Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Joy of Foraging: Let Alan Powell Show You Wild Edibles in the Park

Posted By on Tue, Oct 9, 2012 at 7:11 AM

I like free things. Who doesn’t, right? A lot of people, actually, if you base the answer on the strange looks I’ve received while foraging for wild fruits around town.

Right now, the maypops are ripening, and if you can get them before the squirrels do, you can have a taste of this wonderful fruit. I’m saving mine for a jelly, though (and drying the leaves for tea). But combing through the vines adjacent to a church property has drawn attention from people who can’t quite figure out what I’m doing (or if they have; why I’m doing it). Some time in the last 40 or 50 years, apparently, we’ve become a society that thinks that if you don’t buy something at a store (or from a farmers market), it’s not worth having.

But that’s not true; a lot of great foods are growing all around you, but for a variety of reasons — most commonly, lack of commercial viability — they aren’t sold in stores. In fact, one of the most treasured items among hardcore foragers is the morel mushroom. It can be difficult to find and there are poisonous lookalikes, so most people who hunt them keep them for themselves because they are so delicious. When they are sold in stores, they’re often no longer fresh and good and also about $30 per pound. And wild asparagus is also really delicious … and available for just a ridiculously short period of time.

But before you head out to your yard or to the local park, it’s a good idea to know what you’re looking for. And what you want to avoid. A field guide is a good reference to have for everyday use if you’re going to make a career out of it, but a great way to start is with The Joy of Foraging by Gary Lincoff. If you’re ready to get started on your own salad of dandelion greens and purslane with a persimmon vinaigrette but you’re not quite confident in your ability to stay out of the hospital based on what you read alone, I have good news. This Saturday, Oct. 13, master forager Alan Powell will be leading the Wild Edibles hike around Beaman Park Nature Center from 10 a.m. until noon.

During the hike, he will point out the edible and medicinal plants growing wild in the park (and probably around your home). The class is free, but be sure to call 615-862-8580 to register. If you haven’t been to the Beaman Park Nature Center, you’re in for a real treat. It’s a beautiful park tucked into the hills of northwest Davidson county near Joelton.

Now back to that book: Lincoff's handy guide lists and includes photographs of some of the most popular foraged foods both in the United States and abroad. Also included are warnings of poisonous (or otherwise undesirable) lookalikes and ideas for use. You’ll find listings for many of the weeds you’ve tried to remove from your lawn as well as some of the more exotic-sounding items that’ve popped up on menus at the trendiest restaurants.

Yes, you are probably paying $20 for a plate of food you could have picked from the park your yard* for free.

*Foraging on park property is, apparently, not legal. Oops!

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