Can’t believe it’s been five years since Mr. Hilltop and I got hitched. We’re not spring chickens, so it’s funny to think of ourselves as more “newlywed” than “old marrieds.”
To celebrate, we went on a forage walk … because what better way to spend a Saturday together than traipsing the Oklahoma back roads with a group of strangers, chewing on weeds?
Not a weed eater? Wondering what the heck I’m talking about? Well, the forage movement is sort of a back-to-the-future way of living. Wildcrafting … edible landscaping … chefs and their forage-based menus … natural medicines … It’s always been around, but it seems to have grown in popularity over the past few years.
Gardeners, foodies, moms, students, ex-hippies, survivalists, vegetarians, folks trying to live green, even those on a budget all look for edibles in their own backyards … and in city parks, along roadways, near parking lots … anywhere green things grow. You see weeds? Foragers see salad greens or pain relief or a source of iron.
Maybe it was the bad economy, job losses and thin wallets … could have been news of poisons in the toothpaste from China … fear over The Man’s genetic tinkering with our own food sources … dread of the zombie apocalypse … or heck, maybe it’s from trying to figure out why the Ford Ranger says no phone is available even though we just synced the dang LG five freaking minutes ago! Let’s just say modern life may have us yearning for the simpler ways of yore.
Whatever the reason, foragers seek to preserve traditional knowledge our great grandmothers had but we don’t … because a 24-hour Walgreens is on nearly every corner. And Taco Bell drive-thru is open late. And Walmart always has something for cheap. We’ve grown up not needing to know how many times to change the water when boiling pokeweed so you don’t give yourself diarrhea. Or the best way to get mullein into the blood stream to reduce phlegm is to smoke it. Or sumac is ready to harvest when the seed heads “go down.” But make sure it’s not white sumac because they’re poisonous.
Back to our Fifth Anniversary Forage Walk …
It was with a woman in Coyle, Okla., a small town about an hour from us. She’s been giving free Saturday walks when she can, sharing what she’s known her whole life (learned from her grandmother). These walks have become so popular that she’s had to limit the attendance. In fact, the interest is so great that she’s coordinating a one-day Wildcrafting Festival next month.
On our walk were college students, gardeners, home-schooled kids, retirees, botanists, the simply curious … with nearly everyone taking notes or photos.
Mr. Hilltop helping other foragers pluck sand plums from a roadside the thicket. The girls were standing ankle-deep in poison ivy. We all warned them, but they and their mom didn’t seem worried. “Sometimes you have to learn by experience,” said one of the men.
We had a blast. A few well-placed clouds kept us from getting too sweaty. We learned about prickly lettuce and prairie sage and dock (leaves and seeds) and the lovely spice currant (also known as buffalo berries).
But what I loved best of all (besides spending a day outdoors with Mr. Hilltop) was seeing native prairie plants along a red dirt road. Native prairie plants! In the wild! Not being cared for or tended or fawned over or watered …
I’m pretty sure these are white prairie clovers (Dalea candida) with most of the petals fallen off. Native Americans steeped dried leaves in water to make a tea, used the leaves to create medicine applied to wounds, and chewed the sweet-tasting roots.* *Source: KSWildflower.org
They grew just like they knew what they were doing. Prairie clover, Echinacea, Mexican hat … if we don’t poison with Round-Up or other chemicals, the plants will do their thing. And what a pretty “thing” they do!
Purple prairie-clover (Dalea purpurea) — the first time I’ve seen it growing wild, and it smells really good. The orangish ball is purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) with nearly all petals fallen off.
The traditional wedding anniversary gift for the fifth year is wood … but in our little corner of the world our fifth anniversary gift was weeds.