I was listening to a podcast <Rewild Yourself, holla!> the other day where the host was discussing his foraging practice, and it make me realize how although I definitely have a foraging practice and have done for a long time, I am not always directly conscious of it and with that comes a detriment to the depths of enjoyment and understanding.
For the last few weeks, I have been foraging lots and lots of dewberries. We ate a lot of fresh dewberries while out harvesting, and just by the handful while standing at the fridge. I also made a lot of cobblers, sometimes with added garden blackberries, or loquats- and urban/suburban foraged favorite of mine, and once with fresh mayhaws from a local farm. I sometimes used acorn flour I had collected in late fall/winter and recently processed into this last batch of flour.
I fermented a jar of dewberries, and froze some, too.
I feel like I made an effort to “stack functions” when it comes to my foraging practice this year. I have said before that I feel that especially for women, this is community work. It has been hard to find like minded souls who will be respectful of the process and the plants. This year, I went with friends dewberry picking various times, generally with children, and was attentive to movement- making sure to practice squatting and moving in a squatting position, although in retrospect I could have done more.
Another foraging practice I have is what I will broadly refer to as weedcrafting (phrase coined by my teacher, Nicole Telkes) In the early spring, we do leave our yard to find large quantities of chickweed and cleavers, but most of the year that simply means collecting and eating, or drying or tincturing the weeds in the yard. This year, that period of abundant tender and juicy wild spring greens came early- in Feburary, and so now the chickweed and cleavers have all but disappeared. I still go around a collect small amounts of violet leaves, dandelion leaves and flowers, plantain leaves, and dock leaves for various salads and preparations but the incredible abundance of those greens is gone.
Also, wild onions and garlic! I collected a lot of this, sold a little and dried a lot. I generally don’t pull up the bulb, although our local field garlic and wild onion species are not threatened in the same way that ramps are. They are prolific reseeders and grow like weeds. No fear and no shame about harvesting these.
To be honest, this time of year my foraging practice has fallen by the wayside, because of the necessity to tend the garden. It is definitely a shift, and one that I am not always convinced is the best one. I try to mitigate this by installing perennial foods and medicines into the garden so that my practice of tending and harvesting in the garden looks and feels more like the experience of harvesting wild plants, but that is absolutely not the case with the labor and resource intensive annual food crops we as a culture love to eat (tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, yellow wax beans, blue corn, and okra to name a few we are currently growing).
Soon, the chickasaw plums will be ripe and we will go a few days and collect our allotted five gallon bucket per person per day (as per the rules of our local wildlife refuge), the bee-balm will be fully in bloom and I will harvest some, although this year I am growing no less than 4 different varieties of bee-balm in the garden. I will also collect dock seeds to make into crackers and flour. I’m also awaiting the ripening of a few of our early grape species around here.Those are a few of my foraging plans for the near future.
It is also the beginning of chanterelle season, and although last year we had the good fortune of being able to collect quite a few, this year we haven’t yet. I don’t know that we will have much of a chance either. That is the trade off with a foraging practice- it requres time that many of us don’t have these days. We missed pine pollen season this year (luckily we made enough last year to see us through) simply because Dan was working the days it wasn’t actively raining during the extraordinarily brief window. With climate change, seasons and times for plants shift and you have to be acutely aware of the signs of each different plant so that you don’t miss that opportunity. Hopefully the weather will be perfect for chanterelles, we will have an abundance of time to explore and we will find the perfect honey hole! If not, that’s okay too. It’s always in flux and you have to be flexible.
That said, it is all an imperfect work in progress. I see my foraging shifting more into gardening, but that doesn’t fill my soul in quite the same way as getting my basket and going out into the forest to collect food and medicine straight from the source. I don’t want for my actions to glorify the act and encourage those without a grasp of ecology to overharvest. But I can also say simply and truthfully that without having been introduced to the beauty of the natural world vis-a-vis plants, and specifically foraging, I cannot imagine how the trajectory of my life would have unfolded. You cannot protect what you do not know, or what you do not have a vested interest in saving. Conservation efforts are ultimately more successful when people intimately know the land and when they feel a connection to it. I know the land around here, and I care about it BECAUSE I forage and wildcraft in it. It’s just an abstract otherwise.
What are you growing and/or foraging right now where you are?