Archive for May, 2012

Edible Plants in The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games wild food 229x350 Edible Plants in The Hunger Games“Plants are tricky. Many are edible, but one false mouthful and you’re dead,” writes Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games (2008), a book I liked instantly because the protagonists of the impoverished District Twelve are foraging wild food from day one. Katniss and Gale make it their regular mission to sneak into the forbidden forest, collecting plants and hunting for food, both to sell and to nourish their families.

And, just like in The Hunger Games, I think I, too, might eat well if society as we know it ceases to exist. Well—plants, in any case. I’d probably have to turn Gregg into a hunter if we were really going to make it, and that could be a hard sell.

But anyway, just in case you one day need to know which plants in The Hunger Games make sense to eat and which do not, here’s a 1,200 word diatribe on the subject—just be sure to read it before your internet goes up in flames.

The Woods at the Edge of the Seam

In the woods, Katniss and Gale gather and eat wild strawberries, dandelions, blackberries, greens, nuts, wild plums, and soft, inner pine bark. All of these are true wild edibles, though “greens” and “nuts” don’t give us much to go on. In her mother’s wild medicinal book, Katniss also finds notes on wild onions and pokeweed—of which the former is delicious but has toxic lookalikes (Seebeck, 1998) and the latter has edible young shoots only, while its other parts are potentially deadly (Brill, 1994). Read the rest of this entry

purple tinged yucca 350x253 Yucca and Memorial Day Weekend Go Together Like

Yucca flowers and wild Allium (garlic) in the pan. Note the purple tinge on the outer petals of these otherwise creamy-white flowers.

On Memorial Day last year we were still snowboarding at A-Basin, the snow drifts in the backyard were up to the life-size metal deer’s neck, and the yuccas down Denver-way waited until late June to bloom. This year, the snow is gone except for a handful of high elevation chutes and the yucca is in full bloom down the hill, a month ahead of last year.

Who can understand nature’s whim? Is her massive schedule change a punishment for our squandering of her resources, or is she just in one of her moods? Either way I figure we might as well take advantage of the yucca bounty now while the plants are in bloom.

Both Yucca and Yuca Are Delicious

Yucca is not the same as yuca or cassava (Manihot esculenta), the delicious and starchy potato-like root popular in Caribbean cultures.

Instead, wild yuccas (Yucca spp.), which cover miles of dry zones throughout the Western United States, have edible flowers, buds, and fruits. They are particularly conspicuous when in bloom, their waxy, bulbous white flowers dangling dense upon tall, upright flower stalks. In our local central-Colorado species, Yucca glauca aka soapweed yucca, there is one flower stalk per plant, and the flowers, while creamy white, often have pinkish/purple outer petals upon them. California Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia), on the other hand, have “one flower stalk for each arm,” as Michael Moore explains in Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West (2003). Read the rest of this entry

Asparagus Legend Made Real

wild asparagus fort collins 350x262 Asparagus Legend Made Real

A meager collection of wild asparagus nonetheless makes for a painting-like photo.

My friend Butterpoweredbike has been collecting wild asparagus with her family for many years. “Hunting for, and eating wild asparagus is such a long-standing and special tradition in my home, that I refuse to eat it store-bought, ever,” she writes.

To me it’s funny how Butter could be out there getting down and dirty with wild asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) for all this time when in my world, wild asparagus has always been the stuff of legend.

It reads like a fairytale in Euell Gibbon’s book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962), which is not only the title of his historic wild edible manifesto but also a chapter. I was a young woman when I first read his account—how, as a boy en route to fishing, the young Euell stumbles upon wild asparagus growing in clumps alongside an irrigation ditch, then spends a blissful week collecting it and bringing it home for his family, a true provider. Before another spring, however, his parents move them to a “high, dry plateau farther west” and “I was a middle-aged man before I saw wild asparagus again,” he writes.

Oh, the tragedy of it! And, if Euell Gibbons couldn’t find wild asparagus for decades, how was I to do it? Of course what I didn’t realize was how ubiquitous wild asparagus truly is—as long as you’re looking for it in the right place, that is. Read the rest of this entry

Wild Edible Notebook—May Release!

WEN May2012 640 225x350 Wild Edible Notebook—May Release!Good news! A new season of the Wild Edible Notebook is here, one full month ahead of the planned start date.

This first-ever May issue of the Wild Edible Notebook features curly dock (Rumex crispus), examined both in light of its edibility and its designation as an invasive species, in a piece I wrote originally for Eat the Invaders website.  Then I interview that site’s creator, conservation biologist Joe Roman, about his invasivore project. Next comes “My Boyfriend, the Liver Fluke,” a lighthearted take on the touchy subject of those creepy crawlies who might be invading your watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum) right now. There’s a wild edible poem by correspondent Brad Purcell, a recipe for dock enchiladas by the inimitable Butterpoweredbike, and a handful more cooking ideas for dock and watercress to boot.

The procedure for downloading the Wild Edible Notebook has changed. Please visit the Wild Edible Notebook page for information on subscribing to the iPad/iPhone or PDF versions for $1.99/month. Your support makes the continued development of this publication possible, both on the content and technical sides.

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EDITED 10.7.13 to reflect the new download procedures.

New England Foraging Adventure – Part III

chickweed on wood 350x278 New England Foraging Adventure – Part III

Might think about trimming the chickweed better next time.

If I don’t get the rest of this New England story out soon I’ll be permanently stopped up in the blog-hole, though perhaps it’s something a large dose of chickweed (Stellaria sp.) could solve.

I already wrote about chickweed in Part I of this series, I know, but I just read an amusing account in Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants (1985), wherein he first spends an entire hot and humid day prostrate in a chickweed patch gorging himself on the stuff before suffering “the worse case of diarrhea [he has] had to this day,” followed later by his idea to make an extremely strong chickweed tea for a constipated friend—only to discover that it worked so well his friend was stricken with the shits for days.

When I made chickweed for my parents, I snipped it far down the stems, found it too tough and chewy for my liking, and then wrote about it in Part I of this series. Meanwhile I’ve got Sam Thayer (2006) in the back of my head saying, “The deplorable state of information on edible wild plants can be cleared up over time if those who write on the topic exhibit professionalism and follow a few simple guidelines,” one of which is to “not condemn a plant based on limited experience with it.” Read the rest of this entry

New England Foraging Adventure – Part II

poison ivy CT 350x272 New England Foraging Adventure – Part II

Seemingly innocent poison ivy lies in wait, plotting your extreme discomfort.

One of the things I noticed about foraging in New England that does not present a problem here at 11,000 feet in the Colorado High Country is the seeming ever-presence of poison ivy (Toxicondendron radicans). One morning, overjoyed to find false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum sp.) growing in abundance in the forest around my parents’ Connecticut house, I borrowed a trowel and headed out to dig up some rhizomes, only to find each and every plant intricately intertwined with poison ivy.

Poison ivy is not edible. And, unless you are one of the lucky few not (yet) allergic to T. radicans, coming in contact with it can instigate a blistering, itchy rash. I know first-hand how potent the roots can be, having developed a nasty case after a day digging in the not-yet-leafing-out plants as an archaeology student in college. My hands and arms were so bad that the Health Services department insisted I had contracted scabies. Inhaling fumes is a thousand times worse—the unlucky sap who accidentally burns it in a campfire and then huffs the stuff should be rushed to the hospital immediately, as the rash can develop internally throughout the body as well. Read the rest of this entry

New England Foraging Adventure – Part I

garlic mustard CT 262x350 New England Foraging Adventure – Part I

Garlic mustard, busy invading

“There’s a reason why the pre-Columbian population of Colorado was low,” wild plants author Sam Thayer once wrote me, referring to the relative lack of edible wild plants in this semi-arid land compared to lusher parts of the country. How dare he? I recall thinking—though truth be told, here at 11,000 feet in the Colorado High Country, the new spring growth is still less than an inch tall; meanwhile the rest of the country is happily chatting it up about their bountiful spring forage, whether dock and dandies, redbud flowers and milkweed shoots, chickweed and sorrel, and so forth.

Honestly, though, I’m not sure I could handle the abundance.

Take my recent New England trip for example. I arrived in Connecticut mid-April, just as the trees were newly leafing out. One walk with mom down our old country road renders me speechless. There are so many plants I want to try—plants I recognize from my books, plants that nearly every other forager knows well and uses often, plants that I have not had opportunity to try since Wild Food Girl was born.

I conclude that I need a few years out east, not two weeks interspersed with family visits, to get down and dirty with all these wild plants. Especially when my 7-year-old niece purportedly complained to her mother: “With all the wonderful plants in New Hampshire, how will I be able to get enough time to play with Aunt Erica since she loves plants so much?”

Read the rest of this entry