We’ve become a society wedded to the supermarket. In fact, most Americans, even if given the opportunity, are not interested in learning to forage or studying the native edible plants around them. If it doesn’t come wrapped in cellophane or if it’s not piled in the bin at the produce section of the grocery store then Americans won’t eat it. The likelihood of pesticide residue or E-coli or salmonella contamination does not deter the American shopper either. Push the shopping cart along the aisle where fruits and vegetables are displayed and then pick what you need. That’s the American way. Yes, some Americans grow gardens but not many. Fewer still will ever forage for edible plants.
This past weekend some people came to visit and while they were here the topic of edible native plants came up. I told them that within 200 feet of where we were sitting grew between twelve and fifteen edible plants. The typical look of surprise swept over their faces as did the subtle expressions suggesting they wouldn’t eat the plants even if they knew how to identify them. They wanted to walk in the woods and go camping and take pictures and look at birds. They brought their fancy camp stoves and super duper ultra-lightweight tents and all the latest gear as advertised in Camping Yonder Magazine and lavishly reviewed in a raft of outdoor and hiking blogs. They wore the latest in camping fashion and hiking boots. All except for one of them that is. She wore blue jeans and a gray cotton shirt and she wanted to see the plants. Then she asked if she could taste them. So I said: “We’ll pick some fruit and some greens and we’ll cook the greens along with some tender cuts of wild hog. Her friends set off with all their gear and packets of freeze dried, salt-ridden polymono-saw dust and we stayed to forage and eat what had just come out of the ground and off the hoof.
She’d heard of stinging nettle or ortegia as it’s called locally. And she was honest and forthright enough to ask me if it would be safe. I said, “When we cook it the formic acid and serotonin and the other chemicals will be neutralized and what we’ll have are tender greens loaded with vitamins and minerals.”
I’ll not go into the details of Urtica dioica, the stinging nettle or ortegia. There are a thousand articles and posts in other places with recipes and the like. But I will suggest you harvest the younger leaves for the best taste and always wear gloves when you’re picking the leaves. Let me mention as well that around these parts the roots of ortegia have been used for various urinary tract conditions like benign prostatic hyperplasia. Ortegia can be steamed, boiled, made into tea and added to juices. But always after it’s been rendered safe by heat, i.e., boiling.
We sat on the porch and ate our greens, and broiled strips of pork and a few other things that I’ll talk about in the next few posts. Who knows, maybe I’ve helped generate the makings of a forager and native plant aficionado. Time will tell.