Photos and Story By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader
Just like birds, edible wild plants are a way for people to become interested in the environment, stay in touch with the cycles of the nature, and give you a great deal of pleasure throughout your life. Such are the sentiments of Lee Allen Peterson, author of the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America. Like his father, who interested millions of people in the world of birds and nature, Lee uses wild plants to get people interested in the environment around them and to become more attuned with the natural world.
Yesterday, Lee led two groups of eager, edible wild plant buffs around the Burrows Run Preserve. Through his leadership and identification skills, we tasted a variety of wild mustards, smelled the fragrance of Queen Anne’s lace and sweet cicely root, and learned about the variety of plants all around us that can be used as food. We learned that lots of plants can technically be used as food, but some, like skunk cabbage, are very time consuming to prepare, and aren’t worth the effort in the end. We were encouraged to develop our personal list of “go to plants” that are easy to obtain, won’t be causing harm to sensitive populations if collected, and are worth the time and effort to prepare. You may already know what my “go to plant” is…Stinging Nettle!
Using the senses during the walk was at least half the fun. Pennsylvania bittercress has a sharp, peppery bite. Garlic Mustard is pretty disgusting at this time of year. Rape seed pods are sweet and crunchy, like a small green bean. Don’t eat Dame’s Rocket…it is a mustard, but it’s awful! Violets are best when they are small shoots, but they still are pretty tasty when they are all grown up. The biggest lesson, however, was to know how to identify the plant before you eat it, know the parts of the plant to eat, and follow it through the seasons and get to know it before you harvest it.
In the evening after the walks, we were treated to an wild edible food dinner at the Backburner Restaurant in Hockessin, DE. The chef expertly prepared stinging nettle, ramps, Jerusalem artichokes, ostrich fern fiddleheads and much more for our group to try. We wish you were there with us…so have a look at the menu and consider signing up for this program the next time we offer it.
Stinging nettle and spinach soup with Paradocx Vineyard, Pinot Grigio, 2007
Steamed fiddleheads over baby arugula and bulls blood with heirloom tomatoes and shaved kohlrabi finished with fresh picked Coverdale Farm herbed vinaigrette. Paired with Paradocx Vineyard Merlot, 2006
Grilled marinated venison served over butter braised ramps and roasted baby zucchini. Finished with blended wild mushroom ragout and Jerusalem artichoke puree. Paired with Paradocx Vineyard, Sangiovese, 2005
Coverdale Farm egg chocolate mousse with chocolate meringue strawberries and fresh spearmint. Paired with Paradocx Vineyard, Pinot Blanc, 2007