Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sleepin' in a Ditch, or I Never Thought Things Could Be So Good

If you live on Block Island, chances are you know this tune. It was written by my brother Stevie Lightnin.' It's about a down and out fellow who wakes up in a ditch to find a beautiful lady there with him. As you all know, the quest for housing can be quite a struggle sometimes so it might not be quite as much a surprise to find someone sleeping in a ditch on Block Island than it would be on the mainland. Only kidding! Although I bet a few folks over the years have ended up sleeping in ditches after a night out at one of the local watering holes. All I can say is if you're going to stumble into a ditch, make sure you do it on foot and not in a car. I was biking to work yesterday and noticed a stonewall that had been knocked over. Lo and behold, there in the marsh beyond was a car that had rolled a good 100 yards. Heard whoever was driving was fine physically, thank goodness. I don't really want to go on about what I think about alcohol abuse because that would be a whole other blog and you are reading this one because it's about foraging, so I'll just say that I hope the highest and greatest good occurs for everyone on this island, drunk or sober. We are all connected. In a place as small as this, surrounded by the ocean, this can be more obvious than on the mainland. It is easier to see our connections here and to realize that we are co-creating lessons for the benefit of our souls' growth together so I encourage anyone reading this who lives on Block Island to consider what our collective field is and determine if it is one you feel good about creating. For example, the housing struggle and alcohol abuse are two collective fields we have created. They are not inevitable. We choose together to make them "set in stone," some of us playing the role of victim, some of perpetrator, when really these are just the roles we adopt in order to evolve.

On a lighter note, I've been building walls with the extraordinary Paul Cunningham and I told him maybe we could get some work out of this incident. His reply was maybe we should offer kickbacks to people crashing into walls. I do love an occasional dose of black humor, of which my brother Lightnin' is a master. I think someone in that ditch was cookin' bacon.

This ditch in the photo above is on Chapel St. and it is loaded with edibles. In the photo on the right, curly dock and jewelweed can be seen. I absolutely love curly dock. According to urban forager Steve Brill, whose guide Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places I highly recommend, curly, sometimes referred to as yellow dock because of its deep yellow roots, is a nutritional and medicinal powerhouse. Not to get down on spinach, but curly dock has a third more protein, iron, calcium, potassium, beta carotene and phosphorous, and more than double the Vitamin C. According to Steve it was an important vegetable during the Depression in the 30s when people were forced to turn to the wild for food. I don't wish a Depression on us, by any means, but it's good to know that the earth will provide for us even if we don't have money to buy food. The root is decocted and used medicinally to treat anemia and liver disorders.

This is the time to gather this green, before the flower stalk shoots up and the leaves get very tough and bitter. Its flavor is deliciously sour. I usually steam the leaves, although the other night I threw them into an omelet, and tonight I branched out and roasted them with some olive oil to make curly dock chips. I got the idea from my mom who sent me a recipe for this using kale. Here's a photo. They were delicious. Thanks for inspiring me Mom, if you read this.
I've only eaten jewelweed once and it was by mistake. It was in my formative days as a forager. I was at Cooneymus Spring looking for watercress, which I had picked there in the past. I thought the cress looked kind of spindly, but picked it anyway, which I boiled into a soup. I think I thought it tasted ok at the time, although I do recall it sort of fell apart and wasn't quite as spicy as I expected watercress to be.  I've sinced learned it was jewelweed, which grows in damp places like watercress. Jewelweed is officially edible, but it is as a medicinal plant where it shines. Block Island is loaded with poison ivy. The next time you notice you've brushed against some, crush a stalk (remember to say thank you) and rub some juice on the affected area and you most likely will not get a rash. You can do the same for insect bites, too. I get poison ivy pretty bad and jewelweed has worked for me. My friend Johanna Ross  who is an herbalist makes a product called Poison Ivy Relief containing locally foraged jewelweed if you want to have some on hand for accidents. Her website is

Here's a photo of broad-leaf dock, mallow and jewelweed sharing space in this ditch. (and one bright and sunny dandelion, also good for eating, but a little tough once the flowers blossom!) Broad-leaf dock is not quite as tasty as curly, though edible, but mallow greens are. Eat them raw, they cook down to almost nothing. I wonder if they find the drunks who stumble down Chapel St. when the bars close amusing or if they're annoyed because they can't sleep. I suppose, like all of us, they chose this busy byway to be their home because it was the best place for them to grow. Sadly, the dock I enjoyed for my dinner tonight was not from this ditch. I have noticed many times as I've biked by that the water in it is coated in an iridescent oil slick that must be run-off from the nearby mechanic's machine shop. I still love riding by it, though. It is such a lush patch of wild and delicious goodness right in town!

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