooking or the Great Upcycled Clothing Debacle of 2010 (check out the disastrous photos along the left throughout this post), conservation on any level takes effort and patience.

Why would I even dredge up the horrible memory of these and other terrible failures and share them with you? Trust me, its certainly not because I like to humiliate myself, but to prove the point that living a simple, frugal, sustainable life takes time. The need to consume and waste is so ingrained in us (read: its not your fault, its a cultural norm) that we’ve never been trained in the skills that our grandparents would think to be second nature. Of course I don’t really know how to sew, I’ve shopped at the mall my whole life. That doesn’t stop me from

trying to learn, though. (Now, back to our regularly scheduled garden programming) Along those same lines, I have no reason to become a master gardener with the A&P down the street, but there are reasons why we should try.

So, you wanna live sustainably?

Paperclips as pins? Not a good idea.

Luckily, you, my dear readers, can not only laugh at, but learn from my disasters. First, pick something and stick with it until you master it. (That’s why I’m a gardener and not a gardener/seamstress, apparently!)

Because this is a garden blog, and because our food system is much more fragile than most people realize, (just how close to the edge are we living?) the first step, in my opinion, to sustainability is to become food independent. Like my upcycle project, there are bound to be failures along the way, but food independence is possible no matter where you live or what your budget is.

Apartment dweller with no natural sun? Check out the Sprout People for what they refer to as the “coolest sprouting seeds on the planet.” You’re probably familiar

Said paperslips do not result in accurate measurements...

with alfalfa sprouts, but what you may not know is that you can make then at home in a jar with little to no sunlight. (You don’t even need one of those fancy schmancy sprouting kits, anything you can rinse and drain will work just fine) They’re also ready to eat in less than a week, and pack a serious punch of nutritional value. One serving of those little alfalfas contain 35% of your daily recommendation of protein, vitamins A, B, C, E and K, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron zinc, chlorophyll and as much carotene as carrots. (If that’s not food sustainability, I don’t know what is!) In addition, one pound of alfalfa seeds will run you about eight bucks, as opposed to about three or four for a tiny, store bought plastic container. Even though I have tons of garden space, I still always keep sprouting seeds around – I think they’re one of the most reliable, easy and simple ways to grow your own fresh food around the house.

The moral of this story? Don’t be afraid to try, but don’t over diversify either – traditional societies had a farmer and a tailor, not a farmer-tailor. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn a little bit of everything, but don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out immediately. Stick to simplicity in the beginning (grow sprouts, knit a scarf) before you move on to the complicated stuff. Most importantly, if you don’t try, you’ll never know. If you mess up, have a laugh! These are skills cultivated by people over thousands of years, yet lost on us. They certainly won’t come immediately – that’s why this post of called sustainable steps and not sustainable NOW!  Have you had any successes or failures at picking up new skills or trades lately? How did you overcome the failures?

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