This is part one of two parts about this event, foraging at Branch Brook Park with Gallery Aferro. The second part will be about the food preparation. Look for it next week!
Now that the Cherry Blossoms in Branch Brook Park are blooming, it is starting to feel like Spring. Sponsored by Gallery Aferro, an art gallery at 73 Market Street. Scavenging Couture presents a new take on artesian cuisine. The event brought us on a tour of Branch Brook Park for delicious samplings of free food out in the open. The tour was led by herbalist and professional forager Dan Farella, of Return to Nature (www.returntoNature.us). Dan’s unusual career lets him make a living identifying food sources which most people overlook or trample on. He searches for edible finds in the woods, meadows, fields, and even urban parks.
Before we began this adventure, I asked Dan why he was leading the tour now versus foraging in either May or June, when plants are more in abundance. He said that blooming season is ideal, like asparagus, there are numerous amount of plants available to consume. “And spiritually, blooming is a plant awakening, so the moment is ideal.” He wasn’t kidding; he was ready. He was definitely attracting attention as we began our foraging lesson.
First plant we uncovered was Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a biennial flowering plant in the Mustard family, Brassicaceae. It is native to Europe, western and central Asia. Garlic mustard was introduced in North America as a culinary herb in the 1860s and is an invasive species in much of North America. Plant description is an herbaceous biennial plant, growing from a deeply growing, thin, white taproot that is scented like horseradish. The chopped leaves are used for flavoring in salads and sauces such as pesto, and sometimes the flowers and fruit are included as well. These are best when young, and provide a mild flavor of both garlic and mustard.
Dandelion (Taraxacum) is a large genus of flowering plants in the family Asteraceae. To make leaves more palatable, they are often blanched to remove bitterness. They are eaten in many places by locals, either raw or boiled, in salads. The flower petals, along with other ingredients, are used to make dandelion wine. The ground, roasted roots can be used as a caffeine-free dandelion coffee. Smaller leaf plants found in foraging are more tender in taste.
Chickweeds (Paronychia) is an herbs that are annual or biennial or perennial in life span. Another edible weed provides anti-inflammatory Blood Purifier. The plant has medicinal purposes and is used in folk medicine. It has been used as a remedy to treat itchy skin conditions and pulmonary disease.
Wild onion (Allium canadense), also known as wild garlic, and meadow garlic, is a perennial plant native to North America. It has an edible bulb covered with a dense skin of brown fibers and tastes like an onion. The plant also has strong, onion-like odor. Wild garlic, is growing in your lawn, how do you tell, grass leaves are flat, while wild garlic leaves are round. Further you can tell, if you pull it up, and smell, it is extremely pungent.
Poor Man’s Pepper (Lepidium Virginicum), also known as Virginia pepperweed or peppergrass, is an annual or biennial plant in the Brassicaceae or mustard family. Virginia pepperweed grows as a weed in most crops and is found in roadsides, landscapes, and waste areas. It prefers sunny locales with dry soil. Most surprising to me, and others, this plant tasted great, better still AMAZING. The plant is edible. The young leaves can be used as a potherb, saluted or used raw, such as in salads. The young seedpods can be used as a substitute black pepper. This common European weed of sunny, disturbed habitats, poor or sandy soil, and roadsides, grows throughout the US, from spring to fall. Use the spicy leaves, flowers, and seedpods in salads, soups, sauces, casseroles, and for making prepared mustard. The leaves contain protein, vitamin A and vitamin C.
Interesting fact: many edible weeds have multiple growing seasons throughout the year. Million dollars question: how do I know what we can be eaten or need to be thrown away? Should most things be cooked, lightly cooked is preferable, some can be eaten raw. What botanist have found out about these weeds, are they have incredible amount of nutrition value.
The most cherish able moment in Foraging came as an indirect consequence. Several teen-age young men were curious about the basket, and our picking and pruning of the common weeds. When we told them they were for consumption, they screamed “Ill, you must be sick, do you know what been there? That’s nasty, ‘OH HELL NA,'” they continued. Heckling and taunting ensued. A blunt response, we versed back. “Hey where does you food come from? What’s in your Mc Donald’s?” And then came the unexpected, pause.
The group turned and approached us. Then one person said he wanted to try it. A little shocked, we hurried to select a tasteful sample of our bounty. We selected the Poor Man’s Pepper. One tried the selection, and another, and another. And the chorus comments given were WOW. That’s not bad. All were convince but one. I knew then, what we began artistic expression as artist curation, would have a greater impact, and the experience was of profound importance. It was mind changing.