Wherever we live we’re likely never far from quality whole-foods market as well as some fine restaurants. What we may not have noticed are the diverse native foods often found growing at the base of their walls, or concealed among the exotic grasses that border their parking lots. Re-wilding our flower beds and bursting up through the cracks in the sidewalks are delicious salad fixin’s like dandelion and dock. And on the way to buy our organic produce we probably walk or drive past examples of those diverse indigenous grains and greens upon which the original indigenous peoples once fed. Collecting a portion of our dinner from nearby meadows or neighborhood yards, we gather not only sustenance but taste and tradition… gather up our thoughts and spirits, memories and moments!
Looking out the window as I write this, I can see patches of wild celery greens which I know to be delicious steamed with onion, plantain leaves for frying, and the prolific lamb’s quarters which can be dried in the Summer and reconstituted in soups and sauces come Winter. Watercress is a tasty plant popular with health-minded buyers, high in vitamin B and iron, found in many of the less impacted creeks and rivers. Our partner Loba is one of those sensualists who revels in endless new combinations of ingredients, and of these she may well love her feral feasts the best. Each year she cooks or preserves the bounty of our isolated river canyon including red and sweet clover, high protein amaranth and dandy dock, beeplant and magic mint, yucca flowers for stir fries and prickly pear fruits for syrup and jam. Puffballs, boletus and shaggy mane mushrooms. Tomatillos, mustard seeds. Black walnuts and juniper berries. Imagine pesto with wild oregano, clover or mint leaves. Suckerfish sushi and hearty crawdad stew. Hand decorated jars of pickled purslane. Wild grape jelly crepes. Prickly pear buttermilk pie and yucca fruit crisp. Browned Pinon cookies. Garlicky Beeplant ravioli with local goat cheese in the early Autumn. Stir fried stinging nettles, crisp salads of you local wild greens and maybe a wild mulberry pie!
An indigenous person would likely tell us that eating wild is taking into ourselves the energy and power of the land itself the tendencies and sensitivities, capacities and qualities of wildness. Bending over to snip leaves or gather nuts, we sense not only our connection to the land but to a lineage of gatherers and procurers that can be traced back to the very beginnings of our kind. Know it or not, in this simple act we enjoin a sisterhood and brotherhood of wild-food lovers that has over the generations included loin-clouted Africans with earrings that swayed as they cut and lifted their favored plants, Asiatic villagers shouldering their special harvest packs, and Native American mothers carrying their babies in slings while they pulled or hacked.
I’ve seen how every little bit that we’re able to subsist off the land increases our confidence in ourselves and our ability to survive. Even in the best of times we can eat not only cheaper but better, by adding some foods we’ve gathered to those ingredients we buy. And on day trips to the neighboring hills one is not only fed but informed. We soon figure out which months to harvest which foods, and when to collect their seeds to help disperse or plant. We learn to recognize the soil and moisture requirements of the various species, and how much sun and shade each needs. We also notice when certain human activities have degraded those conditions, and may feel moved to do our part to protect, tend or restore the remaining habitat.
The wonderful flavors of the wild call out to us, invite our participation in their native dance of delight. We might consider this as we’re driving past what appear to be indiscernible patches of roadside greenery, or while walking by those curly-leafed plants lining the local ditch. Coming to know the healthy native foods of any region is to become more intimate and familiar with the land, its seasons, its song… and with our own bodies natural needs and desires. There is perhaps no tastier way for us to come to know ourselves… or to know that we belong.
-Jesse Wolf Hardin
To register for a S.W. Wild Foods workshop, fill out an event Registration: wild-foods-weekend-reg.doc
(Photos (c) 2008 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)