Wildcrafting

Second entry in a day!

I’m at my aunt’s house for a holiday weekend dinner–we’re a big family of cooks and eaters–and because her house is up in the San Gabriel foothills, I often like to go walking around the neighborhood to wildcraft.

I took my younger cousin with me down into the canyon and rooted around. He’s about 14, and a gastro-geek himself, so I can always rely on him to come with me on wildcrafting treks. I’ve been venturing down into this canyon for about a decade now: it’s always been a spiritual place for me, a place of adventure and mystery, and more recently, it’s been a place where I can collect wild edibles pretty reliably.

I go down there a few times a year to look for edibles/herbals, and every time I’m armed with more information than the last. This time, I was able to recognize about half of what I saw, which was quite an accomplishment for me. But I did go down there with a couple of very specific plants in mind: goosefoot and dandelions.

The dandelions were surprisingly hard to find for my project, but the goosefoot, also known as wild spinach, was plentiful at the trailhead. I gathered enough for a few meals’ worth.

Th other edible I was surprised to find–mostly because I didn’t know how to identify it until now and had no idea how plentiful it was near the stream–was mugwort. Mugwort is spiritually significant for me, but other than that it makes a great tea and a popular flavoring herb for a number of Asian dishes. I gathered about $15 worth, according to Starwest Botanical’s prices.

Dandelion greens were gathered as well as few wild mustard greens, but really only enough to contribute to a single salad. The buds I was looking for were few and far between and I came home with only 2 suitable for pickling.

I’m a big proponent of wildcrafting, so long as you do it right. Leave enough of the plant to survive until the next harvest, harvest it properly so that the plant isn’t catastrophically harmed in the process. Big ag would have us believe that weeds are harmful pests, when in fact a good number of them are useful or edible. Some weeds are literally free food, and goosefoot (which also goes by lamb’s quarters or wild spinach) is one of them.

At any rate, I’m going to make something delicious with these plants and I will definitely post about it when I do.

What grows naturally in your area?

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6 thoughts on “Wildcrafting

  1. A lot (especially exotic invasives like garlic mustard), but given that this is an urban area they’re prone to pesticides and road run-off. I’m not sure it’d be safe to forage them.

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  2. You’ve inspired me to get more familiar with wild edibles in my area (downstate NY). I have seen wild onion in the park and wild blueberries when I go hiking and of course dandelion greens. At our coop, they sell fiddle heads and wild ramps. I will never eat fiddle heads again since I got sick last June (twice in 24 hours– I made sure to thoroughly cook the second batch, but still vomited). I am sure other people have had a better experiences with fiddle heads ;-)

    I never knew mugwort was a popular flavoring for Asian dishes. I am curious to see a recipe for it.

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    • Like a previous commenter noted, just be careful about where you harvest from, especially in urban areas! I’d get a few books, and if you’re lucky, there might even be a group near you that does hikes/walks/tours. Meetup.com is great for finding that sort of thing. Good luck, and even if you don’t come away with much of anything edible, it really does help to open your eyes to your local seasonal changes and makes you much more mindful of your immediate ecosystems.

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