Friday, August 21, 2015

Urban Foraging

I have always been fascinated with urban foraging. I think it started when I was a kid in India. You can't grow up in India and not know a bit about finding and using herbs. But I had the advantage of having two urban foragers for parents. My father came from a farming family, but became a University professor at a large city. Although he didn't go into farming, he was a farmer at heart and when he could grow something, he would. On the tiny, minuscule bit of land we had around our city home and in pots, he planted as many vegetables, fruits and herbs as he could. When I was growing up, we had a coconut tree, two guava trees, and a mango tree. When we moved and had less space, he grew a curry leaf tree, chilies, balsam, aloe vera, tapioca and whatever else he felt like planting that year if he had the space. My mother did not come from a farming family, but she grew up in a village and knew how to recognize and use what she did find growing wild. Even now when my parents go around town or come to visit me in the U.S., they go about looking at the trees and shrubs and weeds and herbs and think of ways that they can use what grows around them.

My earliest memory of urban foraging is when I was around seven years old. My sister was suffering from jaundice and I went with my father to pick kizhanelli, a weed that grows on the sides of the roads or in empty city lots. It's good for the liver and helps cure the symptom of jaundice and other liver problems. When my sister had chicken-pox, I went with my father to ask a neighbor if we could pick a couple of branches of neem off his tree to make a soothing balm for her skin. (She did get allopathic medicine as well - the herbs were to help supplement the medicine she was already receiving). When the same neighbor had a bay leaf tree cut down, my father and mother spent a few days plucking off the leaves to dry them and stripping the bark for cinnamon. We had enough cinnamon and bay-leaves to last us almost a decade!! I remember my parents picking wild berries, guavas and mangoes that grew along street-sides. There wasn't a lot to forage since it was a large city with not many useful wild plants and many hands to pick the bounty that they did produce.

When I moved to the U.S. - first to Kansas City, I didn't find anything to forage. Absolutely nothing where I lived except perhaps dandelion greens - and I don't like them. Then I moved to a semi-rural college town in Iowa. There was more to be found there. I found large patches of spearmint in the prairie. There were wild raspberries. I was introduced there to my favorite berry of all - mulberries - that remarkably grow on trees!!! But still - not much that grew wild. I lived in an apartment and did not grow much at home in pots although I did have a curry leaf plant that died in the winter, and some chilies in a pot that did decently. I then moved to a city - Minneapolis. There wasn't much there - nettles and dandelions - but nettles are too much work to make edible and dandelion is too bitter. I did find some purslane once, but it was too close to a busy street and I worried what it had been sprayed with by the city street-keepers - plenty of weedkiller, probably.

And then I moved to Oregon. And I am in heaven!!! This is a paradise for urban foragers. The weather is temperate and it doesn't freeze often. As a result, anything that falls to the wayside roots and grows. The easiest thing to forage here are the blackberries - they are an invasive species and grow EVERYWHERE!!! They have terrible thorns and are VERY hard to get rid of. This means that as long as you don't mind your hands getting scratched up, you have a plentiful supply of blackberries for about two months each summer. I have also found plenty of mint and spearmint - various kinds (although I don't like the lemon-balm mint and pineapple mint and other such flavors) on the streets, I have found blueberries growing in the wild, wild plums, wild apples (one very near my apartment), and other things. And most astonishingly - rosemary and lavender!!! When I lived in the Midwest, I had to pay a TON of money for a few sprigs of rosemary - but it grows in the wild here - just for the picking. I first came upon one outside a restaurant about a week or so after I moved here. I couldn't understand why they had just planted some rosemary there and wondered that people didn't just pick it bare as they passed along. And pretty soon I found out why - it grows everywhere here - and really really prolifically. Oregon is also a wonderful place to pick morels and chantrelles, but often where they grow are closely kept secrets because of how expensive they are, and frequently need permission of others to get on their land and so on - too much work for me. Don did find some oyster mushrooms once although they are not commonly found in this area unless cultivated. They were delicious. I would grow things in pots now, but I live in an upstairs apartment without a patio, and no south or west-facing windows, so not much light. I think we will be able to afford a house in a couple of years, and when we do, I can't wait to grow things!!!

I posted recently about making blackberry icecream from blackberries I had foraged. Last weekend, I went to the wild apple tree less than a block from my apartment building and picked apples to make apple pie:
You can see that they are small - it's a wild tree, after all. The fruit itself is mildly-sweet and not tart at all. And I have found in the past that the apples from this tree will keep their shape and don't go mushy if you cook or bake them.

Here they are chopped and spiced with a little bit of sugar, powdered ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon (that my mom foraged and dried and brought me the last time she came to visit)

And here is the baked pie (I use only one crust for my apple pies). Foraged pie = quite yummy and mostly free!

And here is the food from yesterday which was a good day with not much off-plan snacking:

Homemade Granola w. Milk

Leftover khaman dhokla, tomato chutney, grapes

Israeli Couscous w. Kale, Garbanzos and Olives seasoned with za'atar

More foraged yummyness - homemade blackberry icecream (the blackberries were foraged anyway)


Christina @ Love Yourself Healthy said...

That's awesome! I've never paid attention to whether I come across any edible plants (not that I'd really know what to look for in many cases), but I'm going to start keeping an eye out. I can't believe all the apples you were able to get!

Finding Lori said...

Forging is so interesting. I could do a lot of that in my area. My aunt used to pick wild mushrooms and eat them, but they scare me!

Chrysalis Fit said...

Christina - it's a wild tree and it looks like I am the only one who picks apples off it - so there is a tree full of fruit and there is plenty I can pick from.
Lori - mushrooms are scary because there are toxic mushrooms that mimic edible ones - so don't pick them unless you know for sure!!! But there are plenty of other plants to look for.

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