I know the feeling...the exciting one you get when walking through the woods and someone says, "Hey, you can eat this!" I also know the feeling of looking at Ductifera pululahuana on a log and thinking...say whaaaa? I'm supposed to eat this? Then if we're adventurous enough to take some home to try, it sits... and it sits, because we don't know how to use and enjoy it. I know the feeling.
I also know the feeling of finding different sources that say plant "x" is edible while others say it's not. Ductifera pululahuana is not considered a "choice" mushroom like morels. Some sources even claim it is inedible. I was lucky to have found these with my Chinese and Lithuanian friends and after some extensive research into the fungus, proper ID and cross reference between the three of us...I boiled it, made a sweet soup and ate it. It was delicious, and different to my palate. While it was new for me, this mushroom is commonly used in Chinese soups and is also noted to be supportive to female health. Knowing this history gave me more confidence to eat it traditionally sweet rather than savory. It has the taste of rain + minerals mixed with a delicious sweetness from the broth.
After this mushroom experience I realized that there is a process of trusting, intuitively saying yes, and building a relationship with a plant or fungus. With time and practice you will become more and more familiar with perennial wild plants so that you too can confidently prepare and enjoy these plants, fungi, and mosses.
Today, I'm sharing my triple check when foraging for wild edibles. Much like the three object/composition rule in visual art, we're going to use three checks when building a relationship with perennial wild edibles.
1. References, References, References...
Seems obvious, but seriously three references, ALL matching up (if not more). What does this include? Perhaps an experienced forager (especially with mushrooms) - believe me, they're out there and typically happy to help, plant ID books (at least two to three books on their own), internet is last resort to triple confirm your triple confirmations. Like I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of sources online, some unfortunately not speaking from personal experience, but reiterating from another source. I say, if they haven't eaten it, count it as a grain of salt :)?
This part of the triple check typically happens before a forage. Purchase or check out from your local library some ID-ing books within your region. If you're here in the Midwest, I often scroll through the pages of:
- Sam Thayer's The Foragers Harvest
- Lisa Rose's Midwest Foraging
- Tarersa Marrone's Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest
And ps...I'm not getting paid to promote any of these folks. These are literally what I use in life. I found these books to be the most helpful when getting started!
2. Meeting and Greeting x3
Living in a "first world," bustling urban city, sprawling with a variety of grocery stores (in more affluent communities), fast food joints, corner shops, community gardens, and tamale stands, it's not terribly difficult to find food. We are definitely not relying on wild foods as our main source of calories, so foraging, in a way, can be seen as a great past time for rich folks and a waste of time for everyone else. However, I'd like to invite each and everyone of you, wether you have foraged before or not, to consider, that no matter how technologically advanced we become as a society, we remain a part of this earth...and we will always need to eat in order to grow. I'd like to dive a bit deeper in saying that we need to eat biodiverse, nutrient rich foods everyday in order to develop into thriving creatures. Wild, perennial foods can do just that. And just as we know we can eat flaming hot Cheetos, corn, steak, carrots, and chocolate, we can also develop this type of intimacy while in the woods or on city blocks with our wild perennial friends.
But how do we develop this intimacy? Well, first a short backstory:
I started foraging three years ago. Why? Because I intuitively, and then mentally, knew that I needed to eat better foods from the earth and on a tight budget. For me, foraged foods are a humble "people's food." It belongs to all of us and intuitively we know what we can and cannot eat. Mentally, we do not. Most of the time (if not all the time!) we need some guidance into remembering and tapping into this intuition outside of the books and foraging experts.
I've found the best way into remembering is through developing a relationship with the plant.
For me, it's no longer enough for someone to say, "hey, you can eat this," and then I pop it into my mouth. I live with food allergies and numerous sensitivities that can drive my endocrine system out of whack. I also understand that we do act with trust when it comes to food nearly every day (and I have lived this way since I was a child!). But doing so often corresponds to not taking responsibility for where our food comes from.
Alternatively, growing a plant, visiting her daily or even weekly develops a relationship. Nurturing a relationship with a plant is literally as simple as visiting her, talking to her, and taking a moment to feel what you feel when you are around her. Ask the plant if she can be eaten. Know that even if it is a morel, and your brain says yes, but your intuition for some reason says "no," it is OK. Listen. Respect the NO and visit again another day and ask why? The reason will become clear. Respect the NO. Honor the space and relationship.
So, rule #2 is indeed, visit the plant at least 3x, preferably three different times of day, three different seasons, and for three days, three weeks, three months, three years, until you hear an intuitive YES. I promise, once you hear the YES, you have made a friend for life and will be nourished for years to come.
3. Mix and Match Cross Reference
Now you've successfully identified a wild perennial plant using three different reference books (and perhaps people), three different times. You visited the plant on three separate occasions, building an intimate relationship with your new plant ally and felt an intuitive YES! Awesome! If you even in the slightest bit still question, revisit those references and fine tune your search. Check. Now see if you can find some yummy references that show you how to cook and consume your new plant ally! Check. Share your wild food adventure with someone and enjoy! You've made a new friend, reestablished trust within yourself and the earth, AND got to enjoy an extra delicious wild perennial food!!!! <3 Win, win, win! <3
Triple Check Rule for any uncertainty or unfamiliarity
Respect the NO, trust the intuitive YES
Have fun, and if you're ever looking for a cross reference, feel free to send photos and questions to me🙂 <3
Written by Nina Lawrin and posted on loverencollections.com
Nina Lawrin is a visual artist, permaculture designer, world traveler and urban forager. She is the founder of loveren collections, an experience dedicated to education and re-connection to nature through everyday wild perennial foods. She is passionate about great tasting, nutritious foods that are accessible for all. She hosts and conducts workshops, pop up dinners and camping trips throughout the city as well as on The Healing Permaculture Site dedicated to Female Hormonal Health in North Lawndale, Chicago. In 2017, she studied under Patricia Armstrong and Ellyn Schmitz at The Resiliency Institute in the Edible Wild Plants Certificate course and Bioregional Herbalism course. Nina is a certified permaculture designer who has studied under AnnaMaria Leon, and has taken workshops with Brad Lancaster and Dan Halsey. Nina is also a proud certified tree keeper with Openlands #1248 . You can often times find her along roadsides and strolling in the woods with her favorite furry foraging gal pal, Aza.