Guest post by Jennifer Dawson
Foraging is a great way to way to save money, reconnect with nature, and enhance your meals. If you combine it with buying healthy, local foods, you can both forage and support local food producers at the same time. But before you grab a basket and set off foraging, here are five things to bear in mind.
Before you start foraging for free, healthy, and seasonal food, do some research or take a course to help you identify what plants — and what parts of the plants — are edible and when they are in season. (See the resources listed at the end of this article.) Learn about poisonous, inedible plants and mushrooms, and never eat anything unless you are certain it is safe. As well as being cautious collecting foodstuffs, wear suitable clothing and gloves, and be careful to avoid plants such as poison ivy that can cause an allergic reaction when touched.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources manages more than 356,000 acres of land, which is available for public use all year round. That means rich pickings for local foragers — an almost endless supply of dandelions and plantains, and the occasional morel mushroom or wild raspberry. Managed edible forests, such as the one in Iowa City’s Weatherby Park, are popping up across Iowa. This year, we even have planters filled with edible produce all around Iowa City.
Foraging on private land is at the discretion of the owner, so make sure you ask permission first and, wherever you forage, be considerate and take only limited portions of plants to preserve sustainability. Know which rare plants should be avoided and which plants can be simply snipped rather than completely uprooted. Also check that private lands have not been exposed to harsh chemicals.
You may be surprised at what you can find in your own backyard. Leaves of the invasive garlic mustard plant can be used in a wide variety of recipes and are particularly good in frittatas. The entire dandelion plant is edible from flower to root and also can be prepared in wide variety of ways, including salads, quesadillas, pizzas, teas, and jellies.
Foraged foods are free and don’t use any packaging. With an estimated 25–40% of food grown in the USA destined never to be eaten, you can drastically cut waste as well as your food bills by foraging for seasonal food when you’re ready to eat it. If you can’t use what you pick straightaway, it can be frozen or dried to add flavor to soups and stews at a later date.
Tasty wild asparagus contains asparaptine, which helps lower blood pressure. Their yellow shoots are easily spotted in fall, so you can remember where they grow in order to pick them in spring. Morel mushrooms with a delicious, meaty texture are rich in iron, vitamin D, and antioxidants. They are rather elusive though, so for something more common, gather some nettles, being careful not to get stung. They contain 400 times the calcium and potassium as spinach and are far more versatile. They lose their sting when cooked and can be used in tea (with honey and lemon) and in any dish that calls for spinach.
Foraging provides quality time outdoors relaxing, getting fresh air and exercise. Share the experience with friends and family, and enjoy teaching children where their food comes from and how it connects us with nature. Spring is a great time to pick morels. In the early summer, look out for strawberries, and in the fall, go for apples, berries, and nuts. Black walnut, shagbark hickory, and hackberry will soon be abundant. (See recipe below.)
Foraging is easy in Iowa, where there is an abundance of tasty, wild foods and plenty of opportunities to pick them. As long as you remember to keep safe and be considerate, foraging is not only a practical way to add healthy and tasty foods to your diet — it provides a great outdoor experience, too.
Resources Local organizations: Backyard Abundance, Edible Outdoors, Midwest Wild Edibles & Foragers Society, Johnson County Conservation, Prairie States Mushroom Club, Take a Kid Outdoors, Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Books: The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles by Mike Krebill
Nature's Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Wild Edible Plants by Samuel Thayer
Article: “How Local Foragers and Hunters Take Advantage of Iowa’s Natural Resources,” by Sophia Finster, Little Village, March 26, 2018
Makes about 1 cup
1 – 2 T. black walnuts
1⁄4 cup English walnuts
1 1⁄2 tsp. sea salt (or more to taste)
1 small to medium bunch of kale, stems removed, coarsely chopped (about a ½ lb)
2 cloves garlic
Juice and zest of one lemon (optional)
1⁄2 cup olive oil
1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Ground black pepper to taste
Toast chopped walnuts in dry, heavy skillet over high heat, stirring constantly until they start to brown and become fragrant. (Be careful not to burn them.)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Blanch kale for about 30 seconds, then transfer the kale to the ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain and squeeze out some of the excess water.
In a blender or food processor, combine the kale, garlic, walnuts, and lemon juice (optional) and blend well. Add oil, pouring in a steady stream, and pulse till combined. Add 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, pulse again, then taste. Add more salt if necessary. Spoon pesto into a bowl, and stir in cheese and pepper.