I first spied the plants, off the beaten cement path beside a waterway, during the daily walks that Hiro and I take through the neighborhood. I couldn’t help but notice that the plants looked edible, kind of like the chard and spinach I’ve been using lately to make soup. Finally, after passing by the plants for a couple of weeks and wondering, I returned to the spot with kitchen scissors and gloves and filled up a plastic grocery bag with my find. Then I tweeted a picture of the plants with a question to Hank Shaw, blogger and author of Hunt, Gather, Cook and waited for a reply. “Curly Dock,” he tweeted back that same day, “Edible.”
I was little nervous about the cleanliness of the wild greens, so I triple washed them to make sure they were clean. Curly dock is bitter with a slight lemony taste, and I discovered it is high in iron and vitamins A and C. The smaller, younger leaves can be eaten raw, but the larger, more mature leaves should be cooked. It’s also high in oxalic acid, so eating it in limited amounts is advised. Once the greens were washed, I trimmed the leaves from thick middle stem and used them in a couple of different soups, one of them being the “Chickpea, Chorizo and Greens” soup.
I’ve eaten wild berries in Pennsylvania when I was little, but I never thought about foraging for wild greens. There’s no doubt that growing our own vegetables and fruit this past year has opened my eyes to see even the wild food around us and made me willing to give it a try. The thing is, people have been foraging for hundreds of years. I guess I’m finally catching up.
There are many good books on foraging; I’ve found a few of them and shared the list below. I also found a pocket field guide on edible wild plants in my local bookstore. It’s a good thing to know what you’re doing; the back of the field guide has an entire section called “A Little Common Sense.” Underneath, the very first rule listed is “when in doubt, leave it out.” If you’re interested in doing some foraging, take some time to educate yourself or find an expert forager willing to help you. But don’t be afraid to try something new; you might just find a whole world of wild food ripe for the picking.
Books on foraging:
Edible Wild Plants: An Introduction to Familiar North American Species A Pocket Naturalist Guide by Waterford Press