Next time you pull weeds, you may want to consider tossing them into a salad instead of the yard debris bin.
Plants such as narrow leaf plantain, dandelion, clover and even dead nettle, can be eaten raw as well as cooked.
Whether added to pasta, sprinkled on a pizza or used as a sandwich topping, there are several easy methods to include wild, edible greens into everyday cooking, notes Eve Hanlin, a Battle Ground resident who has been foraging for eight years, and also teaches classes on the subject.
Hanlin teaches her wild edible classes at Columbia Springs, an east Vancouver non-profit organization whose mission is to offer educational experiences and increase stewardship of the earth. On a recent sunny Saturday, more than 40 people, ranging in ages from 6 to over-60, sat outdoors and learned more about wild edible plants.
Hanlin is passionate about the topic of foraging, and is a self-described “gardening geek, wild edible plant forager, dahlia farmer and botany enthusiast.”
Her eyes gleam when she recalls finding wild edible plants on her property, growing inside clients’ gardens, scattered around local parks and growing wild in the woods.
“It kind of gives me goose bumps to think we have so many edible plants, yet 4 percent account for 50 percent of our diets,” she says. “Wild edibles may not taste good in the field, but if you add cheese and pasta to it, then it is what most people consider food.”
Erik Horngren is the volunteer coordinator at Columbia Springs, and notes that the foraging classes are among the center’s most popular.
“Eve is very active as a forager and knowledgeable about the topic,” he says of Hanlin. “And when someone comes to me with that enthusiasm and says they want to teach a class, I say, ‘Go for it.'”
Hanlin offers simple safety tips: Don’t know what a plant is? Don’t eat it. Stay away from areas with exhaust fumes or pet waste. Public rose gardens? Don’t do it. Wild rose gardens? Go ahead, but, of course, if you’re on private property, get permission.
“If you go to someone’s house and they have three dogs that roam the backyard, just don’t. Stay away,” Hanlin says. “When you are foraging, do your homework first.” Hanlin has a number of favorite foraging books, and doesn’t recommend basing research on random blog entries. Her go-to source of information is, “The Front Yard Forager,” by Seattle resident Melany Vorass Herrera.
“Read three sources of credible information,” Hanlin suggests. “I trust books, because if someone takes the time to actually research and write something (involved), they tend to be credible.”
She also recommends that first-time foragers begin with items such as wild blackberries or raspberries, as these are usually fairly easy to identify.
“If it looks like a blackberry or raspberry, you are good to go,” Hanlin says.
Those who have allergies should take special precautions. To avoid having a large-scale reaction, Hanlin recommends rubbing a little bit of the edible on the skin first, then rubbing it on the lips, then taking a small bite if there are no reactions on the skin or lips.
One of Hanlin’s favorite wild edibles is lambs quarters. Although this weed is a pain to farmers, it is one of the most nutritious in the world, notes Hanlin.
“Once you eat this, it will completely change your perspective of what you can be eating,” she says, garnering surprised murmurs from her Saturday class members.
Bre’t Kertz and her 6-year-old daughter, Olivia Perry-Kertz, are first-time foraging class attendees.
“We live by Burnt Bridge Creek trail in Vancouver, and every time we walk through the woods, Olivia wants to know if she can eat certain plants,” Kertz says. “So I looked up this class online and, so far, I’m loving it.”
Linda Moro, of Vancouver, also attended Hanlin’s class for the first time recently.
“The description looked really interesting and I appreciate her enthusiasm for the topic,” Moro says of Hanlin and her wild edibles class. “She has a lot of information.”