Why eat wild food?

Getting to Know Plants

My first gardening experience came when I was a teenager. Back then “gardening” for me was an after school job at a small, family-owned garden center, lugging around a heavy, interminable garden hose to water, section by section, the herbs, the perennials, the shrubs, and the flats of annuals. Out alone among the plants, I felt a sense of peace. It was one of my first realizations that I felt much happier being outside, even in the stifling humidity of the North Carolina summer. My moments in the herb section were my favorites – I would rub the leaves of the different varieties while I watered, discovering the incredible secret fragrance each contained.

From Garden Produce to Wild Produce

Twenty-something years later, I have graduated from plant-waterer to full-fledged gardener. Once you’ve discovered the pleasure of watching your own zucchini grow from seed, grocery store produce with its stickers and plastic packaging loses much of its charm. When you garden, you fall in love with the growing process. Sometimes the growing process comes with obstacles though, like drought or grasshoppers. So it’s not a hard leap from there to start wondering about wild foods, foods that grow easily and without any work on your part. Some of us will ask, why not eat weeds and edible native plants too?

Wild Foods as a Sustainability Choice

Considering the incredible amount of food waste we generate in the developed world, and the resources that go into growing, packaging, transporting and retailing most food, it feels like an act of rebellion to source even part of one’s food needs from what nature is willingly offering instead of what we must beat out of it. Many weeds and other wild foods grow without watering or other maintenance, so harvesting these edibles might also appeal to those of us who prefer a lazier approach to bringing food to our tables!

 

Nutrition from Wild Foods

Beyond the environmental and economical benefits, I also like to incorporate wild food into my diet for the nutritional advantage. Fruits and vegetables start to lose their nutrients shortly after being harvested – just how much depends on the fruit or vegetable. The best way to get the maximum amount of nutrition from your produce is to eat it quickly after harvest. When we overlook the wild edibles growing in our yards, we’re missing out on free vitamins and minerals just there for the plucking!

Our Local Wild Food Options

Chad and I have harvested fruit from a neglected apricot tree in town, nibbled on sweet, candy-like huckleberries high in the Uintah Mountains, tasted milkweed pods growing in our yard, used  sumac berries as a lemon substitute, savored little mallow seed heads while weeding our garden, and cooked up pots full of delicious lambsquarters, pigweed, and amaranth. And did I mention the bag fulls of wild asparagus we pick every spring from my father in law’s pastures? I am not a wild foods expert, but I’m slowly working on it.

Discover Your Own Wild Food Resources

If you are interested in beginning to eat wild foods, find people in your area who are knowledgeable and experienced to help you get started. You will certainly be able to find a few easy to identify weeds, preferable in areas that haven’t been sprayed and don’t have run off from roads. Dandelion is one that most of us can recognize, and beyond the fun of blowing off the puffy seed head while you make a wish, you can eat the greens as a salad and harvest the root for tea. Why buy dandelion tea at Whole Foods when you have dandelions growing by your front step? Happy foraging! But don’t forget, if you aren’t 100% able to identify a plant, don’t eat it.

 

 

Cooking wild asparagus

Asparagus grows wild and abundant around here in the springtime, but we only have a few small patches growing near our driveway. We harvested a few stalks one morning for brunch, and it made a delicious side dish with our omelettes. But my sweetie had been telling me he could take me to a place where we could harvest bags full of asparagus. The opportunity came up and we walked up to one of his dad’s pastures. Well, the pasture did not disappoint.

There was asparagus everywhere, and we didn’t even get to the motherlode. On our little foray we harvested over 3 pounds worth, a nice big bag full!

IMGP2374

When you buy asparagus at the grocery store, you don’t tend to scratch your head and think, gee, what am I going to do with all of this? No, you parse it out and fight over the last spear with your tablemates. Not so when you’re picking it wild. I love asparagus but the idea of eating it the same way over and over made my stomach curdle. So I started digging deep into the food catalog part of my brain for ideas to keep the asparagus interesting. Here’s what I ended up making.

Meal 1: Sauted asparagus with fried eggs:IMGP2376

Meal 2: Asparagus potage (cooked and pureed asparagus with a little half and half):IMGP2421

Meal 3: Asparagus quiche with charcuterie served with garden salad and homemade  gf sourdough brown rice bread:IMGP2441

Meal 4: Asian style asparagus served with sticky rice and pink sauerkraut:IMGP2475

Meal 5: Sweet potatoes, onions, ground beef and asparagus:IMGP2547

All of these meals were pretty simple and delicious but I think my favorite was eating it with sticky rice and sauerkraut. The brightness of the sauerkraut makes a nice contrast with the earthy asparagus and the sticky rice provides a nice framework.

If you’re rolling your eyes at me because you don’t have a pasture full of wild asparagus at your disposal, go plant some! You don’t even need a garden, just plant it in a healthy spot in your yard and let it do it’s thing. Consider it an edible landscaping plant.

One of the coolest parts of our asparagus foraging adventure was an encounter with a skunk. It was totally oblivious of us for at least a minute, so we got to observe it doing its thing. And when it did notice us, it took off running so quickly we both had to laugh. My sweetie pie captured the lovely pasture under a moody sky and got a souvenir of our unexpected foraging buddy here:

IMGP4630