Thursday, March 29, 2012

So You've Taken Up Foraging!

In a comment to yesterday's post, Thunder wrote:

I made a salad out of Cercis canadensis flowers yesterday.

Being a forager myself, I read this with a tear in my eye, and started chanting "ONE OF US! ONE OF US!" It's still pretty early in the foraging season, but I've already consumed quite a bit of stinging nettles (I boiled them, pureed them, and added them to a basic biscuit batter I make when I have milk that goes sour on me), and snacked a couple of young Japanese knotweed stalks that were poking up out of the ground (the knotweed is an aggressive invasive species, it has a pleasantly sour taste, much like rhubarb).

During the summer of 2009, I made a resolution to forage for at least one edible plant every week during the growing season. I've stuck by it all this time- once one develops an eye for the edible weeds, it's an easy hobby to pursue, and it cuts one's grocery bill by quite a bit. For me, though, the most important aspect of it is that it expands the variety of foods that are available- as author Michael Pollan observed:


Simplification has occurred at the level of species diversity, too. The astounding variety of foods on offer in the modern supermarket obscures the fact that the actual number of species in the modern diet is shrinking. For reasons of economics, the food industry prefers to tease its myriad processed offerings from a tiny group of plant species, corn and soybeans chief among them. Today, a mere four crops account for two-thirds of the calories humans eat. When you consider that humankind has historically consumed some 80,000 edible species, and that 3,000 of these have been in widespread use, this represents a radical simplification of the food web. Why should this matter? Because humans are omnivores, requiring somewhere between 50 and 100 different chemical compounds and elements to be healthy. It’s hard to believe that we can get everything we need from a diet consisting largely of processed corn, soybeans, wheat and rice.


I enjoy foraging, it's something I have done on an irregular basis since I was a little kid. My maternal grandmother was very knowledgeable about plants, and she'd teach us grandchildren while we went on walks through the woods. Whenever I'd weed the garden, I'd simply wash the purslane off and scarf it down. This year, though, I think I may have to ramp up the foraging... I typically only go for parts of the plant that can readily be picked- leaves, stalks, fruit. This year's the year I take it to another level, straight down... this is the year I'm going to start digging up gobo roots. We have a lot of burdock plants growing around one of my worksites, and they have gone uneaten for all too long.

9 comments:

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I've got a pic of the bowl of flowers that I'll post soon. I didn't have any other salad ingredients to mix them with, so I just added a little olive oil, rice vinegar, and black pepper.

Tasted great! The online source I read which led me to the discovery that these blossoms were edible suggested that they were 'bitter', but that is not true.
~

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Sounds good... the Wildman Steve Brill has some great foraging information, if you want to magic to continue.

Kathleen said...

wow who knew? fascinating.

Laura said...

You remind me SO much of my Father. He would eat all that stuff too. Back then, we thought he was nuts but, now, I think that it's pretty cool.
It would probably be good to know some edible plants anyhow, just in case I get caught in some kind of Hunger Games situation....

((Hugs))
Laura

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

wow who knew? fascinating.

A lot of little old grandmother types, a lot of recent immigrants, and a handful of freaks like myself!

You remind me SO much of my Father. He would eat all that stuff too. Back then, we thought he was nuts but, now, I think that it's pretty cool.

I think it's holding on to that European mentality, that closeness to the earth and growing things.

It would probably be good to know some edible plants anyhow, just in case I get caught in some kind of Hunger Games situation....

You could always just put an arrow in somebody and cook them...

vacuumslayer said...

I'm completely fascinated by this sort of thing. I want to look up all the stuff you eat and see what it looks like.

Aunt Snow said...

I should pay more attention to these things, too. I don't even know what stinging nettles look like.

We haven't picked any chanterelles this year, it's been too dry.

Anonymous said...

You can eat stinging nettles, what part do you eat? What do they taste like? Are nettles the same all over the country? My neighbor used to eat Dandelion Greens very early in the season. I didn't care for them, but I was amazed that she would leave a place in her pristine lawn to let a few grow to eat.

ALBUG

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I'm completely fascinated by this sort of thing. I want to look up all the stuff you eat and see what it looks like.

The "Eat the Weeds" series on Youtube is great. My go-to weeds are nettles, purslane, lambs' quarters, dandelions, wild grapes (leaves and fruit), raspberries, and mulberries.

I should pay more attention to these things, too. I don't even know what stinging nettles look like.

You'll know them when you feel them- they cause a burn for a good many minutes, but don't raise a rash. Some folks use them for arthritis. Too bad about the chantarelles- I wish I knew more about the mushrooms.

You can eat stinging nettles, what part do you eat? What do they taste like? Are nettles the same all over the country?

I pick the top three inches of the young plants (before the flowers grow), using gloves of course, and boil them. They have a pleasant, mild "green" taste. I think all of the North American nettles can be eaten. I'm in NY, and our nettles are edible. New Zealand has some killer nettles.

My neighbor used to eat Dandelion Greens very early in the season. I didn't care for them, but I was amazed that she would leave a place in her pristine lawn to let a few grow to eat.

I'm always bemused that people kill the pretty, edible dandelions in order to grow the inedible grass. I just don't get it. Thanks for visiting the blog!