Getting to Know Plants
My first gardening experience came when I was a teenager. Back then “gardening” for me was an after school job at a small, family-owned garden center, lugging around a heavy, interminable garden hose to water, section by section, the herbs, the perennials, the shrubs, and the flats of annuals. Out alone among the plants, I felt a sense of peace. It was one of my first realizations that I felt much happier being outside, even in the stifling humidity of the North Carolina summer. My moments in the herb section were my favorites – I would rub the leaves of the different varieties while I watered, discovering the incredible secret fragrance each contained.
From Garden Produce to Wild Produce
Twenty-something years later, I have graduated from plant-waterer to full-fledged gardener. Once you’ve discovered the pleasure of watching your own zucchini grow from seed, grocery store produce with its stickers and plastic packaging loses much of its charm. When you garden, you fall in love with the growing process. Sometimes the growing process comes with obstacles though, like drought or grasshoppers. So it’s not a hard leap from there to start wondering about wild foods, foods that grow easily and without any work on your part. Some of us will ask, why not eat weeds and edible native plants too?
Wild Foods as a Sustainability Choice
Considering the incredible amount of food waste we generate in the developed world, and the resources that go into growing, packaging, transporting and retailing most food, it feels like an act of rebellion to source even part of one’s food needs from what nature is willingly offering instead of what we must beat out of it. Many weeds and other wild foods grow without watering or other maintenance, so harvesting these edibles might also appeal to those of us who prefer a lazier approach to bringing food to our tables!
Nutrition from Wild Foods
Beyond the environmental and economical benefits, I also like to incorporate wild food into my diet for the nutritional advantage. Fruits and vegetables start to lose their nutrients shortly after being harvested – just how much depends on the fruit or vegetable. The best way to get the maximum amount of nutrition from your produce is to eat it quickly after harvest. When we overlook the wild edibles growing in our yards, we’re missing out on free vitamins and minerals just there for the plucking!
Our Local Wild Food Options
Chad and I have harvested fruit from a neglected apricot tree in town, nibbled on sweet, candy-like huckleberries high in the Uintah Mountains, tasted milkweed pods growing in our yard, used sumac berries as a lemon substitute, savored little mallow seed heads while weeding our garden, and cooked up pots full of delicious lambsquarters, pigweed, and amaranth. And did I mention the bag fulls of wild asparagus we pick every spring from my father in law’s pastures? I am not a wild foods expert, but I’m slowly working on it.
Discover Your Own Wild Food Resources
If you are interested in beginning to eat wild foods, find people in your area who are knowledgeable and experienced to help you get started. You will certainly be able to find a few easy to identify weeds, preferable in areas that haven’t been sprayed and don’t have run off from roads. Dandelion is one that most of us can recognize, and beyond the fun of blowing off the puffy seed head while you make a wish, you can eat the greens as a salad and harvest the root for tea. Why buy dandelion tea at Whole Foods when you have dandelions growing by your front step? Happy foraging! But don’t forget, if you aren’t 100% able to identify a plant, don’t eat it.