I’ve been fascinated by connection all my life. I love digging into the nature of relationships, whether they’re cultivated or if they’re something handed to us—just by virtue of being born on Planet Earth.
It may be that last part that explains my sort of odd obsession with picking fruit from one wild tree or another (or yet another), or from wild plants. It definitely explains why I wanted to undertake the foraging project I’m on now, and have lately been spending my days walking slowly along the streets of my community, back bent toward the ground, as if looking for a lost glove or perhaps my sanity among the newly sprouting vegetation.
This post represents the first look at the food that’s not hawked by the ad slickies at Madison Avenue but instead is quietly offered by the earth, all year, as the sun waxes and wanes. I’ll be continuing this ‘edible wild’ series from time to time during 2013 and hope you dig it.* Mostly I hope that you’ll get as excited as I am about wild food, that you’ll get jazzed to see what’s growing around you and want to learn about it. Besides the connection we have with our own selves—me to myself and you to yourself—I think the most essential connection on earth is the one we have with the earth; and it’s a connection that, to a great extent, has been broken. That can change.
About my choices above…
My home is the suburban NJ, USA shore, dotted with wide and narrow stretches of lake and consisting of sandy soil. The photo above represents a sampling of the edibles growing wild in my area,** although I’m sure there are many more.
Helpful note 1: Obviously don’t forage too close to roadsides, where dogs might have, ahem, frequented; and be wary of wild edibles growing too near residential properties, as they might have taken on pesticides used there.
Helpful note 2: I am no botanist or horticulturist (to which any of my bio teachers can attest). Among the above foods shown I’ve eaten wild garlic and dandelion only. To learn what else was edible, I sought out online sources for assistance. Above all, before eating it, be sure that what you think is a certain plant is in fact a certain plant.
Please chime in with your additions, clarifications—and recipes, if you’ve got ’em. And I’d love to hear what grows near you.
Clockwise from top:
Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia)
Enjoy blossoms raw in salads, cooked, dried or made into a syrup that can be used as a drink mixer.
Kind of shadowed; sorry about that. Entirely edible, but seems to benefit from the addition of salt to ease digestion.
Snowdrop (Galanthus spp.)
Not so much a food as a tonic, purported to soothe stomach and joint pain as well as women’s reproductive problems.
Wild Garlic (Allium vineale)
What we kids used to call ‘onion grass’ and pull up just to sniff its assertive fragrance—it should smell strongly of onions or garlic. Chop and enjoy raw or cooked. Eat it now, when it’s tender; once summer hits and it’s about to go to seed, the interior of these cylindrical sprouts becomes woody and dry.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)***
Roots, blossoms and young leaves edible; any longer than a finger’s length and the leaves become too bitter for me (but you might like them like that). This healthy plant can also be used as a tonic. And since Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine is one of my favorite books, one summer I was inspired to steep a bunch of flowers in vodka and a simple syrup, and made a lovely pale yellow liqueur.
Spring Crocus (Crocus Vernus)
Bulb, blossom and stigma all edible. I tried to dig up a bulb for the photo, but the ground was really resistant, and I didn’t want to damage the other flowers to get it.
*Pun totally intentional. Shocker.
**I know plants from the ocean are missing from this picture. I really wanted to include some, but it’s been a cold month so far. Once it gets warmer I’ll see what I can find there.
***Why aren’t there any dandelion blossoms in this picture, Maris? Because I searched across three towns for some and then gave up and took the shot. Guess how many I saw the next few days? I’m not even kidding: It was as if they hid under the ground, giggling, then exploded like popcorn in a Jiffy Pop pan once I uploaded the picture. I even passed a whole lawn of them and considered coming back with my camera, but I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.