I have been reading the series of "Stalking the...." by Euell Gibbons as a way to expand my understanding of wild food and the bits of wisdom he includes I have not seen anywhere else. The books he wrote are true treasures of knowledge that I want to help pass on to future generations. So for those of you that may not have heard of this wonderful series, I urge you to go pick up the books but if you don't have the time, I will highlight some of the things that I found particularly interesting.
I am currently staying on the NE side of Portland though I live in Wisconsin and most of the plants in his books I am already familiar with but haven't encountered them in such vast quantities that I am seeing in the woods near me in Oregon. I suppose that probably has to do with the high rainfall and fairly easy winters they see here. One plant in particular that I am seeing of in my wood ventures is cleavers. This is a plant that clings to you with such ferocity that it may stop you in your tracks and prevent you from moving forward without the use of a machete. In his book, "Stalking the Healthful Herbs", Euell Gibbons has a chapter dedicated to this plant and the uses for it rather took me by surprise. Apparently is was once common knowledge that a tea or meal made from this herb was used by English ladies for weight loss.
To prepare this herb as a vegetable pick it in early spring - pull the stem and leaves. Steam the plant for about 5 minutes and it is ready to eat! Euell describes it as tasting like spinach. Euell also mentions that the seed-like fruits make the best coffee substitute of any other plant he has tasted. This plant is apparently in the same family as coffee (Rubiaceae) which would explain the taste similarities. For this coffee substitute, gather the little hard fruits during the summer when they are full sized and roast them in an oven until they are golden brown. Use the fruits as you would coffee. There is no caffeine in cleavers. To use this plant medicinally, collect the plant in May or June when it is in flower and dry it. Keep it in an air tight container and use as a tea for the weight loss properties.
I will be trying all of these ideas out shortly. Thanks Euell!