COLDEN , NY-A simple nature walk can provide us with so much. It brings peace to the soul, quiets the mind, and If done with knowledge and respect it can also supply sustenance for the body. The fields and forests around Western New York are already ripe with plants that can be harvested and made into a nutritious meal.
The first rule of foraging however, is to know what you are gathering. Eating the wrong plant can have serious consequences. Sandy Geffner of Earth Spirit Educational Services cautions." Just as these plants will feed us and heal us, they can also obviously hurt us. We have to be schooled properly, we have to take the time and energy and prepare ourselves for this kind of work."
The neophyte forager may want to begin by working with a guide, someone skilled in identifying plants. Field guides are also helpful, and there's also a wealth of knowledge in books and the internet, and again, proper identification is critical. Once the proper knowledge is attained, Geffner says the earth opens up like a green buffet. " It's a gradual process, but that's the fun of it, that's the point of it, to put in the time and energy so that you have a sense of comfort in what you're doing."
It's amazing what you can eat if you know what to look for... even the most common plants can provide a delicious meal. The Common Dandelion is found almost everywhere. The leaves are delicious on their own or in a salad and the flowers are tasty too. Scott Lembitz of Earth Spirit explains." What we would do with this is we would simply harvest the flower , and it's always important to share our thanks, and dip that flower head in batter, and take that in and fry that up in olive oil till it's golden , and then dip that in your favorite dip ! Doesn't matter what you like. If you're a bleu cheese lover or a hummus muncher, you name it. That'll be a fine accompaniment to this delicious dandelion ! "
Another common WNY plant is the Trout Lily. The speckled green leaves taste like fresh peas, and the caution here is not to over harvest mature plants, says Lembitz." When we find these beautiful yellow blossoms, it's taken this plant a great deal of time to produce the flowers, so being respectful is also an aspect of our harvest, being respectful not to take the older plants."
Plants are not the only edibles in the forest. The Black Willow is a tree whose leaves are edible, and has medicinal qualities as well. " We also harvest the bark in early Spring, and the bark contains the compound salacen, and salacen is a natural aspirin, and is still used to produce the semi syntheticly produced aspirin." Geffner says." It was patented in 1899 by the Bayer Company, and so actually if one has a headache or pain or fever, we can actually chew an appropriate sized branch and extract that salacen, and it's just like eating natural aspirin."
Geffner says that learning how to forage for wild foods goes well beyond just digging up a good healthy meal. The knowledge gained can be a lifelong companion. " Once you integrate this kind of food into your daily diet if you will, you've made a friend for life, and you will remember those plants, and you can continue to experiment with those plants, gently and carefully."
Earth Spirit offers programs on foraging and much more. For more information, visit their website at www.earthspiritedu.org