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.
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.
- Long spoon shaped leaves with wavy/curly margins
- Ocrea present
- Large yellow/orange woody tap root
- Young stems
- Use in the same way you would spinach
- Best results from boiling or sautéing
- Use as cabbage to make dock rolls
- Closely related to Curly Dock
- Leaves usually flatter, shorter and broader
- Edible, although the flavor is not as good as curly dock