You might think it would be easy to spot the long green leaves in the desert. Turns out, finding yucca plants is actually the job. I walk up blue hills and up heaps of sand, looking around the little cactus plants and shrubs of grass until I finally spot the pointed wax plant rooted in the ground. After digging up the roots, my grandmother and I brought forage goods to Hogan.
Later that afternoon, my grandmother removed the outer layer of the rootstock and smashed it between the rocks to get the ooze out. Táláwosh is a foaming substance that oozes fibers and, when mixed with water, is a natural cleanser that leaves skin and hair clean as silk. Then I used this yucca to wash my hair. Our people have been searching for food in this way for thousands of years.
Growing up in the Navajo Nation, I learned to forage before I even knew the right word for it. It was a normal part of my daily life to collect not only yucca, but also Nanits’eeh (Navajo tea); pinon, which are nutritious nuts; Willow, which can be used as a medicinal aspirin; and sage for traditional practices. She was taught at a very young age that Mother Earth provides, and she needs to be protected and shown respect. Everything we searched for food, found used and tried not to miss anything.
As I get older, it’s easier these days to look outside and only see grass, flowers, and trees. But those who feed regularly will likely see another 20 plants amid the plain hills and a wealth of uses at their feet that are often overlooked. There is a complete connection to our surroundings that is very easy to miss. But foraging is something anyone can learn — and more people are starting to learn.
Foraging is highly location-dependent, which is why it can be interesting to learn more about foraging in new lands when traveling, whether it be to cool forests or hot deserts.
As locals and travelers alike gain an interest in foraging and foraging for workshops, they realize that there is a whole new connection with the lands we visit. It’s also a great skill to take home with you and share with others.
“When you discover new types of mushrooms or new plants, there is a release of dopamine,” says John Sanders, a medical doctor who specializes in researching and studying many types of mushrooms. “We half of our brain is in data-gathering mode, with the details surrounding the mushrooms being written down, which makes us more aware of our surroundings.” And he’s not the only one who realizes that.
. says Rana Justice, a horticultural scientist who leads forage workshops in Seed and spoon And the Husky Meadows in Connecticut. At Seed and Spoon, visitors can participate in what the Justice team calls “Woods to Table,” where any food collected goes to the chef to be made into your dinner that evening. Workshop You start with a demo, then the group heads out into the woods to see what they can find. Anything you eat, you have to keep, whether you eat it there, or later at home, or at the chef’s dinner that night.
Justice teaches guests what the weather and trees will tell you about mushrooms, what tools to have, how valleys and mountains change things, and how to determine the use of shape, color, and texture. Foraging is highly location-dependent, which is why it can be interesting to learn more about foraging in new lands when traveling, whether it be to cool forests or hot deserts.
Bona Tomalino is another horticultural worker who owns basil and roseGarden Store in Bountiful, Utah. “There are an estimated 20,000 edible plants in the world,” she says. Tomalino serves 2 to 3 hours Herb walking experience Where she studies about plants along the paths. On any outing, she says, “It’s not unusual to find 30 to 40 plants.”
In guided workshops such as Seed and Spoon or Basil & Rose, newcomers can experiment with foraging with confidence that the results will be edible and safe for consumption. “Never eat anything unless you are 100% sure you know what it is,” says Justice. That’s what she and Tomalino are seeking to help protect against an upset stomach, food poisoning, and of course, potential death if you eat something in the wild that you’re not really meant to eat.
“I’m not looking for anything, unless I’m sure it’s okay to eat,” says Steve Jenkins of Montana. “There are a few steps I take to make sure everything is safe: Read about it, look at the pictures, and I must confirm that what I see outdoors is edible and not poisonous.” He pays attention to his body if he tries something new and even suggests carrying an EpiPen and Benadryl.
Justice agrees, recommending trying a small amount first to see how your body reacts. It suggests using multiple resources such as food search apps, Facebook groups, or I am a naturalistOnce you gain this knowledge, the forest is your oyster mushroom.
Justice recommends starting with a workshop like this one or even just knowing what’s in your backyard. She says once you’ve identified what’s edible, you’ll start seeing it everywhere, gain confidence in foraging, and maybe even build a desire to learn more. “I started with plants and herbs, especially when the pandemic was out and I didn’t want to go to the grocery store. I was just like, ‘Okay, what can I eat in my garden?’ and stir with it.
Tomalino also advises beginners, “Learn the plants, learn to identify them, and focus on about three different plants. Learn about that and then expand from there.” She recommends purslane, roses and dandelion to start with.
But the search for food is not just about eating. Stephanie Mitchell, owner Mod SaniShe also learned from her grandmother at the Navajo Nation. She now has a business creating natural products through foraging, such as salves, oils, and serums. In this way, you make natural and safer products. Mitchell says it “merging two worlds into one” with tradition and modernity. She also enjoys “showing the younger generation that it’s okay to be traditional and make it your own”.
Mitchell explains various tips to keep in mind when searching for food. “With Navajo tea, you have to cut the stem so that it grows again for the next season. With sage, we just lift the pedals, we don’t break the stem. Same with cedar, you have to be gentle with it. I’ve learned to act as if I shake hands and stop what He gives it to you.”
When it comes to learning how to forage, do the research. Consider the area, nearby water with potential toxins, any potential pesticides, and local forage laws. Don’t start picking and eating what you see, but talk to those who know, whether it’s a local researcher, a Facebook group, or a foraging book. And remember to rinse the plants well. No matter how you decide to forage, be sure to enjoy the scenery. At the end of the day, Mitchell explains, “It’s just a matter of respecting the herbs and respecting what you do.”
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