Herbs have always fascinated me. I love their pungent flavors and their tantalizing fragrances. I've learned to use a few for medicinal purposes, but mostly I enjoy them as ingredients to enhance other foods.
In recent years I've begun looking for opportunities to become more educated about herbs in general, especially wild ones. A few months ago I found LearningHerbs.com, which offers videos, classes, kits, and all kinds of tools for learning about herbs and their many uses. I was excited to see they had developed a board game to help families learn about common herbs in a fun and interesting way.
Aimed at ages 4 and up, the game is called "Wildcraft! An Herbal Adventure Game." Players start at Grandma's house, where it seems Grandma has decided she needs some huckleberries to make a pie. She sends players off to climb the mountain to visit the huckleberry patch. On the way, players go past wetlands, streams with slippery rocks, meadows, forests with fallen log shortcuts, and more surprises.
As players progress, they land on spaces for Trouble Cards, Plant Cards or Cooperation Cards. Trouble Cards are ailments like sunburn, bumps and bruises, stings, and hunger and tiredness. Each trouble card has iconic drawings representing several common herbs that could help ease the condition. For example, cattails, huckleberries and dandelions can all help if you're hungry.
Plant Cards represent players collecting particular herbs, which may be useful to clear Trouble Cards. Plant Cards have more detailed illustrations, although the game authors note that the drawings are not meant to be sufficient to ensure exact identification.
Much of the game is cooperative instead of competitive. For example, if you draw a Cooperation Card, one option is to move the player who is farthest behind up to the space where you are sitting. You can create your own cooperative rules to some extent, as well. We like to share herb cards among all players to help clear troubles.
What happens as you play the game, of course, is that you learn about which herbs can be used as remedies for which ailments. You also learn some basic identifying characteristics of the herbs - flower color, shape, leaf patterns, etc. My 3-year-old grandson likes to spread his herb cards out on the table and use them like flash cards.
We've been enjoying the game for about a month now. I know many of the herbs referenced are either growing wild near our home (such as horsetails, dandelions and cattails), or were planted in our herb garden (such as comfrey, echinacea and yarrow).
"Wildcraft!" doesn't explain specifically how to prepare the herbs for remedy use, so I've been digging deeper into LearningHerbs.com to get more information. For example, they recently sent out an email with more details about dandelions, including how to distinguish them from Hawkweed, which looks very similar.
They also included a wonderful recipe for Dandelion Fritters (reprinted below by permission). I was particularly happy to find that recipe because it uses dandelion flowers instead of the leaves. I usually like bitter greens, but dandelions go a little too far, even for me.
My grandson and I ran out during a short period of sunshine today when the dandelion flowers opened briefly. We picked only the flowers, choosing the freshest, brightest blossoms. Then I cut off the bracts, the leafy green cup shape on the underside of the flower that holds the yellow petals together.
The only hard part of this recipe was defending the plate of fritters until dinner time from the marauding fingers of hungry family members. We'll be eating fritters frequently until late fall, I'm sure.
To see the detailed dandelion information, visit: www.learningherbs.com/news_issue_95.html.
Also, you can see photos of the game, read about how it was created, and order it from: www.learningherbs.com/wildcraft.html, or call 425-216-6373 for an order form by mail. They don't take phone orders.
LearningHerbs.com is based in Carnation and is owned by John and Kimberly Gallagher. Kimberly was the creator of the Wildcraft! game, and has a master's in education from Antioch College in Seattle. John, a certified acupuncturist, helped develop the Kamana Naturalist Training Program, another remarkable tool for learning about the natural world.
For healthy, locally grown food, it doesn't get any fresher or more affordable than what's growing wild just outside your front door!
(Reprinted by permission)
Recipe created by Rosalee de la For?t
This recipe has two variations; sweet or savory. But really, the possibilities are endless!
2 cups or so of prepared fresh dandelion flowers (wildcrafted, Lummi Island)
1/3 cup flour (Fairhaven Organic Flour Mills, Burlington)
1/3 cup milk (I used milk left after making butter with cream from Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup corn meal (I used dried bread crumbs from homemade bread)
1 egg (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale)
Dash of sea salt
Generous amount of oil that can withstand high heat (I used hazelnut oil, Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
1. For sweet: Add one tablespoon of honey (or to taste) plus 1/2 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons total of the following herbs: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg. (These herbs are not grown locally, so I'd suggest using mint instead.)
2. For savory: Add a pinch of thyme, rosemary, oregano or other savory herbs. You may also want to add another dash of salt. (This was the variation I chose, and I used only dried oregano from my home garden, Lummi Island.)
Mix the dry ingredients together and then add the egg and milk. Combine well.
Add the sweet or savory ingredients.
Dip the flower blossoms into the batter (or stir in the loose petals), coating both sides.
Once well-coated, fry in hot oil until golden brown.
Place the fried fritters on a plate lined with a paper towel. Let cool slightly, then enjoy!
Serves 3-4. Makes about a dozen small fritters.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Red Barn Lavender Farm (egg CSA), 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.