I’m not what you’d call a survivalist; living off the land Bear Grylls-style has never been my thing. I mean, I like grocery stores as much as the next person. However, the idea that there could be delicious, edible, and free eats outside, all around me, without my ever knowing it — well, that’s just intriguing.
I thought I’d have to do a little more legwork to find something edible, but the moment I stepped out the back door I found an abundance of fresh, wild treats: field garlic and dandelions on the edges of the lawn, wood sorrel and chickweed in the dappled light amongst the trees, and henbit and white clover spreading out every which way. Suddenly I was walking with exquisite care, now aware that all this time I’d been trodding on food! Those “weeds” I’d picked as a kid? Yeah, those were delicacies.
I’ll take any excuse to be outdoors, but now there’s even more reason to wander afield. This spring and summer, the fields have already given out plenty of ingredients for salad, tea, and fritters, the woods have yielded mushrooms and many apples, and there are more treasures to be found in local marshes and waterways. There will be berries in the woods later this summer, and I can’t wait for fall when the hickory trees in the park let loose their nutty bounty.
Foraging has been so much fun, in fact, that I went and wrote a little book about it. Foraging for Lunch is the first in a series that will show you how to find ingredients for meals, snacks, and even cocktails — all in your own back yard.
Are you feeling the urge to forage yet? If so, grab your Wellies and let’s go!
Do Your Research
So you’re excited to get started, but before you even step out the door, you’ll want to gather some information! There are a lot of plants out there, and while many of them are good for munching, quite a few could make you very ill.
Start by finding a book on edible plants in your area. As a Pennsylvania-living person, I was thrilled to receive a copy of Northeast Foraging by Leda Meredith (published by Timber Press). It has proved an invaluable resource.
Another great resource: the internet. State and regional botany groups often have extensive collections of information and photographs on plants in your area. If you’re in the New England area, for instance, Go Botany has a wonderful, easy to navigate site that will help you identify different plants (it’s how I figured out I had the edible henbit and not some poisonous look-alike).
Tip: If you’re not sure a plant is actually edible, don’t eat it. Just… don’t. Do some more research first and you may save yourself a trip to the emergency room — or find something delectable.
If you’re still feeling unsure of yourself, there are foraging tours popping up in urban and suburban areas (like these in San Francisco). Check around online on meetup.com or in local magazines for events in your area (I found a group in Philly!). Or invite a more field-savvy friend along on your first adventure or two — it’s always fun to share new things, anyway!
Gather Your Gear
When preparing to forage, you’ll want to give some attention to your clothes and your gear. Yes, you will need some gear for this, otherwise you’ll be one frustrated forager! Don’t worry, it’s nothing too complicated or specialized.
To start, make sure you have long, sturdy pants, waterproof boots, and a lightweight long-sleeved shirt. These will help protect you from poison ivy, thorns and briars, sunburn, and mosquitoes and can take you anywhere — from field to forest to stream. A few other things you will definitely need:
- backpack and/or apron with pockets
- wide-brimmed hat
- bug spray (I love Beat It, Bug! from Spotted Hill Farm)
- small shovel
- scissors and/or pocket knife
- basket or bag
- your favorite foraging guide
Now that you have your gear and some basic knowledge, it’s time to get out there! The more you forage, the more you’ll get used to looking for edibles in unexpected places — and the more interesting ingredients you’ll be able to add to your cooking. Before you know it, the backyard will become your grocery store.
Chic Chick Salad
Chickweed is probably my favorite foraged green; it tastes good and it can be found easily and in relative abundance in full sun to partial shade. This salad is delicious and packs a protein punch!
- 4 cups chickweed (Stellaria media)
- 1/2 cup chickpeas
- 2 roasted red peppers
- fresh goat cheese (optional)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- cracked black pepper, to taste
Wash and dry chickweed and place in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
In a tupperware container, combine olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper; seal, and shake well to combine.
In a medium bowl, toss chickweed and chickpeas with desired amount of dressing. Transfer to plates.
Thinly slice roasted red pepper and arrange on top of salads. Top with crumbled goat cheese, if desired.
My absolute favorite way to eat dandelions is to turn those yellow flower puffs into fritters. If you make your oil deep enough, they’ll even form the traditional hush puppy shape. A touch of curry powder makes for a truly delicious flavor combination. Make sure what you are picking are actually dandelions and not a look-alike. The leaves will be toothed, and the teeth will point back toward the leaf base. Try to pick your flowers right before you cook them; if you wait too long, they will start to close back up. This is okay, but not as pretty.
Makes about 12 fritters
- 2/3 cup gluten free baking or pancake mix
- 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 – 2/3 cup milk or favorite non-dairy milk
- 1 egg
- 2-3 cups dandelion flowers (Taraxacum officinale)
- several field garlic scapes, snipped
- 4 tablespoons coconut oil
Wash and dry the flowers. You may wish to de-bract the dandelions by removing the little green leaves that hang down from the base of the flower. These can be bitter! (but some folks love them.)
To make your fritter batter, combine baking or pancake mix, curry powder, egg, and milk in a large bowl; mix until well combined.
Stir dandelion flowers and field garlic scapes into the batter. Heat oil in a pan or pot over medium-high heat.
Use a metal spoon to drop batter into hot oil; make sure not to overcrowd the pan. Fry fritters for a minute or two on each side until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with sea salt before serving with a side of honey for dipping.
All recipes are from Foraging for Lunch: A Gluten Free Hack Recipe Collection by Carrie Keplinger, available on Kindle. Used with permission.
Photos are courtesy of the author.