(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the debut column of local resident Bibi Snelderwaard Brion, a connoisseur on wild edible plants. Her column will appear on the fourth Sunday of every month for one year.)
Would you like to eat healthy and spend less money? You can use the edible wild plants in your own backyard and, in this column, I'll walk you through some of the basics.
Many plants that are referred to as "invasive weeds" were introduced by settlers to be used as food or medicine and still can be used as such. Some plants originally intended for ornamental purposes also turned out to be edible.
With time and the convenience of modern grocery stores, most people have forgotten about the edibility of wild plants and foraging has become more of a hobby than a need.
Many edible wild plants, however, are much more nutritious than regular vegetables, which to me makes foraging a necessity.
In addition to better nutrients, foraging provides a sense of self sufficiency, a connection to nature and adds exciting ingredients and flavors to your diet. In my case frugality plays a big role (as I'm from Holland where they invented "going Dutch").
As kids, my friends and I picked raspberries and blackberries and sucked the nectar out of the white flowers of stinging nettles, which covers most of the foraging I did back then.
With my mixed background, I grew up on Dutch, Indonesian and Surinamese food and, as I got older, I expanded my interest in other cuisines. At markets I looked for unfamiliar foods, including vegetables that could be obtained in the wild, such as ostrich ferns, burdock root, watercress and sunchokes.
Foraging intrigued me but because I lived in a city with very little nature, it was low on my list. A dramatic change of scenery would change that.
Four years ago, I exchanged Amsterdam for rural Pennsylvania to live with my husband. It was intimidating at first to be surrounded by so much nature, of which I knew nothing, and my single Dutch herb book wasn't very helpful.
This environment, however, inspired me to learn about natural ways to take care of our health. I signed up for an online herb course that I planned on finishing in three years, but I got caught up in lesson No. 3, the chapter about edible wild plants. The assignment was to identify and use all edible wild plants in my area.
From my first foraged meal - dandelion root tea and braised burdock root - I was hooked!
Since then I've explored every good book I can find on foraging, learned from other foragers, stalked plants and studied poisonous lookalikes. I took countless pictures and brought home plant parts for identification.
Soon I was gathering more plants for cooking, introducing one plant after another (Here's to my adventurous and brave husband). I even started a garden featuring only edible wild plants because some plants just can't be invasive enough.
You probably guessed it by now, but I'm well past my herb course deadline.
I wanted to share my knowledge about foraging, so I began leading workshops every month from spring to fall. With each group, I discussed plants, their uses, harvesting and recipes. I intend to lead workshops again this year if my schedule permits.
Through this column, I hope to inspire more people to look at "weeds" differently. I look forward to sharing foraging stories and my knowledge about plants and recipes, and I hope my enthusiasm about this subject will be contagious - or shall I say "invasive?"
Coming in February: Wintercress and winter reading. For a heads-up, visit wintersown.org.