This pretty pink jelly is the result of a local weed problem. Knotweed is an invasive plant that quickly takes over wastelands and riverbeds. My attitude towards this invasive species is that it is good for nothing . . . except for eating of course! Lucky for knotweed, people like me will come along and give it purpose by lovingly cutting the tender young shoots to use as an edible before they have the chance to be truly spoiled by the elements. The proper thing to do would be to dig up the plants by the root as they start to sprout, eat the shoots, and compost the rhizomes. KILL the roots. Yup, it’s ok. There are plenty of knotweed shoots hiding in the soil waiting to come up. My foraging philosophy applied towards invasives is that we can only try to eat it out of existence. I take this approach with knotweed, kudzu, cephalopods, and wild boar.
I began foraging while working in archaeology. In the forests of the southeast, with its diverse plant and animal life, it was eat or be eaten. Fighting through thick underbrush just to survey a strait transect, it was easy to demonize the wall of undergrowth that stood in the way. Of course I adopted the attitude that all invasives leading the charge should die. Although hard, archaeology is rewarding work requiring that you spend all day in the woods, swamp, field, or some other less than desirable location to search for things left behind by other people. Sometimes clues to these forgotten people might be found in the plant growth around.
On the best days we might ride ATV’s and have easy digging for really cool things on a breezy beach. On the worst, we might hike through miles of swamp and thorns to fight with everything that stings, for a little plot of mud and roots. On the bad days when I was greatly in need of distraction (or I had time to kill while we hacked a path into nature a few feet at a time) I pulled out my field guides to identify some plants around me. I, like all new foragers, was on the mushroom hunt. While eyeing mushrooms and the ideal mushrooms collecting locations, I began to notice everything else edible around me.
My Tall-Dark & Handsome and others watched with curiosity but never really wanted in on my wild foods. Their loss! I made elaborate hotel meals of wild collected garlic, onions, tubers, mushrooms, greens, nuts, flowers, snails and likely more than I even remember.
As a southern archaeologist, I was very familiar with the vegetation from my neck of the woods. Once we moved to Vermont, I found a bit of a learning curve for foraging (and so much more.). Knotweed was something I was only vaguely familiar with before moving north, so I am a bit of a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to foraging it.
This invasive weed (read: lots available to harvest!) can be found on roadsides and river edges. It grows like bamboo or asparagus. The pinkish green tips will shoot up from the wastelands. When foraging, choose weed shoots no taller than 18” and preferably no thicker than 1” in diameter. Using a sharp knife, cut knotweed stalks near the ground. Harvest these tart and sour shoots by the arm load for things like jams, jellies, pies, and scones. Use leafy tips and baby leaves as a cooked vegetable if you find that you really like the flavor of knotweed.
I like to make #jellyjam. To make jelly I need juice, and to make jam I need fruit pulp. I achieve both juice and pulp by boiling and straining the prepared knot weed. Wash and roughly chop the weed. Small tender shoots can be boiled up skin and all, but larger shoots should be peeled. Cover the shoots in cold water and bring to a boil. Boil for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and strain the liquid from the pulp.
I recommend filtering this a few times to get most of the green sediments out of the pretty “juice.”
First drain the juice through a colander and reserve all stems and pulp. This mash can be pressed through a sieve or food mill to create a silky, sour green pulp that make excellent jam or is equally great used in baked goods. Next pour the juice through a very fine mesh jelly bag. This juice will make pretty jelly or is nice when added to iced tea.
I harvested 13 pounds of knot weed so that gave me 4-5 gallons of knotweed juice.
What’s that? You don’t make humongous batches of jelly at one time? Try this scaled down version. These proportions will yield approximately 3 -8oz jars.
- 2 cups knotweed juice
- 1.75oz powdered pectin
- 2 cups sugar
Harvest approximately 2 lbs, or 1 armload of knot weed. This will yield 2-3 cups of prepped and coarsely chopped weed. Place this in a medium sauce pan and cover with 3-4 cups water. Boil and strain as described above.
Prepare your canning equipment, including sanitizing the jars and placing a small plate in the freezer.
Pour the knotweed juice into a clean med-large saucepan. Bring to a simmer and stir in pectin. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil and stir in sugar. Once again, while stirring, bring the jelly to a full boil and boil hard for 1 minute. Test for gel by dropping a bit of jelly onto the plate from the freezer. If the jelly firms quickly and can be pushed around the plate, remove the pan from the heat and allow the jelly to rest. Skim off the foam with a spoon and discard. Pour the hot jelly into the sterilized jars, and wipe the rims. Seal and process them in a water bath for 10 minutes.
This is a great fruity jelly that slips right into the daily routine of pb & j or jam on toast.
Notes: The sugar content is a bit high to counter the natural tartness of knot weed and to make a firmer jelly. Knotweed seems to have a lot of natural pectin so I believe this would adapt well to a low sugar or honey jelly.
I use commercial pectin that works with different sugar ratios and I have adapted this to work with powdered pectin such as Ball classic. This recipe is easy to scale up.