(Pictured above-some delicious foraged wild perennial edibles here in Chicago!:)...
I know the feeling...the exciting one you get when walking through the woods and someone says-hey, you can eat this! I also know the feeling of looking at say, Ductifera pululahuana on a
log and thinking...say whaaaa? I'm suppose to eat this? And if we're adventurous enough to take some home to try, it sits... and it sits, not knowing what or how to use and enjoy it. I know the feeling. I also know the feeling of finding different sources say that plant "x" is edible while others say it's not. Ductifera pululahuana for instance is not considered an "of choice" mushroom like morels. Some sources even claim they are inedible. I was lucky to have found these with my Chinese and Lithuanian friends and after some extensive research into the fungus, proper ID and cross reference between the three of us...I boiled it, made a sweet soup and ate it. It was delicious, and different to my palate, however, this mushroom is a common item in Chinese soups and is also noted to be supportive in female health. Knowing this history gave me more confidence to eat it traditionally sweet rather than savory. It has the taste of rain + minerals mixed with a delicious sweetness of the broth.
After this mushroom experience I realized that there is a process of trusting and intuitively saying yes and building a relationship with a plant or fungus. I'm also super happy to let you know that it's ok to be unsure, and with time and practice you will become more and more familiar with perennial wild plants so that you too can confidently prepare and enjoy these plants, fungi, and mosses.
In todays post, I'm here to share with you my triple check when foraging for wild edibles. Much like the 3 object/composition rule in visual art (photos, paintings and just about most works especially in the Renaissance has an "intuitive" and designed method of composing pleasing visuals in 2D using objects in 3's/triangle composition), we are going to use 3 checks when building a relationship to perennial wild edibles.
1. References, References, References...
So, perhaps obvious, but seriously 3 references, ALL matching up (if not more). What does this include? Perhaps an experienced forager (especially with mushrooms)- believe me, they're out there:) and typically happy to help, plant ID books (at least 2-3 books on their own), internet is last resort to triple confirm your triple confirmations. Like I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of sources online, some unfortunately not speaking from personal experience, but reiterating from another source. I say, if they haven't eaten it, count it as a grain of salt:)?
This part of the triple check typically happens before a forage. Purchase or check out from your local library some ID-ing books within your region. If you're here in the Midwest, I often scroll through the pages of:
-Sam Thayer's The Foragers Harvest
-Lisa Rose's Midwest Foraging
-Tarersa Marrone's Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest
(And ps...I'm not getting paid to promote any of these folks, literally what I use in life. I found these books to be the most helpful when getting started!)
(Ripening May Apples and Flowering Cilantro)...
2. Meeting and Greeting... 3x...
Living in a "first world," bustling urban city, sprawling with a variety of grocery stores (in more affluent communities), fast food joints, corner shops, community gardens, and tamale stands, it's not terribly difficult to find food. We are definitely not relying on wild foods as our main source of calories, so foraging in a way can be seen as a great past time for rich folks and a waste of time for everyone else. However, I'd like to invite each and everyone of you, wether you have foraged before or not, to consider, that no matter how technologically advanced we become as a society, we remain a part of this earth...and we will always need to eat in order to grow. I'd like to dive a bit deeper in saying that we need to eat biodiverse, nutrient rich foods everyday in order to develop into thriving creatures. Wild, perennial foods can do just that. And just as we know we can eat flaming hot Cheetos, corn, steak, carrots, and chocolate, we can also develop this type of intimacy while in the woods or on city blocks with our wild perennial friends.
But how do we develop this intimacy? Well, first a short backstory:
I started foraging three years ago, why? Because I intuitively and then mentally knew that I needed to eat better foods, from the earth, and with a tight budget. For me, foraged foods is a humble "people's food." It belongs to all of us and intuitively we know what we can and cannot eat. Mentally, we do not. Most of the time (if not all the time!...) we need some guidance into remembering and tapping into this intuition outside of the books and foraging experts.
I've found the best way in remembering is through developing a relationship with the plant.
For me, it's no longer enough for someone to say; "hey, you can eat this," and then I pop it into my mouth. I live with food allergies and numerous sensitivities that can drive my endocrine system out of whack. I also understand that we do act with trust when it comes to food nearly every day (and I have lived this way since I was a child!). But doing so often corresponds to not taking responsibility as to where our food comes from. Eating out and buying food from the store is amazing, and a luxury all in one. But we learn how to shop, how to cook, how to prep. We watch, we listen, we taste.
Alternatively, growing a plant, visiting her daily or even weekly is developing a relationship. Nurturing a relationship with a plant is literally as simple as visiting her, talking to her, and taking a moment to feel what you feel when you are around her. Ask the plant if she can be eaten. And know that even if it is a morel, and your brain says yes, but your intuition for some reason says "no," it is OK. Listen. Respect the NO and visit again another day and ask why? The reason will become clear. Respect the NO. Honor the space and relationship.
So, rule #2 is indeed, visit the plant at least 3x, preferably 3 different times of day, 3 different seasons, and for 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, 3 years, until you hear an intuitive YES. I promise, once you hear the YES, you have made a friend for life and will be nourished for years to come. <3
(Aza enjoying her new plant allies)
3. Mix and Match Cross Reference...
So, you've ID the plant at hand through 3 different reference books (and perhaps people) 3 different times. You visited the plant on 3 separate occasions, building up an intimate relationship with your new plant ally and felt an intuitive YES! Awesome! If you are still even in the slightest bit still a possible question mark, revisit those references and fine tune your search. Check. Now look and see if you can find some yummy references as how to cook your and consume your new plant ally! Check. Share with someone your wild food adventure and enjoy! You've made a new friend, reestablished your trust within yourself and the earth, AND get to enjoy an extra delicious wild perennial food!!!! <3 Win, win, win! <3
3x Rule for any uncertainty or unfamiliarity
Respect the NO, trust the intuitive YES
Have fun, and if you're ever looking for a cross reference, feel free to send photos and questions to me:) <3
Yours truly in reconnecting and respecting,
Nina from loveren collections