I have a vegetable garden that always throws out odd mystery greens so a few years ago I decided to figure out exactly what they were. Among the other “weeds,” there was purslane and garlic mustard and mallow. And they were all edible.
I bought a few reference books, waded through the Ontario weed database and learned more about dandelions than I thought possible. The plant that provides more than your day’s requirement of Vitamins A and K is the same one that people curse and rip out of their gardens and the one that is offered at grocery stores for $3.99/kg (which leads me to daydream about someday cornering the lucrative dandelion market).
Last year I went on plant walks with Amber Westfall of The Wild Garden and learned even more, like what I’d always called creeping Charlie is also called gill-over-ground, alehoof, and run-away-robin. Oh, and you can use it to make pesto.
If you’re going to start free-nibbling, know what you’re getting into. Do your homework and practice safe and ethical foraging.
- Be 100% sure you know what the plant is as some edibles have dangerous doppelgangers. Field guides can help but many only show pictures of plants at full size and, unlike people, most plants look vastly different in September than they did in April. The photos at Edible Wild Food show different stages of a plant’s lifecycle. If you’re not sure, leave the plant where it is.
- Don’t over harvest. Leave enough plants to maintain the health of the species but if it’s an invasive or aggressive species, like garlic mustard, dandelions or wild grapes, take as much as you want.
- Harvest away from roads and train lines and avoid any areas that have been contaminated by pesticides or former use (brownfields).*
*Read Howie Brounstein’s full guidelines for ethical foraging.