Archive for 'New York'

Backyard Foraging cover 348x450 Eat Your Ornamentals: Backyard Foraging with Ellen ZachosDid you know that hosta—the large-leaved and oft variegated landscaping plant that the deer love so much—is edible? I had no idea until I picked up Ellen Zachos’ book, Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (Storey Publishing, 2013). Go figure.

The funny thing is that for as long as I can remember, my mom has planted hosta in the rock garden and other places around my childhood home in Connecticut. Every year it’s a battle, because every year the deer eat it. Now Mom will have to protect her hosta from one more pest.

Zachos explains that hostas come in many different colors and cultivars—all edible, though they may vary in flavor. For this reason, she recommends trying a nibble here and there to see which ones you like best, noting that in Japan, the young shoots of Hosta sieboldii are skinned, parboiled, chopped, and served over rice; in northern Japan, H. montana is grown in greenhouses and kept covered to blanch and tenderize the foliage.

“What’s for dinner?” she asks. “Boiled hosta with miso mustard sauce, of course,” she writes, answering her own question.

New, tight shoots are good chopped, stir-fried, and served over pasta or rice, Zachos writes. The mature leaves, on the other hand, should be boiled for 15-20 minutes, then “chopped and sautéed like other greens, in soups or baked in a quiche or pie.” Read the rest of this entry

Mint Madness

wild mint 350x262 Mint Madness

Wild mint, Kittredge, Colorado.

There’s nothing like accompanying your boyfriend to a work meeting expecting to sit idly by and instead being invited to forage the back yard.

“I’ll weed your garden while I wait,” I offered to his new web client, glancing hungrily at the carpet of young goosefoot (Chenopodium sp.) decorating the landscape.

“Oh, you don’t need to weed it,” he told me, “but feel free to graze as much as you like.” Seriously? Hell yeah!

We apparently got there just in time too because the landlord would be coming by shortly to spray the weeds. I found a plentiful and diverse trove of edibles there in Kittredge, Colorado, including several that I have not yet had the opportunity to collect. Among them was an inconspicuous wild mint mixed in among the other weeds on the bank of the creek that abuts the property.

“If it has a square stem and smells like mint, it’s an edible mint,” Cattail Bob Seebeck told me on a recent foraging adventure. Not all squared-stemmed mints smell or taste like mint—for example, wild oregano (Monarda fistulosa) and horehound (Marrubium vulgare)—but  there are a few wild ones that evoke the commercial variety, making them as palatable to the masses as they are to obsessive wild food foragers like yours truly. Read the rest of this entry

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 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?”

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brill wild edibles app 233x350 Wildman App Makes Foraging with Technology Likely

Wild Edibles app by Steve Brill and WinterRoot. Image nabbed from iTunes.

Steve Brill recently released “Wild Edibles,” an iPhone app that helps foragers identify and use edible wild plants. The free version, Wild Edibles Lite, contains 20 common plants, while the full version costs $7.99 and offers “165 edible plants, 52 minor look-alikes, 719 images, and 162 vegan recipes.” The release is compatible with iPhone (iOS 3.0 or later), iPod touch, and iPad, with an Android version currently under development by the software’s creator, WinterRoot LLC

Considered to be one of the foremost experts in the foraging field, “Wildman” Steve Brill has held wild edible plant tours in and around New York City since 1982 and published several books on foraging and wild food preparation. He is perhaps most well known for his 1986 arrest by undercover NYC park rangers for eating a dandelion in Central Park. 

I don’t own an iPhone myself, but I downloaded the free version onto Gregg’s phone the other day to take a look. Even though Wild Edibles Lite only contains 20 plant entries, there are still several plants in there that I don’t yet know, despite the fact that I own Brill’s comprehensive 1994 guide, Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not-So-Wild) Places. (Informative and thorough as that book is, it’s big to be toting into the field and I find the black-and-white botanical illustrations hard to match up definitively to the actual plants—so I often reach for something smaller and in color instead.)  Read the rest of this entry

Spring Foraging in the Hudson River Valley

morels fiddleheads 336x350 Spring Foraging in the Hudson River Valley

Wild foraged fiddleheads and morels purchased from a health food store.

It’s been a number of years since I made it out east in the spring—and what a spring it is! Apparently it’s been raining more than usual, such that the outdoors is carpeted in lush new green growth the likes of which I seldom see. Coming from the Colorado high country, where snow still covers the forest floor, I have to admit I’m not sure where to begin. 

Gregg and I headed first to Woodstock, New York, to visit my friend Aurora. The Hudson River Valley where Woodstock is located is truly an Eden of wild foods, a fact that she pointed out has been the case for thousands of years—and the reason so many native people relied upon this area for hunting and gathering. Granted, many of the plants that now flourish in these parts were imported by early settlers, but I am overwhelmed by the abundance of wild edibles I have an encountered. 

In the Hudson River Valley we found the following plants ripe for the picking (in addition to many other that are not in season): stinging nettles, garlic mustard, mint, clovers, cleavers, goosefoot, mallow, burdock, several varieties of dock, a few late fern fiddleheads, sorrel, wild carrot, dandelion, plantain, and milkweed shoots. I helped Aurora weed some of these plants out of her garden and ended up with a cooler bag full of wild edibles. Later, on the forested grounds of my Alma Mater, Bard College, we found wild ginger, mayapples not yet fruiting, spicebush, and sweet cicely.  Read the rest of this entry

Sorrel on the Mountain

colorado mountain sorrel october 350x263 Sorrel on the Mountain

Mountain sorrel growing in a steep, dry creek bed in October.

We found a healthy colony of mountain sorrel in a steep, rocky, dry creek bed above 11,000 feet this afternoon—another great discovery in an area that was starting to feel like we’d traveled it in its entirety and identified the last remaining wild edible plant therein. But today, after adding a quick scramble through the Bristlecone pines on a hillside above the mining road to an above tree line shelf, then traversing right and finding our way back down through the talus, we came upon a narrow creek bed with many small patches of mountain sorrel growing in it.

Mountain sorrel is the common name for Oxyria digyna. Like wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta, O. violacea) and even commercial spinach, Oxyria digyna contains oxalates, which should not be consumed in large doses. I’ve eaten wood sorrel plenty of times, but the mountain sorrel of Colorado (not to be confused with the low, three-hearted leaves of the mountain sorrel you find in Vermont, or upstate New York) had for the most part eluded me.  Read the rest of this entry

dandelion clover spinach salad 350x262 Dandelion Spinach Salad with Red Cabbage and Clover Petals

Dandelion spinach salad with red clover petals and red cabbage, delicious!

Ok, I can’t stop myself—I must boast about yet another rousing success with these delicious fall dandelions I keep finding up on the mountainside. Whereas I served the last batch finely chopped in a yummy marinated salad, I served these latest dandelion greens chopped coarsely and fresh-tossed with baby spinach, red cabbage, red clovers, and a delicious soy-based homemade dressing. Gregg was very impressed.  

Without further ado, then, here is the recipe: 

Salad Ingredients:

  • Baby spinach greens
  • Dandelion greens and leaf stems, coarsely chopped
  • Red cabbage, coarsely chopped
  • Red clover flowers, finely chopped

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Two Variations on Marinated Dandelion Salad

marinated dandelion salad asian 350x301 Two Variations on Marinated Dandelion Salad

Marinated dandelion salad option 1 involves soy sauce.

Not to go overboard on the fall dandelions or anything, but last night’s fresh marinated dandelion salads came out so good and were so fast and easy to make that I figured I’d write up a short post about them. The recipes start out the same and then it is simply a matter of picking one sauce or the other depending on the recipe you’re going for. 


  • 1.5 cups dandelion greens or thereabouts
  • 1.5 cups red cabbage or thereabouts
  • 1 medium onion
  • Soy sauce (option 1)
  • French dressing (option 2)

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Purslane Rescue Mission

purslane 2010 350x262 Purslane Rescue Mission

Pennsylvania purslane

We went to the east coast for two weeks in July, and my sister met me in Maine with small bag full of New Hampshire purslane—that low branching succulent that many American gardeners throw in the yard trimmings without a second thought. She’d rescued it from her garden for me. It was really cool, as my sister is far from a wild food convert. I promptly boiled it up and served it with butter and salt to the extended family. My sister thought it was the perfect topping for the bratwursts. 

Two weeks later, Gregg and I headed to the Philadelphia airport with several pounds of purslane. (I can only imagine what the TSA folks thought when they inspected my baggage and found a cooler bag full of weeds, roots intact.) 

I kept the roots on the plants so that the purslane would travel well, and it worked. Thanks to Bill and Marnie in Ithaca and Gregg’s dad Frank in PA for the purslane bounty; I’m pleased to say that not only did the purslane make it home safe and sound to Colorado and into some delicious dishes, but also that the roots and attached shoots made it safely into the dirt in my makeshift garden off the end of the back yard. Read the rest of this entry