Foraging: Eating What Grows (and When What Grows is Invasive)
I first found a patch of stinging nettle the way most with an untrained eye do — by getting stung, betrayed by the gap at my wrist between my work gloves and long-sleeve shirt while clearing a patch of invasive holly. It wouldn’t have occurred to me at all that I could (or should, or would) eat the nettles if we hadn’t sat around a fire pit with a friend only a few weeks before, and been served nettle tea from a jar he’d foraged and hung to dry. I was becoming familiar with gardens, with farmers markets, with the idea that food could come from closer to home without semi trucks and supermarkets in the middle, but not yet with the idea of foraging. The idea that food still grew, out there and on its own, was hypothetical at best.
But it does grow there, whether we see it or not. After the sting on my wrist, I gathered the nettles and hung them to dry. It was inefficient — I didn’t do the math on dollars per cup of tea that first year, but even assuming minimum wage for the time I spent gathering and processing it, I’m sure it would have been astronomical, far more than I would ever pay for tea in a store. I understand why agriculture has been industrialized.
But it wasn’t about money — the tea was good and it made me feel good to know where it had come from and my own part in it, and I gathered it again the next year. I’d learned some things from my first time and I was more efficient than the year before. I was also able to collect more, and while I hung some to dry for tea again, I also mixed a handful or two in with our eggs one morning, just like you would with spinach, and made nettle pasta with a friend. You couldn’t taste the nettle in the pasta much, but the green tinge alone made it worth it.
There are other things available to forage — of course there are, people lived and thrived here before industrialized agriculture — but I’m adding to my repertoire slowly. I started by picking blackberries before the nettles, before it occurred to me that this even qualified as “foraging.” People haven’t forgotten about wild berry-picking, even now, but much beyond berries might earn a sideways glance or two. Many people know you can eat dandelion leaves, too. They know this in theory, but would never consider actually doing it. Why would you? My local grocery store started…