Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mints & Clovers: Inner City Foraging

Did some quick inner-city foraging on my lunch break yesterday.

Pictured above: Crimson Clover

I've seen a lot of white clover in fields, but this is the first time I've seen some really lovely crimson clover. Beautiful! Clover helps hold nitrogen in the soil and is a favorite of pollinating insects.

UPDATE: Thank you to valuable reader bukra! who has pointed out to me that this is actually crimson clover. It is mainly a valuable cover crop and fodder for animals.

I was going to delete the information about red clover since I guess crimson clover isn't used as much as a tea herb, but I guess it's still interesting so I'll leave it.

University of Maryland has an amazing article on the medicinal and nutritional properties of red clover. Here's a sample:

Red clover is a source of many nutrients including calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C. Red clover is a rich sources of isoflavones (chemicals that act like estrogens and are found in many plants).

The article touches on my general opinion of herb teas, which is that they probably aren't strong enough to cure an ailment, but they do make a nice general health tonic. I probably won't drink too much of this tea because there is a history of breast cancer in my family, and the article recommends not taking red clover in that case. It is a pretty plant to look at though, and I'm happy the bees and other pollinating insects love it.

Instead, I think I'll stick with the mint teas.

Found at least three different types of mint. No idea what kind they are. I'll have to gather a bunch of each and do a taste test.

Pale green with soft leaves (Catnip?):

Medium green and shinier leaves (Lemon Balm?):

Now the leaves are getting pointier (Spearmint?):

The best part is having people stop me and ask what I'm doing as I forage. There's nothing like watching someone's eyes light up when they unexpectedly smell a handful of fresh mint.

Plus, tea is the best thing in the entire world. I love having a french press at work. Even inhaling the steam of the tea is nice. It's a great pick-me-up when you're trying not to drink caffeine, and very soothing for the stomach.

I think I might have found nettles too? I wasn't sure because they didn't have spines, but not all nettles do. I need to get a guidebook!

The huge abandoned lots in Baltimore are a sad thing, but sometimes they do create a good place to forage and garden. It's a mixed blessing, I guess.

The area I was searching in is connected to a city garden that has had their soil tested, supposedly. Probably won't forage too much more there until I find out for sure, but I figure a few handfuls of herbs can't have too much lead.

Drank more nettle tea this morning as well. Left the leaves in the teapot in the fridge overnight, and the tea turned a really deep emerald color. A prettier shade of green than I have seen in any food! If that's not good for you, I don't know what is.

The best part about nettles is that I'm using them as a substitute for spinach right now. Local greens!

Much of the spinach in stores is coming from Mexico or other faraway places. You wouldn't drive to Mexico to eat a salad, would you? Well, your salad is driving from Mexico to come to you.

Foraging is a great way to get back in touch with the plants right under our feet, and remember that we are a part of an ecosystem. All of these herbal teas are a great way to stay hydrated and take in a variety of healthy antioxidents, vitamins, and other nutrients.

Fellow Baltimore Foodmaker and esteemed journalist Michelle Gienow wrote an article for the City Paper on foraging if you're interested in learning more.


Weightless One said...

I believe the first photo is catnip, which is, as you said, a type of mint. It's not a surprise that you found it in an abandoned lot. Like most mints, it propagates itself rather freely and likes *waste* places.

C said...

do you know if there are any foraging classes or tours in Baltimore? I'm a little too timid to use books because I would be the one to find that rare, poisonous, something-or-other and mistake it for a delicious herb. lol. I know some poisonous plants look very similar to the benign ones.

ZZZ said...

I believe the second mint photo is of lemon balm. It looks just like the plant I put in last year. Makes great tea!

************* said...

Thanks for the mint ID tips, W.O. and ZZZ!

C, I haven't heard of any foraging classes or tours in Baltimore right now, but that could be a very fun summer project!

bukra! said...

I believe the first photo is crimson clover, not red clover. Red clover has a more purple flower to it. I think they named it this way to confuse people. However, crimson clover is beautiful, especially when you see a whole field of it flowering at once.


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