If your lawn looks anything like mine, you might want to try the latest incarnation of politically correct eating. Foraging for weeds and wild plants might sound survivalist, but like rooftop vegetable gardens and suburban chicken coops, it’s becoming positively trendy. Last year I sampled my first weed – some Yellow Wood Sorrel. It looks a little like clover, and has a lemony taste. So this year I tried some dandelions, which are supposed to be an Italian delicacy in salads. I apparently waited too long, however, because they’d already gone horribly bitter. At least, that what Wildman Steve Brill says on his helpful website.
Brill is famous around the New York City area for the foraging tours he leads around public parks. In 1986, undercover Park Rangers, using marked bills, surveillance cameras, and walkie-talkies, arrested Brill for munching a dandelion in Central Park. But as he says, they had nothing on him because he had eaten the evidence. In fact, he turned the whole episode around on the Parks Department. The publicity-savvy Brill not only got himself national news coverage but was soon after offered a job as a city naturalist. It lasted four years before he resigned because of what he called a new “anti-environmental” administration. Today Brill is again leading his own weekend nature tours and educational programs for schools.
For those outside the NYC area, the Wildman website offers a wealth of information. And best of all, he’s got a kids’ section (from a book in progress) called Foraging with Children. Here’s what he has to say about the benefits of teaching your kids about wild edible plants:
Foraging is one of the best ways to get children involved with nature and science. People have gathered wild foods for as long as they’ve inhabited the earth. Compared to foraging, agriculture is a comparatively recent technology, and of course processed food is even newer. Curiosity about our surroundings has always been crucial to our survival, and children retain this inborn trait until culture intercedes. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that too much of academic learning and emphasis on standardized tests today is cutting off from experience, but we can still re-awaken our heritage, in our children and ourselves, through hands-on encounters with renewable wild food resources.
Children are enthusiastic collectors. When they come on my field trips they proudly show me bags full of plants, proclaiming: “Look how many wild onions I got,” I’d rather they were saying: “Look how much I learned.” Still, they do learn, especially when they’re having fun.
The pages include photos, descriptions, history, and even stories related to the plant. But be sure to browse through the rest of the site as well. It’s informative and funny. And it just might help you find something for dinner right outside your backdoor.