Foraging is growing in interest and popularity thanks, in part, to the growth of microbreweries, “farm-to-table” and “field-to-table” restaurants that source local, farm raised, and foraged ingredients like ramps, dandelion greens, violet flowers, mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, and garlic mustard. People are excited about these new foods, flavors, and smells and want to experience more.
Fascination with foraging is really a return to our roots. Our ancestors fed themselves primarily from foraging. Acorns, greens, root vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, fruits and berries all grew in abundance within the forests, along the waters’ edge, in meadows and prairies. Families had their favorite spots to harvest, and children carried on the tradition. Many people still enjoy growing an annual garden or going apple picking. It’s a reminder of the pleasure of harvesting food and a connection to nature.
Fostering this connection with nature is vital in a time when everything is so convenient. Grocery stores are filled with out-of-season foods – asparagus in November, strawberries and tomatoes in January. This convenience comes with a cost – a loss of flavor and nutrition, of variety, of connection to the seasons, and the missed opportunity to harvest and preserve nature’s bounty. Foraging brings this all back!
After learning some common edible wild plants that grow in and around the Chicago area, a whole new world will open up where food is seen everywhere. There’s so much joy in waiting for fruit to ripen, for greens to sprout, for nuts to grow. After gorging on raspberries and lamb’s quarters, the wild plums will be ready, then blackberries, and so it goes. It’s fun to preserve a bit of every harvest to enjoy in the off season. Wild green pesto in winter is incredible, a fresh flavor burst of greens and garlic that awaken the taste buds with a reminder of the coming spring. Serviceberry jam and currant cordial are sweet memories of summer days foraging.
The taste of foraged food is special, not just because the food is wild, or fresh, but because of the journey. Learning the skills to find, identify, harvest, and prepare edible wild plants alone can be challenging, so The Resiliency Institute created “Let’s Walk and Learn Foraging” experiences for people who want to enjoy a taste of foraging. During these foraging walks, participants learn to identify 50+ edible wild plants, sample several, and leave with an appetite for more. Many of these plants can be found in lawns and parks, so with some good notes and photos, participants can go home and enjoy a few foraged plants for lunch! The next “Let’s Walk & Learn Foraging” event is August 5th!
Have a larger foraging appetite? Enroll in The Resiliency Institute’s Edible Wild Plants Certificate Course to learn to identify, harvest, and prepare over 200 wild edible plants. Instructor and lifelong forager, Pat Armstrong, will equip students with the knowledge and confidence to become successful foragers through classroom instruction and outdoor plant walks. Every class includes a lunch of foraged foods prepared by Pat and the students. Some of the foods eaten this year have been wild greens salads, stinging nettle quiche, lamb’s quarters saag, sautéed ostrich fern fiddleheads, plantain seaweed, and purslane cherry salad!
Learning to “walk on the wild side” through the Edible Wild Plants Certificate Course is life enriching. A 2015 EWP Certificate graduate, Jean Ruffin, says “Since taking the [course] I have incorporated several nutritious wild edible plants into my diet and have been able to spark an interest in edible plant identification in my grandson. Now when we go on vacation or take a walk in the woods we recognize and appreciate the worth of plants we used to just walk by. And, where allowable, we harvest and enjoy them!”
Take some time this summer to forage and reconnect with nature. August is time to harvest Staghorn Sumac flower heads (Rhus typhina), foxtail seeds (Setaria faberi), wild plums (Prunus americana), wild blackberries (Rubus allegheniensis), and chokeberries (Aronia arbutifolia). In September look for pears (Pyrus communis), acorns, highbush cranberries (Viburunum trilobum), wild grapes (Vitis riparia) and wild rice (Zizania aquatica).