In case you missed it somehow, today is Earth Day. Begun in 1970 in reaction to the growing awareness that the pollutants associated with the industrialized world—from oil spills to lead gasoline to factory discharges into the soil and water—were poisoning the environment for humans, animals, and plants alike, April 22 has become a day of action for environmentalists and a day for those of us more casually concerned with life as we know it to pay attention to and appreciate the natural world. Part of that appreciation, in our view, certainly includes the bounty of wild edible plants one can find just about anywhere.
It just so happens that advance copies of The Quick Guide to Wild Edible Plants hit our offices at the end of last week. Featuring over 200 color illustrations, this handy book, coauthored by botanists Lytton John Musselman and Harold J. Wiggins, explains how to safely identify, gather, and prepare delicious dishes from readily available wild plants—and clearly indicates which ones to avoid. The plants discussed are common, easy to identify, and do not have any poisonous look-alikes. And the recipes themselves—field-tested by the authors and their students—are easy to prepare, call for just a few ingredients (three to five components for most), and require no special equipment, though the book notes when food dehydrators, food processors, and similar modern-day appliances would greatly speed the process. Try these on for size:
Field Garlic Powder
Ingredients: 20 Field Garlic bulbs
Directions: Carefully cut away the outer brown, fibrous layers from each bulb. Then cut each bulb into small pieces and put them into a food dessicator to dry for a day or more. It is essential to keep the garlic dry because the preparation will easily absorb water and then be difficult to grind. Alternatively, place the small pieces of Field Garlic bulbs onto a baking sheet and dry in an oven at 200°F until hard and dry. Then grind in a mortar and pestle. This may take some time, as the dried pieces are usually hard and difficult to grind. The effort is worth it, since you now have one of nature’s tastiest condiments.
Red Sorrel Pilaf
Ingredients: 1 cup fresh Red Sorrel leaves
1 cup cleaned, roasted Manna Grass grains
2 cups water
salt to taste
Directions: Bring the Red Sorrel leaves to a boil. Reduce heat and add roasted Manna Grass grains. Boil until tender (about 15 minutes)
Salt and Vinegar Strips
Ingredients: 30 Glasswort stems with tough lower portions removed
5 large, tender Curly Dock leaves
Directions: Wrap the Glasswort stems in the Curly Dock leavs. Steam for 10 minutes. Serve cold. If the Curly Dock leaves (which add the vinegar flavor) are not young and tender, steam or blanch them before using.
Fungus Chicken Fingers
Ingredients: Chicken of the Woods mushrooms, trimmed into strips approximately three inches long and 1/2 inch wide.
Directions: Simply sauté in vegetable oil until tender and serve. It is difficult to overcook Chicken of the Woods mushrooms
There you have it, a complete meal of foraged food, with plenty of leftover Field Garlic Powder to use however you like! And since The Quick Guide to Wild Edible Plants is by no means a resource for survivalists, we do want to pass along this bit of wisdom from the book: “What should you do if you are lost and without food? The best thing to do is climb a tree and look for a fast food outlet because survival food is neither fast nor tasty.”