How to find your way around your neighborhood
PopSci spends the month of September relearning to eat. As intuitive as our love of consumption is, there is a lot between us and optimal nutrition. This month we’ll be breaking food myths, unlocking delicious cooking tips, and exploring our most common misconceptions about our food.
There are 300,000 species of edible plants that you can find outdoors, in parks and around your home. They are free, they can be delicious and most importantly they are filling.
But when it comes to foraging, not all plants are created equal. Don’t worry, just by following a few rules, you can enjoy this nutrient abundance without getting sick (or worse).
Find yourself a local guide
It is not always easy to tell the difference between the Star of Bethlehem and wild garlic. That’s why you need someone like Violet Brill, a high school student who organizes foraging tours in the New York City area. His father, “Wildman” Steve Brill, an avid forager and author, has been leading tours since the 1980s, and Violet joined him as a guide at the age of nine. In this particular case, she advises you to smell the two plants to tell the difference between them. Wild garlic has a strong garlic scent, while the potentially deadly Star of Bethlehem does not.
[Related: You can taste garlic with your feet]
Not only can different species look the same, the same species can look different depending on where you are. This is why it is crucial to learn from a guide who is familiar with your area. For example, “Green Deane” Jordan, a Florida-based picker, says the dandelions he grew up with in Maine appear distinct from those he occasionally finds in Florida.
Find a safe place
Having food available to you in public places doesn’t mean it’s free, at least by law. This is why it is important to check the foraging laws in your area.
While New York City’s parks have alternately increased and slowed down enforcement of park regulations over the years, Brill has been able to feed himself consistently, with the exception of his famous arrest in 1986 at Central Park for harvesting dandelions and a few other edible plants. Brill says the parks department dropped the charges and hired him to lead foraging tours for the next four years. No one has stopped him since.
But regardless of the foraging rules in your area, one principle applies every time, no matter where you are: do not search for food on private property unless you have the explicit consent of the owner. property owner. This is especially important in states with strict trespassing laws, such as Texas and North Carolina.
Keep an eye out for other signs that someone has sprayed pesticides on plants, such as a physical sign or a well-manicured lawn. Don’t eat anything yellowish, withered, or unhealthy looking, as this could also be a sign of toxic chemicals.
You should also avoid looking for food within 50 feet of traffic, as they tend to be more contaminated than more isolated areas. Jordan says being aware of safe places to eat makes pollution personal. “It’s disheartening to see a persimmon full of fruit that you can’t eat because it’s near and down the highway.”
Now for the fun part, choose your non-toxic edible plants. As with all outdoor adventures, travel with a friend or at least tell someone where you are going and when you will be back. There are many invasive edible plants and weeds, such as knotweed and pokeweed. It’s a good idea to focus on them to reduce your impact on the green neighborhood.
[Related: A quarter of new invasive species were spotted by everyday citizen-scientists]
When you spot something of interest, simply choose the renewable parts of the plant, like leaves and berries, instead of pulling it out by the roots. As you go, transport the mushrooms in paper bags and store the greens in plastic bags, possibly with a spray of water so that they do not wilt.
When you get home, Violet Brill recommends checking your found products against a trusted book or website before you start preparing them. Some research will also tell you whether you need to boil or roast the species you’ve collected to remove toxins. There are dozens of relevant cookbooks (including that by Steve Brill The wild vegan cookbook) who can help you with this task. If you want to keep it simple, you can also use your wild food as a substitute for something else in your favorite dish.
While fresh greens are probably best eaten in a few days, if you want to keep them longer, you can blanch them before putting them in the freezer. This will keep them looking green and tasty. You can also extend the life of your mushrooms for up to twelve months by freezing them. All over the world, people have come up with many ways to preserve their food for the long term, from fermenting and drying to salting and even canning. A greater variety of fruits and vegetables only means that you have more food to experiment with.