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Judy Isacoff
Onion bed with red amaranth. June 23, 2018.

NATURE’S TURN: Forager, gardener and cook

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By Monday, Aug 13, 2018 Farm and Table

August 13 – 26, 2018

Mount Washington — Our gardens, like all of us, grow in relation to wild nature. We breathe the air; drink the water; are buffeted by the wind; and interact with the plants, insects, mammals and other organisms in our environment.

Gardeners prepare ground and create a layout within which to carefully place a selection of desired plants, either by seeding or transplant. Before long, intermingled with our meticulously executed scheme, a profusion of uninvited plants appear and would establish themselves. Our response is, most often, to pull them out and throw them into the compost.

Self-sown plants, usually deemed “weeds,” may be recognized by a gardener as desirable additions to the garden. For their beauty, I welcomed pale corydalis and red amaranth. I subsequently discovered that pale corydalis, a North American native, is one of the first spring food plants for hummingbirds; red amaranth is a delicious, nutritious edible for humans. They both self-sow freely but are easy to limit. They are assets in the garden.

Red amaranth. June 23, 2018. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Wild food enthusiasts identify as many edible weeds as there are crop plants on cultivated ground. In my garden, a variety of weeds appear every season; the dominant ones change from year to year. On the menu this year: dandelion, purslane, sorrel, Galinsoga, lamb’s quarter; all are delicious raw and cooked.

Until quite recently, wild foods, both weeds and wildcrafted, had been the purview of naturalists and their followers. Today, chefs seek out foraged edibles to introduce to diners. When looking for a new book on the subject on the Chelsea Green Publishing website (my go-to source for titles regarding ecological stewardship and connecting people to nature), I was drawn to “Forage, Harvest, Feast: A Wild-Inspired Cuisine” by Marie Viljoen*. Her first words are, ”It is time to refresh our palates.”

Galinsoga, left; purslane ground; yellow wood sorrel, right. August 6, 2018. Photo: Judy Isacoff

This is a substantial, pioneering cookbook, “A Wild-Inspired Cuisine” that is attentive to everything from cocktails to dessert. Viljoen is thorough and engaging as she informs the reader about how to identify, collect, prepare, cultivate and exercise caution — for the plant’s and the human’s benefit. All the weeds in and along the roadside near my garden, as well as native plants nearby, are included in this volume. Many recipes are offered for each of three dozen plants.

Marie Viljoen’s purpose: ”By providing a range of recipes for these plants, I am making what I hope is an irrefutable edible argument for bringing these ingredients from the enlightened foraging fringes to everyday cooking and horticultural consideration.”

Is it lunchtime? I have a new, quick recipe from “Forage, Harvest, Feast”: Purslane and Tomato Open-Face Sandwich.


“Forage, Harvest, Feast: A Wild-Inspired Cuisine” by Marie Viljoen, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT, August 2018  https://www.chelseagreen.com/shop/new-releases/

Search for foraging workshops and wild food field guides
Pleasant Valley Audubon, Trustees of Reservations, Berkshire Botanical Garden

Red amaranth (inconclusive search)

Pale corydalis – https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=COSE5

Opportunities to participate

Menu often includes foraged edibles. At this writing, hen of the woods mushrooms, wildcrafted.
Chef Stephen Browning adds, “I def use weeds. Purslane, sheep sorrel , lambs quarters, chickweed, garlic mustard etc.”
Prairie Whale Restaurant, 178 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA, https://www.facebook.com/PrairieWhale

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