Sunday, August 11, 2013

Guerilla Foraging

My recent excursions in search of herbal edibles have got me to thinking about a few things. Take them for what they’re worth to you.
The first thing is don’t be discouraged if you live in town. Several of my recent outings have taken place while my wife was window-shopping in some of the bigger stores, or at the local mall. I’ve actually found more edibles on my city sorties than I have in the country. The trick is to look for areas like the sides and backs of stores where they mow the grass and weeds occasionally, but not regularly. That allows the weeds to resprout between mowings and actually allows you to find TENDER plants on a more prolonged basis than in many areas in the country that get mowed only once or twice a year. A look-around a couple weeks to a month after a mowing will often yield a nice mess of greens.
While some edibles, like milkweed, may be found in the center of a field, field edges and forest edges have done best for me. The upper edges of stream-banks seem to do well for me, too. Since it’s illegal to get herbicides in a flowing stream, stream-banks are relatively safe, also. City “fields” are also unlikely to be contaminated with herbicides, unlike lawns and golf-courses. Herbicides are more likely to be used around buildings and the front lawn areas of stores. Beware ANY type of utility right-of-ways, particularly those of electric companies—they tend to use herbicides every few years to keep brush down, rather than pay for mowing. Also, railroads are notorious for spraying herbicides, and since they often spray high enough to kill the nearby TREES, the spray can go a long ways. Therefore, NEVER pick anything along a railroad track. The tracks CAN give you access to good foraging areas, but step completely off the right-of-way if any cops or railroad employees are around, since it is supposed to be illegal to even be on such right-of-ways.
Also, I would advise you to stay off any posted property or government land. With unposted property, you can always plead ignorance if someone hassles you, and you’ll probably just be asked to leave. Not so if the land is posted. Also, some poor old codger in one of the northern cities was recently fined $75 for picking some wild greens in a city park.
Even on unposted land, it would probably be best if you could get in and out as quickly as reasonably possible, just not so quickly as to draw attention to yourself. If the owner, or some local busy-body, calls the cops on a “suspicious person” gadding about the neighborhood, it would be best if you could be gone when he/she shows up. We all know how most cops like to flaunt their authority. It’s probably best to make it look like you’re just walking for your health, rather than gathering wild edibles. Land-owners are understandably afraid that if your purpose is known to them and you get sick or die from foolishly eating something you shouldn’t have, they might be open to a lawsuit. They might feel similarly about you walking there for exercise, too, but they may be more likely to just ask you to leave, rather than call the law or make you dump what you’ve picked.
There may be SOME places best foraged after dark, but it would be harder to justify your presence if you DO get caught, plus there’s the safety issue of taking a chance with local hooligans. If the area is fairly open and you have a dog, walking the dog might be a good cover, IF the area is safe for him. That would also make it easier to explain the plastic bag hanging from your belt, just be sure and have a few paper-towels with you for good measure. Personally, I won’t be doing any night-foraging unless things get desperate. When I forage, I wear a cap, put a plastic bag on my belt and carry a walking stick. To most folks, I’d just look like some slightly eccentric old codger out for his daily constitutional.
Lastly, I mentioned safety concerning the dog and about herbicides, three other things you need to consider are knowing your plants, snakes and poison-ivy. You need to know the plants you pick at all stages of their life, since they are most edible when young and tender, yet most photos you’ll find are when the plant is in bloom, LONG after the tender stage. Also, some poisonous plants look very similar to some edible plants. As for the latter two, wear heavy boots if you plan on stepping into the tall weeds and avoid the ivy even then! © 2013


JaneofVirginia said...

Thank you, Gorges. Good post !

Chickenmom said...

Maybe some day in the future you could post pics of the plants you eat. Most books just have drawings that are perfectly shaped specimens and don't show the plant's true colors. And a recipe for the plant would be a nice extra touch, too!

Chickenmom said...

Oh, that's a good idea for an E-book for 'ya! I'd buy!

Sixbears said...

Good post and good advice.

I've been filling up on berries recently. Love this time of year.

Gorges Smythe said...

Your welcome, Jane, and thank you.

The photos are a good idea, Cm, but the recipes are the same for all of mine, so far - rinse, boil slowly for ten minutes, salt-pepper and butter to taste!

Thanks, Sixbears; it rained too much here during berry bloom and they're scarce and knotty.

Sunnybrook Farm said...

We didn't have hardly any berries but of course the black berry leaves make a good tea.

Gorges Smythe said...

I've neverb tried that, SF; I should.