Foraging connection

One of the major influences on my early Pagan development was a quiz called “Where You At?” developed by Leonard Charles, Jim Dodge, Lynn Milliman, and Victory Stockley, published in Coevolution Quarterly #32 in 1981 and later re-published with some changes as part of an essay called “Nature Religion for Real” by Chas Clifton. I will be coming back to this quiz many times as explore place in this blog, because I return to it again and again in my personal path. Question #7 in the original quiz asks you to name 5 edible plants that grow in your region and their seasons of availability. This one question is one of the first things I want to know in any new place.

Foraging for food is not just for survivalists or dumpster divers hoping to save a few bucks. For one thing, it seems to me the most ecological thing to do is to eat at least some food from the environment around me that would otherwise have gone to waste. If eating locally is good, eating local weeds is even better! From a more mystical perspective, I believe that the food that we take into our bodies shares some of its experience with us. When I eat nettles that grew in my neighborhood, I’m connecting myself physically to my neighborhood.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is one of my all time favorite forageable foods. It’s easy to find in a wide range throughout North America and Northern Europe. I’ve had nettles from the hills outside Jerusalem and from the roadside in Seattle. One of the great things about this plant is that once you find it, you’ll probably find a lot of it. It makes a fine tea, goes nicely in soups, or can be steamed up like spinach. It’s high in iron like any good dark green veggie. The seeds are great, too. I pull them off the plants between my thumb and forefinger and munch them as a snack while I walk, and I bring some home to make tincture with too.

People are often afraid of Stinging Nettle because, well, it stings! When I first met this plant I didn’t know about its edible or medicinal qualities and I was just trying to clear it out of the back of my garden. That first day I ended up with horrible stinging rashes all up and down my arms. These days, though, I can almost always walk right up to a plant and harvest its leaves and seeds without pain. It has been suggested that I’ve just become accustomed to the plant from eating so much of it, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. This plant requires a special touch and a special respect. When I have treated it with less care, even as recently as this past summer, I’ve gotten stings to remember.

Talk to the plant. Touch the bottom of the leaves, not the top where most of the stinging hairs are. Use a sharp knife to cut the stem cleanly. Remember to say thank you, and this plant will feed your body and be good medicine for your soul.

Another favorite of mine is Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) . You may already know that Dandelion root is good roasted up and used as a coffee substitute, but this plant is good for so much more than that. The young leaves are good in salads, though the older leaves can be quite bitter. The yellow flower tops are quite sweet, though, and can be eaten as is, or added to salads or other dishes.

Of course, almost everyone loves to go berry picking! Here in the UK we have lots of different berried to pick from, mostly in the autumn. There are elder berries, sloe berries (great in gin!), blackberries and more.

You may be concerned about the legality of foraging wild food from land that you don’t own. Luckily, in England and Wales the Theft Act of 1968 says that you are not stealing when you pick wild food as long as you aren’t intending to sell that food, and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code similarly gives permission for foraging. Where there are local bye laws against foraging in this country, those restrictions will be well posted, so there is little worry. The rules may be different where you live, so it’s not a bad idea to poke around the Internet find the law or at least to see if you can find other local foragers who know the rules.

About Sterling

When Sterling was 3 years old, her parents packed everything they owned into storage, put a roof rack on their ‘66 VW Bug and spent three months driving with her across the US and Canada. She’s been a nomad ever since. She’s lived in El Salvador, Guatemala, Canada, England, Scotland, Israel and several states in the US. Every place is a new spirit to get acquainted with, fall in love with, or struggle with. Her path within Druidry is a spiritual dance of learning the relationships of all the people, human and otherwise, in the context of place. She has a collection of short stories, The Imaginary City and Other Places, which you can read on Kindle or in paperback.

  • Ashley Yakeley

    Too reverent for me. I hate nettles and often pull them up without apology when I find them, if I can do so without risk (usually with my feet). Actually, I like the fact that I hate nettles, it’s part of my engagement with nature. I don’t think one can truly like something unless one feels free to dislike it, and there are many things I like. Mosses, for instance.

    Of course, I might change my mind about nettles if I ate them…

  • Niki Whiting

    I LOVE nettle. I plan to forage for it here in Washington next year. Nettles, fireweed and devils club are the three plants I have a deep love for.

    • Traci

      Fireweed!! I never met this plant until I moved to Ireland. It grows along the hedge close to our house. Stunning!

      I love nettle and lamb. It makes a tasty dish! yum yum

  • Nicole Youngman

    Thrilled to see you mention the “Where you at?” quiz–I love it too. It’s also published in a book called _Home! A Bioregional Reader_ that has a wealth of essays from those wonderful old bioregionalism journals. I wish more of those writings weren’t so based in California, as my climate is totally different (no nettles!) and applying the ideas here requires some translation between ecosystems!

    • Sterling

      Ah, yes… I know how that is. A lot of writings about these sorts of things seem to focus on just a few specific bioregions, don’t they? But, wherever you are, it’s possible to find out about the edible and medicinal plants in your area. These days you can find a lot with just a basic Web search, but there are also a range of specialist books about food foraging. What kind of climate do you live in? I might be able to recommend some good resources, if you like.

  • Peter

    Fantastic! We too forage for food and herbs, as well as grow some of our food; all of which helps to strengthen our connections to our homestead. Using what is seasonally provided is one of the way we work with the wheel of the year. Great article!

  • Jack Uptown

    I enjoyed reading this blog and look forward to more. Kudos Sterling

  • Chas S. Clifton

    Thanks for mentioning the essay “Nature Religion for Real.” It is still one of my favorites