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Foraging for Food

February 2nd, 2009

Today’s society has largely drifted –no, better to say “hastened” or “rapidly run” —away from a lifestyle that forages, hunts and grows their own, and then cooks from scratch. From the time women went to work in the early 1950’s and got out of the kitchen (and garden), the door has been opened for processed and fast food purveyors to enter, so that now, in 2008, those in the under-50 crowd who know how, and actually enjoy, cooking are becoming rarer and rarer. It is easier to open a box, add water, heat and serve.

This crowd is in for a rude awakening, and it seems to be coming sooner rather than later.

Dr. Peter Gail, Ph.D (Goosefoot Acres Center for Resourceful Living)
Purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant.

It’s interesting when you start identifying and studying weeds. Many of them are actually edible plants that were brought here by our ancestors for their nutritional and medicinal purposes. It’s interesting that as grocery and drug stores became more available to the common people, the knowledge of the medicinal and nutritional uses of common weeds was lost. Here’s an excerpt from his article, to read the entire article visit Doc Weed’s Doin’s.

The answer is as simple as opening our eyes and looking around to see what has been invisible up to now. More specifically, stand on a proper untreated lawn—one that hasn’t been treated with chemicals and still has all the plants in it —and look down at the ground beneath your feet. For, right there, in most cases, you will find between 4 and 6 vegetables that are tastier when prepared properly and more nutritious than anything you can buy in the store. During the Great Depression and World War II, when food was rationed or unavailable, many mothers fed their families very successfully on these plants.

Where did these vegetables come from? In most cases, they were brought to America by our ancestors, mostly at the behest of the emigration companies sponsoring them who would tell them to bring seeds of all the plants they valued for food and medicine with them, because who knew whether they would find them in this new land.

So dandelions, plantain, lambsquarters, red root pigweed, purslane and many other plants came with every shipload of immigrants. Plantain was so valuable that it traveled with them to every early English and Scottish settlement. Before they arrived, there had been no plantain. After, they were so common that the Natives called the plant “White Man’s Foot”.

The bottom line is that 80% of the plants we call weeds and pay millions for chemicals to eradicate each year are really the vegetables and medicines our ancestors made great sacrifices to bring here for us to have. Each group had different ones, however, and as the seeds escaped from their gardens, they entered other gardens in which the inhabitants didn’t know their value, and so to them they were a nuisance, and had to be eliminated.

Mr Chiots and I gather berries in the summer and we have picked apples by the side of the road, but not much else. I do eat the purslane that grows in my flowerbeds. This spring I’m going to try some garlic mustard which is rapidly becoming an invasive weed in the areas surrounding our home. I’m also hoping to try some dandelion greens (they sell them at our local grocery store for $5 a pound). It’s definitely an area that’s interesting to me, I may read up on it some more this winter and try to identify a few more edible and medicinal plants this summer. I’ll keep you posted on what I find and how they taste or work.
Any foragers out there? Have you ever eaten something you picked from the side of the road? (take the poll)

13 Comments to “Foraging for Food”
  1. Judy on February 2, 2009 at 7:33 am

    Mmm..stalking the wild asparagus! My father actually picks and freezes lamb’s quarters. He likes it much better than spinach. The small leaves make it great in lasagna as well. My children barely know they’re eating weeds.

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  2. warren on February 2, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Oh yes! We are definitely foragers. I especially love getting blackberries! I mean, I hate the thorns but there is so much great, free food out there for the picking! Wonderful. But be careful, I mentioned to someone about or foraging and they nearly bit my head off about how I was stealing from whoever owned the land. Never mind the fact that I considered that and only forage on public land. I used to forage on private land but I always asked. Many people know they have stuff on their land but don’t want to mess with it. Anyhow, just my thoughts…but we love to forage!

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  3. Mom on February 2, 2009 at 11:55 am

    We have picked wild black raspberries and elderberries. Now they grow on our property–some wild and some planted by us. I make jelly from both. Dale (your dad) claims the elderberry jelly keeps him from getting colds and the flu. He eats it almost every day.

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  4. Maureen on February 2, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    We spent a summer in Sonoma one year and I LOVED making pies with the blackberries we ‘stole’ from alongside the road….everywhere. I didn’t think to ask because it was obvious no one would care…the berries were prolific and delicious and I SO wish they grew in our valley heat!

    Ps. I am glad no one yelled at me tho….I would’ve never gone back :(

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  5. Mangochild on February 3, 2009 at 4:53 am

    I’ve been reading about foraging, but I can’t bring myself to do so, mainly because I worry about (1) not having the experience/knowledge to know what is safe, and (2) thinking that even if I did, there is a decent chance that the area might not be entirely “clean” for eating. I know that isn’t expressed well, but I guess it is directed more to the junk that is often found in areas around here – very few wild-growth areas exist, and those are heavily trampled.
    Now, for something like known kinds of berries, I think I could do that, especially if I had someone experienced with me… I love freshly picked fruit, especially if I’m doing the picking!

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  6. kookster on February 3, 2009 at 10:46 am

    I’ve harvested black walnuts and dandelions. Aside from that I would LOVE the opportunity to learn more about what grows locally that can be eaten.

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  7. Chicago Mike on February 3, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    I heard about the purslane last year and had a bumper crpp of it at one point. I tried some at it was, shall we say, not so good. Anyone with serving ideas for purslane should chime in.

    Also, I forage sometimes, mostly berries on the paths (official and unofficial) surrounding a historic trout farm in our area. I have also foraged apples and even some grapes from FPDs. Wish I knew more about mushrooms. I see them all the time, but they always look like deathcaps to me. :)

    Chicago Mike

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  8. Chicago Mike on February 3, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Does road kill count?

    (not a suggestion or memory, just curious. :)

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  9. Susy on February 3, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I had some last year and I just mixed it in with salad, didn’t notice it.

    Reply to Susy's comment

  10. Susy on February 3, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Judy: I’ve always wanted to find wild asparagus. I need to read up on it a little more and keep an eye out for it when I got on walks. I’d love to find some.

    Mangochild: you should check around and see if there are local foraging classes. We have some in our area.

    Kookster: I forgot to mention that we also gathered nuts, chestnuts, black walnuts, and hickory nuts.

    Chicago Mike: we only pick the mushrooms we absolutely know, like morels. And yes, if you’re brave enough to pick up & eat roadkill, it counts!

    Reply to Susy's comment

  11. Jesse on February 8, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    My yard is filled with purslane, but I’ve always been timid about trying it. What’s the verdict – is it delicious? Is it worth trying?

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  12. Susy on February 8, 2009 at 2:56 pm


    When I had purslane I just added it to some salad. Mike said he didn’t like it at all, I didn’t really notice. Some people love it so much they grow it as a crop.

    Here is a link with a bunch of recipes for it.

    You’ll have to give it a shot this summer and let us know what you think.

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  13. Shreela on February 13, 2009 at 11:33 am

    We pick lots of blackberries because they’re hubby’s fav berry now. I live next door to the field that was behind my girlhood backyard, and knew there used to be blackberries there, but didn’t remember them until my knee recovered enough to take the dog for walks in the field because he refused to potty in the backyard after our other dog died. So I saw the ripening berries and picked a few handfuls.

    Hubby’s been going out there every year since I showed him what the brambles looked like, and even found a few more patches in other fields around here. But I’ve been wanting to buy a blackberry bush ever since he had to fight off a water moccassin with my cane (we started using my old cane to pick the mulberries from the same field, which he doesn’t like because they’re hard to destem).

    I have what might be purslane in my yard, but I’m waiting till they grow again to make certain that it’s not actually spurge (milky sap).

    Have you seen this EatTheWeeds’s movies? I might actually try some more because of the way he teaches how to make certain a wild edible is actually the correct wild edible:

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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