It was 10:00 a.m. and I was babysitting two bored kids, ages 11 and 8, ready for something fun to fill a normal summer. The neighbor kids were at soccer practice, we’d been swimming every day so far and it was too sunny to stay inside. Well, I thought, let’s go on a walk!
Ten minutes down a small neighborhood trail, sandwiched between streets and rows of houses, we were delightedly stopping and looking at the variety of plants growing all around.
“What are those odd blueberries?”
“Did you see these berries growing over here?”
“Look at the pretty flowers!”
Using a Tupperware container that we had brought filled with snacks (that were quickly eaten to free up space for our treasures) we put in samples of different berries we found on our simple walk. After an hour or so, we were back in the house, digging through internet pages and physical guidebooks to find what type of berries, flowers and weeds we were looking at. Thimble Berries, Saskatoon Service Berries and Salmon Berries were the three berries we could confidently identify. And the flowers we had seen? Those were dandelion, white clover, daisies, lavender and the beautiful white flowers that turn into blackberries.
A whole new world opened up in front of our eyes – the bugs, the plants, the possibilities for a tasty snack on the trail and the amazing variety of life surrounding us. There are many ways to forage. It’s not just for those in survival circumstances and those wanting to live “off-grid.” Finding tasty additions to salads or sandwiches, making teas, sweet berry or fruit treats, or getting wild flora to decorate your home are four great reasons to bring foraging into your life.
How wonderful it was to discover that, rather than being far away in distant forests and mountains, edible plants are actually hiding in plain sight along local trails, in abandoned lots, growing on roadsides and in-between concrete squares. While it would be hard to get your daily caloric needs met by picking stray weeds and clipping leaves off of bushes, it could help you see the environment around you with new eyes.
Nathaniel Johnson, in his book Unseen City, says, “Eating weeds has allowed me to engage with the natural world in a new way. I chew on peppery nasturtium leaves on my way to work. When I’m making a sandwich and realize we’re out of greens, I just go outside and pick some. I pluck unfamiliar plants and take them home for identification.” This participation in our natural world has more uses than taste – relaxation, fresh air, exercise and knowledge accompany this endeavor. Take a glance at your front lawn and see if you can find white clover – little white balls growing close to the ground. These are great for teas, adding to salads, sautéing with your dinner and more. Dandelion, as well, can be used for a variety of meals, from root to flower. And I can never resist taking a bit of some wild Fennel if I find it – as long as I’m confident no human sprayed it with chemicals or dog sprayed it with urine. While you’re looking, you might even get lucky and find a patch of wild asparagus, wild onion or wild garlic to take home as a prize!
It was the beginning of spring and I was walking from Bellingham to Fairhaven along the interurban trail, when I noticed a man with his young daughter squatted down by some plants on the side of the trail. The father had gloves on and was cutting some plants to place in a bag his daughter was holding. Looking closely, I realized they were cutting nettles – and then I realized how many nettles were nestled into the blackberry bushes surrounding us. Nettles sting, but boiling neutralizes that sting and you can brew a delicious tea from them. Dandelions and Clover, mentioned above, make excellent teas once dried as well. My father-in-law makes fresh tea each year, using some mint that grows wild on his property, some chamomile, dandelion and anything else he can find. Each scoop of his tea is unique, and tastes so sweet and fresh it’s hard to switch back to uniform teas. In the sunny weather of summer, try sun-brewing some of your wild-caught tea for a new flavor and in the colder weather enjoy your hot, steaming tea.
Summertime brings those delicious berries to our tongues in the form of blackberry pie, raspberry jam, strawberry ice cream, home-made smoothies, fruit salads (or salads topped with fruit) or just plain berries exploding with juice and flavor. Taking a quick trip to a U-pick farm can give you bags of the delicious fruit, enough to last through the summer (and if you freeze it, through the winter!).
Our Whatcom County berry seasons are: strawberries in June, raspberries in July, blueberries and blackberries in August. In this county, there is definitely a farm near you. Check out: Barbie’s Berries, Boxx Berry Farm, Breckenridge Blueberries, Cloud Mountain Farm Center, Haugen’s Raspberries and Blueberries, Kamm Creek Farm, Mount Baker Berry Farm, Shumway’s Berries, Spring Frog Farm or one of the other farms in our verdant paradise.
For a full list, including places for maple syrup, honey and dairy, check out this website. When the weather cools, you can go to BelleWood Acres for apples, pumpkins and other tasty treats. Put on some sunscreen and spend a day or two this summer getting more than enough fruit for much less than you could at a grocery store – with the added bonus of picking it yourself!
Each day as I walk home from work, I’m in awe at the variety of flowers growing all about. Sometimes I’ll put a pair of scissors in my bag and, if I come to a clump of daisies, yellow dandelions or one of the many other lovely flowers growing around here, I’ll clip a few to put in water back at my house. Having a constant flow of beautiful flowers helps our place feel bright and relaxed, and I’ve enjoyed playing bouquet designer. Boxx Berry Farms in Ferndale, besides having a selection of fruit and vegetables for you to pick or purchase, also has beautiful flowers for you to pick, with a big view of Mount Baker as a backdrop. Why not fill your home with some of the crazy bell-shaped flowers, happy white and yellow flowers or dramatic red ones?
So go ahead and give foraging a try. Taste some yummy greens, brew a tea, savor the sweet fruits and beautify your life with flowers. Try your hand at playing citizen-scientist and identifying some of the bounty growing all around us – in the nooks and crannies of our towns, along our paths and trails, and in our own lawns.