Living off the land

  • Curly dock plants. Contributed photo—

  • Contributed photo—

  • Contributed photo—

  • The Modern Pioneer Contributed photo

  • Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Wild apples for apple cider vinegar. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Lauren Roy of Phillipston with some curley dock. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Gathered nuts. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Lauren Roy of Phillipston gathers wild primrose which she says is both edible and medicinal. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Lauren Roy makes apple cider vinegar in her kitchen.

  • Lauren Roy, of Phillipston, with ‘potatoes,’ edible roots foraged near her home. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Lauren Roy of Phillipston gathers some Japanese knotweed which she makes into jelly. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2020 2:24:51 PM

To most homeowners, backyard weeds are a nuisance. But to Lauren Roy of Phillipston, author of “The Modern Pioneer: An Almanac of Natural Living,” they’re ingredients that make possible a self-sufficient lifestyle.

“Around supper time, you’ll find me walking around my yard with a basket,” Roy said. “I like the idea of how much they were able to do in the 19th century without all the bells and whistles we have.”

On average, Roy, who operated the self-sustaining Sugar Hollow Farm on the other side of town with her family for about a decade, says she forages for wild edibles about “two or three times a week, depending on my health and depending on the weather. … I think you need to go multiple times a week because you need to familiarize yourself with what’s growing,” said Roy. Her book, which was published in 2016, articulates this perspective into a narrative and encourages readers to engage in a more naturalistic lifestyle.

Within a mile from her house, Roy harvests native and invasive plants like fiddleheads, Japanese knotweed, groundnuts (a native tuber), dandelion leaf and chaga, winter mushroom, curly dock and Queen Anne’s Lace, also known as wild carrot. In her backyard, she has a homemade solar dehydrator that was recently “chock full of sumac.

“We have grapes, blueberries, apples — these are all wild. If you go down 2A, there’s an apple tree that drops its fruit on the road all the time. It’s about keeping your eyes open,” Roy said. “I spent weeks, maybe months, picking wild strawberries that are a little bigger than a raisin.”

And from those ingredients, she grinds the acorns into flour for cookies and crackers. She also makes wild blueberry tea, strawberry jelly and all sorts of original recipes.

Recently, Roy says she made a tasty jelly from Japanese knotweed, which is considered to be an invasive plant. And the other day, “We made banana curly dock muffins with peanut butter glaze. They were so good and so light because the curly dock flour has a lot of fiber,” Roy said, noting that to grind curly dock — a red perennial flowering plant — into flour, “you can’t get the little seeds out, so you just crush it with the husk around it.”

Through her business, The Modern Pioneer, Roy holds wild edible workshops and sells food items like dry rub on a Facebook marketplace page.

Roy’s lifestyle requires knowledge and foraging experience. For example, she says it takes 16 stocks of curly dock plants to make four cups of curly dock flour, which can then be substituted for wheat flour at a one-to-one ratio. For clover flour, it’s a two-to-one ratio. It’s also important to know what plants are edible and which ones are dangerous. Some plants, such as poison hemlock, which resembles Queen Anne’s Lace, are toxic if consumed.

Roy, who grew up in the area, has been interested in eating off the land for as long as she can remember. She grew up collecting acorns in the neighbor’s yard and used to dye pillowcases with goldenrod. Along with volunteer work, Roy says she’s been to Sturbridge Village more than 250 times.

“I like the idea of how much they were able to do in the 19th century without all the bells and whistles we have,” Roy said.

Her self-sustaining mentality has proven useful this year, especially when the ongoing coronavirus pandemic was first recognized and a lot of stores temporarily closed. She’s been foraging more often this year and has put an emphasis on growing her own food in the garden to avoid going to the grocery store. “I make everything from scratch,” Roy said. When flour was scarce a few months ago, for example, she ground her own and used it to make pasta and baked goods.

In this, Roy said sustainable living can be “empowering,” especially for those who might not make a lot of money.

“Feeding our families is a base need. If we can’t do that, that’s a huge stress,” Roy said. “Last year, I made about a quart or two quarts of acorn flour. It took us, we figured, about 10,000 acorns. You have to boil them to get the tannin out; you have to dry them and then ground them.”

It’s not just foraging that Roy promotes through her business, The Modern Pioneer — it’s a lifestyle. When she managed Sugar Hollow Farm, Roy says she butchered and processed cows, chickens and pigs.

Through foraging and raising her own food, Roy says she has gained a unique perspective “not just on treating animals nicely, it gives you a connection with what you’re eating. You’re connecting to the earth and the environment — (and) get something we don’t have anymore.”

Andy Castillo can be reached at

Banana Curly Dock Muffins with Peanut Butter Glaze

In order to make curly dock flour — made from curly dock plants, which are a rusty brown color — crumble the seeds of about four stocks, then grind and sift them into a smooth consistency. Curly dock season ends at the first snow and the flour should be stored in an airtight container.

1 ¼ cups unbleached wheat flour

1 ¼ cups curly dock flour

¼ cups sugar or sweetener of choice

1 teaspoon Bob’s Red Mill Baking Powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup shortening or butter

1 egg

1/3 cups milk

2 to 3 bananas, squashed

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice,

A few pinches of nutmeg, to taste

½ teaspoons vanilla

Set oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix all the dry ingredients together, then add the wet ingredients. Stir until incorporated, but don’t over-beat. Use an ice cream scoop to fill a lined muffin tin and bake. Bake for about 20 minutes (until an inserted knife comes out clean). Notably, curly dock flour is gluten-free. Remove from the oven and let cool about 30 minutes before icing.

Peanut Butter Icing

1/3 cups peanut butter (smooth works better but crunchy can work as well)

1/3 cup confectioners sugar

1 tablespoons of cream or milk (may have to add more depending on its consistency)

Combine ingredients and mix to desired consistency. Drizzle over the muffins.

Curly Dock Energy Smoothie (sugar-free)

6 ounces coconut water

2 ounces milk

2 tablespoons plain yogurt

10 drops liquid Stevia

Suggested scoops of your favorite protein powder

Other desirable smoothie ingredients

2 tablespoons curly dock flour

1 cap-full of vanilla

1/4 teaspoons cinnamon

Pinches nutmeg and allspice to taste

Any fresh fruit you’d like

Because this smoothie has a nutty flavor, bananas, apples and peaches yield great results. Combine ingredients in a blender and enjoy.

Greenfield Recorder

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