Sustainable Foraging Practices in Western Mass: What to Look For
“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Now that you've read a little about sustainable foraging and what that means to us, you might be wondering which plants are edible and abundant enough to responsibly forage in the area. Well, you're in luck! With his many years of experience, our trusty and knowledgeable guide, Zhem, knows what's out there, where to find it, and most importantly, how to use it. See his list below.
But! Before you dive in and head out on foraging expeditions of your own, there are a few things to keep in mind. Responsible foraging means being mindful and gentle with the many non-invasive species and the wildlife that depend on them...but it also means being mindful of yourself and others. If you're new to foraging, we strongly suggest that you go out with a guide who is familiar with the area and the regional plants. Not only will they be able to help you with accurately identifying plants and how to properly consume them, but they can also help you steer clear of private properties and areas that may have already been over-foraged.
Dandelion buds, young leaves, and flower petals (the fuzzy yellow stuff) make excellent sauteed greens. The roots of dandelion can be gently washed, and then laid out on a baking pan and roasted at 200°-250° for several hours, then used as a non-caffeinated drink by running the dried toasted roots through a coffee grinder and making tea with them. The whole plant can be pickled, too - delicious on salads or alone as a tangy snack!
Japanese Knotweed is highly invasive. Help nature and your nearby waterway, by breaking off the new shoots (less than 10" tall, and with the tiniest of leaves beginning), which look like red asparagus. They should be steamed or fried for 25-30 minutes, and taste sort of like a cross between okra and rhubarb. They become bitter and acidic as they age, so get them young. If your patch of them has gotten too tall, do not worry. Lop them all off at ground level and let the plant send out new shoots. Do this long enough, and eat more of it, and eventually you will kill one clump at a time of this noxious invasive. Medicinally, Japanese knotweed is an adaptogen.
Sheep Sorrel is good in salads, or as a cooked spinach-like tart green. It is one of those stringy plants that takes over a sandy depleted spot in many yards which are depleted and harboring broad leaf.
Day Lilies, though pretty and fragrant, are somewhat invasive in damp shaded places, and we often see them roadside crowding out of gardens. The flower bud, open flower, and day-after closed flower are all a great somewhat-spicy edible which are good in soups, used as fritters, or just eaten raw. It does no harm to the plant to take the buds, as nature usually doubles output when plucked early. Once it has bloomed, day lilies are free for the taking, as they only show a single day. The open flowers make a great garnish in salads and on any plate.
Young Stinging Nettles are a good iron and blood builder, as a steamed green. Careful when you pull out or clip the young shoots (to around a foot tall) or clip the leaves (any age of the plants), so as not to brush against. Though the sting is painful and itchy for several hours, stinging nettle is good as a medicinal for rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain, and inflammation. It is also a very tasty green when steamed for 20 minutes. When steaming, be sure that all plant matter gets steamed, and no raw material is eaten.
Field Mustard is only good when very young as a steamed or sauteed green. As it ages, it becomes tough and very bitter. The flower tops may also be used to make a poultice to aide in healing from an insect sting or bite.
Lambs Quarters or Pigweed are an excellent, more nutritious substitute for spinach. They are also much cheaper, and are usually an invasive on farms and CSA's, as they quickly crowd out the composted manure piles and run rampant in good soil. They can be eaten raw in salads, but they are best steamed or sauteed with butter. All parts of the plant above ground can be eaten. Try it as a light and delicious side this season. Also a great side, Garlic Mustard, which grows roadside and is highly invasive. The leaves and young shoots make a great steamed or sauteed green.
This list while not exhaustive is a great start for anyone looking for wonderful edible and medicinal plants in the area. We hope that it helps you have safe, fun, and tasty outings this spring!