Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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First, Fred laid out with the three golden rules of foraging, namely:
Foraging in the winter will give you winter greens. Lots. And mushrooms if it rains but for that you need to find the Mycological Society of San Francisco.
A few feet away from our group, Fred showed a lush green dirt mound.
Without knowing it, we had four edible greens at our feet: oxallis (tastes lemony, the thing that people hate in their backyards), stinging nettles (that Irish people make into ale), chickweed (lush and succulent leaves, blood purifier, great in salad with a mild grassy taste) and Good King Henry (same family as quinoa, diamond-shaped serrated leaves).
Fred’s walks are not just botanical excursions. He’ll tell you cultural anecdotes on plant uses through the ages, he’ll describe how California Ohlones used plants as medicines, he’ll share his philosophical thoughts and culinary tips with a zest of humor. “People remove plants that want to live to plant plants that want to die,” he said and it’s true. Landscaped gardens rarely pay attention the local flora.
Speaking with the ardor of a gourmet stomach, Fred showed us the heart-shaped young leaf and the blooming adult leaf, raving on what a delicious salad they make with mozzarella, olive oil and sea salt. We all nodded.
The rest of the walk included some great discoveries like wild sorrel (sorrel’s cousin from the hills, full of oxallic acid, lemony taste), mellow (slimy texture similar to okra once cooked), dandelion (leaves are edible, root can be roasted to make coffee substitute called chicoree), more miner’s lettuce, nasturtium (whose seeds you can pickle like capers, or whose leaves you can eat, spicy taste like wasabi) and even this bleuet mushroom with a lilac stem (good butter & garlic fry).
Concerning mushrooms, Fred reinforced the fact that you have to be absolutely 100% positive about them. Further down the slope we found some strong smelling wild onions (taste like chive and earth), wild radish (described as prime yummy spring green by Fred), poke salad (berries toxic, root extract used to fight breast cancer, spring shoots edible), acacia (flowers are edible and taste like honey), plantain (seeds very high in proteins) and my favorite of all, the salt bush that tastes like salt.
The silvery leaves tasted so good that I came back later to pick some more for my dinner salad. It reminded me of glasswort (otherwise known as salicornia), this crunchy salty succulent that grows in salt marshes and that I used to pick in Gruissan in the south of France.
The walk was nearing its end and we were in for a surprise. We sat around a picnic table by the windmill and Fred brought out of his car a pot full of sauteed wild greens, pita bread, oxallis memonade (hot and cold), and tabouleh with wild greens. I was not particularly hungry but I came back for more than seconds of the delicious sauteed wild greens. Graciously, Fred handed us a recipe list, a plant list and book references. Sadly it seems there are no proper websites about Bay Area edible wild foods. Too bad, someone should do it. I’d use it!
As Fred said, I wouldn’t rely on wild foods for everything I eat but it’s a great reminder of nature’s bounty and hiddden treasures. Got to find that salt bush and NZ spinach again!
For more info: forageSF’s Underground Market will be held on January 28, 2010 from 5-11pm at 199 Capp Street and you can check the next guided forages schedule & tickets here.