When you take a walk outside, whether a trip to the grocery store, school playground, or even just a nature stroll, you probably don’t notice anything in particular growing alongside your path. If you pay attention to nature and plant life, you may notice many wonderful different shades of color in our world. But, for most people, wild plant life is seen as a bunch of ordinary shrubs and weeds.
I am a serious “forager,” and to me I see many more possibilities in G-d’s green earth. These plants are truly my friends. Having researched many of these “weed-like” plants for years now, I know their wonderful “edible” attributes. Whether these plants seem useful to others, I create delightful dishes for meals all week-long, AND, especially during our Shmita year in our Holy Land of Israel.
Even though I am a long-time forager, my explorations in the fields are just like a child’s first days in school. Remember how we first noticed a sea of endless “new” faces. It was daunting that day, but as time went on, we made friends and had lots of fun! Just as we begin a school-year, getting to know other children one-by-one, we may similarly greet new plants along our way in “nature’s classroom!”
Hence, as I forage wild plants, I take special care to find unique uses for the plants I discover. I soon fill my pantry with both food and my medicine cabinets with special herbs, roots and tonics as healing agents.
Why should YOU forage anyway? Everyone has different reasons for becoming a gatherer in nature as our ancestors did. 1) My very first reason was simply to lower my food bills. Finding and preparing virtually “FREE” healthy foods appealed to me in so many ways.
When I first read about foraging, I didn’t think it would be an option for me, as there was very little good information out there about foraging in Israel. Also, I guessed that foraging needed to be location specific. However, once I researched and read much more online and in print, it became evident that there are so many edible local plants in each region that we find ourselves in. You simply have to study your own environment.
Once I started learning about the local plants and their edibility, I recognized some of their names as those of natural medicines sold in the health food store. Take shepherd’s purse, for example: it grows all over Israel in the winter months, and is sold, packaged, to be used to help with bleeding issues. This encouraged me to learn more about, not only the edible aspect, but also the medicinal uses of many of the local plants.
Though I started out foraging to save money, it has become much more than that to me now. 2) Foraged plants are infinitely healthier than their grocery store counterparts. The reason for this is that, not only are they organic, but they are growing in places that are ideal for them to thrive, in dirt that is not depleted of minerals from regular factory farming.
In addition, these plants haven’t been “hybridized” to enhance features while reducing valuable nutrition. Therefore, you’ll find that most of these plants are extremely high in vitamins and minerals like omega 3, iron, and calcium.
3) The plants I forage are delicious on their own without any extra preparation.
The plants I forage vary from season to season, and also depend on my mood. I fill my house with wild greens like mallow, wild mustard, nettles, sow thistle, milk thistle during the winter months, and use them instead of spinach, lettuce, and swiss chard in so many different recipes. I also pick wild fennel, wood sorrel and eryngo, strongly flavored greens which I use to season my food. During the drier summer months, greens are a little harder to come by, but I do make good use of the wild greens purslane and lambsquarters in many recipes. However, my favorite foraged plants are those that are exactly what I can buy in the store, like fruit (figs, pomegranates, apples, lemons, prickly pears and grapes among others), nuts (almonds and pine nuts), and even spices like mustard seeds, sumac, fennel seeds, pink peppercorns. I even pickle my own wild olives and capers.
While so far in this era of processed foods and instant pudding, foraging hasn’t caught on for the entire population… It’s because we need to be willing to take the time to learn about useful and healthy plants and even be willing to get our hands a little dirty.
In the end, however, once you start foraging, you’ll notice that there is a feast waiting for you out there, just ready for the picking.