Anniversary among the weeds

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:

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.

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12 Responses to Anniversary among the weeds

  1. Lisbeth says:

    Congratulations on your first five together! What a way to celebrate, awesome. Echinacea is the best thing for common cold, besides it’s just beautiful. I don’t forage but I grow my own veggies and herbs in a small backyard. It makes me happy to see Oklahomans enjoying the prairies. From a fellow gardener, here is a book that speculates about a possible future in which gardeners are the ones with the tools to survive: Year of the Floods by Margaret Atwood.

    • Thanks Lisbeth! And thanks for the recommendation on the Atwood book. I’m a fan of hers, but haven’t read that one yet — definitely need to check it out.

  2. denisedthornton says:

    Walking through the world and knowing what you can eat is liberating. I got my first intro from Euell Gibbons Stalking the Wild Asparagus. It’s been an inspiration ever since.

  3. hungryholler says:

    So freakin’ romantic.
    As for poke and its ilk: if you have to work that hard to make it edible, it ain’t meant to be et.

    • @Jan: My grampy grew up on poke and spoke fondly of it. Although it was also the dusty Depression, ten kids, eeking out a living by scratching in the dirt.

  4. hungryholler says:

    Seriously. Super good post. I laughed. I cried. I ate Cheese Nips.

  5. S.L. Dickey says:

    It sounds like the BEST day ever! When I lived in Atlanta, a dear 60-year-old co-worker used to bring this stuff to work called “poke sally” – at least that is what I thought she was saying – maybe it was her Southern drawl, but later I learned that the correct name is poke salad. But I loved that stuff. Have never tried to make it, but it was good! What a wonderful day, learning all the edible delights in Oklahoma! I wonder how the poison ivy kids are doing . . . yikes!

    • Hi there, S.L. Now I think “poke sally” and giggle every time I see poke weed! Haven’t heard anything about the poison ivy kids, but someone else mentioned that some people don’t catch the itch as easily as others. Maybe they came out unscathed?

  6. I was on the walk with you! It was wonderful day! I had to leave early for a memorial service for my aunt. I hope to see you at the festival!

  7. Jackie Dill says:

    I loved this post! I am so glad you enjoyed the walk and what a wonderful way to spend a special day. The wild peaches are ripe now along with the blackberries. I hope to see you at the festival, our numbers for attendance have almost reached the limit! Many more happy anniversaries for you and Mr. Hilltop!

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