We are living in troubled times; world events demand our attention, our participation. But sometimes we just have to take a break. I find one of the best ways to calm the spirit and focus the mind is to go out foraging. When foraging for wild plants we enter the landscape on an intimate scale, we’re down on our knees, looking, exploring, paying attention, the microcosm engages us and the macro shrinks away.
Artemisia frigida, or pasture sage, is the plant I’m paying attention to right now. The matted, woolly clumps of silvery green leaves tend to grow on hillsides, in dry, disturbed ground, often in the same environments where crocuses are found.
In early June the plant starts to look more elegant, the woody stems growing greener and taller, and in mid to late June it sends up wands of small, pale yellow flowers. This is the time to pick, both flowers and leaves.
Of the many varieties of Artemisia that grow in the Yukon, pasture sage is the easiest to use in the kitchen. It’s aromatic without being bitter, it has sweet and savoury applications, it dries well and retains its potency for many months, if stored in a cool dark place. The flavour is reminiscent of both mint and summer savoury.
The Latin name derives from the Greek goddess Artemis, who amongst her many roles was considered the goddess of healing; several Artemisia species are used for their healing properties by Indigenous peoples around the world. And frigida, of course, means cold. (One of the other common names for the plant is Arctic sage.)
As always, pick sparingly and consume carefully, until you’re sure you don’t have an intolerance. (It’s a member of the huge Asteraceae family; other food members include chicory, endive, artichokes, sunflowers.) Air-dry away from direct sunlight and store in a covered container.
Here’s another way to take a break from the world: make ice cream.
- 1½ cups 35 percent cream
- 1½ cups 10 percent cream
- 2 Tbsp fresh pasture sage leaves and flowers
- 1 strip of lemon zest, 3 inches by 1 inch
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup wildflower honey
- Pour the two creams into a medium-sized pot and stir in the sage and lemon zest. Bring the cream just to the boil over medium heat. Remove pot from the heat, cover and let steep for 30 minutes.
- Strain the cream into a clean pot, pressing on the sage and lemon to extract their flavour. Return the pot to the burner and heat cream until steam rises, whisking frequently.
- While the cream is heating, beat egg yolks in a heat-proof bowl until light in colour and thickened slightly, about two minutes.
- Gradually pour about ½ cup cream into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Add yolk and cream mixture to the pot, stirring with a wooden spoon.
- Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard has thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon, from 3 to 5 minutes.
- Remove the custard from heat and stir in the honey. Pour the custard through a sieve into a clean bowl. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, and refrigerate, covered, until thoroughly chilled, about 3 hours.
- Freeze in an ice cream maker, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a clean bowl with a lid and place in the freezer to firm up for 1 to 2 hours. Remove from the freezer and allow to sit at room temperature or a few minutes before serving.
To make ice cream without a machine: Pour custard in a shallow dish. Freeze for 30 minutes, whisk vigorously to break up ice crystals, return to the freezer. Repeat 5 times for a total of 2 ½ hours, then allow ice cream to freeze for 1 more hour.