I get a lot of questions about why I’m interested in harvesting and eating wild plants, especially since I live in the city. Is it safe? Does it taste good? Is it difficult? Is it time consuming? And does it have anything to do with my work on ChangingAging.org?
I have one answer to all those questions — yes. Foraging is safe and fun, but it can also be challenging and requires a lot of patience to master. In other words, you have to be willing to slow down to enjoy the bounties of the wild.
Foraging, in my opinion, is an activity and skill that can be very beneficial in preparing people for what ChangingAging founder Dr. Bill Thomas calls “life after adulthood”. If there’s one lesson we need to learn to prepare for what comes after adulthood, it’s to SLOW DOWN. In my first blog post referencing wild foraging I cited Tribes of Eden as an inspiration for learning how to “live off the land.” In fact, Tribes of Eden itself is an exploration of how to live a slower, richer life.
Although “slowing down” is often derided as a byproduct of aging, it can also be seen as a developmental process that opens the way to a deeper, richer, slower way of living. This means setting aside the ordinary adult bias in favor “doing more, better, faster!” and exploring some of the “slow” movements that are becoming increasingly popular in America and around the world, including the “slow food” movement.
Simply put, slow food is the opposite of “fast food”. It’s a global movement sparked by the explosive growth of fast food and the destruction of local food sources and traditions. Local slow food groups work to preserve and promote local foods, flavors and cuisines based on their regional ecosystem. Your farmers’ market and local winery is part of the slow food movement, and so is your local forager.
Wild foraging is not only safe and enormously healthy, it’s becoming increasingly popular. Foraging tours and clubs are popping up everywhere and just about any fancy restaurant now prominently features locally-foraged wild plants on their menu. Wild edibles can be found in the woods and city parks and are highly nutritious, full of fiber, antioxidants and minerals and many possess strong medicinal qualities. Best of all, they’re free and readably available, if you know where and when to look.
Of course, you can’t just start blundering around eating wild plants willy-nilly. Although there are few truly lethal poisonous plants, many can be toxic if you eat the wrong part or prepare it incorrectly (which also applies to domestic plants like tomatoes, potatoes and rhubarb). It takes hard work and patience to develop the expertise to locate and correctly identify edible plants. It requires you to slow down.
Below is a video featuring foraging expert Leda Meredith on the Burdock, one of the most plentiful, tastiest, nutritious and medicinally beneficial wild edibles available. You can find it nearly anywhere in the U.S. outside of the deep South. If you ever took a walk in the woods and came home covered with “burrs”, you encountered the Burdock without even noticing.
Burdock root is a popular food in Japan, and can even be found in Asian markets as Gobo. The second-year shoots of the plant also make a delicious addition to stir fries. Burdock root teas, tinctures and leaf poultices have long been a panacea for chronic digestive and skin problems.
In the first year burdock puts up leaves in a basil pattern. You want the roots from the first year plant or in the spring of their second year. Once they put up stems in the second year all the energy goes into the seeds and the roots shrivel up.
You can pickle and dry the roots or eat them steamed, stir-fried, or added to soups and stews, or used in other root recipes, such as those calling for rutabagas, celeriac, turnips, etc.
Burdock recipes (from the Moscow Food Coop):
Spring Tonic Tea
Combine dried burdock root with dried dandelion root, dried red clover blossoms, and dried peppermint. Add 1 cup boiling water to 1 tsp. dried root mix. Steep covered 1/2 hour.
Hiroko’s Kimpira Gobo (Stir-Fried Burdock And Carrots With Sesame And Soy) (Adapted from Conscious Choice Web site)
2 cups prepared burdock
2 cups prepared carrots
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsps. sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
- Prepare the burdock and carrots in the same way, by washing and scraping the outer skin (don’t peel), then cut into matchstick-sized pieces. As you’re cutting the burdock, throw the pieces into a bowl of cold water to prevent them from turning brown in the air.
- In a large skillet or wok, heat the vegetable oil and sesame oil together. When it’s hot, sprinkle in the sesame seeds and cook, stirring, for about a minute.
- Drain the burdock and add it and the carrots to the pan. Cook and stir over medium-high heat for about five to seven minutes.
- Add soy sauce and continue stir-frying for about ten minutes. The burdock will change color from milky white to shiny gray/brown. It will be crisp, crunchy, earthy, and delicious.
Not Just a One-Post Wonder… Read More Posts by Kavan Peterson, Editor, ChangingAging.org