Wild Food Girl
While perusing the local paper today, we happened to spy a notice for a hands-on wild food workshop in Silt, Colorado, with Wild Food Girl, Erica Davis. While we have tons of experience with mushrooms, asparagus and even fiddle heads, we are total noobs at the wild plant thing. I can’t think of anything better to do on a cloudy, cold and gray Saturday than to head out into nature and learn a few things about wild edibles.
Erica has over 25 years of experience foraging for wild foods. She has been writing the Wild Food Girl blog since 2009, where she provides an incredible wealth of knowledge about foraging, eating and prepping wild foods. We were so fortunate to find and attend her class. Fantastic!
From Classroom to Backyard
We started out with a quick overview of plant structure and a few rules. Generally, we were after non-native, “weedy” plant species that easily colonize disturbed grounds.
There were really only three major rules for the day:
- Safety – identify with 100% certainty before eating. With Erica on hand, this was not a problem.
- Awareness – pollution and animal waste are factors when foraging in the wild. It’s best to discover clean and safe areas away from busy roadways and popular spots for animals. We did learn that a vinegar/water rinse will kill most microbes introduced from animals.
- Allergens – when trying new wild plants, it’s best to start conservatively. You can quick test your reaction to a wild plant by rubbing the plant against your skin and lips to see if you have a dermal reaction. If you do, then best not to eat. When working with a new plant, similar to mushrooms, it’s always best to eat just a small amount, then wait a day. Eat a bit more, wait again and so on.
Today we we working with plants that Erica has foraged and eaten many, many times – our risk to unknowns was very low. On the list of greens to forage were: orache, curly dock, salsify, dandelion, tansy mustard, musk mustard and prickly lettuce. We found all of these plants right in and around the Silt Historical Park. You can learn lots more about many of these Colorado plants on Erica’s blog.
About 20 of us worked together to identify and locate each species. Erica then showed us how to clean, prep, combine and cook all of the plants we collected. We tried sautéed curly dock and onions, sautéed orache and onions, boiled salsify roots, and boiled salsify stems. We also made a fresh salad from the rest of the collected greens. All greens we intended to eat raw were washed in a vinegar/water solution (one person said 6% vinegar, another said 1 cup to a sink full) to kill any bacteria/microbes.
TIP: One participant mentioned that a vinegar rinse will keep your grocery store berries from molding. Let set in the solution for 5 minutes then rinse, dry and return to the fridge. Booyah.
The boiled roots reminded me of artichoke hearts, very mild and delicious. Orache – a wild spinach – was my favorite overall; it was fresh and surprisingly salty, great cooked or raw. We were surprised to learn that the saltiness of orache varies with soil content. Trent’s favorites were the boiled salsify buds and roots, sautéed orache and sautéed dock.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): petals are sweetest! New plant leaves are best, older leaves tend to be bitter.
Orache (Atriplex sp.): naturally salty wild spinach. Leaves look a bit like field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) which is reportedly poisonous.
Musk Mustard (Chorispora tenella): leaves and new top stems are good.
Tansy mustard (Descurainia sophia): feathery new leaves most tender.
Curly Dock (Rumex crispus): new leaves that are still curled are best – they will have a sort of gooey liquid near the base.
Salsify (Tragopogon spp.): greens and roots (boiled) + new buds (boiled).
Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola): Leaves resemble dandelion but are distinguished by a single row of prickles on bottom of the leaf midrib. Center of rosette on new plants are best. Older plants are bitter.
The most surprising realization of the day was that all of these tasty bites are plants that I consider to be noxious and super annoying weeds. Almost every part of a dandelion is quite edible on a young plant, including the faintly sweet petals! Who knew your own backyard could produce so much… well, produce!
Here are a few photos from the day, happy foraging!