Out in the woods, in parks, meadows, and backyards, and often right on the side of the road, there are foods that grow naturally, and that are yours for the taking.
If you’re careful and know what you’re doing, weeds don’t have to be yanked and thrown on the compost pile. Instead, they can be harvested and consumed as greens, according to Christopher Nyerges, who edits a magazine called Wilderness Way, has several written books about self-reliance and cooking with wild foods, and leads Wild Food Outings tours in the Los Angeles area. Everyone on the tours gets to learn some of the basics of what’s OK and not OK to eat, and to enjoy a post-hike salad made from weeds, flowers, wild veggies, and other ingredients they plucked from the woods.
A profile of Nyerges in the LA Times shows the wild man in action:
Clad in faded green army pants, a long-sleeved green button-up shirt and a black cowboy hat banded with a patterned kerchief Nyerges, 55, is motion incarnate. As the group walks along a path covered with a blanket of decaying leaves he spots chickweed, which is mild and tender and makes a great salad green. Dropping suddenly to his knees he plucks a leaf and holds it up for all to see.
“At Whole Foods this costs $15 a pound dried,” he says of the chickweed. “Then there’s a lookalike that has a white milky sap.” He peers about him for a moment, grabs another leaf that looks identical to the chickweed and crushes it between his fingers, revealing a sticky white substance.
Eating the lookalike would make you sick, of course, and Nyerges points out some plants that could kill you (hemlock), and some that are as good as what you’d find in grocery stores (wild radish). With some training and a keen eye, you’ll be able to gather only what’s safe to eat and what’s hopefully not awful-tasting, and you’ll be inclined to tread especially softly in the woods. Nyerges tells his groups:
“Always watch where you’re stepping ’cause you might be stepping on our lunch.”