An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Posts tagged ‘locavore’

Super antioxidants found in local muscadines

Vitis rotundifolia, unripe muscadines. Scuppernongs are muscadines that are bronzeish green, and dark muscadines start off green, as in the photo, and turn purple-black.

What loves a hot, humid summer? Muscadines do.

These rambling grape vines thrive in the Southern heat as no other grape will. They’re so full of vitality they can pull down mature trees. Truly, this is a plant with vigor.

Actually, the muscadine is clever. To propagate, the muscadine needs to produce fruit, which contain its seed, and it needs sunlight for maximum fruit production. Although it isn’t a climbing vine, like English ivy, it compensates for what it lacks. On the forest floor, where sunlight is at a premium, the young muscadines get friendly and hitch themselves to sapling trees. As the tree reaches to the light, the vine rides on its coattails, growing to match the rate of the tree’s speed of growth, so its roots aren’t pulled from the ground. Eventually, the great weight of the muscadine, thanks to its exposure to sunlight enabled by the tree, will take down its companion, finding itself back on the forest floor. The mother vine then will hope her progeny will meet and attach themselves to nice saplings so they can together ride to the light.

Something we can learn from the muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) is longevity, which we also might experience when we introduce muscadine grapes and leaves into our diet.

Everyone’s heard about the benefits of red wine, with the goodies being in the skin. All berries that are red, blue, purple and black have anti-aging polyphenolic flavonoid compounds called anthocyanins. The black-purple berries of the native Southeastern muscadine vine have more anthocyanins than any European grape.

The bronze-colored muscadines are called scuppernongs, and have less anthocyanins, than the black.

Besides anthocyanins, other polyphenols in muscadine, such as ellagic acid, maintain health for every part of the body by a protecting gene expression and inhibiting cellular damage from free radicals. Increased immune, heart and brain function and decreased inflammation contributing to cancer development are some of the remarkable, longevity-promoting effects of muscadines.

Muscadines have been cultivated in the South since the 16th century, and they’re also invasively abundant. It’s a puzzler why this grape isn’t more popular. University of Georgia researchers at the Nutraceutical Research Laboratory are working to promote Georgia’s agricultural crop of muscadines for export, providing research that the muscadine is more potent in antioxidants than the high-priced, imported, exotic Acai berry.

Value-added muscadine products, such as wines, jams and juices, will increasingly find a market. Entrepreneurial community gardens might cooperatively find a boost by cultivating muscadines as produce and for value-added products. The grapes, which have a tough skin and tolerate the Georgia climate, have a long shelf life, and ship well. Growers need to know that nonhybridized varieties require a male and female vine to produce fruit.

The leaves also contain polyphenols and make a delicious, locavore substitute for Greek stuffed grape leaves, known as dolmas. Harvest 20 to 30 of the largest muscadine leaves, brine them, stuff with a millet-raisin mixture, roll and steam, and you have healthy hors d’oeuvres.

Stuffed muscadine leaves, local dolmas

Recipe for stuffed muscadine leaves. Based on a recipe from Wildman Steve Brill.

Pick 30 of the largest and prettiest muscadine leaves you can find. Rinse them well. Cut off the stems. Brine them for a few minutes in 2 quarts of boiling water with 2 tablespoons of sea salt. Drain, and then rinse them again in cold water. Set them aside.

Stuffing: Mix together 2 cups of cooked millet or brown rice; 1 cup of feta; 1/2 cup of raisins chopped into smaller pieces; 2 tablespoons of chopped green onions; 2 tablespoons of parsley; 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts (excellent ingredient); 1 teaspoon of rosemary; 1/2 teaspoon of paprika and sage; 1/2 teaspoon of salt; a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.

To stuff the leaves begin with the stem side toward you. Put a small spoonful in the center of the leaf. Shape the stuffing into a inch & a half log going across the leaf. Fold the right and left sides of the leaf over the stuffing. Roll the stem-side over the stuffing until it meets the tip of the leaf. Spear them through the middle with toothpicks.

Steam them in a large enamel pot. Add 4 cups of stock or water to the pot, 8 cloves of peeled garlic, and chopped ginger. Find a steaming basket or shelf to place the stuffed muscadines on. Steam for 30-40 minutes. You could cook in a large skillet on the stove top, or bake them in a casserole dish. In both cases you would add the stock or water to the cookware.

Make the sauce in a blender with 1/4 c almonds, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 c tahini, 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger; 6 cloves of peeled garlic. Spoon over the rolls after they are on a buffet platter or served on a plate.

These stuffed muscadine leaves (dolmas) are really good. They were a hit at my last herb walk and wild foods lunch. Don’t expect them to taste the same as Falafel King’s, though, which are a delicacy. The way they are made is different.

Let me know if you make this.

This article originally appeared in my Sunday Urban Forager column of the Athens Banner-Herald, August 15, 2010.

Cool off with all-American sumac

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), a refreshing lemonade-substitute.

If you’re a Georgia locavore, eco-consciously choosing to eat food grown locally, then you need to know sumac. It makes a refreshing lemonade substitute. While the Asian-native lemon is grown as close as Florida, the citrus crop is in the top 25 fruits with the highest pesticide load, spoiling our water and our health—consumers and farmworkers. As a substitute, any of the red-berried sumacs can be used interchangeably, though smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, is “the only shrub or tree species native to all 48 contiguous states.”

As a common roadside shrub, smooth sumac is easy to identify from its tropical look, having pink, hairless stems, and shiny compound leaves comprised of oval leaflets. The females have red berries rising above their leaves. Once you see the berries, you’ll know it’s not poison sumac, which has white berries drooping below the leaves, and a swampy habitat.

Year after year, sumac marks the change of seasons for North American inhabitants: blooming yellowish-white at blackberry-picking time, forming large ruby seedheads during late summer’s harvest, and, when the salmon are spawning in the Pacific Northwest, sumac becomes flames of scarlet leaves in the fall. In the winter, the elongated, pyramidal seedheads stand like darkened torches along roadways.

Historically among many American Indian nations, the young shoots of sumac were peeled and eaten raw, and the berries were either chewed as a thirst-quencher, or brewed as a drink. Also, sumac berry, leaf and root were used for life-threatening conditions, such as dysentery, kidney ailments, tuberculosis, and fevers. Not only is sumac astringent, but studies show it’s highly antibacterial. Other internal uses were as a blood tonic, or to chew the berries or leaves for sore throats, to stop bed-wetting or as a remedy for vomiting, or to make an infusion from the bark for a mother’s milk to flow more abundantly. Externally sumac was a wash for sore eyes, skin, and itchy scalps.

A popular use for sumac among Indian nations was to smoke the leaves. Reddened sumac leaves were harvested in the fall, then de-veined, dried and powdered for either a flavorful additive to tobacco, or a tobacco substitute.

Economically, sumac was valued for dyes, leather tanning, and ink among early European Americans and American Indians. Its berries make a dull, red dye, and its roots and inner bark make a yellow and brilliant black dye.

Sumac glabra, smooth sumac, in a vase and brewed as a drink in a pitcher for the Brick House Medicinal Plant Walk & Wild Plant Lunch.

As a beverage, which looks and tastes like pink lemonade, sumac berries have a cooling, refrigerant quality appreciated on hot days. To make this Americana drink, I grind red sumac berries in a coffee grinder and add them in a large bowl of water, which I place in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I strain the mixture through a coffee filter and either drink as is, or sweeten with local honey.

Making a carbon-reducing step closer to self-sufficiency, you can harvest sumac from wild stands, or you can find sumac commercially, and easily grow an ornamental colony in your own yard.

Lifting her glass of sumac-mint "mock"-tail, Joyce from Alpharetta, GA came up for the day to enjoy the medicinal plant walk and the wild foods lunch. Cheers!

Tag Cloud