Eliza Frey with wild mustard in Frey biodynamic Cabernet vineyard.
After weeks of rain and the chill of the polar vortexes, spring is arriving in Mendocino County. One of my favorite spring pastimes is taking to the fields and gathering wild spring greens, or edible weeds – a tonic to the body and the spirit. With their beautiful shapes, shades of green and wide array of flavors, they make a wonderful addition to springtime cuisine. Wild edibles spice up any salad or sandwich, add layers of flavor and texture to stir fries, deepen the flavors of soup or provide a unique garnish for any dish.
Wild edible plants connect us back to the abundance of Mother Nature, and to our ancestors, who relied on foraging for survival. Wild plants don’t need humans to help them grow, and there is something beautiful and complete about their ability to get what they need and thrive on their own. Gathering wild greens is easy and fun as long as you follow some common sense guidelines.
Make sure you know what you are eating! Never eat any plant without first knowing that it is edible. Many wild edibles have close look-alikes, so make sure you are well informed before ingesting any new plant. The information below does not include identification details for the listed plants. A great way to make sure you’re being safe is to find a friend or neighbor who is knowledgeable and invite to come forage with you. Local foraging classes and groups are popping up all over the nation. There are countless websites and books about gathering wild plants, and a quick internet search can connect you with plenty of resources.
Edible weeds are only healthful when harvested from areas free of chemicals and pollutants. Avoid harvesting from chemically maintained lawns, near motor roadways, non-organic farms or in areas where there may be high dog traffic. After harvesting wild greens, make sure to wash them thoroughly.
Never harvest an entire stand of wild plants. A general rule of thumb is to leave at least 2/3 of any given patch untouched, allowing the species to complete its life cycle and reproduce, and ensuring that there is plenty for wildlife.
The abundance and variety of wild edibles varies greatly among different climates and regions. While the varieties listed below are available and abundant for Mendocino County, California, in spring, your location will ultimately dictate what you have access to and when.
Here are a handful of my favorite green treats to gather on the Frey Ranch in late winter and early spring:
Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)
Miner's lettuce, an annual flowering plant, is also known as Indian lettuce, spring beauty, and winter purslane. Native to the west coast of North America, it prefers cool wet areas, and in inland Mendocino County it is available from Late January to April. Fleshy stems lead to rounded rosette leaves that cup the morning dew. White or pink flowers develop on a slender stem that grows out of the center of the leaf. It is abundant at the edges of our vineyards, in shady areas at the forest’s edge.
It is best picked when fresh and green, before flowering. The stems are crisp and juicy, and the leaves are tender with a mild watery flavor, well suited as the base of a salad, or used as a substitute for lettuce in any context.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is a low growing annual that reseeds yearly and emerges in late winter, as rainfall and warmer temperatures allow germination. Its tiny leaves climb wispy mats of stems in semi shaded edge areas and sunny fields. As it matures tiny white flowers form at each leaf node.
It has a pleasant, mild flavor and is a great substitute for sprouts on sandwiches and in wraps. It is also lovely in salad. It gets slimy when cooked so try enjoying it raw. For larger, leggy plants, you may want to use only the leaves, as the stems can be a bit fibrous. Chickweed doesn’t store well, and is best eaten within a few hours of harvest.
Common Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale subsp. vulgare)
This is the most common variety of dandelion, although there are thousands. Dandelion is a perennial plant native to Europe. In California jagged leaves re-sprout from taproots in the late winter. In wetter climates the greens can be harvested throughout the growing season. A thick, fleshy stem develops and forms bright yellow, multi-petaled flowers that eventually turn into globes of fluff that scatter on the wind with our wishes. Dandelion’s nutritional value eclipses most of the fruits and vegetables you can buy in the grocery store. It is recognized as a tonic to the liver, kidneys, blood and digestion.
Dandelion has an intense bitter flavor that is somewhat of an acquired taste. The entire plant, including the leaves, stems, flowers, and roots, is edible and nutritious, packed with vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamin, riboflavin, beta-carotene and fiber. Due to their intense flavor, greens are often cooked, and are delicious with a bright lemony dressing. The flowers of dandelion are also beautiful and pungent before they start to form seed heads, great as a garnish or sautéed with garlic. Dried and roasted roots can be ground and brewed as dandelion coffee, and are an ingredient in traditional root beer.
Wild Mustard (Brassica Spp.)
Wild Mustard is found all over the world and mustard and its cousins radish and turnip have been grown since ancient times. Here in Mendocino County the spring brings an explosion of color as the bright yellow flowers fill the vineyards, delighting bees and foragers alike. Mature plants can be up to 4 feet tall, but they are tastiest when harvested young.
The mustard flower is a beautiful garnish on salads, with a rich pollen-like flavor and gentle heat. The greens need to be harvested young, as they get spiny as the plant reaches maturity. They are a wonderful addition to any stir fry, chopped fresh in potato salad, or served wilted with a vinaigrette dressing.
As flowers drop and the plant forms seed-pods, the tender green pods can be harvested and pickled. As the plant finishes its life cycle the mature seeds can be harvested and ground into mustard.
Sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
Sheep's sorrel is a low growing perennial herb in the buckwheat family is native to North America. It makes its home in disturbed soils and spreads from seeds and fleshy, horizontal roots. Clumps of green arrow shaped leaves form at the base of the plant, which redden as the plant grows and forms upright flower stalks for tiny reddish-brown flowers and seed pods.
Tender green leaves have an intensely tart lemon flavor that is a great accent in salads and soups, and adds pop to pesto. Its seeds are also edible and can be eaten raw or cooked.
Winter Pea Shoots (Pisum sativum)
While winter peas are not wild in our vineyards, they are part of our annual cover crop mix. Peas are legumes that fix nitrogen into the soil. They grow tendrils that help them climb amid ryegrass and bell beans and have fleshy silvery leaves that form in whorls along the rigid stem, and they form beautiful edible pink flowers as temperatures rise.
Harvest the top 2-4 inches of the pea shoots to enjoy their distinctly sweet and nutty flavor that is wonderful raw or cooked. Try them sautéed with garlic and olive oil or in place of spinach in your favorite soup. The flowers are tender and mild and gorgeous as a garnish or salad ingredient. Consider adding them to a winter cover crop for a delicious supply of late winter greens!
(Written by Carolyn Brown, landscaper and gardener at Frey Vineyards.)
In 1924 Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Bio Dynamic Agriculture, discussed in his Agriculture Lectures how we must view the soil as being alive and full of life-giving forces. Also, how a living soil is akin to a plant and how plants themselves are an extension of the soil. This vitality is passed on to us through the energy contained in foods grown from healthy, living soils. That wellspring of life energy is not to be found in soils that have plant nutrients applied in a synthetic, chemical form. Steiner also stressed the importance of making a farm so self contained that it becomes self sustaining; its soil’s fertility is generated, conserved and recycled and the farm becomes its own entity. Creating and applying compost made from spent plants, cover crops and animal manure produced on site is the best way to realize this. The farm’s soil fertility becomes individualized to the land. How different this is from relying on importing soil amendments from different regions or even from different countries.
Current scientific research is discovering how very complex the living soil is. There is a complex relationship between soil mycorrhizae – bacteria and fungi – and the plant kingdom. Plants produce sugars through photosynthesis. These sugars are exuded from plants’ roots into the surrounding soil, which feeds the soil fungi and bacteria. In turn, these soil borne microorganisms help dissolve minerals and nutrients essential for plant growth and make them available in a form that plants can use. The end result is that we get food which is much richer in vitamins and minerals than vegetables grown with synthetic fertilizers. These microorganisms also allow plants to communicate with one and another! Mycorrhizae form a giant underground web connecting plants together. Plants that are being attacked by harmful insect pests pass the word on to other plants, which may protect themselves by making bad tasting chemicals, or chemicals that mimic predatory insect pheromones. These pheromones draw the plant allies into the farm or garden and they keep the bad bugs in check. What a great system! Bio Dynamics means “life engenders life” and healthy living soil creats vibrant, healthy ecosystems and people – a wonderful testimony to this way of farming.
The 2015 North Coast winegrape harvest began earlier than ever. At Frey Vineyards we began crushing grapes on August 24th. The early ripening varieties including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc all matured rapidly and came in quick. Yields of these varieties were also lower than average, leading to worry that the entire 2015 crop would be shorter than expected. Most California wineries can rely on bulk finished wine to compensate for light crop yields. At Frey Vineyards we are limited in our ability to source bulk wines since additive-free wines are not available on the open market.
Organic Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
As we transitioned into harvesting mid-season reds some fields helped make up the difference, with good crops on Merlot, Petite Sirah and some Zinfandel. It became clear early on that the overall quality of the 2015 vintage had potential to be exceptional. With no problem achieving adequate sugars for proper fermentation, late red varieties were allowed ample hang time to become physiologically mature. Not only were the sugars high enough but the grape seeds tasted nutty and the skins shed their bitterness. Meanwhile, seasonable autumn weather preserved optimal acidity for overall balanced fruit flavors.
An inch of rain in early September knocked the dust down and gave the vines a drink to help stall what would otherwise have been a rushed harvest. The rains then held off for another month avoiding any issues with rot and maintaining easy access into the vineyards for harvest equipment.
While we were working to wrap up the earliest harvest on record, my wife Eliza and I also welcomed our second child, Iris Ann Dahlen, into the world. Born on October 12th, in the heat of the last week of harvest, we all felt a sense of relief as the 2015 crush was nearing the end. The final load of grapes, on October 17th, came out of the 50 year-old Easterbrook Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard on our home ranch in Redwood Valley, and it was as perfect as its ever been.
Post-harvest organic vineyards in the mist.
Cover crop seeding and fall compost spreading soon followed and went smoothly. We finished in time to take advantage of early November rains. The rains gave the cover crop seed good germination and helped incorporate the compost into the soils. These practices help to feed the soil microorganisms that are the foundation of organic agriculture.
As we put the vines to rest for another winter we can reflect on the previous year. So many things went so well, yet there is always room for improvement. Every trip around the sun we learn from our previous mistakes and inevitably new challenges arise. The only universal constant is change and it is our task to adapt to whatever changes may arise.
Healthy soils, hearty vines, honest wines, happy people! Long live organic wines and family farms!
As the season turns to Fall, we have a lovely abundance of fruits and vegetables coming through the garden. For the cold months to come we’re making applesauce, sun dried tomatoes, frozen pears, and even some acorns – all part of the Autumn harvest ritual. The grapes are in full swing, and once they've been harvested from the home ranch, the domestic animals from the farm get to forage in the vineyards once again. Grass is great, but goats have a definite sweet tooth when it comes to munching leftover grapes on the vine!
Grapevine in fall colors after light rain.
Along with the bounty of fresh, ripe produce, the herbs which will grace our dishes for the year to come are in full profusion at present, and it's a lovely and lively time to harvest our spice mixes before the rains and cold take their toll.
We are hoping for a flourish of good, long soaks. We had our first major rain already, and we're all wondering what the weather will bring for the near future! Each morning a cool coastal overcast blankets the sky, so we can harvest comfortably on the early side before the heat sinks in. Little sprouts are popping up in the fields, and the land is thirsty for consecutive downpours. Even that little taste of the wet weather got us all excited about the down time of a farmer's lifestyle: while rains let loose all around outside, we get to curl up with some herbal tea by the stove and read books, plan out next year's garden, and rejoice in the past year's foods in the form of homegrown sourdough wheat breads and warming squash soups.
Canada geese take flight at Frey Vineyards.
At the end of summer one of our cows gave birth to a beautiful heifer calf. The newborn playfully explores the barnyard, getting into mischief that only such a huge baby can! The milking pails are filled to brimming each morning with the new mama in milk, and so we've been working with new cow cheeses in the kitchen. Also, our farm interns just made their first batch of goat milk soap, and are letting it cure in the outdoor kitchen.
Spiderweb in oak tree at edge of vineyard.
Goats grazing in Frey organic vineyard.
Spring on the Frey farm has come early this year. The sun shine and rainfall has made a lush and lively winter. Baby lambs frolick in the meadows. Pregnant goat moms are heavy with kids as they take their daily walks to browse and fertilize the vineyards. Our duck and chicken friends have recovered from the cold weather with lots of deep orange egg yolks from their free-ranging escapades. The days on the farm are spent managing the farm animals, lettiing them eat the rich green grasses.
My husband and I tend the herd of goats. We milk and walk the goats each day, and bring them special treats like raspberry and blackberry leaves to prepare them herbally for the kidding season ahead. I try to notice which of the does is "bagging up" in the udder, which indicate she’s pregnant. During this month I'll make several trips to the barn to check if anybody is showing other signs of babies on the way. Fresh straw is spread out, and we partition off parts of the barn as the “delivery rooms.” This year, three goats are expecting: Sophia, Cardamom, and Lhasa. I like to be the midwife, helping along any births, and giving the mother a post-partum tonic of molasses, wheat bran, and ivy (a recipe that I got from Juliette Barclay Levi's fantastic work "The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable").
As the sun warms everything up and the days get longer, we’ve been making Biodynamic preparations. They are made at the farm with ingredients from the farm, and stored in ceramic vessels. We apply the "500" preparation in the spring to bring renewed strength and nourishment to the soil. My father-in-law, Luke Frey, has been studying these Biodynamic formulas for over a decade. The preparations foster vitality in the soil and to the farm as a whole. Biodynamics were brought forth by Rudolph Steiner in 1924, and treat the farm as one large self-sustaining organism. We add these "preps" to hand-swirled water vortices, acting as homeopathic medicinal blessings of fertility and creativity for the farmer, the farm, and the planet. Biodynamics goes beyond organic, connecting the soul to the soil. Click here for more information about Biodynamic agriculture.
The weekend begins Friday January 9th, with a lecture from Dennis Klocek of the Coros Institute on the topic Where is the Elemental World? From the course description: "The fundamental question is how can those who work with nature establish a relationship that is personal to the forces and activities that lie behind natural phenomena? Starting in the crystal heavens of the alchemists, Dennis will present the layers of forces consolidating from the cosmic etheric realm through the etheric formative realm to the elemental realm. At each stage meditations will be suggested that can help to link the consciousness of the worker to these particular kinds of phenomena and the beings who stand behind them. Topics will include: the four ethers; crystallization of gems; alchemical planetary influences through the seasons; salt and sulfur in plant growth as symbolic consciousness; and the spagyric process of the alchemist Paracelsus as a meditative tool for research."
The lecture begins at 9am and goes until 5pm. There will be a lunch break and a suggested donation of $85-100; nobody will be turned away for a lack of funds. Registration is available at the door.
Saturday the schedule is open to the public and free (for the full schedule with a timeline please go here). There will be a keynote speech by Dennis Klocek at 10am and also a Nature Walk with local author Kate Marianchild at 2pm (her book, "Secrets of the Oak Woodlands" was published by Heyday this year). Bring a potluck item to share at a delicious farmer lunch gathering midday. Biodynamic preparations are often available for purchase, and for those interested in more information about biodynamics and the BDANC, this is a fine event to attend! Sunday's meeting brings together the BDANC staff to discuss topics within the organization.
I recently interviewed Julia Dakin, a local horse woman here in Mendocino County, California, about the horse powered work that’s been happening on the Frey farm. A life-long horse enthusiast, Julia got interested in draft horses a few years ago. She wondered if it would be possible for local vineyards to convert to horse power to do the work currently done by tractors. She met up with Luke and Lily Frey, who have been experimenting with draft horse work on the farm for the past several years.
Luke and Lily have been working to develop a rapport with draft horses on the Frey farm. As they built relationships with the horses, they have branched out to harnessing the horses and accomplishing farm tasks and logging with the horses on the land. Julia noted that logging with horses is one of the most environmental ways to do forestry management, as the horses are able to get into more narrow and tight spaces with far less impact than a road and heavy machinery. The horses get to exercise, and the land gets tended more gently. This last spring, Andy, Bonnie and Lola (the horses), accompanied by Luke, Lily and Julia (the humans), pulled logs out of the forest, tilled the garden beds on the ranch’s biodynamic farm, and tested various implements in the vineyard.
From experiences with the horses, Julia took her research a step farther and enrolled in online classes by Elaine Ingham in soil science. Her studies led her to the field of no-till agriculture. As she’s been delving into the world of soil, she’s been postulating that horses might be able to create a niche for vineyard management, by practicing no-till methods with a roller-crimper tool that is hitched to the horses. Instead of tilling up the soil with a disc, which disturbs the soil life (worms, bacteria, fungi), the roller-crimper moves between the vineyard rows to smash down the cover crop.
If Julia’s work with the horses is successful, they may have a more efficient system of converting cover crops into soil fertility. Also, using the roller-crimper helps sequester carbon in the land, while protecting and nourishing the layers of soil ecology already in place. Julia also hopes to find through current research on test plots, that the soil being worked with the roller-crimper both enriches the land and could prove to be a cost-effective enterprise for local grape farmers, whether or not they use horses. Julia currently has horses that she’s working with to amass some data to look at the roller-crimper horse-power at different sites. Should her efforts prove qualitatively impressive, Julia would like to expand the ways that local vineyards become carbon sinks instead of a carbon source, by transitioning to more horse-powered tasks: seeding cover crops, mowing, roller-crimper, and perhaps harvesting.
Additionally, as part of the biodynamics program on the farm, we prepare a unique blend of organic, homeopathic herbal sprays that we apply to the crops to nurture soil fertility. At present, Julia and Luke have been having some horse-powered spraying sessions to see how the horses fare as the deliver mechanism for these potent land medicines.
There are several factors to weigh in about how and if a farm would convert to a horse-powered technology. Julia is quick to note that with the prevalence of cheap oil and the speed of mechanical inventions, horses have been relegated to a technology of the past. However, with the use of more innovative techniques, like no-till, horses may well prove themselves to be able to compete with mechanized technologyfor the lesser impact they have on the carbon footprint of the land and for the potentially important contribution to increased soil fertility.
For more information on Julia’s research with the horses, follow her blog at www.rganicnotill.com.
Click here for a YouTube video clip.
Forest Stewardship Council release:
“The Forest Stewardship Council mission is to promote environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world's forests.
Our vision is that we can meet our current needs for forest products without compromising the health of the world’s forests for future generations.”
At Frey Vineyards we strive to green every step of our winemaking, from the vineyard to the cellar, and finally to the wine label itself. This year we made the switch to using Forest Stewardship Council Certified paper. We are excited to join forces with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This step is a natural progression in the development of the most environmentally friendly winemaking possible.
In order to include the logo on our labels, the paper must pass through the FSC chain of custody, which ensures sound environmental practices from the forest to the paper manufacturer, the merchant, and finally to a print shop with FSC Chain of Custody Certification. We now have confidence that our label purchasing is supporting an independent, third party movement making real strides towards preserving forestland in the US and abroad.
People all over the world depend on forests to live. Worldwide 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their primary livelihood. Forests filter water and air and the fungal communities in forests support all life on the planet. They are also a crucial refuge for countless plant and animal species. Deforestation is noted as the second leading cause of carbon pollution, and causes an estimated 20% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
In the US most forestland is privately owned and managed. With more than 40,000 family owned member forests, FSC works to create demand for products sourced from responsibly managed forests. Being a member of FSC provides incentives for these families to keep the forests and harvest them sustainably, and not to clear-cut for development or farming.
The Forest Stewardship Council was founded in Canada in 1993 and is dedicated to improving forest practices across the world. The Council formed in response to the lack of an agreement to stop deforestation at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio De Jaineiro. Boycotts of forest products had proven to be ineffective in protecting these vital ecosystems because they lead to devaluation of productive forestland. FSC started as a collaborative project by independent businesses and organizations. They created a chain of custody process and a logo, which have proven to be successful at encouraging responsible choices by consumers. The organization now operates in 80 countries and thousands of businesses and organizations are turning to FSC to help make responsible choices for the purchasing of forest products ranging from lumber to papers.
Apart from their work with paper, FSC has had a big impact on the manufacturing of green building. Green building represents the strongest sector of the construction industry. In 2012 an estimated 25% of all commercial and 20% of residential construction starts were in the category. FSC features over 1,000 Chain of Custody building products with more emerging each year.
We want to thank FSC staff and members for their dedication and innovation in supporting responsible forestry! We are proud to be a part of this growing movement.
Milked by hand, made by hand! (Our cheese is not for retail sale, but you can try it at ourWine Club events at the winery!)
Milk was never appealing to me. It was rather tasteless and too watery, not to mention the fact that it came in a plastic bag on which the words “homogenized” and “pasteurized” were clearly highlighted. That is part of what I experienced growing up in a big city like Bogotá, Colombia. At least, to balance things out, home-made cooking was the norm and grandma’s love for the kitchen could turn any store-bought produce into a delicious meal.
For the past six months I have been working and apprenticing at Luke Frey’s Biodynamic Farm at the Frey Ranch in Redwood Valley where I have been given the task of milking two lovely Jersey cows and turning their milk into a variety of dairy products, especially cheese.
Where it all begins.
Could raw milk really taste so delicious? Could real butter seem so yellow? Could fresh whey be so sweet? Could the cream that rises to the top be so thick? Could one fall in love with the art of making cheese and devote oneself to tending the wheels as if they were tender living creatures? These are some of the questions that confronted me as I entered into this commonsensical way of living.
The farm also produces an abundance of seasonal vegetables, herbs and fruits as well as fresh eggs. Meat is harvested once or twice a year from the different farm animals in a humane and conscious way.
With this vast array of wholesome ingredients the possibility of creation is limitless and the sacrificial act of cooking and eating brings satisfaction beyond measure. When one sits at a table and beholds the many simple delicacies that have been handcrafted and gathered within an eighth of a mile radius, it becomes a healing experience that nourishes the whole of man. At least this has been my experience.
Emily (wife of Luke Frey) and Christian with the final product!
Thus, it’s not surprising to find that when one participates harmoniously with the stream of life, it has the potential to evolve further through our own efforts. So, in a sense, real alchemy is at our fingertips as long as we become familiar with and respect the integrity of life. For this, the farm environment offers an ideal setting for greater learning, enjoyment and exploration.
Our cheese is not for retail sale, but you can try it at our Wine Club events at the winery!
Blackberry hedge next to Frey organic and biodynamic Chardonnay vineyard.
Hot summer days have brewed up delicious batches of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, and basil. Our Mediterranean climate offers us a diverse crop of annuals to accompany the vast bounty of vineyards coming into fruition. The gardens are producing all kinds of delectable veggies, but the grapes are still getting the solar power they need for their glory in the Fall. I watch the grapes ripening each morning as I walk the rows, the clusters getting bigger and bigger as the weeks go by and the sun shines down. When the summer heat has passed, the fruit will be plenty plump and their sugars rich enough for the harvest!
Ripening organic grapes.
In Spring, my food foraging walks in the vineyards began with ripe mulberries; now there are peaches, too. The blackberries in the hedgerows are wildly stretching their tendrils. Besides providing food and habitat to local wildlife, they are one of my favorite foraging delights.
Ripe peaches in the vineyard!
The grapes take center stage as the heat wanes and the season shifts to cooler days and longer nights. Last but not least, our olive trees will be ready to give their gifts to the press for full-bodied oils. When enjoying a bottle of Frey Biodynamic wine, we hope you will appreciate the terroir of the land that encompasses the richness of not just the grapevines, but the diverse array of flavors, in concert.
Organic olive tree in Frey biodynamic vineyard.