Urban Wild Foods

Thanks to everyone who attended last week’s Urban Wild Foods workshop, and mega thanks to our great facilitator, Katy Harding!   Katy has kindly given me permission to reproduce some of her information here, so you can still get some great wild food info, even if you missed the workshop.  As well, Katy may do another wild foods workshop later in the summer, and will be teaching a wild e other chances to learn from her.

Katy started us off by emphasizing the importance of safety and research, and I thought that would be a good area for us to start by taking a look at as well.  Here are her criteria for the qualities you should be looking for in a plant before you eat it:

  • Plants you are 100% sure about:  It’s important to be quadruple sure about your plant identification before you start noshing.  Make sure you’re familiar with the plant at every stage of its life, aware of any poisonous doppelgangers it may have (i.e. the picture to the left is  poisonous Bindweed, not the similar looking delicious Sheep Sorrel!), and that there’s no doubt in your mind about the identification.  Don’t rely on an unclear memory, a friend’s guess, a blurry guidebook photo, or a dodgy website:  confirm your ID with numerous sources before you snack!
  • Plants found in an area you know is free of pesticides, other chemicals, or wastes:  If you’ve seen someone spraying pesticides on a garden (or aren’t sure of the organic status of it) or you’ve noticed that an awful lot of dogs walk by past a certain area, don’t harvest from there!
  • Healthy, disease-free plants:  The city is full of dandelions — don’t eat the droopy, blotchy ones you find first when there are perfectly delicious specimens half a block down the road!
  • Vigorous, well watered young plants:  Generally, eating an older plant or a less well nourished plant isn’t going to hurt you, but it will disappoint you and dampen your enthusiasm for snacking on wild foods.   Just like you wouldn’t eat a plant from your garden that had bolted and become bitter, be choosy about your wild edibles.

Sorry about the picture quality — our straw bale building is a great place to learn but a terrible one to photograph!

We covered a lot of ground in the workshop, learning about Dandelion, Hairy Cat’s Ear (best named plant ever!), English Daisy, Sheep Sorrel / Wood Sorrel, Dock, Chickweed, Pineapple Weed, Stinging Nettle, and Highland Cress.   For each, we learned about the appearance, characteristics, best recipes/uses, and common lookalikes.  Katy even brought in samples of each plant and its doppelgangers, so we got to see, touch, smell and sometimes taste them, which was a great way to learn.  It’s one thing to see a plant in a guidebook and quite another to get to manhandle it in person, and it really makes a difference for your confidence level in doing plant IDs.

While we don’t have space here to reproduce the full amount of information in the workshop, I thought it would be great to include a profile of one edible plant from Katy’s slides.  I chose Curly Dock, as it’s quite easy to find and doesn’t seem to be commonly known as an edible weed (I certainly had no idea you could eat it until the workshop).
Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) is a perennial herb ~1m tall
ID characteristics:
  • Long spoon shaped leaves with wavy/curly margins
  • Ocrea present
  • Large yellow/orange woody tap root
Edible areas:
  • Leaves
  • Young stems
  • Seeds
Uses:
  • Use in the same way you would spinach
  • Best results from boiling or sautéing
  • Use as cabbage to make dock rolls

Lookalikes:  Broadleafed Dock (Rumex obtusifolius)

  • Closely related to Curly Dock
  • Leaves usually flatter, shorter and broader
  • Edible, although the flavor is not as good as curly dock
I hope you enjoyed that peek at the workshop, and that you’ll feel intrigued enough to start researching wild edibles for yourself!  I found that in the days following the workshop I was checking out all the plants around me way more attentively, and I noticed lots of edible plants that I otherwise would have completely missed.
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