“Many wild edibles can be found as close as your back yard, the vacant lot down the street, the edge of the school ball field or along a bike path.” Wise words on unexpected foodstuffs from Russ Cohen, a rivers advocate for the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration. With his spare time, Cohen has taught wilderness edible classes for over 40 years and is a foraging expert who searches the woods, fields and open areas for edible vegetation.
Cohen’s curiosity of wilderness edibles was sparked in the 1970’s when he took an edible botany mini-course in high school. Soon after, Cohen conducted his own research and taught the class as a senior.
Cohen authors an informative guide about wilderness edibles titled Wild Plants I Have Known… And Eaten. He also leads public foraging programs about eating plants in the wild. The expert emphasizes that identification is extremely important; some plants, or parts of, may be poisonous. Cohen says those interested should start with the easily identifiable plants, like dandelions, raspberries (red and black), blueberries and blackberries. Beginners can expand their foraging after gaining experience, knowledge and confidence in identifying wild plants.
Particular to Massachusetts, Cohen offers plants to eat and recipes in his wilderness edibles guide. Already bored with the same old pies you know you will eat this fall? Buck tradition with a strawberry knotweed pie. Japanese knotweed is an invasive species that can be found all over the state. The stalks can also be used like asparagus. Japanese knotweed is also high in vitamins A and C.
Cohen also recommends harvesting the berries from the invasive autumn olive. The red, pea-sized berries with silver speckles can be picked in the fall for jam or fruit leather. These berries are high in the antioxidant lycopene as well as vitamins A, C and E. Autumn olive can be found along fields. During the fall season, Cohen collects autumn olives for fruit leather and European barberries for jelly. This fall, Cohen says he has primarily been gathering shagbark hickory nuts, autumn olives, black walnuts and barberries, as well as crabapples, bayberry leaves and berries.
Through the winter, Cohen says as long as the ground isn’t frozen, wild root crops should be available. These include burdock, chicory, evening primrose, groundnut, hog peanut, horseradish, Jerusalem artichoke, wild carrot and wild parsnip. Common/European barberries are also available in the winter. In the meantime, some tender greens are still available, including chickweed and curled dock. One can always use online resources or local library to identify these common plants.
If you are interested in learning more about foraging, getting recipes or about Russ Cohen’s classes and walks, visit http://users.rcn.com/eatwild/sched.htm.
Tags: #foraging #wild #edibles