Bethany, our eldest daughter who just turned 14, is a "wild foods enthusiast." What did she do on her Birthday? Go foraging with friends Margaret Wilkes and Mimi Baker (in the rain).
She was recently asked to write up some of her thoughts and experiences with wild foods. If you don't know what "wild foods" are, she explains it in the essay.
"When my family and I went over to Holly Drake’s house (my wild foods mentor), she taught me all about the Burdock plant. When I asked if the leaves were edible, she said, “Yes, but they are nasty.” My brother and I decided to see what she meant by nasty . . . it was the nastiest thing I had ever tasted! That was the first day I got hooked on wild foods.
"When I say wild foods I basically mean plants that are edible. Most people would consider these plants weeds. You can find wild foods in fields, woods, gardens, pots, and any space where a weed can grow.
"There are two different uses of plants, medicinal and culinary. Medicinal means plants that are mostly for medicine and culinary means plants that are mostly for eating. But when we are talking about wild foods, I definitely agree with Hippocrates when he said “Let food be thy medicine and Medicine be thy food.” These foods are so good for you that it is hard to get sick if you are eating them on a regular basis.
"There are two basic ways you can harvest these plants. You can go out on a big hike, not knowing what you are going to harvest, and take extra supplies along (backpack, knife, scissors, etc.), or you can go to a place where you know that you can find a certain weed in your back yard to throw into your salad. Both are important and fun.
"When my family moved to a new house, I had not been up in the woods behind our house much. When a friend of my brothers asked if he could come over to look for deer tracks with them, I decided to go along. All the way I was exclaiming about all the plants that I was finding. I would say, “Oh, look at all the Beebalm, it is so medicinal and makes such a yummy tea;” and, “Look at the Hawthorn tree; that is so good for heart problems.” Finally my brothers and their friend told me that I was crazy!
"So why do I do it? Well, there are lots of reasons. The top three are probably health, exercise, and independence. The grocery stores are selling fruits and vegetables, but they are usually shipped from far away, genetically modified, and sprayed with bug poison. All of these things are not good for our bodies! But with wild foods, we know where our food is coming from, we know that they are fresh, we know that they are not genetically modified, and, if we are careful of where we harvest, we know that they are not sprayed with harmful things.
"Some of the medicines we are taking today are just covering the symptoms of our problems and sicknesses, not dealing with the actual causes. Many of these wild foods deal with the actual problem. Here are some examples of what these plants can do: Plantain is good for beestings and splinters. Dandelion is good for your liver and Pine needle are a good source of vitamin C.
"Another reason I enjoy wild foods is the exercise. Exercise is important and when you are digging up all different kinds of roots, you are definitely getting some good exercise! The last main reason is independence. Wild foods are even more sustainable than gardening. So, if there was to be some kind of disaster, I know that my family would not starve.
"When I first moved to Boone, NC, I was about six. I only had one friend. One day I decided to make a confession, so I just blurted it out, “Meredith, I like, I like . . . mud and worms!” She turned to me and said “ME TOO!” We were good friends from then on.
"It is true. I love to touch things, taste things, and smell things. This is a perfect hobby for me because I can touch the fluffy milkweed seeds, I can taste the fragrant peppermint leaves, and smell the sweet milkweed blossoms. Before I became interested in this I would always be touching things in my house, and my Dad would say “Bethany! Would you just STOP touching things!” But now I can use this desire in a healthy way.
"The last reason I love it is that I just love being outside. I love the sunshine and fresh air. It is a great way to get my energy out. Wild foods are important to me and I hope that I have shared why. And I also hope that other people will be inspired to pursue wild foods."