Thursday, July 10, 2008

Frugal Foraging

When I was a child, I recall with fond memories my mother gathering wild strawberries growing along the roadside near the farms we rented. Foraging was a part of her culture growing up in the wild woods of Central Kentucky during a time when times were hard. So, it came second nature to her to seize upon whatever goodies the Good Lord provided by means of His created Nature.

However, once on my own, I was never one to do much foraging. I was usually too afraid I would find something poisonous and make my family ill -- or worse! However, the Lord has blessed us with a very special young woman, our daughter Lydia, who takes her frugal studies very seriously.

We "hit the jackpot," so to speak, last fall when she and Andrew found wild grapes growing along a fence at the back of an empty trailer lot near where we live. I remembered Amy Dacyczyn mentioning in her book, The Tightwad Gazette, her husband finding wild grapes on his father's farm, and describing the prize jam he made with them and couldn't believe our blessing.

The kids immediately ran back and filled two plastic grocery bags. While I washed those and removed them from the stems, I sent them back for two more bags full. Along with Lydia's help, we were able to put up enough luscious grape jam to last us all year! We are still pulling those shiny, glass jelly jars out of the cupboard filled with that dark purple ecstasy. If you've never eaten wild grape jam, you just don't know what you're missing!

After perusing several books from the library and studying websites for our state, Lydia was able to find other foraged blessings right in our own back yard:
  • Wild leeks (tolerable in a stir fry)
  • Wild garlic (tooooooo strong - yuck!)
  • Sheep sorrel (Very cute! It looks like a sheep's face)
  • Purslane
  • Dandelion greens
Before you start picking stuff growing in your yard or along country roads and wooden paths, please keep a few things in mind:
  1. Know what you are harvesting. Study foraging books and websites -- with pictures-- for your state. Check at least three sources to be sure that what you have found is the real McCoy. Many edible berries and greens have poisonous look alikes.
  2. Beware of anything growing in yards or fields which have been treated with pesticides or other poisons. Also consider that things growing along roadways are polluted by the exhaust from cars passing by. Better steer clear.
  3. Never forage for mushrooms without a trained guide. Too easy to get poisoned.
  4. Be sure that what you are picking won't cost you a hefty fine or some jail time. Even wooded trails may pass through private property, and trails in public parks are protected by law. Do not forage in these areas without permission from the proper owner or authorities.
  5. Always soak and wash your foraged findings to get rid of bugs and dirt before further preparations. The only exception, of course, would be mushrooms, which would become water logged. Just rinse and drain them before use.
Here are a few resources to get you started:


The Forager's Harvest

The Foraging Gourmet

The Illustrated Guide to Edible Wild Plants

Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places

Feasting Free on Wild Edibles

Websites:(I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these sites. Always double check with a foraging field guide. Some are a little new-age-y, too, but just take what is good and leave the rest -- just like a good forager would.)