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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Wild Foods Forage

Mar 27, 2015 04:50PM
By Teresa Boardwine

Some do it for the thrill of the hunt, some for survival, and even more because it is available for free. Why else would one eat weeds?

Foraging for food is primal, governed by the innate desire to live off the bounty of the season but our instincts are not as developed as they would be if grocery stores were not available to us. Consider the nomadic tribes and the years before humans cultivated gardens. What were their food sources? We don’t have to experience an apocalypse to turn to nature for our survival. We just need to learn what is around us in the plant world, watch the seasons turn and have a really good plant guide.

There are some wonderful foraging books, including one by Virginia herbalist, Vickie Shufer, called The Everything Guide to Foraging. Shufer has been writing the Wild Food Forum for years and offers a subscription to her newsletter which can help those interested locate reliable information. Another important resource is a plant identification book, like Peterson’s Field Guide to the Eastern Edible and Medicinal Herbs by Dr. James A. Duke and Steven Foster. Armed with information, let the foraging begin.

Early spring under the snow, we notice that several greens have been just waiting to reappear. Chickweed is a nourishing edible that is considered a fat emulsifier; wonderful to help the body rid itself of the stored fat in the liver as we come out of hibernation and looking to drop some weight. Chickweed is easy to identify as a source of early spring greens that can be eaten in salad or made into unctions for topical use. Dandelion greens will be popping up soon to provide a large amount of potassium while stimulating diuresis. Every part of the dandelion is edible. The flowers contain lecithin. By pulling the petals out of the calyx, they can be used in cornbread or muffins and sometimes salads for beauty. The dandelion root can be washed, cut into rounds and roasted on low heat in the oven. With Chicory root (or by itself), both make wonderful coffee substitutes which are helpful to the liver do its job to filter.

For a really tasty root, look for burdock. In the second year of growth, it has a stalk which grows burrs which get caught on clothes and animal’s fur. Look for the first year tap roots that grow straight down, and may get as long as three feet. Look around where you see old stalks and dig the young ones from the big leaf plant that has not sent all its energy into the stalk. While it is easier to buy these long woody roots, known as GoBo by the Japanese, at an ethnic supermarket, but you can “forage” for them at the store as well. Cut in thin strips and sautéed in olive oil, garlic and good soy sauce, they need to cook until crispy outside and tender inside.

One of the most important weeds to foragers is nettle. This plant often called stinging nettle for the formic acid in the needles which sting the skin but the greatest revenge is to eat it. Nettle is high in iron, chlorophyll, calcium and other minerals. When cooked down, it loses the acid in the leaves from which a puree can be made into a green summer soup, served cold.

There are so many gifts from Nature that can feed and sustain us. Tree fruits are a favorite to hunt in our area in the fall as well as walnuts, persimmons, spice bush berries, autumn olives, paw paws and acorns. There are many sources of fuel found on the woodland floor. Armed with a foraging book and bucket, anyone can gather and make jams, cordials, medicine and nut breads. Wild food sustains and nourishes the innate desire to live in sync with the seasons and in harmony with the Earth.

To learn more about foraging, attend Eat Your Weeds, on April 25 at Green Comfort School of Herbal Medicine. For more information, call 540-937-4283, email [email protected] or visit

Teresa Boardwine teaches and conducts clinical consultations at Green Comfort School of Herbal Medicine. She is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and has lectured throughout the country on a variety of topics related to herbs and healthy living.



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