Foraging for Wild Foods—Responsibly

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I don’t forage often for wild food–yet. But I’m eagerly reading Samuel Thayer’s new guide, Nature’s Garden, which is fantastic, and I was delighted to find a great in-depth essay called “The Value of Wild Plants” in the latest issue of The Art of Eating.

Writer Melissa Pasanen heads out on the hunt with Les Hook and Nova Kim, a pair of professional wild food foragers in Vermont. If you want to read the whole story, you’ll have to get your paws on a print copy–a luxurious, lovely print copy–of The Art of Eating. The piece is so packed with interesting observations, however, that I wanted to share a few of my favorites here:

Hook and Kim’s philosophy includes dining on invasive species–using them “out of existence” instead of killing or poisoning them. “One spring vegetable they have been doggedly marking is something they call red asparagus,” Pasanen writes. “Actually, it’s Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), an invasive species that threatens to choke our native plants along river and stream banks.” (In this particular case, Pasanen is not a fan of the flavor, describing it as “the bastard child of rhubarb and okra”.)

Also intriguing: “Much of what we consider wild today was brought here by European settlers and is more accurately called ‘escaped,’ ” Pasanen writes. Some of the most recognizable “wild” foods, such as watercress and daylilies, fall into this category.

And, finally, the essay provides a fascinating peek into the stewardship of professional foragers–as compared to that of moonlighters, often in it for the money. Hook and Kim take only what they need, harvest so as to not harm plants, and always leave some food behind. They charge a correspondingly premium price for their foods.

As Hook quips to Pasanen: “I tell chefs: ‘You’re not paying for the mushrooms we bring you, but for the mushrooms we leave in the woods.’ “

Source: The Art of Eating

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