- Dina Falconi
- Dina Falconi, clinical herbalist and author, goes over some tips about foraging for common April wild edibles.
Cattle have grass. Bees have flowers. Birds have worms. Humans have everything. At the beginning of human existence, people hunted and gathered their food, and were hunted as food. But it’s a little more complicated than that. These humans didn’t know anything about plants in the beginning. There was a lot of (deadly) trial and error involved in eating new plants. But over time, we (thankfully) learned and passed on their knowledge for generations. Humans survived by foraging for 95% of our time on the planet, and today only about a quarter of a million people forage as their primary source of subsistence.
Before going foraging, become a plant detective—get educated on the edible flora that surrounds us. The most important thing is to be safe, according to Dina Falconi, clinical herbalist and author of Foraging and Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Cookbook. Based out of Accord, Falconi has been practicing and educating herbalism for over three decades.
“Part of my theme is to have people engage with the ecosystem so it’s nature connection through plant connection,” says Falconi.
Learning to forage is like being part of a whole new world. So before taking flight to the plant world, make sure to follow these tips and keep an eye out for some of these common April goodies.
There are hundreds of thousands plant types in the world, few that can kill us, some that are harmful, and some that we can eat and use for medicine. Due to the sheer abundance of plants, using Latin names is important to differentiate the poisonous and nonpoisonous family members. Some common ones that you might be able to find in your area this time of year are nettle (Urtica dioica), field garlic (Allium vineale), garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis), chickweed (Stellaria media), and violet flowers (Viola). While violets may not be appearing until later in the month, they are still a beautiful and delicious find.
Before foraging, especially for the first time, make sure to research what is out there. Since every plant is different, learn how and when to “pick it, prepare it, and consume it,” according to Falconi. Even the time of day and weather is important for some ingredients. “Try and learn a new plant. Maybe once a week you practice that plant, you learn about it, and you get good at that plant. Then add a new one and keep going,” says Falconi.
Go Out With Experienced People:
There’s no better way than to learn from people who already know, that way there’s no guessing. “There are a lot of people in the area who are really experienced and you can just go out and learn with them,” says Falconi. “It’s really best to go out with experienced foragers and tag along.”
Be 150% Positive About a Plant’s ID:
Before eating anything, make sure with 150% certainty that the plant’s identification is correct. Few plants are lethal, but many can cause harm or make people sick. It is also important to how and what parts to eat from plants. Some can be consumed raw, others cannot. “Everybody wants to quickly eat it,” says Falconi. “ You need to be committed to your plants before you’re committed to eating. The eating comes second.”
Common uses of these foraged greens include taking the leaves of the garlic mustard and sauteing them until it comes out like broccoli rabe. Making a cool weather salad, sandwich topping, or pesto with the tips of the chickweeds greens. Nettle is sauteed or used in a pesto to neutralize and break down the little stinging hairs it’s famous for. All parts of field garlic can be used as either a garnish or an addition to any dish in place of chives, garlic, and green onion. Dame’s rocket leaves can be enjoyed raw in a fresh salad along with violets that can be eaten raw or cooked.
Interested in learning more? Follow Dina Falconi on Instagram and Facebook to see her posts about plants, how to use them, pick them, and identify them. Falconi also uses her blog as a foraging guide. She recommends another website called Go Botany as a good source for plant IDs. Foraging is fun and can be easy if the proper time is put in. Learning plants is like learning a new language, to become fluent, practicing is important.
“Most of us modern humans don’t have a clue about the plants that grow wild,” says Falconi. “It’s about developing plant fluency, like the language we lost.”
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BASKET FULL OF DINNER: GARLIC MUSTARD & NETTLE Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) can be found growing in two stages right now: sprouts just barely emerging from the ground, and second year basal rosettes starting to produce a central stem for flowers (the latter is in the basket). This invasive biennial of the Brassicaceae family makes a tasty wild green pesto, which is how we’ll eat it tonight, and also as part of the salad. Wild Green Pesto master recipe link here: http://bit.ly/1DJCTvi or follow link in profile. The nettle (Urtica dioica), slowly emerging from the earth, is tender and gentle at this stage (not a lot of sting to it). I will add some raw to the pesto too, and also cook some into the ragu sauce. I am excited for this perennial to be a source of food for a couple of months. When harvesting it, I pinch off the tips at the nodes. This encourages new, more abundant growth, ensuring a good nettle harvest for the season. What have you been foraging lately? To help with id, harvest and use of nettle and garlic mustard check our book Foraging & Feasting, or if you don’t have a copy, go to Foraging & Feasting’s blog, link here: http://www.botanicalartspress.com/blog/