Thursday, April 30, 2009

Girl Gone Wild!

Yesterday evening was the first of six weekly sessions for a spring botany course on wild edibles that I've signed up for. It is taught by Martha Webber, a botanist and ecologist.

My fellow classmates and I arrived (an eclectic group) and gathered around a picnic table on which our teacher had set cups and two big jugs of maple sap and rhubarb juice for us to sample, as well as a basket of ostrich fern fiddleheads and ramps.

Then 'class' began. Our first lesson took place right outside Martha's front door where she had transplanted some ostrich ferns. She taught us how to recognize last year's flag.

Here are the fiddleheads popping up at the base of the old flag. Martha said that one could easily harvest two or three fiddleheads from a large fern without damaging the plant.

Here are a few that have passed their prime. Martha also noted that some ferns, such as bracken and the sensitive fern are known to be somewhat toxic and should therefore be avoided. The key identifying factor for edible ferns is the deep groove in the stem of ostrich ferns.

We then moved on to a big patch of waterleaf, which makes a nice salad green.

Next to the waterleaf were some ramps.

Beside the ramps was a patch of toxic bloodroot, which is not edible.

Here are some daylilies coming up. We harvested and ate the juicy, tender leaves at the base of the plant.

Garlic mustard was identified and collected for a salad.

When stinging nettles are young and tender, they can picked without gloves.

This kind of sedum is edible and went into our salad bowl as well.

Here is a beautiful patch of English primrose in flower. (We also identified evening primrose, but those pictures didn't turn out.)

Burdock has wonderful medicinal properties.

As does motherwort.

Here is our wise and wonderful teacher leading us through the woods on her property.

To further help us identify all kinds of plants and trees, Martha gave us a brief lesson on plant taxonomy. As the sun was setting she brought us back to the house, where we stopped off at her Jerusalem artichoke bed and dug up some tubers (I brought some home to plant in my garden!). We washed the chokes off and then washed our hands at the back of the house with soapwort.

Martha then welcomed us into her home for a delicious meal of baked lima beans with ramps and wild ginger, sweet molasses bread with dandelion jam, steamed nettles and fiddleheads, Jerusalem artichokes in a vinaigrette and a freshly picked salad of wild greens.

After our meal we sipped linden tea and Martha played us a tape of frog calls.

It was a wonderful and incredibly informative evening. I learned so much and I am thoroughly looking forward to the rest of the course.


Seraphim said...

Oh my goodness that sounds like such an amazing experience! Seems like you had a good time and hopefully learned a lot.

I'd love to forage but I am such a chicken. I won't even pick mushrooms. I guess maybe it might be different if I had someone show me what was right and what was wrong, though :)

You seem to have a lot of excellent social resources where you live. Lucky girl :)

- Sera

Natalie said...

Fascinating post - I did not know we could eat our day lilies! Thanks for posting all of the pics too, very interesting!

Good news on the jerusalem artichokes, but be careful, they are invasive in a garden, and they don't leave readily. :-)

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful course! I love the idea of foraging for food. I know of a few wild and weedy things that are edible - but am keen to learn more.


Amber said...

Don't be afraid! It's so much fun. You can just start with one or two plants that you know you can easily identify with confidence (baby dandelion greens from a clean, pesticide and chemical free environment, for example) and go from there. As you become more sure of yourself, before you know it you'll be foraging for all kinds of things. And anything that you have doubts about, simply avoid. I say go for it!

Hi Natalie,
I have a big patch of day lilies in my garden plot that is taking up too much space. Now, instead of just digging them up and getting rid of them, I'm going to eat some!

I know the Jerusalem artichokes can really take over, but they are so tasty and I love how hardy they are. I can harvest them in the winter and early spring before anything else is up. So I've been reading up on how to keep them under control, and I'm going to plant them in a spot that isn't really suitable for much else, so hopefully I won't have a problem on my hands!

Tricia, as a kid I remember sucking on honey thistle and eating tender milkweed pods, but I really only just discovered wild edible and medicinal plants last summer. I too started out knowing just a few plants, but now I'm hooked and am so eager to learn as much as I can!

Hit Pay Dirt said...

Amber, I'm jealous - what a great learning experience. Wish I'd been there!