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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Summer Foraging and Meeting the Other Expat Foragers in the Neighborhood


In the past, I felt foraging locally was predominantly a winter thing, to the extent that I didn't even offer any foraging classes in the summer, only the winter. Then I started realizing that I could forage year round; I was lucky enough to live in a place where year round foraging is possible, and started teaching classes on that as well.
But though I was teaching in the summer and foraging here and there, I didn't think foraging could be a staple then, to the point of lowering my grocery bills by replacing what I generally buy with foraged plants, as much as it was in the winter. It was more in terms of spices- some seeds, some fruit (many summer ripening fruit here, but not many wild ones, nearly all people's private trees in their yards), some nuts, but not many veggies other than purslane, when I was actually lucky enough to find it.

Slowly but surely, I learned about the edible veggies that can be foraged in the summer, and now I think that with properly planned foraging, I can forage, if not as much as during the winter, close to the amount of veggies I do then, also significantly lowering my produce bill.


My favorite summer vegetable to forage is purslane, as it is easy to use and versatile in the kitchen, but I rarely ever find it where I live, and don't find it where I regularly forage either. That is why I was excited that it is growing in my window boxes. Unexpected, but a blessing.



My second favorite summer forageable vegetable has got to be cactus paddles, as just a few paddles are as satiating in a meal as a giant bunch of greens, that take significantly longer to forage. The downside of them is that you have to deal with the thorns and hope you don't get glochids (the tiny invisible thorns) in your hands and clothes.

But more recently I learned how to identify lambsquarters, which are abundant in the summer (even if there aren't so many in my town), which helped.

Latest of all of my foraging knowledge experimentation has been amaranth. I knew a certain plant that grew all around, especially in the summer, was amaranth. But since none of my local foraging friends were foraging it or even knew of its edibility, and since the first google search that showed up when searching the Latin names of local amaranth species included in the title "amaranth, poisonous plant" I got nervous about eating it for years, despite knowing that there are no poisonous amaranths.
However, recently I did more research and got the guts to forage it and eat it, and I've been enjoying it. And now I discovered that there are foragers here, just ones that I didn't know about, that regularly forage amaranth, which certainly makes me feel better.

Lastly, I've known since I was a kid that grape leaves were edible, and they are abundant around me. However, making stuffed grape leaves is a pain, so it isn't something I do often. However, I recently have been experimenting with grape leaves in other ways, including in a chimichurri sauce, and want to explore it more as a vegetable.

I accidentally left yucca off this list at first, since I haven't foraged any yucca in quite a while, since the local yucca are all trees and the ones here are too high to easily reach their flowers at the top, and I'm not about to climb up something with the name Spanish dagger! But if you have yucca near you that is lower with flowers that can be reached, they are well worth it!

Basically, between all the above, I think I can get a lot of vegetable matter to supplement our diet and lower our grocery bills, even if the variety of forageable vegetables are more limited in the summer here.

So, that in mind, I recently went on a foraging trip around the neighborhood.

First, since my goal was vegetable replacements, I picked a large amount of cactus paddles, in under 5 minutes.

Once I had that, I went to the spot where I last foraged a bunch of white mulberries, and barely managed to find any. Guess other people beat me to them or the tree isn't producing as many now.



I found one lone head of wild allium flowers, which I brought home.



I love garland chrysanthemum but for years I had not seen it locally, and only on rare occasion in the city nearest to my house, so when I found one local plant that popped up a few houses away from my house I was excited, and let it be, hopefully letting it spread further locally. When I passed by it, I saw that it has shriveled up, and I assume the flowers had gone to seed, though I'm not 100% sure what they are supposed to look like. I collected a bunch of these dried up flower heads, and kept 2/3 of them to hopefully sow in my future yard, and the other 1/3 I scattered around the neighborhood, in places where I tend to see wild plants growing.
I also want to grow salsify in my future yard, so I gathered some of those seeds as well. They kind of got mixed together with the garland chrysanthemum seeds.


Ever since I confirmed about the edibility of my local amaranth, I had noticed that one of my neighbor/friend's yard was covered in two types of amaranth, so I knocked on the door and asked her husband if it was ok to pick some weeds from their yard. "Sure, no problem!" he tells me. Then says that, actually, his wife picks some of the weeds there and I should ask her first to make sure it was ok.
Big surprise there! I don't really know any foragers in my neighborhood (other than those that I taught to forage, via my classes); every single person until this point whom I'd asked if they minded my picking the weeds in their yard has been glad for me to pick their bothersome weeds! It was exciting to figure out that this friend was also a forager; I wanted to see which plants it was that she foraged.

Big surprise! This friend says that the plant she forages regularly is actually the very same plant that I'd come to ask if I could pick- the amaranth!
My friend is from Mexico, and said that amaranth greens are one of the staples in Mexican cooking, she tells me. They call it quintonil (pronounced keen-toh-neel), which, I am assuming has the same root word as the Latin American quinoa. That was really cool to learn that, as I'd known about amaranth being a staple crop in India, but never about its use in Latin American cooking!

Even though she forages the quintonil, she was happy for me to pick some- her yard was so full of them -- and she said her kids refuse to eat it anyhow. She just asked that I just pick the leaves off and leave the seed heads behind, since her mom (another neighbor) was planning on collecting the seeds to plant in her yard. As a "by the way" I'd mentioned the seeds being eaten, and my friend had no idea about that! She had heard of the pseudo-grain amaranth, but had no idea that quintonil seeds were amaranth! So I was glad to teach her that.


Discovering a shared passion for foraging with a friend I've had for years is, in a way, like reconnecting with an old friend, having so much to catch up on and talk about! She and I discussed quite a few other goodies you could forage in the neighborhood, including some I knew she knew about, for example cactus paddles, known as nopales in Spanish, and tuna, their prickly pear fruit, and I showed her what I had in my bag, that I'd just foraged. We shared some recipe ideas for them (we both love them in salads).
We then got to verdolagas, aka purslane. She mentioned that she liked it, but didn't see much of it locally, so I offered to transplant some of the purslane seedlings I had in my window box into her yard. Not wanting to have to take care of another plant in her hectic life, she nearly turned down my offer, but upon learning that it is a zero maintenance plant, that it will grow on its own as it is a wild plant, she was happy for me to bring some over.

I had the pleasure of introducing my friend and her husband to two other forageable plants in their yard- a giant caperbush and black nightshade berries.

Last but not least, after I left her house, I collected a bunch of wild mustard stalks, together with their seed pods, and then after stomping on them to break up the pods without touching them, as our local mustard seed pods also have nearly invisible tiny thorns on them, and then sifting, and winnowing, I have a decent amount of black mustard seeds to use in my cooking, but still want to harvest a lot more.


I learned that you can sprout mustard seeds to get a delicious vegetable as well, so that is on my to do list for summer foraging.


I am feeling truly blessed to have so much wild abundance growing all around me year round, even in the summer, and am so glad to have discovered other local foragers! And now, I joked with her, maybe that's why, the one bit of purslane that I had seen growing wild lately, is now gone... Another local forager beat me to it!

What is the prime season where you live for foraging? Summer? Winter? Spring? Fall? In the "off season" is there still what to forage, and if so, what? 
Do you know any other local foragers? Have you ever discovered a mutual passion for foraging after having known someone for many years?

4 comments:

  1. You definitely have some interesting plants there, especially the cactus which I have bought when visiting Mexico. No luck here though. As for the wild grape leaves, they are great in salads when still not fully grown. Also I use them to line baking trays for roasting vegetables instead of aluminum foil, also on the bbq. They give everything a nice flavour. And of course they are very useful in pickling or fermenting cucumbers as they keep everything crunchy. I did a post on my blog about that. Love amaranth too but have not yet managed to use the seeds properly.

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  2. Is this something people go on other people's property and just pick off their plants? Is that legal? Does one have to obtain permission first? I am confused.

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    1. Going on to other peoples property to pick plants without their permission is stealing, and is immoral and illegal. I'm not talking about that. I have a lot of neighbors in my area with overgrown yards and I've knocked on their door and asked permission from them if I can pick their weeds. I've never had anyone turn me down, most were happy for me to do their wedding, and I made new friends that way. The upside of doing that vs just picking wild things is you can be more sure it wasnt sprayed with chemicals that way. But of course, ASK!

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  3. For the cactus paddles, I heard the younger ones don't have the invisible thorns and are a lot less fibrous. :)

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