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Be Safe! Never eat wild plants without the guidance of a local expert, such as those found at the Native Plant Society
Forget farm-to-table dining and take a learning leap into field and forest-to-table dining. Foraging—a growing trend in food movements—has spawned professional tour companies throughout the world.
I had my first foraging experience in the mountains of Cévennes National Park in southern France. Led by a local plant expert, we picked dandelions, yarrow, wild carrots gone to seed, borage, sorrel, wild onions, and a variety of greens, then made a delicious salad from our finds topped with the beautiful blue edible borage flowers. We also made herbed borage butter for crostini and a chocolate dessert flavored with wild carrot. The whole experience was not only educational, but one of the most fun hikes and communal lunches I’ve ever experienced.
Although there are more than 120,000 edible plants in the world, only a handful of them are readily available and popular with wild food aficionados. If you’re anything like me—I wouldn’t know a poisonous mushroom from a gourmet truffle—stay safe and take a guided tour with an expert. Several companies throughout the country offer seasonal, professionally-led foraging tours. Here are a few of our picks—double entendre intended!
Wild Man Steve Brill
Nicknamed “The Wild Man” and “The Man Who Ate Manhattan,” Steve Brill is perhaps one of the nation’s most infamous foragers. No joke: He was once arrested in an undercover sting by New York park rangers for leading his educational tours through Central Park and picking and eating the park’s dandelions. The Parks Commissioner said he didn’t want people “eating his parks,” but later this urban forager was hired by New York City’s parks and recreation department to teach classes for the park rangers. Today, he and his daughter lead foraging tours for children of all ages throughout large parks in greater New York. He also conducts programs for schools, garden clubs, scouting groups, and libraries, and has been featured in dozens of magazines and newspapers as well as on hundreds of radio and television broadcasts. His tours cover Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island in New York as well as Connecticut and New Jersey. Check out his website for tour schedules, information on edible plants, and recipes like those he shared with us below.
Eat the Weeds
Calling himself “the most-watched forager in the world,” Green Deane began eating wild food as a child. His mother would send him out in search of dandelion greens for supper and along the way he discovered wild strawberries, raspberries, apples, and other edible plants there for the taking. Two decades ago he began giving presentations about foraging and has created an extensive website with instructions and videos for beginners, but he emphasizes his main rule: “Never, ever eat a wild plant without checking with a local expert.” Based in Orlando, Deane holds classes in foraging in several Florida areas. Schedules and registration are available on his website; you can also sign up for his free weekly newsletter and online forum about foraging.
No Taste Like Home
No Taste Like Home, which is based in Asheville, North Carolina, calls foraging going “off the eaten path.” Its standard three-hour tour offers on-the-trail tastings as well as a brunch, lunch, or dinner made with your finds at one of its partner restaurant locations. Depending on your daily pickings, you might have a chance to sample wild mushroom pizza, daylily tamales, sassafras root beer, or wisteria ice cream. The company also offers seasonal expeditions in search of highly-prized morels—spring mushrooms usually found between mid-March and mid-May; this tour is much longer and more rigorous. You’ll spend six to eight hours on a two-mile trail with some steep inclines and a lot of poison ivy. The day after the tour, you have the option for some of Asheville’s top chefs to create a gourmet appetizer from your treasured finds.
At the farmhouse, we make a salad with our foraged greens.
Chicago is a big foodie town and, chances are, you’ve eaten some wild foods at one of its top restaurants. If so, most likely that food was supplied by Odd Produce. In addition to supplying more than 300 Chicago eateries with wild foods, owner Dave Odd also guides foraging tours, ranging from short urban excursions in local parks to day-long outings. His “Eat the Neighborhood” tours range from finding edible plants in your own yard to full-day and weekend survival camps in the wilds of Iroquois County, Ill., where you’ll eat only what you forage and catch. Due to Odd’s relationships with the city’s restaurants, he also arranges special forage-and-dine events.
Wild Food Adventures
John Kallas, the author of Edible Wild Plants: Wild Food from Dirt to Plate, operates Wild Food Adventures and hosts workshops in Oregon as well as many other regions of the country including North Carolina, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. Kallas, one of America’s wild food experts, is a trained botanist with degrees in biology and zoology, a Master’s degree in education, and a Ph.D. in nutrition. Having taught about wild foods for more than 40 years, Kallas designs his workshops with specific themes; not all of them are focused on forest and field. During the “Seashore Edibles of the Pacific Coast” workshop, you’ll learn to identify and gather samples of wild sea vegetables and edibles during low tide, including nori, kombu, sea lettuce, fucus, alaria, and laminaria. If you’re a beginner, start with the “Introduction to Wild Foods” course.
Recipes from Wild Man Steve Brill
Tip: It’s possible to purchase plantain leaves and goutweed from companies that sell herbs, botanicals, and other plants.
“This goutweed-flavored spread is great to use as a coating when baking large-leafed wild greens, store-bought vegetables, and wild mushrooms, especially chicken mushrooms, as the herbs are the same ones often used for two-legged chickens,” says Steve Brill. “It takes only a few minutes to make, it freezes well, and it defrosts very quickly.”
1/2 cup goutweed, honewort, waterleaf, or parsley
2 Tablespoons fresh ginger
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 cup white or mellow miso (available in health food stores)
1 cup sesame oil
1/2 cup lecithin granules (available in health food stores) or raw pine nuts
2 Tablespoons rosemary, ground
4 teaspoons thyme, ground
4 teaspoons sage, ground
2 teaspoons nutmeg, ground
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste, ground
Chop the goutweed and ginger in a food processor.
Add the remaining ingredients and process into a paste.
Makes 3-1/3 cups
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Spicy Plantain Chips
“I used to think common plantain leaves were mediocre-tasting when young, and tough as shoe leather when mature,” says Steve Brill. “Then I discovered that roasting them was the way to go, and that doing so in my Goutweed Spread results in scrumptious, wafer-thin chips.”
5 cups large common plantain leaves, rinsed and drained
1 cup Goutweed Spread
In a bowl, gently fold the Goutweed Spread evenly into the plantain leaves, using your hands.
Place the leaves on three oiled, non-stick baking mats placed over three cookie sheets, or onto three oiled cookie sheets.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in a preheated 300°F oven, or until the leaves are dry and crisp. Don’t let them burn. Because of variations in temperature in your oven, one tray may be ready five minutes before the others.