My introduction to foraging was an accident. The fruiting plants in the nursery were producing, but the customers weren’t there to purchase them. As I gazed at the bright red berries, I couldn’t avoid the sense that letting them stay there to rot was a shame. So I plucked them and popped them into my mouth.
The same was true for the little pear tree planted in the windbreak. Hidden between overgrown spruce trees, potted plants and a field of tall grass, it was hardly noticeable. The pears were not large, but the tiny tree was laden with them and I decided to take a chance. What I discovered was a delight which, for weeks to come, would form a key part of my lunch.
And that was when everything changed. As I sat there eating my free fruit, I began to wonder what other overlooked food might be available in the local area… and whether I could find enough to provide an entire meal. Might foraging be a way to bring down a grocery bill while retaining the nutritional value necessary for survival. It seemed likely. After all, people around the world have been “gathering” their food for millennia. And if they could do it, so could I.
This, of course, merited a trip to the local book store where I picked up a copy of “Edible Wild Plants” by Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman. The volume was a treasure trove of information about over 200 North American plants. It included information about how best to prepare and serve each along with warnings about varieties which had been known to cause allergic reactions and even which plants might be confused with poisonous cousins.
Over the next few weeks, I discovered rose hips, sumac berries, wild currents, and the fruit of the hawthorn tree. I shared these delights willingly with my coworkers who quickly came to anticipate my sudden appearance from behind a hedge or inside a grove with fruit in hand and a command to “eat this”. (It is a tribute to my trustworthiness that nearly every one of my coworkers complied with my orders and, in turn, discovered a variety of pleasant alternatives to grocery store fare.)
I confess that I wasn’t bold enough to try everything that was in season. Dandelion is, after all, a weed (though it wasn’t for many centuries) and cattails are… well, fuzzy. Still, it was enough to be going forward on and it wasn’t long before I was providing quite a few snacks and an occasional meal consisting solely of foraged foods. This, however, would not be enough to satisfy my curiosity and my odd interest in a lost art. It was time to expand my horizons. (To be continued…)