Don’t spend the effort and time growing what you can easily forage. Many mainstream grocery store foods can be found abundantly in the wild, and once you start looking at specialty greens the numbers go even higher. In the southeast, there are huge brambles of wild blackberries and wild pecan, hickory and black walnut trees. In the northeast there are blueberries, wild strawberries and cranberries. In the west, you’ll find wild plums, hazelnuts and pine nuts.
Burdock, sheep sorrel, purslane, chickory, dandelion, chickweeds, water cress, lamb’s quarters, amaranth, wood sorrel and more are found in pricy lettuce mixes, but are found in lawns and woodland edges and growing as “weeds” in your garden.
With the exception of nuts and wild grains (like wild rice), foraging tends to be a negative calorie effort if you have to go too far to find them, so choose your targets wisely. Some items, like those mesclun lettuce mixes, have a dollar value exceeding their calorie content and also have a high nutritional value.
If a sunny day picking blackberries with the kids doubles as family entertainment, then dragging home buckets and buckets of blackberries to be processed into homemade preserves pays you back again when you aren’t spending $5 for a tiny jar at the store.
Unless it’s a food item with which you are intimately familiar and won’t confuse for anything else (like strawberries), be safe and learn to forage from an experienced local. Of the many books on the subject, the only ones I have found so far to be truly trustworthy and realistic for novice foragers to use are the ones by Samuel Thayer. Forager’s Harvest is most appropriate for those in the northeast and midwest, while Nature’s Garden has plants which cover most of the United States. His books cover not just identification, but preparation as well.
(By Nicole Castle)