About a month ago, I had the opportunity to hike at the base of Mt Hood, Oregon with a group of esteemed food bloggers and Dr. John Kallas, an expert in wild edibles. We dove headfirst into the details of what Mother Nature can provide when you know what to look for.
Do you know much about what you can eat from your local forest floor? Here's a look at our afternoon spent foraging, then feasting, on the delicious bounty of the forest.
Dr. John Kallas, author of Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate, led the excursion at the base of Mt. Hood, about an hour's drive from Portland, Oregon. He explained to the food blogger group I was a part of that although fall is not the ideal time for foraging (spring is when plants are tender and more delicious), we would still be able to explore the tasty options the forest has to offer. We were also accompanied by chefs from the nearby hotel, The Timberline Lodge, who were to cook with some of the foods we found during our time out in the woods.
• Visit Dr. Kallas: Wild Food Adventures
Dr. Kallas explained five basics any forager must abide by, in order to stay safe and satiated.
5 Tips for Edible Foraging
1. Never guess at the plants you are going to be eating. Always know exactly what plants you are putting into your system. This may sound rudimentary, but it is crucial for survival when eating plants beyond the scope of our produce window. Some edible plants grow side by side, one of which is perfectly delicious and harmless, the other the most deadly plant in North America. As a beginning forager, he recommends sourcing foods with an expert guide at first to understand the plants in your area.
2. Many edible plants, such as wild greens and fiddlehead ferns, can become more palatable and less bitter with cooking. In fact, these edibles can be viewed as a delicacy, with only a short window for finding them and cooking with them at home.
3. Wild edibles can bring new tastes to your palate and awaken many senses. We tried wild spicy ginger, Indian Paintbrush, fireweed, smooth yellow violet and my favorite, thimbleberries. Each plant was exceptional in its newness and subtle familiarity. As eaters, we connect the dots and try to relate unfamiliar flavors with those we hold dear—I couldn't help but fall for the thimbleberry, reminiscent of a raspberry but with more tropical, floral notes and a distinct acidity which made me pucker!
4. Never eat red baneberry, one of the most poisonous plants in North America. Red is nature's symbol for "Stop right there!" Good to know.
5. Learning about your local edible wild plants is about survival. As a kid, John had an interest in Native American culture and their attuned methods of living with respect to the land the inhabited. After years of travel and study, John came to recognize the world of plants at our fingertips, left to grow wild and uncultivated. Many of these are very flavorful and nutritious; they just aren't found in grocery stores. Armed with a little knowledge, the experience of working with a guide and a detailed book, you can feast in nature if you dare to open your eyes to new ingredients.
• Check out John's book: Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt to Plate, $16.49 at Amazon
(Information for this post was gathered during a press trip sponsored by Travel Oregon. All views and opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author.)
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)