After yesterday's post about space-age cuisine, I will now describe a tradition which dates back millions of years, and come out as a forager. The dean of foragers in the NY Metro Area is "Wildman" Steve Brill, who conducts regular foraging classes.
Last year, I made a resolution to, when possible, forage for a least one comestible item a week. I kicked off the spring foraging season last weekend, by harvesting some stinging nettles (wearing heavy gloves), common plants which are covered in stinging hairs, which inject a cocktail of pain-inducing chemicals such as formic acid and histamines into the skin when brought into contact. Nettles have traditionally had a medicinal use (arthritis sufferers sometimes use nettles for their condition). I have informants in New Zealand who tell me that the viciously toxic native nettles have killed at least one person. When boiled, though, young specimens of the common North American stinging nettles can be quite tasty (they have a pretty intense herbal flavor), and make a decent substitute for, or addition to, spinach. I have used them in omelets, added them to spanakopita, and have cooked them with beans (in the same fashion that I'd use escarole). Harvested with care, and boiled well, nettles make a great, free addition to one's springtime culinary repertoire.
I was also able to gather Japanese knotweed, a pernicious invasive weed in the NY Metro Area, is also edible when harvested young. The plant looks like the offspring of an unholy union between bamboo and asparagus, and is distantly related to buckwheat, rhubarb, and sorrel. Peeled, the stalks of young knotweed have a pleasantly sour flavor... once again, Steve Brill is the go-to guy for knotweed facts and recipes. One caveat, though, is that knotweed, being a pest, is often sprayed with herbicide, so caution must be exercised in finding patches that are not periodically sprayed. Of course, the weed being edible, the promotion of knotweed consumption should be a goal of all local Parks, Reacreation, and Conservation Departments.
*No, this post is not about a Role-Playing Game in which participants play foragers.