Forage Friday #28 Chufa Or Nutsedge

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Chufa 82019”. The photos in this post were taken specifically for this article. All of the photos on my blog are my original work and are available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Every so often I encounter a wild edible plant that has real potential to bbecome a cash crop in the right hands. As the world population grows and as urban sprawl puts pressure on wilderness the demand for high quality nutrition becomes more intense. Many people ( and I am one of them ) believe that the solution is to move away from agriculture ( The tending of fields ) to horticulture ( The tending of plants ). Rather than go into a long time consuming explanation I’ll just say that it’s better to have a decentralized system. And plants like Chufa lend themselves very easily to the broad range of conditions a decentralized system would require.

The part that is harvested is a marble sized tuber called Tiger Nuts. The tuber is collected in November and December and an individual plant is capable of producing around 2000 nuts in lifetime. Being a perennial plant, Chufa doesn’t need to be planted every year. Like a potato, it be required to save some of nuts to replenish with but unless you destroy the plant during harvest it will come back by itself for multiple years.

So, when I decided to write about Chufa my knowledge of the plant came mostly from old dusty books on my shelf. I knew it was a wild edible plant and that it produced an underground nut that you could eat. But, I never took the time to actually gather it and try use it any meaningful way. But after learning a little more and recognizing the potential I thought that I would simply step out onto my property and collect enough to do a presentation. The next image shows my entire harvest.

Today’s harvest was rather sad.

In fact the entire root system of the second plant was devoid of tubers.

None of the plants had tubers for me.

I collected a total of 1 tuber that was about 6 millimeters in diameter. I just sat there asking myself how this could have ever been a staple crop 4000 years ago in Egypt.

Even today it’s grown commercially in the Mediterranean. More research gave me the answer. The nut doesn’t form until after the top dies off. I am actually about 6 weeks too early to harvest the nuts. They have only just started to form. But in the harvest season for Tiger Nuts the ground is often frozen here. And that’s where the solution for harvest intersects with the techniques of urban farming. Chufa adapts very well to a container garden. And because it seems to like wet soil aquaponics would seem to be the best way to bring this plant out of the wild and back into the garden.

I mentioned that it was a staple crop. The ancient Egyptians kept it and so did Native Americans. The nuts were used to make flour, and they are the main ingredient for Spanish horchata which is a drink similar to almond milk. In fact while researching for this article I encountered a lot of comparisons between Chufa and Almonds.

Recently, the consumption of almonds have come under fire because they require so much water to be diverted into a plantation in an area that’s naturally prone to drought. But here in the Eastern Woodlands a Chufa substitute can easily be grown and a harvest extracted in far less time. Plus, these aquaponics systems can be set up in any number of empty industrial buildings that are scattered throughout the rust belt.

But, if you want to try this unique food on a decentralized scale by growing it yourself then I recommend a simple flower pot and decent potting soil. I have seen the plant growing in shade, open fields, rich bottom lands and old strip mines so it will adapt to almost any environment.

Since I wasn’t able to provide an example of how to use Chufa myself I’ll end this post with a link to a very well done video of how to make horchata.

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Some Memories Of My Grandfather & A Special Sight On My Daily Commute

Out of all the jobs I’ve worked I think “Rancher’s Assistant” was my favorite. My Grandfather McClung made it seem easy. As a pre teen my responsibility was to count the cattle a couple of times a day and check the fencing for any slack in the barbed wire. Even though I haven’t been involved with cattle for many years I still have an urge to take a head count anytime I see cows.

I miss the long walks out to repair a hole in the fence line. It was the conversations and time with my Grandfather that made it special to share work. And then there was O’l Count. My grandfather’s cattle dog. When it was time to rotate the pastures (moving the cattle from one paddock to the next) we would open up a gate and tell O’l Count to bring the cattle. Without fail he would gather the herd and drive them through.

Occasionally a mother cow or the bull would resist but the dog was way to quick and agile for what seemed like a slow motion attack. He would dodge to the side and circle back around to nip at their heels. Most of the time this wasn’t a requirement. We always fed the cows something special when we moved them and when they saw the gate open they would come running like pets.

The cattle my Grandfather raised didn’t look like the one in the feature image. They looked like the one below. They were Hereford cattle.

I believe that it’s a Lakenvelder bull in the feature image. The Lakenvelder is a dairy cow and it seem that the milk would be perfect for dipping Oreo cookies. 😉

Needless to say that when I pass by this herd on my way to my day job I have a nostalgic reaction to seeing them even though they’re not the breed I’m used to. Believe or not this breed is an endangered species. According to Wikipedia there are less than 300 of these cows in the United States and less than 1000 worldwide. Which of course makes it an extra special sight in the Appalachian Mountains.

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The Answers Were There Already

Tonight’s image is the water wheel of the Glade Creek Grist Mill at Babcock State Park. I took the picture several years ago when I was interested in creating a micro-hydro power plant for my home. My plan was to study pictures of water wheels and eventually make something that I could use to run the lights during an outage. While the plans for an energy independent home never manifested I learned a lot about the difference between working with God’s creation and working against it. Providence is always there waiting for us but we have to recognize it and figure out how to take advantage of it. For a wheel like the one here there has to be enough water above the wheel to move the heavy stones that grind the grains into flour. This means that the mill has to be in just the right spot and the water has to be channeled. Debris has to be filtered out to avoid damage to the wheel. The spot has to be on a stable foundation. And that’s just the beginning. Sometimes when we’re praying and searching for God to fill a need in our lives we expect Him to drop the answers in our lap fully assembled and all tied up with a pretty bow. That can happen but more often than not God provides the components and we have to recognize them and then make use of them. The water, the stones, the trees that became the wood and even the physics that govern the use were all in existence long before the mill was created to fill the needs and feed the people. When we are praying for God to make a way it’s likely that He’s already made a provision if we can just figure out how to put it together.

The Providence Of God & Walking With My Grandfather

Some of my most cherished memories are the long walks with my grandfather. He was World War Two veteran who walked with a cane due to shrapnel that was embedded in his leg but that never seemed to slow him down. He would come over to our little house trailer which was next door to his house and invite me to help him check on the cattle. He was also a survivor of the Great Depression and on our walks he would teach me about the things that they used to do to stretch the budget. One their best resources was the wild edible plants that are found in abundance in Appalachia. Pictured here is Chicory. All parts of the plant are edible. The leaves are eaten as a salad green and the roots are roasted and then ground into a coffee substitute. ( no caffeine). The blue petals if Chicory are a natural litmus test. When exposed to an acid they change from blue to red.

In the background of the image is Queen Anne’s Lace. ( the white flowers). Now, you have to be careful about collecting it because there’s also poisonous look-alikes such as hemlock. Queen Anne’s Lace usually has one tiny little blood red flower in the center of all that white. How’s it used? Well, I’m pretty sure that most of the world already knows because it’s simply a wild carrot. The root doesn’t really look like what you buy in the store or raise in your garden. It is small, white and kinda bland. But, it is a carrot none the less.

Most people look at the plants that grow without any help from humans and all that they see are weeds but I see the province of God and hear the voice of my grandfather.

Born With A Purpose

I believe that we’re all born for a purpose. Each person on planet earth has a work that they were born to do. A fortunate few will find a way to earn living while living within their purpose but most of us will have to have a “second life”. No matter how it’s done living your purpose is like nothing else. It’s not like regular work where your constantly checking the clock. Instead it’s tranquility. The little honeybee in the feature image was living her purpose. Nothing else in her world existed except the flowers. She seemed to be in a state of total bliss as she moved from bloom to bloom collecting her pollen. She was an inspiration for me to take more time to live life a way that fulfills my purpose.

Capturing A Dragon ( An eight year quest)

My grandfather had some unique names for what is commonly called a dragonfly. Usually he called it a “Snakedoctor”. Irregardless of the name insects of the order Odonata are notoriously hard to catch. I have purposefully trekked out to lakes and ponds just to find these but as soon as I raise the camera they move. I have a whole string of blurry images of dragonflies and damselflies that could just as easily be a Sasquatch picture.

But here is the first one that is actually in focus! Even on the cool morning that I found this one it took several tries to get a good shot. The order’s name odonata literally means flying tooth. From the moment they hatch these things devour mosquitoes! They are a great control method for the little bloodsucking pests that will not poison the food chain. The one here is of the most common type but there are brightly colored ones here too. Greens and blues are also common. They’re like flying gemstones around our bodies of water. If I can catch one staying still for long enough to get the right picture it will be published in color.

I still haven’t figured out why the old-timers call them Snakedoctors ( and sometimes Witchdoctors) but I’m always taken back to my childhood summers when I see one.