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Foraging Question

I was recently having a nice dinner conversation with my husband and brother-in-law, when the topic of foraging came up. Both of them foraged as boys, my husband in Virginia, my Bro-in-law in AZ.

My husbands description,"We used to play cow, crawling around on all fours and eating the wild onions growing in the fields."

Is this a common experience? Do you think gender is a factor? Neither my sister nor I have foraged, although I did take a mycology and botany classes in college that had us in the field, eating as we went.

peace, jill

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  1. Don't know that I did quite what your husband did, but as a kid I liked the tender base of the youngest leaves in a tuft of grass. I used to pull them out and munch about two tiny bites of that nearly white and flavorful morsel. Tasted about as sweet as wheatgrass juice but not so "green".

    I also enjoyed honeysuckle blossoms. We used to pick them and then pull the stamens through the base when we removed the petioles. It would produce a couple drops of a sweet floral nectar from each blossom.

    We did this standing straight up. Maybe we lacked imagination.... Anyway, them were the pickin's in the Mid-Hudson Valley.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rainey

      I used to enjoy honeysuckle too. Coming from Brooklyn, into the "wilds" of the Catskills each summer, finding those blossoms was sheer delight for us.

      1. re: sivyaleah

        I'm making honeysuckle liqueur right now. I spent hours over the course of several days picking the just opening flowers in the early mornings and as soon as I had a pint jar packed full I rushed off to fill the jar with vodka and a touch of lemon to keep the flowers from turning brown. In a month or so I will filter it, add simple syrup and see if it is any good.

        I keep planning on doing the same with Day Lilly's but haven't gotten around to it. Day Lilly's are great in salads. They have a sweet sort of letture and floral taste. You just have to make sure you use Day Lilly's and not regular Lilly's but it is easy enough to tell them apart since they are completely different.

    2. Well, I'm a guy but I know quite a few amateur and "professional" foragers since it is one of my hobbies. Most are women from whom I've learned a good proportion of my knowledge and skills.

      My mother, who is English, taught me basic foraging starting with wild onions, berries, and such. Then in jr. high school I saw a book in the library and taught myself from then on. It got to the point that in college I would go out every sunday and collect a "wild" dinner and prepare it and invite a few friends over to eat. During and after college I spent about 100 days a year for ten years living/working out in the wilderness, and foraging was a major part of my life. It was one of the best ways to get fresh food in my diet, as well as a waay to teach my students more about nature.

      1. I definitely foraged as a kid... wild onions (my parents HATED when I ate wild onions, because you can't believe how pungent your breath gets!), beach plums, serviceberries, stolen tomatoes (okay, so that's not REALLY foraging, it's theft, but...), blueberries. I once waded out into a pond in the Pine Barrens and gathered a bunch of cranberries to cook for Thanksgiving.

        In Iowa I used to forage for wild grapes until I nearly got attacked by a poisonous snake who wanted the grapevines more than I wanted the grapes.

        Here in California, I forage for wild fennel, herbs, and wild figs.

        1. Maybe it was growing up in New Jersey (the oil-refinery part, not the Pine Barrens part), but I'm kinda scared of eating anything that's just growing up out of the ground.

          How do you know if it's safe? I understand you can get a book to identify edible food from poisonous ones, but what about contamination in the ground? Reclaimed water? Am I sounding too paranoid?!@!? :-P

          1 Reply
          1. re: Covert Ops

            I grew up in Woodbridge, which is definitely the oil-refinery part, and I foraged there. How do you know the raspberries you buy at the store are safe? How do you know that there wasn't one toadstool in that batch of canned mushrooms?

            We used to grow lots of produce in our garden in New Jersey and we were never once sick, despite all the furore about "the radon is going to get into your tomatoes!" in the 70's and 80's.

            If it made me sick, I didn't eat it again.

          2. In SW Washington, some of the things we would go for were blackberries, hazelnuts, dandelion greens, mustard greens, and nettles.

            1. All my little (girl) friends and I foraged as kids, so I don't think gender is a factor. I think it is liking to crawl around in the woods and get dirty. Also it may have to do with the fact that in the 70s - it probably doesn't happen much now - we were sent out in the morning and only expected to return if we got hungry, or by dinnertime.

              In N. Cal. we chewed the stems of "sour grass" - the oxalis with the bright yellow flowers that invade us in the spring. We called periwinkle Vinca "honeysuckle," pulled the flowers out and sucked the drop of sweetness at the end. Wild blackberries were the absolute best. We once tried to soak acorns and eat those, but it was a disaster. My favorite book was Mud Pies and Other Recipes, a brilliant little "cookbook for dolls" which required foraging, although it didn't produce edible food. This is back in print, by the way.

              I still forage for wild blackberries, plums and fennel.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Junie D

                In Illinois we nibbled on "sourgrass" too. My favorite, though, was chickweed, which grew luxuriantly on any poorly-cultivated lawn - a lovely, clean earthy flavor. I read that G.W. Carver actually tried to promote this as a salad vegetable, and am as baffled as he probably was at the failure of his efforts.

                1. re: Will Owen

                  Now that I know chickweed is edible it will go into the salad instead of the compost. Thanks.

                  1. re: Junie D

                    Chickweed is even better cooked as a green. When eating it raw in salads you should try to use the younger, smaller leaves for best taste and texture. There are three common forms of chcikweed Common, Mouse Ear, and Star. Mouse ear has slightly furry leaves and this type shouldn't be eaten raw but is fine cooked. The fuzz can irritate the stomach but cooking prevents that.

              2. I've always been fascinated by foraging, but growing up and living in an urban environment always sort of precluded me from such activities. Does anyone have recommendations for books about foraging for beginners?

                1. Juniper you are located in Toronto right?

                  I did a quick google search on wild edibles, Toronto and came up with this class/walk being held this coming saturday. Is this in Toronto?

                  July 29, 2006
                  Wild Edibles Walks

                  Mill Creek Ravine - at the upper parking lot at 95A St. north of 82 Ave, just above the swimming pool, 1:00pm - 4:30pm

                  Want to know what you can pick in your own backyard or the river valley/country to put in your green smoothies? Join well-known herbalist, Robert Dale Rogers for a medicinal and edible herbal walk in Milk Creek Ravine. Robert is a registered herbalist with 20 years of clinical herbal practice. His walks are informative, humorous, and insightful, drawing upon traditional and scientific approaches to plants and healing, wild edibles, and various survival techniques. Bring snacks and water, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, camera and notebook if desired. Cost is $35 per person. Payment is required to hold your spot. Contact rawprincess@shaw.ca.

                  Also this link has a list of daily acitvities and quite a few of them are walks lead by naturalists. You just missed one on foraging on July 9th.

                  Here is some additional info for you. I most highly recommend you get the Petersons Guides- Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America and their Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Eastern and Central North America are the best in the subject for North America. Between the two they cover full and absolutely accurate information.

                  I have dozens of books on foraging and medicinal plants and they all have their good points. There are books specifically on urban foraging out there under "urban survival" titles.

                  Euell Gibbbons books are a great intro, the first one is "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" then "Stalking the Blue Eyed Scallop", then "Stalking the Healthful Herbs." He talks about how and why he started foraging and some of his adventures.

                  If you go to Amazon.com and do a search under edible plants and also foraging you will get a list of some of the best.

                  Also if you contact you local botanical garden they should have info on classes in your area.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: JMF

                    Thanks, JMF. Alas, what you found is not in Toronto (we don't have numbered streets), but I'm sure there are similar tours that I can dig up locally. Thanks again for the effort. :)

                    1. re: Juniper

                      this isn't exactly what you want, but they might be able to help. http://www.wildfoods.ca/ Forbes Wild Foods is rather well known in toronto and participate in slow food events. they have a table at the dufferin grove market at which you'd be able to talk to them about foraging for food.

                      there's another guy who does this as well and i believe he has a book out, but for the life of me i can't recall his name. if you got into contact with maria at www.guerrilla-grourmet.com (she's a local and wild food enthusiast) she'd be able to help you out.

                      in terms of resources.. off of the Forbes website they have this tidbit:
                      "If you wish to harvest fresh wild plants yourself, there are a number of good books that can help in identifying different species. The Peterson Field Guides are a good resource, particularly Edible Wild Plants and Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants. We also recommend Trees in Canada, published by the Canadian Forest Service. A Natural History of Trees , by Donald Culross Peattie (Houghton Mifflin) covers North America. It is both very informative and delightfully written."

                    2. re: JMF

                      What are some of the urban foraging books you recommend?

                      1. re: Junie D

                        I don't have many specific titles but there is usually a strong component of urban survival books covering this. I can't look at my library right now to make specific suggestions because so much of it is packed away because I have been moving around and traveling a lot the past few years.

                        1. re: Junie D

                          I don't know that I recommend it, but my brother and I spent a summer obsessed with Euell Gibbons books (can't quite recall the titles now). We found and ate mustard greens, acorns (bleech-- couldn't find the right kind, settled for the wrong kind, yuck), grapes (made jam), and several other things I've forgotten. Dandelion leaves. And of course mulberries, which were everywhere in central Ohio.

                          A more pleasant memory is foraging for almonds and figs off trees in orchards that had reverted to wild one summer during a camping trip in Majorca. Also with my brother. Nothing is as good as a warm fig right off the tree.

                      2. I was an avid camper/backpacker in college, and I used to do a lot of foraging to supplement my diet. It was a great way to get fresh food and it cut down on the weight I had to carry.
                        In Northern California fresh berries and wild greens are pretty common. My favorite foraging was on the Lost Coast where I could get seaweed and wild strawberries. I was never too concerned about safety because my packing buddy was a botany student and he taught me how to identify edible plants. There's not really any danger in eating wild greens unless you're foolish enough to eat poison oak, poison ivy or raw stinging nettle. Mushrooming, OTOH, is something I've never been brave enough to try.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                          Morton- I have to disagree where you say "There's not really any danger in eating wild greens unless you're foolish enough to eat poison oak, poison ivy or stinging nettle."

                          First-Stinging Nettles, cooked, are one of the best items you can forage for. They are fantastic briefly sauteed, well flavored and full of nutrients.

                          Second- many greens are not safe. Until you absolutely can identify a plant on your own you should always have a Petersons guide with you and also due to food allergies you should only eat a small amount of anything when it is the first time, and then wait awhile to see if you get a reaction.

                          I have a M.Ed in Wilderness Education and foraging was a major part of this. You wouldn't believe the number of people who get sick from foraging without knowing what they are doing. But conversely I have found that people who do their research and approach it carefully never get sick.

                        2. It's been a family affair for me and encouraged from a young age. My dad "foraged" for abalone off the coast of La Jolla in his youth. I grew up looking with my siblings for puffball mushrooms, wild strawberries, and mulberries around suburban Chicago. Now back in CA, I gather fennel and purslane. Thanks to info Junie D shared a couple weeks ago, I found some green walnuts to pluck. My husband and I have foraged for wild blackberries and mint while camping. It's a lot of fun actually!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: petradish

                            Glad you found them! I think the Fallen Fruit link is worth reposting here for other urban foragers - the maps are in LA http://fallenfruit.org/