Renewed interest in wild edibles

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Rumex_acetosa_webWild edibles, also referred to as “hedgerow harvest”, were a good part of the diet of at least the country people and poor folks in general in year gone by. But the use and knowledge of wild edibles fell by the wayside in our recent decades of plenty.

The Great Recession and the austerity measures taken by the governments to, supposedly, reduce national debt, has led to a resurgence in the use of edible weeds and other wild edibles, especially in towns and cities, and has caused many to forage for them again. So much so, in fact, that the authorities in New York City, for instance, had to place a ban on foraging in Central Park fearing that trees and shrubs be stripped of leaves.

Foraging in the wilds needs to be done with care in order to allow enough for all and especially for regeneration of the plants.

In 2012 I saw the seed heads of Rumex acetosa (Common Sorrel) walk out of “my” park by the handfuls on a daily basis and it is surprising that the plants have actually been able to reproduce as bountiful as they did.

The majority of people who were abducting those seeds were of the Asian community in this country who use the leaves in their cuisine. I assume that they took the seeds in order to, like me, deliberately grow them in their gardens and on their allotments and sorrel is not the only edible weed which they grow in their kitchen gardens.

While removing seed heads in the quantities that they did is not something that I would ever encourage growing wild edibles for one's need in one's own garden or on one's allotment is a better choice than taking too much of it out of the wild. It is for that reason (and a couple of others) that I grow edible weeds deliberately in my kitchen garden also.

Foraging has, definitely, seen a resurgence everywhere due to the rising food costs caused by the Great Recession which is not, not even by a long shot, over as yet and food prices, no doubt, are going to rise for a long time to come still.

However, foraging should be done, like all things, in a sustainable manner and while the true foragers will do just that the new kind of forager is but interested to harvest as much as possible with as little effort as possible and without having to venture too far. This is not sustainable. The true forager lives and harvests by a code which this new kind of forager does not follow, alas.

While the gardener may take the entire harvest as, in most cases, he will start with newly bought seeds the next time Mother Nature does not garden in the same way and thus we need to leave a sustainable number of plants and especially seed in order to ensure new growth.

For that reason, when foraging in the wild we should only take a few leaves, or what-have-you, from an individual plant and then move on to the next one and not strip plants bare, as many of the new foragers do.

Leave enough so that the plants can regenerate and there will be enough for all.

© 2013