The Essential Herbal Magazine '02
By Tina Sams
I am a fool for Spring. At five foot, two inches, I sometimes watch toddlers, and envy their proximity to the earth and the flowers, weeds, and critters that are down there. People sometimes ask me how my interest in wildcrafting started. It was always there; I distinctly remember finding a clump of Dutchman’s Breeches in the woods behind the house at about age 6, and feeling like it was a pirate’s long buried treasure. I wanted to share the treasure, but nobody at home was very interested. That would often be the case, and it is still often a source of frustration to me. The truth is, my grandfather was the catalyst. A quiet, gentle man of the earth, he’d take me for aimless walks and find wild strawberries to munch, angelica to smell, and sassafras mittens to admire and sniff. Walking through cornfields in Autumn, we’d pick up the leftover corn to scatter in the woods outside the kitchen window, so we could watch the animals that came to eat it. Okay, okay…. So sometimes they wound up on the supper table…. We’d spend days catching crayfish and newts in the creek, and sometimes we’d go looking for salamanders (he called them sallies) under rocks. The absolute best way to get into the natural world was to just hike down shallow creeks, looking for whatever showed itself. He was a child at heart, and that was his gift to me. He gave me a sense of wonder at the world at my feet.
Traveling is just another opportunity to see what’s growing. I’m that woman you see stopped along the highway, 4-way flashers on, scrambling up the bank to get a closer look at some odd bush or wildflower. Once, I spent a Spring in Southern Virginia. Every morning there was a new plant to try to identify, smell, taste, or just gaze at. The toadflax there was pale blue and magenta, and I would sit for hours looking at the field of dancing blue. Never mind that it was supposed to be spinach… My companion teased me mercilessly. As we drove along, I would gasp at the sight of blue-eyed grass or redbud trees, and he would slam on the brakes, thinking that something was wrong. Spring is a tough time to be around those of us who hear the plants calling. We most likely shouldn’t be allowed to drive.
So that time is here again. When I pull on my boots, I am suddenly 7 years old again. Into a small, handled enamel pail go gloves, snips, a couple field guides, and baggies. It is most fun to go with kindred spirits with whom one can share the treasure, but going alone is an experience that returns me to center as well.
Yesterday I went alone. It’s the Easter weekend, and my cohorts are busy. It felt like everything was there just for me. The air was so fresh, and the temperature was perfect. The birds were easily visible in the budding branches and called to each other with great gusto. I heard a ringneck pheasant call, and then he was standing right in the path. They are almost too beautiful to be real.
Gracelessly clamoring down a steep embankment, I stopped short and knelt down at the sight of some wood violets. Around the next bend stood a huge clump of wild grape hyacinth. Throughout the area were 4’ nettle plants. Some of them came home for dinner….
Some days I come home with a pail full of things to eat or make into tincture. Other days the pail is empty but the mind is relaxed and filled with joy. Some that stand out? Finding acres of trout lilies and touching them….hardly believing my luck. Seeing wild blueberry bushes bloom for the first time, and recognizing them instantly. Waking to find bluets scattered across the yard like stars.
Maybe it is a compulsion. It is most definitely an obsession. But it is sad to think that nature scatters these jewels all around us and some people don’t even see them. At the same time, I take my share of ribbing. I’ve been likened to a goat, kicking and bleating at the sight of elder in bloom. And some question the sanity of picking a wild salad when it is so readily available in bags at the grocery.
To ease into a wild salad, try adding some (or all) of the following to some mesclun mix.
Daylily buds violet flowers and leaves rose petals
Sheep sorrel young dandelion leaves garlic mustard greens
Chickweed lamb’s quarters wild mustard
OR try a stirfry using daylily buds, garlic mustard greens, store bought mushrooms, and sesame seeds. Chicken or shrimp can be added, and using sesame oil is incredibly tasty.
To eat the nettles, it must be cooked enough to wilt and turn bright green. Purists may have some trouble with this method, but it is easy and cuts down on the number of times the prickly nettle needs to be handled. Wearing gloves, fill a plastic bag (flat bottom is best) with the tender tops of the nettle plant. At home, open the bag and sprinkle just a bit of water into the bag. Place in the microwave, and cook for about a minute. It is ready to eat…. Delicious, nutritious, and of course – free!