Yesterday was a foraging day for my husband and me. He took his Jeep out in nearby woods, and I went to a foraging class at The Urban Ranch. Maybe that means we’re getting old–DH’s friend pointed out on Facebook that “your old offroad pictures were less mushrooms more air.”
Alas, he did not find any ramps or morels. I fared better, probably because were “foraging” in our herbalist instructor’s yard. She had already prepared garlic mustard pesto flatbread and a rhubarb cherry soda.
As we were philosophizing among the cleavers, vinca, and garlic mustard, I realized how much my views on foraging have changed over the past year. I used to think that foraging was all about free food. The image I used to have in my head was one of being able to look up a forest on a map and then head out to pluck morels, other mushrooms, berries and all sorts of yummy things that were expensive to buy at the farmers market. Oh, how naive I was.
For starters, it’s not that easy. Foraging is becoming ever more trendy, so there are no magical forests full of edibles sitting out in the open. It takes time. And even then, one has to be careful not to over harvest. The disappearance of ramps is in the news, but there are other considerations too. Henriette does a great job of explaining ethical considerations on her website.
Secondly, there’s the question of where to forage. My dad is not too keen on me traipsing around his hunting property just so I can eat some weeds. I’m sort of leery of local parks as I don’t know whether they spray anything. That leaves my backyard. Which has been yielding some interesting things, but definitely not mushrooms or ramps.
So then I was thinking, perhaps the answer is relationships; to develop relationships with the plants in my yard, the ones I didn’t plant but that show up anyway. And to develop relationships with the plants in my friends’ yards. Yet my herbalist friend cautioned me against that approach, too.
“You don’t go up to a person and say, ‘what are you good for?’ In the same way, you don’t just go around looking at plants trying to figure out how you can best exploit them.” Hmm. Guilty as charged. Whenever I am able to identify something in my yard I do tend to ask around to see if I can eat it or use it in herbal medicine. So maybe the answer IS relationships, but something you need to take slowly, sort of like not sleeping with a guy on the first date.
I’m still trying to figure out how this whole foraging thing fits into my life. While I may post recipes from time to time that feature things I foraged, I encourage you to consider your own approach to wild things. I will do my best to provide alternatives (for example, instead of ramps one could use chives) so that you can enjoy the recipes even if you do not have ethical access to that particular item.
In the meantime, DH and I will continue to get out and enjoy nature–even if it doesn’t result in bags of morels.
All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go, to highlands or lowlands, woods or plains, on the sea or land or down among the crystals of waves or high in a balloon in the sky; through all the climates, hot or cold, storms and calms, everywhere and always we are in God’s eternal beauty and love. So universally true is this, the spot where we chance to be always seems the best. — John Muir