Weeds. They invade our gardens and lawns.
They choke out the plants we’re trying to grow.
We did not invite them, yet there they appear in abundance.
So we seek them out and destroy them.
But Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
Might we be missing something?
Around here we relish our weeds. (Though we prefer to call them “wild edibles”.)
I would contest that weeds have many virtues.
Wild edibles are:
- Nutritious – packed with minerals and vitamins
- Delicious – think raspberries or wild ramps
- Fun to harvest
Weeds are more virtuous than we thought.
Before agriculture people still had food. (Of course!)
Instead of farming they foraged. Back then wild food was just food.
Roots, shoots, leaves, berries, fruit, and game.
It’s all still out there.
We’ve just forgotten to tap into this abundance. Instead we purchase, farm, or garden nearly all of our food.
As a foraging family we’ve decided to try at least one new wild food each season.
Last week my children decided to try cattail shoots.
The harvesting was cool, wet, muddy, and gooey. The cattail shoots first resisted our tug and then woosh! slipped from their skins covered in a gelatinous ooze.
Wow. Who knew?
We took them home, peeled away the tough outer layers and cooked them in butter, garlic and ginger.
They were delicious.
All it took was deciding to try them.
You don’t even need a wetland or forest to get started. Just an unsprayed corner of your yard will do.
Because wild foods are everywhere.
Foraging feeds us – literally and figuratively.
• It creates calm in a busy day. The quiet of the woods and the focus of the search helps us find our center.
• Foraging helps us to better understand the earth. As we forage we learn about habitat, wildlife, weather, microclimates, soil, and more.
• Foraging fills our freezer and pantry without us planting seeds or spending dollars.
With a little persistence we stock our larder each year with dozens of quarts of applesauce, bags of berries, and jars of pestos, teas, and greens. All for free!
• Foraging anchors us in the season.
Nature unfolds at its own perfect tempo. Harvesting wild foods helps us to be mindful of the now.
Foraging with children can be safe, easy, and rewarding.
Children learn about the natural world and practice plant identification. And most love the treasure-hunt experience of searching the woods for plants to eat.
When you’re ready to get out there, here are some tips to get you off on the right path.
1. Gather your tools
Foraging doesn’t require any special equipment.
What you need is already in your kitchen, closet, or garage.
Depending on what we’re harvesting we will bring:
- shopping bags, buckets, or baskets
- garden gloves
- hand trowels
- field guides
- water bottles
- pocket knife or scissors (optional)
2. Begin with the basics
Some wild plants are poisonous. It’s best to start with plants that don’t have dangerous look-alikes.
A few of our favorite (foolproof) plants are:
- Berries (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries)
Once you’ve learned the basics, then you can slowly introduce more difficult plants.
3. Find your mentor
Connect with an advanced wild food enthusiast. Find a foraging mentor through your homeschooling community, university extension office, or local nature center.
Have your mentor show you and your children the basics.
4. A place to harvest
Over the past few years we’ve discovered a few favorite foraging sites near our home.
We know where to go if we want watercress, nettles, elderberries, ramps, or blackberries – all within minutes of our home.
Check with your local park office to determine if you can forage on their property.
I write about wild foods from time to time–some posts that might interest you include recipes for ramps, dandelions, and nettles. I’ve also posted about family foraging here and here if you’re looking for more inspiration!
What about you? What is your favorite wild food? Or if you haven’t foraged before, what hurdles stand in your way?
This post originally published on June 27, 2012.