This past weekend I went on a foraging hike in Hahamonga Park with Urban Outdoor Skills. Our small group was led by the knowledgable and fearless Pascal Baudar. Pascal has been foraging since he was a boy in Belgium and does some incredible things with wild food. I never ceased to be amazed when every 30 feet we walked Pascal would turn around and tell us the feast we had just traversed. Suddenly, plants started to pop out and catch your eye: passion fruit clutching a willow, wild sugar on Eucalyptus Leaves, a Fig Tree obscured by bushes, and white sage hidden in the buckwheat. These are a few of my favorites found off the beaten path:
Western Black Nightshade
Not to be confused with the very poisonous Belladonna of Europe, our Black Nightshade can be eaten ONLY when ripe. The berries go from green (poisonous) to deep black and have the taste of a gooseberry and a tomato mixed. The fruit are small and many hours of foraging are required to make a meal. It was late in the season so there were even fewer to be found. What little I gathered of the sweet savory indulgence was eaten like a wild caviar as we headed deeper into the hike.
Also called Goosefoot, this plant is a spicy spinach that can be treated exactly like its domestic twin. It can be recognized by it’s leaf whose shape resembles…a goosefoot! The plant, especially young plants, will have a slight powder feel to the leaves. Mature plants has a rouge tint where each small sprig attaches to the stem. These plants were already flowering to provide for the next season. We were able to spot a few young ones in the wild as well giving us the unique opportunity to be able to learn to recognize a plant through its life cycle. The sprigs I gathered are currently drying. I can’t wait to work them into a pasta dough. Served perhaps with olive oil, sea salt, cracked black pepper and fresh Western Nightshade Sauce?
Completely unlike common Buckwheat, this red beauty had gone to seed and was drying out in the California Mountain Heat. The seeds can be added to dough to make crackers, breads and pasta. Aside from the taste it will lend, it makes everything fluffier. The seeds are easily added to wheat free based breads to add lightness. The simplest method to harvest the seeds is by placing a branch in a paper bag and shaking vigorously. Pascal leads a class focused on wild breads and crackers that incorporates many wild seeds I can not wait to take.
Cattails are old friends from my early childhood in Florida and I was surprised to find them randomly in the woods. That was until our fearless leader (pictured below) informed us that we were standing in what was a lake only a few months before. When I was younger, my siblings and I used to hit each other with these just to be obnoxious. Little did I know before the large burr turns brown, they can be enjoyed like corn on the cob. Additionally, the hearts inside young plants can be consumed and most resembles a lemony cucumber. The older the Cattails become, the more starchy the heart becomes and the burr is no longer edible.
This beautiful weed is known for its psychotropic qualities. It has been used throughout history in medicine and spiritual ritual in Africa, Europe and by First Nations people of the Americas. High levels of concentrated chemicals can lead to overdosing easily, so research and caution is STRONGLY recommended if you chose to partake.
This little burr from a Burdock was the inspiration for velcro! We walked through a large patch of these tall burr covered plants and came out covered with these little buggers.
The best was yet to come when we headed back to the picnic benches where Forage Bar, the wild food pop-up run by Mia Wasilevich, the gifted chef behind Transitional Gastronomy was in full swing. Several incredible courses were served under a canopy of trees as the sun set. To say it was delicious is an understatement. In Forage Bar, food is not only satisfying but inspiring as to what wild food can be. My favorite dish involved a baked Lambsquarter Quail Egg Soup topped by Lambsquarter Bread and Garlic cream. To see all the other incredible food served at Forage Bar you will have to snag a seat.
And now an awesome fort.
If you chose to forage these plants on you own make sure to follow some simple rules to keep you and the environment safe.