10/05/2011

Wild Food Foraging

A friend and I went wild food foraging around the foothills of San Dimas last week. Here are the goods:

Photo: Melissa H.
dried wild cucumber (AKA manroot), mugwort (AKA wormwood), LEMONS & AVOCADOS!!, California pink peppercorns, white sage...

the dried wild cucumber can be peeled and used as a loofah like so:
Photo: Melissa H.

we also saw a bunch of horehound, fruiting prickly pear cactus, wild fennel, coyote gourd, jimsonweed (poisonous)... all of which we didn't bother harvesting.  next time though! 

Coyote Gourd -- the pulp inside can be used as a soap substitute.
the gourd itself can be used as a primitive cup.

Horehound -- can be used to make cough syrup or
herbal lozenges

On water kefir: a home-brewed health tonic

with dried mango and raisins
I made a batch of water kefir last week to much success. And two weeks before that, I made lacto-fermented ginger beer which was consumed in a matter of days by friends (which I happily gave away)... and which I also never got around to posting (but that is another day). I now have two home-made probiotic drinks under my belt; it is so rewarding to make your own hand-crafted, medicinal drinks!

Water kefir (pronounced keh-fear) is an effervescent, probiotic drink that is made with a culture of bacteria and yeast -- called 'kefir grains.' Simply put, it's water fermented by a mother culture (like kombucha). There are two types of kefir: water kefir (squishy, opaque grains that ferment sweetened water) and milk kefir (cream colored grains that ferment milk). Water kefir is especially beneficial to lactose-intolerant folks -- like me.

water kefir grains
Water kefir has many health benefits. As a probiotic drink, it contains a variety of microflora that aids in digestion. As a health tonic, it cleanses and detoxifies the whole body to establish a balanced inner ecosystem. It also strengthens the immune system. In addition to the beneficial bacteria, it has valuable minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, B2 and B12, vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin K.

Water kefir is so easy to make. In about a week, you will have a fizzy probiotic drink to enjoy! Here's a basic recipe:

Equipment
  • Nonmetal Strainer
  • Wooden or Plastic Spoon
  • 1/2 Gallon Mason Jar (with rubberband and cheesecloth or paper towel to cover it with)
  • A couple of 12 oz. bottles with flip-top lids (mason jars with lids can also be used)
Ingredients
  • 1/3 Cup of Water Kefir Grains (I bought my grains dehydrated at my local health food store)
  • 3 Tablespoons Organic Raisins or Other Unsulphured Dried Fruit
  • 1/2 Cup Organic Sugar
  • 1/2 Organic Lemon
  • 1 Thin Slice Fresh Ginger, Peeled
  • 1 Quart to 1 1/2 Quarts Filtered, Chlorine-Free Water
Method
  1. Dissolve sugar into water.  Do not use honey in place of sugar.  Honey has antimicrobial properties and will damage your water kefir grains or delay their proliferation.
  2. Add water kefir grains, raisins, half a lemon and slice of ginger to the mixture of sugar water in a 1/2 gallon mason jar.
  3. Allow your water kefir to brew in a mason jar covered with a piece of cheese cloth or paper towel fixed with a rubber band.  Brew at room temperature for 24 - 72 hours depending on the strength you prefer and the temperature of your home.  The warmer your home is, the faster water kefir will brew.
  4. Strain the water kefir grains, raisins, lemon, ginger from the water kefir and bottle the liquid into smaller containers.
  5. Allow the smaller containers to sit out for another 24 - 48 hours to continue fermentation and produce natural carbonation.
  6. Serve cold over ice and enjoy!
Water kefir is remarkably versatile.  This basic recipe can be altered slightly to introduce different beneficial herbs or flavors to produce a wide array of probiotic beverages.  Some people enjoy replacing the ginger with fresh mint, anise or cardamom while others replace raisins with figs.  I’ve even used dried cherries for a lovely rose-hued water kefir.