Foraging for wild plant knowledge

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The other night, we were out with friends at Blue Mountain Brewery (where, I might add, we had a pretty great pizza with Double H sausage–the only sausage this ex-vegetarian will eat). A new acquaintance at our table kindly sent us home with a bunch of watercress she’d picked near a spring on her farm.

Keeping fresh in a glass of water. Tonight: salad!

It’s at its peak right now and probably for the next week or two, she explained. It’s been growing through the late winter along streams and creeks. Once it begins to flower, it won’t be too tasty. But for now, it’s delish in salads and on sandwiches. (I was also advised to put it on white bread with butter!)

To me, this is the unknown frontier of local eating: gathering wild foods. Soon it’ll be morel mushroom season, and things like ramps and fiddlehead ferns will be on the plates of those in the know. I have never gotten my act together to learn how to find these goodies in the woods, but I sure love the idea of it. My one foraging trick is to gather redbud blossoms, which are sweet and beautiful on salads. What’s even better, an idiot could find them, since you can’t throw a stone in central Virginia without hitting a redbud tree.

I have an old edition of Foxfire (the student-produced Appalachian culture magazine) that contains an article about wild edible plants. Flipping through it, I see I could easily gather lots of stuff I’m already familiar with that grows in our yard or along the road: plantains, dandelions, violets, chicory…

Anybody out there an experienced forager? What are you eating these days?

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