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Feb 16, 2009 09:28 PM

Wild Food

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?

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  1. You could try emailing the folks mentioned in this post:

    1. 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. 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

          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. Fennel is all over the place.

          1 Reply
          1. re: wally

            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. 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

              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

                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:

                  1. re: BernalKC

                    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

                      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

                        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

                          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!