I have discovered something blander than celery (and no, it's not one of these blogs)
Happy family foraging! Today, my mom, dad and sister, Madeleine, reluctantly tagged along to judge whether my foraging pursuits were actually legitimate. There are a lot of doubters when it comes to the foraging community.
We returned to the original spot, Kletzsch Park, which I had visited on my first adventure. I assume my family was expecting a banquet of free food to pick from the trees and bushes, because when we arrived they didn’t seem too impressed.
“Isn’t this all just grass?” my sister asked me. Before going off on a rant about how she could even dare to call this “just grass,” I had to remind myself that I was in the same position just a few weeks ago. So instead, I regained my composure, walked over to a “grass-looking” plant and proceeded to dig it out with my fingers.
Indeed, my gut was right, because between my two fingers was a tiny blade of “grass” protruding from a cute little white bulb. “This, my friends, is Allium canadense,” I proudly announced, making sure to clearly enunciate its intimidating Latin name. “Or perhaps for you imbeciles, I should call it wild garlic.” I didn’t actually say the second part; instead, I brought it to them and allowed them to smell it. “Wow, is that garlic?!” my mom asked in surprise. I went on to explain how native wild garlic and field garlic are both quite prevalent throughout most of the country and are very edible!
Now all of a sudden, the riverbank seemed like a whole new place. We spread out and began picking out wild garlic one by one, once again making sure to only take our fair share (the odds that some other crazy dude is also foraging for Allium canadense on a riverside at Kletzsch Park are extremely slim, but it doesn’t hurt to play it safe).
It turns out that we were so occupied picking garlic that it wasn’t until we stopped for a break that I noticed the large green plant clusters coating the hillside above. “Ramps!” I shrieked. I scrambled over to one of the clusters, probably to the complete bewilderment of my family, and excitedly reached into the soil with my pocketknife and sliced off a singular leaf. Sure enough, it was wild leek, or “ramp” as they say.
The pungent oniony-garlicky fragrance was undeniable. Because I had harvested a few baby ones a few weeks ago, I didn’t hesitate to take a bite. [Also just to address any concerns, a bit of soil on a plant won’t kill you; in fact it’s a good thing to digest some healthy microbes into your system every once in a while. However, it’s still good to wash a wild edible in a nearby stream or in your sink at home before using it in a meal, because it definitely tastes better that way.] Some people like to dig ramps up, but all we did was cut the leaves off right above the bulb. Not only was it more efficient, but also doing this would allow the leeks to regenerate faster the following year. In no time, our bag was packed to the brim with fresh wild leek and garlic.
We finished off our excursion by digging out milk thistles (yes, you heard me correctly, thistles). Thistles have had a bad rap for a long time. They loom in forests, roadsides, gardens and backyards whether we like it or not. Most people have brushed up against one at some point in their life, and if they’re really unlucky it was with their foot. Gardeners hate them, my mom hates them, I hate them and even rabbits and deer hate them. But good ol’ Sam Thayer doesn’t seem to mind them. According to Sam, thistles can be eaten with caution just like any other thorny weed you encounter such as dandelion greens. So to my parents' complete horror, I unearthed a monstrous thistle cluster (with gloves of course), and plopped it in the bag with a smile.
But we weren’t done there. Like I’ve said in my previous blog post, foraging does not dismiss washing, leaching, winnowing, parching, shelling, canning, drying, pickling, or whatever preparation methods one uses after harvesting a wild plant. So back at home, we sat outside for a few hours scrubbing our leeks and garlic.
As for the thistles. I spent at least an hour meticulously stripping off the leaves from the “midrib” (the light green vein/stalk of the leaf). One could attempt to strip each individual spine off, but Sam Thayer claims that you would likely “die of old age first.” So what I was left with was a pile of thin stalks which I washed to get rid of any excess dirt.
My first thought after taking a nibble was that of bland celery (which I guess is pretty bland to start off with). It felt very satisfying to finally eat the final product after hours of hard work. However, in the case of thistles, I have reached the conclusion that one should only resort to these mighty beasts if they are truly desperate and willing to invest a substantial amount of labor for meager returns.
With that, I’ll sign off for the day.
Wild garlic/onion - Allium canadense
Wild leek/ramp - Allium tricoccum
Wild carrot - Daucus carota
Thistle - Cirsium spp.
White spruce - Picea glauca
Eastern white pine - Pinus strobus