January 14, 2013 10:01:03 AM
Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]
I noticed them right off. There on the roadside near the ditch were big, leafy greens. Once or twice I saw people picking them. I was reminded of the time I saw folks picking greens and carefully putting them in a cloth sack. I asked what they were.
"Fiddleheads," they said.
The sight began a quiet interest in foraging. There's the art of it and also that survival concern. What if suddenly all the grocery markets shut down?
I discovered mushrooms; they were all different colors, sizes and shapes. I lay belly-down on the ground and took pictures. I emailed the pictures to an organic farmer who wishes to remain anonymous so we will call him OF.
OF emailed back, "They are beautiful pictures but none of them are edible. Don't eat them."
Included with the email were some photos of OF's foraged mushrooms. They were unlike any I had ever seen. His were morels and chanterelles, most coveted of all mushrooms.
"There are bold mushroom hunters and there are old mushroom hunters but you will never find one that is both." OF stressed caution in foraging mushrooms.
OF learned mushroom foraging from an elderly gent from the old country, where foraging is common. Much study is essential before attempting to forage; it is further recommended that one goes with an experienced forager, otherwise what was intended to be a healthy, wholesome endeavor could turn deadly.
I emailed OF the photos of the luscious greens on the roadside. (One can see why OF wants to remain anonymous.)
There are numerous books -- "Edible Wild Plants," "The Forager's Harvest," "Everything Guide to Foraging," and a wealth of Internet information. There is also Mississippi State Extension Service horticulturist Dr. Jeff Wilson, to whom I also mailed the photographs of the wild greens growing on the roadside.
OF and Dr. Wilson both responded that the greens were mustard greens and indeed edible. OF, being the organic farmer, had reservations about what could be in the soil and what could be blowing in the wind from nearby field crops.
How might the mustard greens have gotten there?
Dr. Wilson suggested road maintenance requires broadcasting seed for erosion control and that a percentage of the seed contains weed, turnip and various greens in the mix. And since the greens will reseed themselves they could be grow there for years.
Knowledgeable and experienced preparation is also crucial to learning to forage. Many plants must be boiled repeatedly to leach out any toxins. The following is a short list of edible plants, each requiring proper preparation:
Goldenrod, milkweed, cattails, yucca, persimmons (called "fruit of the gods"), wild asparagus, thistle, prickly pear cactus, wild garlic, wild onions, chickweed, red clover, violets, pansies, nasturtiums, oak acorns, sweet grasses ...
"Used to know a girl that lived down there and she'd go out in the evenings and pick a mess of it. Carry it home and cook it for supper, 'cause that's about all they had to eat, but they did all right ..."
Tony Joe White 1969
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.