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I love food. And because I believe it is important to be self-sufficient when it comes to nourishing the body I also love learning how to eat off the land, no matter if it’s from the forest, swamp, lakeside, field, or empty lot. I’ve eaten cattail roots and green cattail heads (kitten tails), daylily buds, sedum greens, purslane, nettles, wild berries and nuts, dandelion greens and roots, rosehips, lamb’s quarters, Jerusalem artichokes, burdock roots, and plenty more.
There’re a lot of people out there who gather their plant foods this way, from people who live in cities to those living off the land in the wilds of every continent. As a result, there is a lot of good foraging information out there on websites and in books.
My favourite foraging website is Wildman Steve Brill’s Wild Foods. You’ll find foraging information there on everything from Japanese knotweed to morels. On site also find info on his The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook (the paperback is called The Wild Vegan Cookbook), a truly unique and fantastic forager cookbook.
Another excellent foraging book is Teresa Marrone’s Abundantly Wild: Collecting and Çooking Wild Edibles in the Upper Midwest. I first came across the book when a local bookstore owner placed it in my hand. It was love at first sight and I’ve been cooking out of the book ever since.
Also highly recommended if you’re looking for classics are any of Euell Gibbons’ books, such as Stalking the Healthful Herbs and Stalking the Wild Asparagus.
How to start foraging? One of the easiest plants to start with is purslane, a great green as well as a persistent weed. Steve Brill notes in his website that ‘Purslane is a terrific plant source of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids and iron. It is also high in vitamin C; and contains some beta-carotene and calcium.’ And that it was Gandhi’s favorite food.
The simplest method of preparation is to strip the fleshy leaves off the stem, chop the stem into 1/2 inch pieces, rinse leaves and stems well, blanch for about 15 seconds, then place in a bowl and mix with your favourite salad dressing.
In her book, Teresa Marrone warns not to pick poisonous spurge when harvesting purslane. The two greens don’t look alike, but do often grow near each other so you may just mix some spurge in by accident. She also notes purslane has always been popular, as ‘Cooks in Italy, Greece, France, the Netherlands and Turkey have been using purslane for centuries.’ She offers five tasty purslane recipes in her book, including Greek Country Salad, Stewed Tomatoes with Purslane, Salade Sauvage, Red Potato Salad with Purslane, and Purslane and Tomato Salad.
There are a few safety issues you need to consider before heading off and harvesting wild greens and weeds. Christine Gable at CDKitchen gives these foraging safety tips:
- As in gathering any food for human consumption, knowing your area and positive identification is vitally important.
- Always check with a reputable field guide and learn the common poisonous plants in your region.
- Get permission to forage on private property.
- Find out if the land has been sprayed.
- Stay away from plants growing near toxic vehicle exhaust.
- Wash your plants well in water before using.
- Don’t get arrested. It is illegal to forage in some areas. Check out your local policies and laws.
An excellent guide for Northwestern Ontario is Peterson’s A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America. Marrone’s book, Abundantly Wild: Collecting and Çooking Wild Edibles in the Upper Midwest, also identifies a number of plants in our area.
People who forage do so for many different reasons, ranging from being self-sufficient to reducing the grocery bill to feeling closer to nature. Not to mention there’s something very satisfying about sitting down to a meal you’ve hunted, fished, and gathered yourself. Let’s see, pan-fried pickerel seasoned with lemony wood sorrel, some nettle risotto with wild rice, a salad of young dandelion greens, chickweed, lamb’s quarters, and edible flowers. And how about some blueberry pie for dessert?
Foraging Blogs & Forums
- Foraging with the Wildman
- Edible Wild Food
- Hunger and Thirst: Foraging, Feasting, and Adventure in the Rocky Mountains
- Fat of the Land
- Hunter Angler Gardener Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast
- Wild Man Food
- Wild Picnic ~ New Zealand
- 3 Foragers ~ Hawaii
- Susun Weed’s Wiser Woman Forum
- Daniel Vitalis: Rewild Yourself, Rewild The Planet
- John Wright’s Wild Food Website
Photo Credit: PR
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