Foraging on the bike path

Every time I’m biking from my house in Northampton to campus and back along the bike path my eyes can’t help but wander into the woods on either side looking for edible plants. It’s slightly scary when the big frost heaves come up surprisingly fast, but all that looking has been fruitful! I finally went for a ride with the sole purpose of foraging, so I was prepared with bags and did not have all my books, and came back with many different plants.

The first, and most plentiful, plant along the bike path is garlic mustard. It borders the entire 10 mile stretch from Northampton to Amherst on both sides of the path. Garlic mustard is a very aggressive non-native plant that usually takes over the woods so eat away!

Garlic mustard in abundance, as always

Mixed in with the garlic mustard in this section is lots of stinging nettle. Although some people I know bravely harvest it without gloves, I biked that day with my  oven mitt – got to look stylish while foraging!

Garlic mustard and stinging nettle hanging out

In the shadier sections where garlic mustard is not hogging all the space, there are patches of violets. The leaves and flowers are edible. Be sure not to take too much, however, because violets are not as bountiful. And other people want to see the pretty purple flowers too!

Violets

The plant I had seen along the path and was most excited to try was japanese knotweed. This is another one considered an invasive species and so people will be happy if you eat it.

Lots of japanese knotweed, too big for eating

There were stalks of many different sizes, and lots still sprouting up. Japanese knotweed grows fast and the end of its edible season is approaching so hurry to your local colony!

Japanese knotweed at the best size for harvesting

I made a stir fry with all of my finds. I boiled the garlic mustard and stinging nettle for about 1 minute before stir frying. People said to boil the garlic mustard to tone down the overwhelming taste, but I don’t think it was necessary because I could barely taste garlic mustard. I peeled the outer skin of the Japanese knotweed, although I’m not sure it was necessary. I think I will try it next time without peeling because it was quite tedious. The Japanese knotweed provided an interesting tangy taste and then I mixed all of it with soy sauce and garlic. I will definitely make this again!

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Spring is here!

I finally got out to my friend’s house a few days ago, where there are lots of edibles growing. It was like an outside grocery store! She lives in Belchertown, surrounded by fields, streams, and woods ideal for spring plants. In about an hour we harvested 9 different types of edible plants: dandelion, plantain, cleavers, wintercress, burdock root, wild onion, violet, and stinging nettle. Here is a picture of a small sample of all the goods:

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The most exciting was when the field I was standing in, of what I thought was grass, turned out to be wild onion! We used a digger tool (pictured below) to uproot the entire plant, which grows from a bulb about a 1/2 inch in size – although I think they will get bigger in the next few weeks. The smell (and taste!) as you pull it up is incredible.

One important harvesting tip for stinging nettles (and any other plant similar in form) is to cut right above a node, where the stems branch off. This is because new growth is produced here and so it stimulates the plant to grow faster. My friend used her hands, but I personally probably would have used gloves! I, probably over cautiously, used an oven mitt when handling them at home.

Tonight I finally got around to cooking all of the food – my first meal of entirely foraged food (okay, aside from the couscous I ate it with). It was delicious and so, so satisfying!

First I scrubbed the burdock root and cut it into slices. I had read that you could either peel the skin or leave it on so I chose to leave it on because it promised to be more flavorful and I also hate wasting any food.

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Burdock root

I boiled them for about fifteen minutes, until a fork could easily poke through. I added the stinging nettles for the last few minutes.

While those were boiling, I washed all of the other plants. I peeled off the outer layer on the wild onions, just like any other onion, but a bit easier. Then I chopped up everything.

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Wild onion

In a frying pan with olive oil I sautéed the wild onion for a little, and then added the random assortment of other greens I hadn’t already eaten. After draining the burdock and nettles, I mixed them in to gain the onion flavor. At the very end I poured in just a little soy sauce, cumin, and black pepper. Then I put all of that on top of couscous and enjoyed!

The only thing I would change is to add the onion greens later than the bulb (I should have known this) because they were a little overdone. That, and I wish I made more!

The finished product