I was totally surprised last week that my urban foraging blog post was the most popular story in the ChangingAging weekly roundup. I thought that was funny considering I was writing about a hobby only tangentially related to ChangingAging!
No worries, I’m more than happy to continue blogging on this topic if it interests readers. I also think it does relate directly to major themes in the novel Tribes of Eden on sustainability, living closer to nature and slow living.
Upon reflection, I can think of many ways foraging for edible plants is connected to aging, wisdom, growth and the “slow living” movement. It is a skill that takes incredible patience and years to truly master. It is extremely difficult to get started without a mentor — preferably an elder with a lifetime of experience — to guide you. And it absolutely demands a “slow living” approach — you cannot rush out willy-nilly and harvest edible plants the same way you fill your shopping cart at the grocery store.
That was one of the first mistakes I made. After attending an urban foraging class put on by the Baltimore Department of Parks and Recreation featuring Leda Meredith, I couldn’t wait to run around my neighborhood park and begin “living off the land”. My brilliant idea was to collect edible plants during my daily jog through Herring Run Park, a beautiful watershed near my northeast Baltimore neighborhood. What a great idea, huh? Nearly every day I run through a smorgasbord of edible plants — all I needed to do was start collecting them!
Well, you can imagine how well that worked. After a couple weeks of my urban-fit-foraging routine I didn’t have a lot to show for it. Turns out it’s pretty darn hard for a novice to spot edible plants while walking, let alone zipping by at a trot. I had to learn to SLOW down. At my age, that’s not easy.
Lately I have two foraging accessories that help me slow down — a full-sized shovel and my five-year-old daughter. It’s hard to jog with either of those in tow.
The shovel is for digging roots. Now that it’s well into fall there are fewer greens and berries available to harvest, but plenty of nuts and roots to dig up. So far I’ve found a few great patches of Burdock and Sassafras to dig up. And trust me, you need a full-size shovel to get these suckers out of the ground. Burdock roots are great in stir fries or boiled. And Sassafras, or course, is the main ingredient to homemade Root Beer. That’s actually how I found my favorite foraging blog by Hank Shaw — through his outstanding Root Beer recipe.
I’m still in the novice stage of foraging and spending much more time trying to identify plants than harvesting, but I’ve put together a list of fall plants I’m trying to ID in my area. This is compiled mostly from Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer, one of the best introductions to foraging I’ve come across.
Fall Wild Edibles:
Burdock (root – you can also buy in most Asian markets, but grows abundantly in wild)
Evening Primrose (roots)
Nanny berry (great for jam, etc.)
Parsnip (just like store bought version, they grow abundantly in the wild)
Stinging Nettles (always good for tea)
Thistle (roots — and they’re pretty good too!)
Virginia Waterleaf (one of the few edible greens available in the Fall)
Wild Grapes (great for wine and jam!)
Wild Leeks (similar to domestic)
I’m working on a great Burdock video, but below is a short primer on Foraging 101: