Thursday, January 15, 2009
Recently, my brain was flooded with the remembered smell and taste of cedar. I was enjoying the latent promise in the myriads of tiny red buds on the maple trees outside my office window and my gaze was drawn further, beyond the townhouses behind my building to the fat cones hanging from the drooping branches of a large Norwegian Spruce beyond, and then to the top of a cedar, just visible above the rooftops. It was with the glimpse of the cedar that the floodgates of memory opened.
I remembered the secret spaces inside large cedar trees of my childhood, the dry spongy forest floor under the cedars and the bitter taste of cedar on my tongue.
When I was 9, 10, 11 years old, we were in the habit of making long Saturday afternoon walks with my parents in the woods and fallow fields near our home. And it was on those walks that my father introduced me to the habit of munching as we walked. Well, not munching, exactly. More like nibbling and tasting to satisfy our curiosity.
Unlike some parents who pretend like they don't know what an old, dirty, much-handled penny tastes like, I believe every child needs to eat quite a healthy amount of dirt pretty regularly to stay healthy. Every gardener certainly knows the lovely aroma of truly rich garden soil!
Now, I don't think my father deliberately had a theory on learning or health that motivated him to encourage us to munch and nibble. Or maybe he did. In any case, he was my first source of knowledge about the natural world and through play and exploration he guided us to avoid poisonous plants while encouraging us to munch our way through cedar trees, pine needles, birch twigs, timothy, clover, willow, sheep sorrel, and so on.
Now, in case you think this was indiscriminate munching, you'd be wrong. There's an art to finding the tastiest bits of edible plants in the wild. And, it is important to note that knowledge of exactly what parts of a plant are edible, is also important. With caution and a healthy dose of common sense, it is quite possible to find wonderful meals just by wild-crafting.
Anyhow, here's a partial list of edible wild plants , that can be found in the yard or in the woods. This site also has photos and recipe ideas.