Category Archives: Foraging

Marie’s Pantry

Marie Cathillon raised five children on the farm in Le Petit-Courty. Her pantry was stocked with wild and cultivated herbs used for cleaning, healing, and seasoning, all without the use of chemicals.

Marie’s Pantry

Making Apple Butter
My mother making apple butter on her farm in rural Western Pennsylvania.
Photo courtesy of Teri Meier

Soapwort (Wild Sweet William)

Soapwort (Wild Sweet William)
Soapwort (Wild Sweet William) growing in my backyard

This plant grew for years along the edge of the woods behind my house, and though I always loved the burst of color and sweet smell, I never knew its practical value.

While Marie did not know how phosphates suspend oil and dirt in water to be rinsed away, she knew that boiling soapwort created foam that would accomplish the same task.

Soapwort, wild sweet William, grows in early summer in the rich, well-drained soil along the edge of the meadow where it is shaded from the strong afternoon sun. The leaves are slightly hairy with flowers forming atop the smooth stem. Little fingers appear to reach out from the stem and grab weeds near it in order to reach its full height of three feet. Left undisturbed, it can be invasive. The prolific pink, sometimes white, flowers burst forth from June to October attracting butterflies and honeybees with its sweet, spicy aroma.

This natural soap is gentle enough for use on wool sweaters or silk blouses without stripping their natural oils. Cleanser made from soapwort makes a nice alternative for sensitive skin or for an herbal bath. Leftovers keep better in the refrigerator. If you cannot use it within the week, freeze it to avoid bacterial growth.

To verify soapwort, pick a handful of leaves and flowers, dunk them in a bucket of water, and rub them vigorously between your palms. A cool green lather will form with a fresh outdoorsy scent.

The entire plant is useful in making soap.

In the spring, harvest the shallow woody rhizomes, scrub, and cut into small chunks. Place two handfuls into a quart of boiling water. Return to a boil, and then lower the heat and let simmer for about twenty minutes. Once the mixture cools, run it through the blender, a little at a time. This will create a lot of foam, so allow to dissolve overnight. Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the bits of roots. Dry and store these bits to toss in the pot the next time.

In the summer, harvest leaves and flowers. Gather about a handful of leaves and flowers and simply pour a cup of boiling water over them. Let steep about fifteen minutes, strain, and whisk the liquid until foamy.

To use all year long, dry the leaves, flowers, and roots, making sure to turn frequently to avoid mold growth.

As with any soap, do not eat soapwort.

Source: Hitchcock, Susan Tyler. Gather Ye Wild Things: A Forager’s Year. New York: Harper & Row, 1980. Print

Catherine’s Foraging Journal

Wild Spinach or Lambsquarters

Prolific, abundant, and delicious, the top edible “weed” is Wild Spinach. It grows with little effort in almost any disturbed soil, and is one of the most nutrient dense plants ever analyzed. It is rich in potassium and magnesium, and has more vitamins A and C, riboflavin, and calcium than domesticated spinach.

Wild Spinach
Wild Spinach

Identification: The leaves of the Wild Spinach are arranged in a starburst pattern, and vary in shape from narrow and pointed, to rounded and triangular. They may grow up to four feet tall, though they lose flavor as they age. The waxy coating on the leaves makes water bead and deters insects.

Poisonous look alike: The Hairy Nightshade. The leaves on these two plants are similar, but the nightshade is hairy, while the wild spinach is not. They are also easily discernable by their flowers. Hairy nightshade flowers are white, while wild spinach flowers are green and inconspicuous. Another way to identify Wild Spinach is to spray the leaves with water and look for droplets.

Harvesting: Thin the patch by pinching shoots close to the ground and placing the baby shoots in a bowl of water to keep them from drying out. Harvest larger plants by pinching the upper stem. If the stem pinches off easily, it is tender enough to eat. If the stem is old and woody, pluck only the leaves, though pruning the woody stem will stimulate new growth. If the leaves are too old, they may become bitter, but are still usable cooked with onion, garlic, or in a stew.

Source: Kallas, John. Edible Wild Plants, Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. Gibbs Smith Publishing (2010) Print