Yesterday I attended a wildcrafting class at the Regenerative Design Institute titled Wild Fermentation, Plum Mead, and More. The class was led by Kevin Feinstein of Feral Kevin. Kevin’s lecture focused on learning to cook with our local foods.

Before this class, local for me had meant the local family farm, the local farmers’ market, the local produce in the grocery store. Local products made by local people.

I remember back in high school walking home and seeing wild anise growing up hills and along sidewalks. I often wanted to harvest some take it home and try cooking with it. Fresh anise I would think Imagine that. I never picked any. Growing up in Southern California I learned to fear tap water and plants early on… always afraid of what residue could be lurking on leaves or petals or what had slipped into our water supply.

My senior year of high school my biology teacher created an interesting final exam. We were to learn about the plants growing on campus. What were their names? Were they edible? Were they medicinal? I remember listening intently to his lectures as we walked outside the class room. I remember tasting mustard weed and the bitter plums I had always assumed were for decorative purposes only. I studied everything and passed the knowledge on to my friends. Between classes I would munch on the mustard and get odd looks from passers by. I realize now that those moments were my first experiences with local foods.

Local for the purpose of the class was native wild foods. The plum trees growing along our biking and walking paths, the berry bushes and herbs we pass by on hikes. At first the concept of eating something growing in the wild terrified me. Who knows what could be on it? There is a possibility that whatever it is could be worse than the herbicides and pesticides sprayed on our commercial food! My mind also filled with concerns of taking food away from our local wildlife.

Kevin’s lecture addressed all my concerns. He stated of course you don’t want to pick berries from a ditch on the side of the road and reminded me that the same rules would apply to local foods that do commercial foods. Tropical fruits like mangoes, papaya, avocado, etc will be more resistant to picking up toxins while lettuces, herbs, and berries will be more vulnerable. (For more information on this please check out my Demystifying Organic Series especially part 3/3 found here)

Kevin also explained that at this point in our society there are more wild foods than the animals themselves can handle. He also stressed that while exploring and experimenting with wild foods is wonderful we want to use the surplus and the excess of the foods we find and not take over and eliminate the foods our wildlife does eat. Another point to stress is there are many fruit bearing trees planted in public suburban places where wildlife doesn’t have the best access.

While Kevin was not an expert in the wild food field he 1. did not pretend to be and 2. still had a plethora of information to pass along to myself and the other members of the class.

My views on wild food are beginning to change  and while I am still nervous about going into a forest (or a roadside ditch) to gather up food to live off of… I’m curious to give it a try.

Currently my younger sister (11) who is visiting on her summer vacation is gathering up grocery bags so we can make a trek to the local bike path and harvest wild plums. There are several trees growing near by so why not use the fruit instead of letting it rot on the ground and later complaining about the mess it made on your shoes?

Each week I spend about $15 at the local farmers’ market on fruit for the household while every where you look in Sonoma there are berries, apples, plums, and of course grapes growing in public places.

Eating local wild food. What a concept! I strongly encourage everyone to give it a try. Start with something you recognize, like plums, and see how you like it. Plums are an excellent fruit to start with now since 1. they are currently in season and 2. every plum you will try will have its own unique taste. Some will be bitter, others extremely sweet. Some with have more skin than others. And each tree will have a variety of color.

Experiencing the tastes of local wild food will give you the best taste experience of your local region. Flavors found there will not be found anywhere else! And foraging for  wild food will grant you a new view on where you live. As seasons pass you will recognize the living landmarks of change. Best of all experiencing wild food will connect us even more to what we are eating. Each bite will take us on a journey to a time where food was once local, sustainable, unique, and delicious.

Give it a try: Resources for wild food (has a bookstore and information on edible and medicinal plants) (interesting article on why to eat wild foods)

You may want to do an internet or library search on wild edible plants in your own area as well

Happy Foraging!