Free Food

By Bonnie Grant | August 25, 2022
Image by PIKSEL
by Bonnie Grant
August 25, 2022

I have a book called, “The Forager’s Harvest” by Samuel Thayer. I have had the book for decades and it is an excellent guide for wild edible plants. It also provides cautions and descriptions to prevent inexperienced foragers from bringing home dangerous plants. It is the perfect book to take on a hike, and I have spent many a happy afternoon foraging food with its help. 

Foraging for Food

In my previous home, we were surrounded by forests filled with nature’s bounty. Currently we are surrounded by wheat fields and there are very few native plants anymore, due to agricultural disruption. But in my old haunt, we were fortunate to have native plants aplenty, including delicious wild fungi

In fall in the Pacific Northwest, the forest is filled with expert and novice mycophagists. That is a mushroom hunter to you and I. Some examples of wild fungi are morels, chanterelle, oyster, ink cap, puffball and chicken of the woods. You need to be very careful when foraging food in this group, as there are also plenty of poisonous look-a-likes. 

Foraging food such as salal berries, or new fiddleheads, is a common enough experience. But avid foragers know there are many other plants filled with delicious nutrition. Native plants in this region have been foraged by the native people and are becoming quite the fad in today’s gustatory experiences. You can find wild ramps, those onion-like delights perfect for salads, soups, sauces, and more. Stinging nettle is a plant that requires some caution when harvesting, but is delicious and nutritious cooked or steeped as a tea. 

Yummy Cattails

In many plants, the root or rhizome is the edible part. Cattails have lateral shoots of rhizomes, which can be roasted or boiled. This common plant is found where water collects, and is often wild in roadside ditches. You can eat the shoots, rhizomes, flower spikes, and pollen. Wild edible plants like cattails grow prolifically, but you should still only harvest a few in found stands. Leaving plenty behind will ensure a population the next year. 

Sumac Berry Drinks

One plant that grows wild in my property is sumac. It is everywhere thanks to a distant neighbor’s plants. I have to remove it from my grass constantly. It grows really fast and seems to hide in other plants until it is ready to soar to maturity. I find them in amongst my ornamental plants from spring until the end of summer. The berries make a really yummy drink, similar to lemonade, which is very refreshing over ice. While I rather hate having my landscape overrun by this plant, the drink is worth keeping some around. I have also read the berries make an excellent wine and jelly, so perhaps I will try that next time they are ready for harvest. 

In most regions, there are plenty of native plants that can grace our tables. The key is identification, since some can cause harm. Wild harvesting is also about responsibility.

  • Never harvest on private property without asking first. 
  • Leave plenty of wild plants to repopulate. 
  • Try to keep the plant alive so it can flower and reproduce. 

Foraging food is fun and a great way to try new things. 

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