The 100-Foot Salad

(Or: “Eats Shoots, Blooms, Weeds, and Leaves.”)

You’ve heard of the 100-foot diet? Proponents strive to eat food grown or produced as close to home as possible. Much of the year, that is my goal. And the farmers of central Indiana offer much of what I need, from meat to eggs to dairy to fruits and veggies. There’s even a local oil option now, and certain grains and beans can be sourced locally as well.

This time of year though, I’m enjoying my 100-foot salads.

Every spring I plant salad greens in my Garden Tower and an old salvaged sink. My tradition is to go to the winter farmers market and buy starts from a farmer of my acquaintance, Laura Karr. I wrote about her farm, KG Acres, for this Farm Indiana piece. She was also the source of my perennial sorrel plants, which give a lovely lemony flavor to salads in early spring.

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OK, so the lettuce itself did not originate within 100 feet of my kitchen, but once a plant is in the garden, I claim it.

Even before the lettuce and spinach are ready to eat, I feast on chickweed that grows in my yard. Well, “feast” might be an overstatement: I graze. This succulent little salad green got its own shout-out in a Hoosier Locavore blog post, as the foraged food of the month. In February. Back then I was snitching chickweed from a farmer acquaintance’s fields, but now I have my own little clump growing next to a raised bed, and I pinch off the tips for every salad I make. Yum.

I also have chives (and chive blossoms!) that come back year after year just outside my back door. (The potted chives has developed a modest wintertime Facebook following of sorts, because I post photos of her on snowy days as Lady Chives of the Pillbox Hat, just to be silly.)

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“Lady Chives” in February, with an undignified mullet peeking out from her pillbox hat.

My catnip reseeded itself all over the yard last fall, as did arugula, as did lamb’s quarters. (Don’t think me weird, but I eat catnip leaves in salads. It’s a bit cheesy tasting. And suits my feline nature.) The young lamb’s quarters add pink interest to my salad plate, but I’ll let several of them grow tall  so I can eat them as cooked greens later in the summer. And who doesn’t love the peppery taste of arugula, especially if it’s free?

Pea shoots are another thing showing up my garden, and I think they reseeded themselves from last year’s Austrian winter peas. I am a lazy gardener, but sometimes that pays.

The coolest part of my 100-foot salad, though, lies across the street in a greenspace by the creek.

 

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Trout lily, in a photo snapped before my “salad bowl” across the street was mowed by an enterprising neighbor. Dandelion says “Hey, I’m here too!”

I can pick trout lily, violet flowers, and redbud blooms while they last. Maybe the fleeting nature of these delicacies gives them their aura of specialness. The redbuds are already on the wane, and last weekend a neighbor mowed the greenspace, so my trout lily salads are done for.

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Redbud blooms, the pinkest salad topper ever.

I also love to pick baby leaves off of a basswood (linden) tree over there. There’s something so novel about eating tree leaves in a dinner salad. They’re heartshaped, succulent (if picked small), and delicious.

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Seriously yummy basswood leaves. Later in the summer (actually very soon) it will be hard to find a small leaf this shiny and new on the low branches of “my” tree.

For a while I had sweet Jerusalem artichokes that I dug up in early spring and sliced like water chestnuts, but they’re gone now. But there’s plenty of other wild goodness in my yard and surrounding area. Small dandelion leaves (bitter!) and wood sorrel (tangy!) round out my salad bowl.

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I love to go out foraging with my little colander.

Eating a salad like this nourishes me twice, kind of like Thoreau’s wood chopping warmed him twice. It’s a delicious outing, carrying my colander out into the world to pick nature’s tenderest.

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I give you the 100-foot salad.

A Wetland Ally

This is a season of transformation. Many of us are feeling it, experiencing rapid shedding of what we no longer need. It isn’t always a comfortable process, but sometimes we receive a little trans-kingdom support to ease the way. This week I had occasion to meet a new plant ally in a wetland across town.

The plant is called calamus, or sweet flag. I was with my merry mates in foraging, Greg Monzel‘s bicycle/forage group that I blogged about here. This time we parked our bikes to walk the paths of the EcoLab, a 55-acre native plant paradise tucked away on the city’s north side.
Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab. Extra special to me because Dad volunteered here.

Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab. Extra special to me because Dad volunteered here.

The plan, as usual, was to look for persimmons and other edible/medicinal forageables as the sun went down. But Greg also had a surprise for us–a meditation in the company of sweet flag.

He invited us to remove our shoes and make contact with the rhizome network of a colony of dormant sweet flag. To sit or lie among their spicy-sweet fragrance in silence and keep an open heart. What did we experience?

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Sweet Flag photo by Maria Renner. Learn about her work at http://healingwombs.com/ .

Various images and impressions came to me, and because the experience was sacred, I don’t want to go into detail here–other than to say that I felt a gladness, and a reciprocity in the gladness. My body loosened and my thoughts slowed. At the end of our meditation I felt clarified.

Greg told us afterward that the plant was used traditionally to hold soil and filter water. Beloved by cultures all over the world and called by many names, sweet flag has been used to treat human ailments as well as environmental. It’s supportive to the nervous system, with antioxidant and antimicrobial properties (among other things). Greg gave us a beautiful image of how this rhizome grows with feet in the muck, rising up in beauty and fragrance.

Sweet flag would have been a solid friend to our ancestors in their wanderings–carried along to new places, or found along the way.

I went home and slept hard, and in the morning when I woke up early early, I still felt held and supported. My nervous system has been on overdrive processing all the changes, but for once I did not wake up in a state of alarm.

I find that when I stay open, unexpected friends appear at just the right time. I’m grateful to Greg for introducing me to sweet flag.

Greg with young persimmon tree.

Greg with young persimmon tree.

Have you ever had trans-species or trans-kingdom contact that bolstered you? I invite you to tell us about it in the comment section.