Writer Heather Goodspeed Walters shares her insights on expanding your diet and your nature skills while having fun in the great outdoors through the ancient art of foraging.
My adventures in foraging began about one year ago after moving back to my hometown of Nevada City, California. I was doing a lot of trail running, and was delighted to come across several areas where blackberries were growing wild. What a treat to pick a handful and snack on the sweet, juicy morsels as I ran! The connection to nature is what drew me to trail running in the first place, but when I finished my runs with sticky purple hands, it felt as though the connection had deepened further. I could always see, feel, hear, touch, and smell the elements along my routes, and now I could taste them, too.
It didn't take long before I began taking empty containers with me, walking to where the blackberries grew, and collecting a couple of pints at a time. Blackberries on my coconut yogurt, blackberry syrup on my pancakes, blackberry smoothies...you get the idea. I was loving my local, seasonal, organic, and no-cost treat!
It was during this same time period that I was searching for blackberry bushes on my own parcel of land when I came across a large patch of wild sage. More of the same ensued: Sage with roasted veggies, fried sage on sweet potatoes, zucchini noodles with sage......Suffice it to say, there was a party in my belly and my interest was piqued; I wanted to find more goodies! I purchased several books on the topics of foraging and edible plants that are local to my region, and the adventure began in earnest.
The joys of foraging are many. On a personal and spiritual level, it allows you to intentionally venture into nature. All the benefits of time spent outdoors are there: The tranquility, the fresh air, physical activity, technological unplugging....except now you are on a treasure hunt! A mission! It truly is an adventure. Whether you are on a scouting expedition or returning to a familiar harvesting locale, you have made the intentional decision to connect with nature in the most elemental of ways--to walk about and gather sustenance.
On another level, consider that through the act of foraging, you are feeding your mind, as well. My inner nerd absolutely adores learning more about, and identifying, the plants around me. Those blackberries? They are called Himalaya blackberries (Rubus discolor), are non-native, and are considered to be a troublesome weed. There are many varieties of sage in California; the sage in my area is called Creeping Sage (Salvia sonomensis).
The most obvious joy of foraging is foodie joy. Foraged foods are usually local, seasonal, non-GMO, organic, and most are quite nutrient-dense. You will also expand your food choices, and therefore recipe files and cooking adventures, as many foraged foods are not found in grocery stores. Part of the fun is connecting with like-minded foodies to share recipes with. Two of my often-used resources are www.livingwild.org and www.motherearthnews.com.
Before you get started, there are a few things to consider:
Before long, you will begin to see wild edibles everywhere you look. Spring and summer, in particular, are wonderfully abundant.
Near my office is a field loaded with dandelion flowers and greens. On a recent hike in the Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe, I discovered wild grape vines all over the trails. I pass edible cattails and wild plums as I drive to my favorite running spots. The bright green Douglas fir tips are becoming a little sparser with the onset of summer, but the Manzanita berries and blackberries are just beginning to ripen. (See sidebar>>)
Not quite foraging, but in the same vein, is scouting for non-wild food. There is a restaurant near my office with massive planters of rosemary, mint, thyme, and oregano, used primarily for decoration. I emailed the owner and asked permission to occasionally pick some. "Of course! Thank you for asking!" was his reply. A friend recently moved in to an old family home and discovered that her great-grandmother-in-law had planted mulberry and pomegranate trees on the property decades ago, and generously invited me over to pick some (Thanks, Beth!). And a new patient of mine has an organic farm; can you guess how he is paying me for his treatments?!
Okay, now I sound like I'm bragging, but my point is: Delicious, fresh food exists everywhere--especially this time of year. Be daring, be creative, and let the food adventuring begin!
Wild in the Kitchen
So, you've scored some edible treasures on a foraging excursion, but now what?! Dandelion flowers are delicious when deep fried, and the greens are wonderful for sautées or in smoothies. Cattails are reminiscent of artichoke hearts. Fir tips can also be fried, or mixed in to a simple syrup that is delightful in alcoholic libations. Manzanita berries can be dried and used for a sweetener, or as a gluten-free alternative to flour. Find more foraged-food recipes and inspiration here.