Well, Denver’s not low country exactly — Mile High City and all— and the part where my friend B and I like to forage is one of the higher points in said low country, but it’s still low compared to the upper reaches of Colorado where I live, even though we moved down from 11,000 feet to 9,800-feet or so this summer.
Still, it’s supposed to be winter up here now, and most of the plants think it is, so it’s not ideal for food foraging aside from cold weather finds like pine needles for tea and flavoring or willow bark to sooth the ever-present, new-job-related headache from which I suffer.
You’ll understand why I’m so excited, then, that—after hightailing it from work to Denver for Thanksgiving and driving home to Summit County the next day only to discover I left my computer behind and had to go back to the fiancé’s parents’ house for it —I had opportunity to visit and forage food with Butter B, wildcrafter extraordinaire, and wound up going home with sacks upon sacks of wild stuff to eat.
That’s right: It’s November, and foraging season down Denver way is still kicking. Below is what I came home with yesterday. It’s stuff you might be able to spot, right now—and, upon absolute positive identification (of course), get busy with in the kitchen yourself:
Evening primrose seeds
The last day of Butter’s seed-centric foraging recipe share approaches fast at the end of this month, so any recipes with seeds are due now! She, of course, has been obsessing about them of late. Pennycress (Thlaspi arvense), amaranth (Amaranthus spp.), goosefoot (Chenopodium spp.), dock seeds (Rumex spp.)—all are game.
As are evening primrose (Oenothera strigosa var. biennis, O. hookeri, per Cattail Bob Seebeck)—not to be confused with primrose—seeds. Apparently they are quite nutritious. I’ve eaten the roots (and by the way, it’s root season right now) chopped fine and prepared like horseradish, but I don’t have much experience with the seeds, so this should be fun.
Yes, dock. My love of loves. A love that I share with my dear friend B, who describes her local curly dock (Rumex crispus) population thusly: “Dock is sort of like a cross between collard greens and sorrel. I love that it is pleasantly lemony, and such a versatile all-purpose green. I also adore it because it is both one of the first and last plants I harvest each year.”
Most of what you see right now are dry, red-brown seed-bearing rust-colored dock stalks, some barren of leaves. But in sheltered locales, at least around 5,000 and 6,000 feet, follow the rusty stalk to its base and you might just discover some young, green leaves in the midst of their slimy unfurling.
I’m already halfway through the batch we foraged. I cut the young leaves into thin strips and threw them into my turkey soup—which is itself made from a rescued, repurposed carcass. Free, delicious, nutritious food—there’s nothing better.
I can’t help myself; I’m going to have to borrow Butter banter for the rosehips too. Now shriveling but still soft, she says this: “Crushed and on our fingertips, they smelled deeply fruity, almost like strawberries.” (I mean, the rosehips are now shriveling but still soft. Butter is in the prime of her youth.)
The pulpy interior of the wild rosehips (Rosa spp.), with the exception of the seeds, is orange-ish paste. I found some on my nose upon return to the house. Incidentally, I also found dock seeds in my underpants. To quote a recent reality television show participant of my acquaintance whose name I will look up forthwith: “Foraging is an extreme sport.”
Also uncommonly referred to as “stinky sock berries,” the highbush cranberries (Viburnum opulus) we gathered are the plump, red, shiny, abundant-fruiting, and consummately icky berries that B says smell like stinky socks and should be cooked outside for that reason. If your mouth is now watering, she’s posted a recipe and an informative account on them at Zester Daily.
I gathered a few cups in a matter of minutes, and later choked a few down on my drive home. I look forward to making various versions of highly-sugared cranberry-like sauce experiments with them, as these guys are another first for me. The berries have a characteristic flat seed inside, but identification by the leaf shape is also important. Fortunately for me, these trees came pre-scouted and I had but to second the ID.
On eating a berry, Gregg surprised me with a positive review and this comment: “It has the taste of fall, similar to that smell of rotting foliage that I love.” This morning, however, he said my stinky berries were leaking and fouling up the refrigerator. Oops.
Prickly pear fruit
I need a wild edible assistant to remove some glochids for me and after that I’ll be golden; I mean purple; with the fruit of wild tunas upon my fingertips and in my mouth. I’m sure the prickly pears—aka tunas (Opuntia spp.)—we found yesterday, perched at the ends of wilted prickly pear pads lying horizontal in the dry earth, have nothing on the prickly pears of California (that place has everything) but I am tickled to the point of prancing on having taken a small bag of them home from the Front Range.
Stand by for the exciting experiments; or, if you’re too eager to wait, check out Butter B’s prickly pear recipe compilation from the month of September.
Okay so that about does it; I have some wild food eating and preparation to do. If you get inspired to do something with any of these ingredients, drop a line and we can be wild food nerds together.