Foraging for a Wild Taste of Nature
Foraging is growing in interest and popularity, thanks in part to the growth of microbreweries and “farm to table” and “field to table” restaurants that source local, farm-raised and foraged ingredients like ramps, dandelion greens, violet flowers, mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns and garlic mustard. People desire these new foods, flavors and smells, and want to experience more.
This fascination with foraging is really a return to our roots. Our ancestors fed themselves primarily from foraging acorns, greens, root vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, fruits and berries that grew in abundance in the forests, meadows and prairies and along the waters’ edge. Families had their favorite spots to harvest, and children carried on the tradition. Many people still enjoy growing an annual garden or going apple picking. It’s a reminder of the pleasure of harvesting food and a connection to nature.
Fostering this connection with nature is vital in a time when everything is so convenient. Grocery stores are filled with out-of-season foods—asparagus in November, strawberries and tomatoes in January. This convenience comes with a cost—a loss of flavor and nutrition, variety, connection to the seasons and the missed opportunity to harvest and preserve nature’s bounty. Foraging brings this all back.
After learning about some common edible wild plants that grow in and around the Chicago area, a whole new world will open up, where food is seen everywhere. There’s so much joy in waiting for fruit to ripen, greens to sprout and nuts to grow. After gorging on mulberries, the cherries will be ready, then raspberries, and so it goes. It’s fun to preserve a bit of every harvest to enjoy in the off season. Wild green pesto in winter is incredible; a fresh flavor burst of greens and garlic that awakens the taste buds with a reminder of the coming spring.
The taste of foraged food is special not just because the food is wild or fresh, but because of the journey. Learning the skills to find, identify, harvest and prepare edible wild plants can be challenging, so the Resiliency Institute created Let’s Walk and Learn Foraging experiences for people that want to enjoy a taste of foraging.
During these foraging walks, participants learn to identify more than 50 edible wild plants, sample some, and leave with an appetite for more. Many of these plants can be found in lawns and parks, so with some good notes and photos, participants can go home and enjoy a few foraged plants for lunch.
Those with larger appetites can enroll in the Resiliency Institute’s Edible Wild Plants Certificate Course to learn to identify, harvest and prepare more than 200 wild edible plants. Instructor and lifelong forager Pat Armstrong will equip students with the knowledge and confidence to become successful foragers through classroom instruction and outdoor plant walks. Every class includes a lunch of foraged foods prepared by Armstrong and the students. Some of the foods eaten this year have been wild greens salads, stinging nettle quiche, lamb’s quarters saag, sautéed ostrich fern fiddleheads, plantain seaweed and purslane cherry salad.
Learning to “walk on the wild side” through the Edible Wild Plants Certificate Course is life-enriching. A 2015 graduate, Jean Ruffin, says, “Since taking the [course], I have incorporated several nutritious, wild edible plants into my diet and have been able to spark an interest in edible plant identification in my grandson. Now when we go on vacation or take a walk in the woods, we recognize and appreciate the worth of plants we used to just walk by. And where allowable, we harvest and enjoy them!”
Take some time this summer to forage and reconnect with nature. August is time to harvest staghorn sumac flower heads (Rhus typhina), foxtail seeds (Setaria faberi), wild plums (Prunus americana), wild blackberries (Rubus allegheniensis) and chokeberries (Aronia arbutifolia). In September, look for pears (Pyrus communis), acorns, highbush cranberries (Viburunum trilobum), wild grapes (Vitis riparia) and wild rice (Zizania aquatica).
The nonprofit The Resiliency Institute is located at 10S404 Knoch Knolls Rd., in Naperville. For more information, visit TheResiliencyInstitute.net.