Wild Summer Edibles: The Healthiest Foods are Free!
Posted Jul 10 2009 11:34pm
It is often written that organically-grown foods contain two to three times the amount of known vitamins, minerals and other essential health-giving nutrients as foods grown with the help of herbicides and pesticides. But what is unfortunately heard less often is that wild-growing food, that being, foods that spring forth from the power of Mother Earth alone, meaning no fertilizers needed for the soil, no hybridizing, no chemical sprays, no human intervention whatsoever, just natural rain cycles, Sunshine, and whatever soil these awesome plants can sink their roots into, contain more life giving and life-enhancing qualities than even the ‘best’ store-bought organically farmed foods do. Not just vitamins and minerals and all the other scientific discovered elements, but real life-force energy. These are Natural Superfoods. Eating these foods always brings a smile to your face. And that’s the best thing ever!
Imagine if we city dwellers could be so privileged as to be able to include such jewels in our diet. Well we can! Yes, right here in these sprawling giants known as Toronto or Montreal, we have a plethora of high quality foods just waiting for us to discover. City green spaces, thickly forested areas, little back laneways, front lawns, backyards and even our own flower beds and pots, all play host to a wide variety of wild foods. So what are these Magic Wonders? Let’s take a closer look.
Lamb’s Quarters is an incredible green leaf vegetable that Loves to grow from the base of fences in little laneways, usually more prolifically so on the Sunny side. It has a wonderfully salty taste that is NOT bitter. Fresh in a salad it’s dynamite. By mid-June it’s in full swing and lasts that way until well into September when the plants begin to seed. The seeds can be eaten raw and have a great spicy flavour, or they can be boiled for making a breakfast gruel or ground into flour. This plant just Loves to give. Given the right conditions this generous bush can grow up to two meters tall – spilling out into all directions. (Someday it will be illegal to cut this plant down). Lamb’s-quarters is very high in vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus and is also a good source of protein, trace minerals, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, iron, and fiber. (And it tastes great, too!).
A great salad companion to the above mentioned is Wood Sorrel. What’s so amazing is that this little Gem can often be found sprawling about on the ground right around the base of Lamb’s Quarters. Isn’t that convenient? She’s so wonderful! Wood Sorrel boasts a delicate lemony flavour, capable of giving any salad an original twist. As an added bonus, this plant can more than likely be found right in your own flower bed, box or outdoor potted plants. (Its seeds usually come downloaded for free in most bags of potting soil. Lamb’s Quarters, too! So you don’t have to go far. But please take note, if you find Lamb’s Quarters growing in potting soil that has been artificially enhanced with nutrients, it is not advisable to eat it, as Lamb’s Quarters are very adept at drawing nitrates from the soil and will therefore contain an unnatural balance of minerals.)
Let’s move on to one of the most power-packed foods Mother Nature has to offer. Dandelion! Yes, the scourge of many a Lawn Lover, is actually a True Gift. Often thought of as a bitter horror, dandelion can be quite palatable when the leaves are picked young. I’m told the flower buds pickled are great, too. Baked and ground, the roots will deliver an interesting coffee. And if you’re into juicing, even more mature leaves can be used. Combining four to six dandelion leaves with celery, cucumber and an apple makes a splendid juice, chalk-full of nutrients. Dandelion is a proven diuretic and revered liver cleanser.
The great thing about these wild foods is that you know how fresh they are because you picked them. No more wondering about how long they’ve been sitting in cold-storage or on the side of the highway. You can even stand there and eat them straight away. It’s a total blast. I literally do this regularly throughout the Summer in Montreal.
Another dainty treat are Daisies, not only are they exquisitely pretty, but the lighter coloured green leaves are great in salads.
Plantain, is about as common as grass and clover, and can be used in salads, too. But just make sure to use the young tender leaves, as the older ones can be quite stringy. Much has been written of the healing virtues of Plantain and a wealth of information can be found at www.botanical.com in an essay entitled A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve.
In only slightly more wild areas and later in the Summer, the velvety red fruit clusters of the Red Sumac shrubs can be used to make the most fantastic ‘pink lemonade’. Gather entire fruit clusters then rub gently to bruise the berries. Soak them in cold water for 15 minutes then strain the water through cheese cloth and chill. Sweeten with Agave nectar or maple syrup and voila, you have a perfect summer drink. It really is good and it’s that easy!
City green spaces are amongst the many great places for finding all the different varieties of clover. They are rich sources of protein and can quickly turn any salad into a visual splendour. The fun just never ends! (Just get there before the lawn mowers do!) Red clover also contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, chromium, potassium, and vitamins such as niacin, thiamine and vitamin C.
Well that should serve as a good Wild Food in the City primer, but I’m sure there’s probably a lot more goodies springing up between the cracks for us to discover. As wonderful and wholesome as I believe the practice of wild food foraging to be, a gentle word of caution is necessary to share at this point. One must be aware of dogs and their need to pee, seemingly at random, when they are out and about. So, use your best judgement, be particular about where you forage from, and when picking from plants growing along fences, choose leaves from higher up on the stocks.
I really believe that foraging for wild food, even if we are walking along a concrete sidewalk to get there, truly connects us to the energy of the planet or at the very least, heightens our awareness of our home, The Earth. The Earth is warm, giving and vibrantly alive and these qualities are passed unto us to a greater and greater extent the more we engage in a close and caring relationship with Her. The environmental impact of eating wild foods can be profound. Every little bit counts. I’d just like to write that again – every little bit counts. Consider how much of the fresh produce that we in Canada purchase daily, is actually coming all the way from California in a truck and is packaged in plastic. We can collect wild food on foot and it requires no packaging. When you’re finished there’s nothing left. That’s it, that’s all! If those who feel the slightest want decide to take a stroll next Saturday morning down the back lanes behind their homes, they will definitely come home with some interesting goodies for lunch. You might even come back with a whole salad and some herbs for a soup. (Just the other day I came across a substantial amount of Wild Garlic Mustard in the forest on Mont Royal in Montreal. I didn’t even know that garlic mustard existed until I bit into it. And I’ve since been back for more). Now that’s seriously delicious stuff. You can go a long way with that!!