Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Note: I didn't get this post finished before I headed to Vermont to do some camping with a friend this long weekend, but I'm publishing it today, as is, because I just finished reading this article on Foraging and Food Security and the author expresses a lot of similar thoughts I have about foraging.
I apologise to anyone who may be getting a little weary of the weed/foraging posts of late. But I can't help myself!! The world outside is so lush, alive and abundant right now. I get so darn excited about it all that I just have to tell someone. That means you guys, Facebook and the ADG mostly. In fact, the first thing I did when I saw the ADG the other day was pull out the bag of Dryad's Saddle mushrooms I had just collected as I dawdled home from work.
Now, a lot of serious mushroom hunters might tell you that this particular 'shroom isn't worth bothering with, but since I'm only beginning to develop my mushroom hunting skills, I don't bother with that advice. Dryad's Saddle is a polypore that's very easy to identify and grows in the same place year after year until the wood they grow on is exhausted. When you catch it at just the right stage of growth it is tender, worm free and perfectly edible. And it smells just like watermelon. I prepared the batch the way Wildman Steve Brill recommends.
Marinate broad slices overnight in 2 parts olive oil and 1 part wine vinegar, with some garlic, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, and tamari soy sauce. Drain, and bake 20-30 minutes over a cookie sheet on racks, in a preheated 350 degree oven. Pat dry with paper towels and enjoy as is, or add to any savory recipe.
The sun peaked out on Thursday, just before it went down, and I wandered out and checked on my trees. (A Tree Year post is coming soon.) I collected some larch needles and spruce shoots. I combined the larch needles with sea salt in my blender and ended up with a crazy, bright green salt that smells and tastes kind of citrus-y, tart and wintry all at the same time. I used Hank Shaw's syrup recipe for the spruce shoots. It's lemony and sweet and I'm definitely mixing a drink with this syrup and soda water!
On my lunch break yesterday I returned a book to the library. To get there, I walked along the river for a ways, then cut through a grassy area behind a low apartment complex. Under a stand of trees, there was a section that hadn't been mowed. I identified at least 30 edible and medicinal plants growing there. All this in an area of maybe 2000 square feet, that is about 2 minutes from a busy four lane road. As I walked through, mentally cataloguing all the plants I recognised, I kept thinking of what Sam Thayer said in the video I posted the other day, about how when we eat a landscape, we want to love and protect that landscape. And I couldn't help but wonder, if all those people living in the apartment building knew what they had growing right outside their doors, would it change the way they felt about that space? Would they get excited, celebrate it and care for it? Would they feel as fiercely protective about it as I do, looking for signs of disease, stress from pollution or pesticide use? Would they descend on the area and immediately over harvest everything useful and leave it a barren wasteland? Would they nurture and encourage the plants, collect, save and spread their seeds and take only enough to ensure the plants could continue to thrive? Would they think about the other living creatures that need those plants, like birds and animals, pollinators and other beneficial insects?
Sometimes I worry about what would happen if everyone started foraging for food. What impact would we have as a result of widespread foraging and wildcrafting? I do feel that if more people got their food and medicine from the green spaces where they live- especially in an urban environment, they might be less inclined to throw their trash there, or spray it with chemicals. They might be more concerned about how much car exhaust, leaking oil and other toxic substances that are a part of our modern lives end up in those spaces. I also love how empowering it can be to know that you can access food and medicine for free.
I'm spending the weekend in Vermont with a friend. We'll be staying in a gorgeous state park with lots of hiking trails through the wooded mountains. It's illegal to pick anything growing along the trails, and of course I'm more than happy to respect that. But the area was once settled by tough farmers who eked out a living for a couple of generations in those mountains. They cleared the land, raised cattle, planted orchards and field crops. You can still see the apple trees, the escaped plants that once lived in someone's herb bed and the old stone walls that enclosed cows and pigs. I can't wait to explore those spaces and I'll be thinking a lot about our human interactions with the land.