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Wild Food

WCchopper Feb 16, 2009 09:28 PM

Not being native to the Bay area, there is a lot I don't know about local plants. I am interested in learning more about "native" wild foods, foraging, etc. Any ideas for classes, walks, teachers?

  1. r
    rfmarotti Feb 17, 2009 12:03 AM

    You could try emailing the folks mentioned in this post:


    1. s
      Sharuf Feb 17, 2009 01:19 AM

      I regularly use local bay leaves. When I lived near the ocean, I would gather wild sage which grew on the cliffs. A Mexican friend would find epazote near a streambed.

      Dandelion greens, mustard greens, and nettles are edible.

      I had a nearby blackberry bramble which would provide several pies. Unfortunately most blackberry sources are targeted by foragers, and you have to beat the competition.

      1. Shane Greenwood Feb 17, 2009 04:55 AM

        Rosemary grows all over the area too. You'll find it in most of the cities and towns. I don't know how "native" it is, but we have it in abundance.

        I've also found nasturtiums in the area, so keep an eye out for them.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Shane Greenwood
          wolfe Feb 17, 2009 07:10 AM

          There is a fine rosemary bush in the ornamental hedge around the Burger King in Emeryville near the TJ's. It apparently prefers carbon monoxide more than the environment in my Berkeley back yard.

        2. w
          wally Feb 17, 2009 06:32 AM

          Fennel is all over the place.

          1 Reply
          1. re: wally
            snewdl Feb 17, 2009 07:59 AM

            Yes, there's fennel growing all over the edges of the bay. When it blooms, the little yellow flowers are particularly sweet.

            In Mtn View, the Stevens Creek trail extends from near downtown to the bay. A friend and I once rode our bikes down the trail and stopped to sample every edible-looking plant (this was in late summer). We found:
            - blackberries
            - apples
            - huckleberries
            - wild grapes
            - plums

            The local native americans (the Ohlone) knew everything about the local plants, and a couple of books have been written about them. Also, there's a book called __Early Uses of California Plants__ by Edward K. Balls (Univ. of California Press), which describes local plants and their many uses.

          2. Robert Lauriston Feb 17, 2009 09:23 AM

            The Mycological Society of San Francisco sometimes leads foraging hikes:


            To me, best native wild foods are wild mushrooms, particularly chanterelles and matsutakes, blackberries, boar, and turkey. Miner's lettuce doesn't send me. Acorns ... better than starving.

            Dandelion root is delicious.

            Personally I don't find native bay laurel (Umbellularia californica) leaves a good substitute for real laurel (Laurus nobilis).

            Most foraging in the Bay Area involves dumpsters.


            8 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston
              BernalKC Feb 17, 2009 10:02 AM

              I'll 2nd the mycological society recommendation. I had the good fortune of working with a woman who frequently went on their foraging trips. I had the best morels (from the Sierra) ever thanks to her!

              > boar, and turkey

              don't forget fish (bass, crabs, rockfish, salmon, sardines...) and fowl (duck)

              Oh, and I almost forgot. My other good fortune was to work with someone who hung out with avid abalone divers. My job on those camping trips along the Mendocino coast was to buy a fishing license, wade out knee deep so they could hand me my daily limit, and pound out ab stakes and drink all night. Ahh... good times.

              1. re: BernalKC
                Ruth Lafler Feb 17, 2009 10:12 AM

                Don't forget you need a fishing license to collect shellfish.

                Mallow is a persistent week in my back yard. I understand that it's edible when young (before the leaves get too tough). Lots of sorrel around here, too.

                I googled and found an upcoming edible plant walk -- seems reasonably priced, too: http://www.sfzc.org/zc/display.asp?ca...

                1. re: BernalKC
                  Robert Lauriston Feb 17, 2009 11:45 AM

                  Oh yeah, shellfish. You can dig geoducks at Dillon Beach.


                  1. re: BernalKC
                    Kosmonaut Nov 3, 2009 12:14 PM

                    If I'm reading this right, you're saying if I have a fishing license I can just have ab divers dive for me and hand me a day limit?

                    1. re: Kosmonaut
                      BernalKC Nov 3, 2009 01:25 PM

                      I'm no expert on the laws involved, but I was camping with some avid abalone divers and at their request I purchased a license. They had us wade out, as I recall they said we should be 'at least knee deep' so they could hand us our limit (2 abs) so they could go out and forage for more. All the abalones leaving the water were matched with licenses.

                      These divers were really into the hunt, and were quite knowledgeable about size limits, and also very careful not to a) disturb undersized specimens, or b) botch the extraction. As they tell it, abalone are hemophiliac and once you jab at their foot, they will die from the wound. So disturbing == killing, and they were totally careful and ethical to make sure they only made clean kills. If you touch them with the caliper used to measure, they clamp down quickly and you cannot extract them. If you fail to get the blade under the foot sufficiently, they clamp down -- wounded or not -- and you get nothing. So doing all of this deep in an undulating kelp bed with low visibility, with no breathing assistance of any kind... was pretty extreme sport.

                      Again, I have no idea how legal the hand-off was. And this was more than 20 years ago, so who knows if its legal now.

                      But those were great camping trips. I can still remember the sound of abalone steaks being pounded out all through the campground until the wee hours.

                      1. re: BernalKC
                        wolfe Nov 3, 2009 01:40 PM

                        N.B. BKC
                        Remember: according to California Fish and Game regulations, removing or popping an abalone off its rock is "taking" an abalone. If that abalone is legal in size, it counts against your daily bag limit whether you keep it, put it back or give it to someone else. See the Daily Take explanation of the regulations if the preceding statement isn't crystal clear for you.

                        Last Modified: November 18, 200

                        1. re: wolfe
                          BernalKC Nov 3, 2009 02:29 PM

                          Yup, we were in violation of the law as described there. But I'm pretty sure they were different then, since I distinctly remember the limit then was 2, not 3. Sound like what we were doing was "drysacking" -- with our diver friends making us wetsuitless landlubbers wade out for bone chilling theatrical effect. Who know if that was kosher then, but it ain't now!

                          1. re: BernalKC
                            wolfe Nov 3, 2009 02:32 PM

                            Abalone was never kosher. ;-)

                2. WCchopper Feb 17, 2009 02:23 PM

                  Thanks y'all. I like to know what's around me.

                  1. Melanie Wong Sep 10, 2009 01:46 PM

                    Last friday I had a chance to check out Kitchenette in Dogpatch. I noticed a stand of wild fennel and blackberries in a vacant lot about a block north, around 20th and Illinois. There's a chain link fence but you can still get a some of the berries.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Melanie Wong
                      rworange Sep 10, 2009 05:51 PM

                      Wild fennel is an awful, agressive weed. I lived next door to a valcant lot in SF where the wild fennel took over.

                      1. re: rworange
                        Glencora Sep 10, 2009 06:32 PM

                        well, it's not that awful -- the butterflies like it.

                        1. re: Glencora
                          rworange Sep 10, 2009 07:23 PM

                          As do the homeless. It makes a nice cover to camp

                      2. re: Melanie Wong
                        Shane Greenwood Sep 10, 2009 08:02 PM

                        I work in that area and know that much of the area was a Federal Super Fund site. The fennel grows all over down there, but I'd be Leary about what it's picking up from that soil.

                        1. re: Shane Greenwood
                          Robert Lauriston Sep 11, 2009 09:17 AM

                          Eeew. Plus, speaking of the feds, taking any greens off site would violate the Light Brown Apple Moth quarantine.


                        2. re: Melanie Wong
                          adrienne156 Sep 11, 2009 02:33 PM

                          There are a ton - and I really do mean a ton - of blackberry bushes down the northwest corner of Fernandez Park on Tennent Avenue and especially along the train tracks on the way to Pinole Shores. It's part of my evening jog and lately the area has been perfumed with the smell of gloriously ripe berries.

                        3. PegS Sep 10, 2009 03:25 PM

                          My dad used to gather watercress at streams as well.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: PegS
                            Constant Velocity Sep 10, 2009 04:01 PM

                            I'd be cautious about collecting things from streams. I've seen people collecting watercress in San Pedro Creek in Pacifica, which is very heavily polluted with sewage from leaking sewer lines in the neighborhood to the east--to the extent where kids playing in the stream get sick.

                          2. a
                            avent Nov 4, 2009 06:01 PM

                            Here's another idea:


                            I haven't done these classes but my son takes the kids' classes and loves them.

                            1. ...tm... Nov 4, 2009 10:13 PM

                              Check out what this guy is foraging http://foragesf.wordpress.com/

                              I learned you could forage sea beans locally from his booth at the Eat Real festival this year. As a former Midwestern forager I was disappointed that my usual purslane and lambsquarters weren't everywhere here, as they were in Iowa. Of course there are blackberries, nasturtiums, and fennel. And common yard plants--most people don't use all their plums, citrus, rosemary, lavendar, or prickly pear so you could ask if you could pick extra. A couple actual natives that I am aware of are yerba santa and miner's lettuce.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: ...tm...
                                Robert Lauriston Nov 5, 2009 11:23 AM

                                Lambsquarter grows around here. I occasionally see it at farmers markets and get it in my CSA box, and a friend in Santa Rosa had a bumper crop this year. As in most places, many people pull it up as a weed.

                                As I noted above there's a federal quarantine order in effect, so in much of the Bay Area foraging for plants is illegal unless you eat it on the spot.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                  ...tm... Nov 5, 2009 11:04 PM

                                  Yes, both lambsquarters and purslane grow around here, it is just that in an Iowa garden you will end up involuntarily "harvesting" at least as many of these plants as the crops you've planted.

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