The holiday season has been notoriously known for sending our diets on a downward spiral and making us think twice about our eating habits. Conveniently, some of the healthiest edibles can be found in the land around our homes just before the ground heads into its winter freeze.
This fall, being that I was on more of a health kick than usual, I began to notice how much I would miss having the opportunity to nibble on healthful veggies from the garden and in farmers markets and so I decided to go into winter storage mode. I looked around for items that had a decent shelf-life, and as time was short I wanted to choose plants I could process quickly, so instead of pickling or canning, I opted for the much more simple method of drying. I wanted things I could easily add to any meal--especially something like a smoothie. I was now on a drive to find nutrient-dense foods I could turn to powdered supplements.
First on the list: Dandelions
I, like a lot of people, am not particularly fond of the taste of dandelions. However, when powdered and mixed with other foods, the taste can be barely noticeable and even enjoyable. Either way, it is a worthy addition to a smoothie just for the health benefits. Now many people are aware of the positive effects dandelion has on the liver and as a blood tonic. However, even as a replacement to your average salad green, dandelions are agreeably superior. Looking at the nutritional table below, dandelion surpasses spinach in about 80% of major nutrients. Not too bad for something you can find for free and much closer to home than the grocery store!
The second and third items on my list and also heavy-weights in the realm of nutrition, were fireweed and mint leaves. I chose these mainly because of their abundance and availability around my home and that they would also dry and store well. Mint, by the way, also adds a refreshing flavour to virtually any recipe.
You may still be able to find a few sprigs of any of these healthful herbs still growing in Calgary at this time of year if they have not yet been damaged by frost. If you live in an area with a longer growing season, chances are they will still be abundant--so now is the time to harvest before winter fully kicks in.
The Next Steps
3. Finally, place them into a grinder (any spice grinder or coffee grinder will do), and grind away until all large particles are converted into a fine powder.
4. Enjoy! One small scoop of any of these (less than a teaspoon) will be plenty for the day. Remember these are dried leaves so a teaspoon can amount to a couple of handfuls of fresh leaves!
You can add these herbs to virtually any recipe. Raw recipes are generally better as the majority of the nutrients will not be lost due to the cooking process. Blending fireweed or dandelion with yogurt, for example, is also a way to introduce a green-tea-like flavour to those dishes. My children love the taste of mint powder in vanilla ice cream! Feel free to experiment with other edible herbs that grow nearby. If you want to look up nutritional data, an online resource I use is http://nutritiondata.self.com.
Hope you enjoy and feel the health benefits. Also please share with the rest of us what tasty concoctions you come up with yourself!
Ted Bahr is the founder of Prairie Sage Permaculture