Friday, July 23, 2010

An Introduction to Eating Wild Plants

I am a nature geek, not as geeky as the families who go hiking with matching kaki outfits and defy the fashion gods by wearing socks with sandals but I share their enthusiasm for catching blue belly lizards, geological history and spotting red-tailed hawks. One thing we probably don't share is my dis-concern for following the rules. I know that when you visit state and national parks you are supposed to take only memories and leave only footprints. Its not a bad rule when there are over 300 people to every square mile shit is going to get fucked up...Not like it isn't already, almost 95% of the California grasses are invasive, the red fox is killing of the snowy plover like its nobodies business and there are no predators of poison hemlock. Anyways you have to work with what you've got and we have a very limited mostly non-native landscape filled with delectable and not-so delectable eats and I'm going to tell you about some of them and what I've learned.

Before we dive into the excitement of foraging wild foods I will warn you eating things you find can be dangerous. Make sure you have a100% identification before you put anything in your mouth. A good rule I have is identify something thrice (on separate occasions) before it touches my tummy. Here are some things to keep in mind when exploring the world of medicinal and edible plants:

This product was produced in a factory that also processes tree nuts. Just like some people are allergic to strawberries some people's bodies may disagree with other plants so you might try a little and make sure you aren't surprised with an impromptu colonic.

The potato was not always delicious. Not all plants are edible and not all parts of plants are edible. The potato is in the nightshade family, which is poisonous, it has been cultivated for thousands of years to be the crispy fries we know today, its leaves are still toxic.

Not all digestive tracts are created equal.
Just because another animal eats something doesn't mean we can. Deer, sheep, goats and many others find the young leaves of poison oak quite a treat but for us could be very unpleasant.

Conservative thinking has a time and place.
You don’t eat ten pounds of broccoli at a time there is no reason to go nuts over braken fern leaves either. Start conservative and work your way up to larger amounts, again so you don’t loose your lunch or anything else.

Know your food.
Prior to your voyage on preparing wild food I suggest when eating something for the first time just lightly sauté it in some olive oil to get a sense of what it tastes like and you aren't shocked that the nettles didn't cook up exactly the same way as the spinach normally does in your famous casserole.

Another tidbit about wild food is that much of it is wild for a reason. Things become domesticate because they are delicious, texturally acceptable and are easy to harvest. So whether you are a dooms-dayer preparing yourself for the apocalypse or just want to impress a hot date rooting around outside for tasty treats is fun and a good reason to go outside. Don’t be discouraged if you can't make it to Yellowstone or Yosemite that you wont find anything cool. Nature is everywhere, including the empty lot down the street from your house. When venturing in the mean city streets beware of invisible demons on plants found in urban areas. A good rinse can rid some of them like dog pee and some pesticides however some are embedded deep in the phylum of the plant and cannot be washed off, like heavy metals from the ground. But the park near your house or your neighbors lawn is a good place to start to familiarize yourself with grasses, trees and some herbs or flowers until you can make it to the great outdoors.

So here’s the dealio:

Part 1

Now I'm not going to go in any particular order that may make sense to you but it makes sense to me because it will be my successes. I've been eating weeds for a while and there have been a lot of failures. Not missed identifications failures but cooking failures. When was the last time you read a recipe that called for goose foot, hounds tongue and rattle snake grass? Or did I just miss the section in The Joy of Cooking on how long to roast the soap plant bulb for? Yeah, that's what I thought. I've suffered a lot of texture violations for you're eating ease.

Part 2

You may also want to know the layout. It will start with a common name followed by more common names and then a scientific name in italics. Then a description including habitat and uses with a lovely picture taken by my mountaneering man Dusty Jensen. And finally a tried and tested recipe I deem worthy of your digestive tract from the collection to the preparation. There may also be some other uses for wounds, dyes or underwater basket weaving thrown in too. On to the goodies...

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