Foraging for Inspiration

Have you been to the site The Perennial Plate yet? You may have noticed it’s one of the links I recommend over there on the right of this page. They are just wrapping up their second year of blogging (and video blogging, although really, the micro-documentaries Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine make are sooooo much more than mere point-the-camera-at-something-and-put-it-online-blogging), and it was even better than the first year. In the first year, their focus was on local, seasonal eating in Minnesota (yes, even in the winter). The second year, they took a road trip around the country, to see what local food traditions they could discover. Their blog is great too (Mirra has her own unique take on this journey, and her relationship with Daniel, and she is damn funny), so I would strongly suggest you hole up this weekend with your computer, and do a marathon of The Perennial Plate.

So anyway, Daniel Klein is very excited about foraging. So much so that Mirra says he squeals like a little girl when he finds something edible while on a hike or walk in the woods. He threw a tiny hissy-fit when he realized he had missed the window for morel mushroom foraging, while on the first leg of their road trip. I am inspired by his passion, as I too am fascinated and amazed at how many edible plants there are, just growing wild in the woods and my own yard. These are things that you are not going to find at any market, farmers’ or super. They are lost foods, foods our ancestors and the native populations ate before farming began to narrow our palates and menus. Obviously I am not one to knock farming, just lamenting the fact that these other plants’ glory has diminished in our eyes without any reason. Some of the plants we now call weeds are as high or higher in vitamins and minerals than many domesticated vegetables, they taste great, and they grow, well, like weeds, so they are abundant, self-renewing, and therefore sustainable.

Safety tips about foraging: make sure the area you forage in has not been treated with any chemicals, forage at least 15-20 feet away from the roadside (cars leave pollutants behind on the plants there), read and educate yourself about poisonous lookalike plants, and take a detailed identification guidebook with you when you go so you will have no doubt as to what plants you are picking. I personally do not forage for wild mushrooms; there are too many dangerous lookalikes for my comfort. Here’s what grows wild in my yard:

Wild Blueberries
Violets
Wild Strawberries
Dandelion
Burdock
Nettle

Nettle, you say? Yes, if you harvest it carefully with gloves on, it doesn’t sting, and when it’s cooked it doesn’t sting. More on that next time. The root of burdock is the part used; the leaves and flowers of dandelion are both edible, and violet flowers are edible as well.

The herb garden is practically wild; after the work to establish a perennial herb garden is done, the plants just keep coming back every year. So dependable and useful. I have chives, oregano, thyme, mint, lemon balm, lavender, sage, and fennel. I will share more about all the things I do with those herbs in coming weeks.

Sadly, a most unwelcome wild visitor has arrived in my yard with a vengeance not seen in the 10 years we have lived in this house: poison ivy. Man, is it awful. I have the rash to prove it. It is likely to be in wild places where you might forage, so educate yourself on its looks (many), habitats (many), plant forms, and how to protect yourself from getting the rash. And what to do after you already have the rash :( . I went on a misbegotten poison ivy-pulling rampage, and didn’t quite wash up as well as I should have. So I have a bit of rash here and there. There are all kinds of websites with information about poison ivy, go check some out.

You have your assignments: The Perennial Plate, the bookstore for a foraging guidebook, and cruising poison ivy websites. That should keep you busy, until next time.

See you on the Road.

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for this – I’ve been interested in foraging for a while now but it’s scary – a bit worried in case I unwittingly poison my dinner guests :) I suppose it’s time to hit the bookstore!

    P.S You have wild berries – so jealous!

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  2. I am always afraid my crazy ideas will do in my family, so I eat everything before I let them. ;) Get the best guidebook you can afford, with full descriptions, how much it’s ok to eat (some plants are better eaten sparingly), and with plenty of color photographs, not drawings. A section on plants NOT to eat should also be included, so you can always double check. And if in doubt, don’t eat it. If you’re allergic to any plant foods, know what plant families they are in, and be aware you might be allergic to the whole family. Have fun and be safe! And don’t be jealous of my wild berries-I also have squirrels and chipmunks who usually get to them before I do!

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