I grew up in urban suburbia, where food is known as that stuff that appears to sprout wrapped in plastic right on grocery store shelves. Interestingly, because this is how urbanites so often find their food, it makes the occasional encounter in the wild even more magical. I remember a handful of such summer Sunday mornings at my parents’ house. My sister and I would have just sat down to the usual choice of grains (krispy or frosted) and milk (squeezed from the convenience store around the corner) when Dad would appear, his hand cupped in a gentle fist. Grinning, he would uncurl his fingers to reveal… four (if it were an especially magical morning) tiny but beautifully red strawberries from the tenacious plant that had appeared at the back of our house. One wild jewel for each of our cereal bowls! Another favorite memory is of our family dog when she was a puppy, snuffling excitedly through wild strawberry fields, delicately picking the berries but not the plants. We, too, can and should experience the joy of gently gathering our own food. As Dolores L. Nyerges discussed in her article “Why Eat Wild Food” (www.self-reliance.net, 1996), there are several reasons to slap on some sneakers and grab a wild food-snuffling friend for an afternoon as far away from the grocery store as possible.
- Know your food’s age. Irradiation, fungicides and wax used on commercially-produced food promote the appearance of freshness long after a product would have begun to show its age. A lot of produce also is picked before it is ripe to decrease spoiling and bruising. Ask about freshness even at farmers’ markets.
- Avoid genetically engineered foods. You may know what’s in your grocer’s veggies bins, but do you know what products are used in your frozen pizzas? In the food served at restaurants? When you shop at stores, you choose a finished product, but not what goes into making those products.
- Avoid unnatural fertilizer. Earthworm castings, animal droppings and decaying leaves fertilize plants in balanced ways. Petro-chemical “plant food” creates “floraddicts” unable to live naturally.
- Avoid pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and irradiaion (using energy transmitted by electromagnetic waves to kill bacteria and other mico-organisms in food).
- Avoid wax. Even chili peppers and eggplants, not just our friends the parsnips, can be waxed. Labels do not have to tell the pesticides and fungicides added to the wax.
- Promote purity. Do the growers supplying your food wash their hands? How do they protect food from sneezes and coughs? Likewise, how do grocery stores handle your food? How many other customers will touch a bin of apples before you do?
- Don’t support agribiz. Under this business, your food may not even come from farmers. Companies which engineer seeds for biotech food crops can go into the growing business for themselves, as sale of seed earns much less than sale of branded vegetables.
- Transfer positive energy. Picking your own food fills it not with company greed but with your own personal care.
- Save a plant. The plants from which store-bought vegetables came are often harvested literally to death. When you pick your own, you can make sure enough of the plant is left to continue living and producing.
- Promote mental health. Taking time to walk and forage outside can relieve stress. Knowing you can find your own natural food can, too.
There is a lot of information on the nutritional value, history and preparation suggestions for wild foods. Here are two fellow Minnesotans: Dandelions were first brought to America by the Pilgrims because they had heard that there was not enough food here to feed Europeans. Why the dandelion, people with lawns may be wondering. There is no part of the plant that is toxic (unless it has been poisoned with things like weed killer). The leaves make a nutritious addition to a salad and are not too bitter if picked in the cool seasons or from the shade. The roots are good cooked like carrots. You can parch and grind them to use instead of coffee. Some say the plant’s high iron content is a good blood builder, that the bitters are good for liver, gallbladder, spleen and kidney ailments and that the sap will remove warts. Perhaps that is why it was given the modern botanical name Taraxacum: disorder (tarax) remedy (ac) (www.edibleplants.com). Enjoy what the USDA considers one of the top five vegetables for nutritional value! ( Rollin’ Oats Journal , Linden Hills Co-op, 4-5/99) Manomin, or good berry, was misnamed “wild rice” by the early fur traders because of its rice-like appearance. Manomin is not a rice but a cereal grain. It is the only one native to North America. It has always played extremely important roles, as both a food staple and a primary source of income, within the American Indian community. Minnesota first developed cultivated or paddy-grown wild rice, or commercially produced wild rice, in the early 1960s. This means of production has dominated the natural lake and river wild rice means (www.greyowlfoods.com). See Also: Arts: Native Plants Arts: Free Living Guide