Feb 262010

At dinner last night we had our first stinging nettles of the season. There were four of us at the table and each flavored the nettles (steamed) in a different way: butter and salt, salad dressing, vinegar or tamari.

Everyone enjoyed the nettles and because they are so abundant we will have them many more times while the leaves are young and tender. Some people say that nettles are about the healthiest thing you can eat and with organic kale and chard going for $1.99 for a small bunch it’s worth spending a few minutes harvesting a superfood for free.
“You’d have to eat a sink full of kale to get the protein in one serving of nettles.”

There’s lots of free food in the wilds of the Northwest and on Lummi Island. I own a fascinating book called Food Plants of the British Columbia Indians Coastal Peoples by Nancy J. Turner. It’s out of print and when I bought a used copy I had to pay fifty bucks! Right now on Amazon there are several copies for less than twenty.
The crux of this book is that the natives of the coastal NW learned to make use of most of the plants out there.

They smoked (in pipes) kinnikinnick leaves, dried salal berries for winter eating, boiled fern rhizomes, peeled the sprouts of salmon berries and thimble berries and used them raw and ate all the seaweeds.

The web has lots of excellent foraging resources. This website covers berries, plants, mushrooms, invertabrates and seaweed with wonderful color photos.

If you really want to get serious about foraging you can  follow Langdon Cook’s Fat of the Land blog . (He also has a book by the same title). Recent posts are all about nettles: nettle pesto; nettle gnocchi.

This guy gets into it. He teaches you how to prepare and eat barnacles, for God’s sake! He has fourteen different posts on dandelions, everything from dandelion tempura to dandelion bread. Langdon Cook’s blog offers hours of interesting reading.

I have a strong interest in growing my own food and putting up as much as we can for winter. Our nation’s food supply is tenuous because it is based on cheap oil for fertilizers and delivery. The average meal travels 1500 miles before it reaches your table. If the trucks can’t roll supermarkets would be out of food in days. If this doesn’t motivate you to start even a small garden and learn to forage I don’t know what will.

It’s not that hard. Get a grocery bag and a pair of scissors and go outside and clip the tops off some stinging nettles. Wear gloves. Steam them. Flavor them up. Save the cooking water, add some lemon and drink it.


  3 Responses to “Foraging”

  1. Thanks for the great book reference! I was able to snag one of the copies through Amazon.com. Can’t wait to read it!

  2. […] complementary side dish. Then I read an article on the blog of a friend of mine, Randy Smith, about foraging for stinging nettles and voila! I knew my problem was solved. Here’s the menu for this […]

  3. For anyone interested in learning about the economics (and shakiness) of our industrial food system, here’s a great read: “The End of Food: How the Food Industry is Destroying Our Food Supply–And What We Can Do About It” by Thomas Pawlick. I listened to it on a CD copy from our library.

    The bottom line: More local food sources are really very, very, VERY important for anyone who cares about a ‘resilient’ (i.e., it’s there when we need it) food supply. Talk about a need for risk management in the basics.

    Liking to eat is one reason I applaud Randy, Nancy, and many others who’ve joined in the Locavore Dance — and why I, in my small way, am doing the same. Thank goodness, too, for all our far more experienced food-raising friends (Nancy Sim, Colleen McC, Molly H, Carl & Polly, Al & Sheila, Dale G and many more who never lost their understanding of the importance of a reasonably secure food supply. They’ve skills we all can benefit from.

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