Foraging for food is quite a different experience than pushing a cart through the aisles of your local grocery store! With a bit of skill and planning it’s possible to incorporate wild foods into your diet on a regular basis, even if you live in town.
I try to go out “grocery shopping” at least once a week. My favorite outings are when I can take the whole family along and spend the afternoon in a beautiful setting, but I can easily get a week’s worth of wild produce in an hour or two when things get busy.
If you live on a farm or in a rural setting, you have ready access to a wide variety of wild foods. Harvesting can be easily integrated into your daily routine. I live in town these days and have to drive out to various places to fill my ‘grocery list’. I have an open invitation at a couple of different farms to come anytime and harvest. I also like to go out to county parks, especially ones with a lot of diverse habitat—lakeshores, riverbanks, marsh, meadow, forest, etc. Some parks have restrictions on harvesting so be sure to check first!
I also keep my eyes open for wild places in town—empty lots, park edges, and such. You’d be surprised how much wild food is available right in town! The little park right around the corner from my house has a long hedgerow at the edge of the green that is filled with blackberries, black raspberries, elderberries, mulberries, sumac and much, much more. I seem to be the only one who’s noticed! Don’t overlook your backyard vegetable garden or even your flower beds! Most of the weeds that come up are volunteer vegetables! I actually get a double harvest from my gardens by letting the edible weeds grow to a good eatin’ size before weeding them out. Yellow Dock, Chickweed, Dandelion, Lambsquarter, and Purslane are just a few of the volunteers. Once you come to recognize the many virtues of the common weeds, you will also come to appreciate their beauty. A wild garden is rich in diversity, and usefulness.
In some ways, foraging is a state of mind. I find that wherever I go I am mindful of the plants, much the way a shopper always has an eye out for bargains. I might notice a big stand of sumac on a hike or a promising berry patch when I ‘m at the park with the kids. I notice the wild apple blossoms in the spring and make a mental note to check back in the fall for apples. I notice the wild mint by the swimming hole or an especially good stand of cattails.
Many of these places I return to year after year. Over time it becomes a seasonal routine, sort of a mini migration, starting with my favorite watercress spring in March, moving to my fantabulous black raspberry patch in July and on to the acorn-laden oaks in the fall.
Crops that cohabitate with my domestic vegetables. If you really get into this, you might consider giving a portion of your yard over to the weeds. I have a 4-foot swath along the back fence that I let nature have her way with, and all kinds of interesting and useful plants show up there with no effort on my part!
You don’t need anything fancy to harvest from the wild. I keep a few harvesting baskets or bags in the car at all times. Baskets are my favorite as they somehow add to the aesthetics of the foraging experience, being both beautiful and practical. I also like to keep a small shovel, a knife, and a pair of hand pruners handy. If you’re new to foraging I highly recommend taking a good field guide along to practice identification skills and to verify any plants you may be skeptical about.
BUDGETING YOUR GROCERIES
Greens tend to cook down substantially. A gallon of fresh greens can easily cook down to just a cup or two, so what seems like a lot in the field sometimes doesn’t go far in the kitchen.Experience is really the only teacher that can show you how much your family will realistically use each week. Your style of cooking and time spent in the kitchen will ultimately determine how much green you can add to your diet. Some one who loves to make soups, salads and creative pastas and legumes will have no trouble incorporating wild edibles. Zealous gardeners who are used to processing and prepping fresh vegetables and searching out new recipes will find the wild harvest a natural extension of these skills.
PUTTING YOUR GROCERIES AWAY
When I go out on a foraging expedition, I plan to spend a little time in the kitchen afterwards prepping the different plants for the fridge. If I take the time to do this, they are ready to use anytime and I can put together meals quickly and easily all week. Of course you can also just bag ‘em and prep as needed, but wisdom and experience have taught me well.I don’t generally wash my greens if I harvested in a clean place. Sometimes during dry spells plants might be dusty, or if I harvest in sandy places I will give everything a good rinse. Use your discretion and common sense.
I always save the cooking water unless the herbs are very bitter. The old-timers call this the “pot-liquor” and knew the value of it, as it is chock-full of water-soluble nutrients. I save this in jars or juice bottles. I keep this precious wild stock in the fridge for soups, to cook rice in and many other uses I have discovered over the years.A typical harvesting expedition takes me 4 or 5 hours between both the field and the kitchen, and yields enough for a week’s worth of healthy meals. It is truly a delight and deeply satisfying to open my fridge and have so much fresh, high-quality produce at hand, ready to use.
Psalm 104:27, 28 These all wait for You, that You may give them their food in due season. What You give them, they gather in, You open Your hand, they are filled with good.