By : Amelia Young
3 min read
I have a plant hospital. It's all the shaggy ones I keep in my room for "intensive care," but really because I was told they look too dead for the common areas. Apparently, zone-appropriate herbs like rosemary and thyme expect winter to come and don't enjoy the jungle conditions of a heated apartment. And "perrenial" doesn't mean "producing all the time." It's a learning process.
I work a lot with found materials, and am a longtime scavenger of curbside furniture and hardware. It occurred to me, maybe I'd enjoy finding edible plants more than growing them.
My friend Steve Kerr forages a lot. I asked him for advice on collecting in March, and he shared three of his favorites:
Blue violet (Viola sororia) - tender greens and flowers edible raw, and delicious fried. Common, easily identifiable.
Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) - one of my favorites. Edible raw or cooked, gets very crispy and has a lemony zing. Quite common in disturbed areas such as abandoned lots or in-between areas around cities.
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) - a hugely invasive early spring biennial, found either as ground cover (which can persist year round) or the flowering stalk. All parts edible, tender parts preferable but generally the whole thing stays tender. The shoots and young greens are best, most tender. Has a pungency some people compare to garlic. I find it has a sharper, more citrusy taste than garlic.
[All images are from the United States Department of Agriculture website: https://www.usda.gov/]
The thing to keep in mind with foraging greens is that it isn't simply a game of eating marginally edible things - these foods can be as good as and better than most grocery greens. It is a matter of finding them in their most tender state - what's called meristematic. That's when the leaf, stalk, or shoot has an elastic stretch to it if you pull it gently between two hands.
This applies to the three I mentioned, and basically every edible green.
Steve's foraging work can be seen here: https://www.instagram.com/northeastwildfood/
Additional foraging resources:
Boston Mycological Club, local mushroom walks and talks: https://bostonmycologicalclub.org/
Alexis Nikole makes amazing videos about foraging, as well as its racial and historical significance: @blackforager (Instagram), @alexisnikole (TikTok)
Native Plant Trust: https://www.nativeplanttrust.org/
Foraging is one of the oldest human activities. As COVID continues to beat up our social lives, going on a gathering walk could be a great way to meet new people safely, get outside, and (forgive me) connect with our roots.
* Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #144 March 2022
Check out all the art and columns of March's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass