Newsletter 1 June 2010
Newsletter, June 2010
Often I am asked “why forage for wild food?” Why that question is asked is probably worthy of an article unto itself. But here let’s focus on one answer (out of several.) Let’s look at cost.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released recently their March (2010) number crunching. Food prices in March rose 2.4%, the sixth month in a row food prices have gone up, and the largest jump since 1984. But that’s counting everything. If you look at specific categories the numbers are more revealing.
Fresh and dry vegetables went up up 56.1%, fresh fruits and melons 28.8%, fresh eggs 33.6%, pork 19.1%, beef and veal up 10.7% and dairy products up 9.7%. All of that makes the Bidens pilosa growing in my yard all the more attractive, maybe even that pesky squirrel. Some think “food inflation” will continue even if the economy improves. Apparently that is what is happening in India now. Some investment gurus are talking about investing in, literally, food, and others like Warren Buffet are recommending investiment in agriculture or countries with a lot of agriculture.
It’s interesting the price of plant products rose more than animal products, though animal products are also dependent on plants, however not necessarily plants that man grows. The difference is commercial plants for people need chemicals and tending whereas many plants for animals — range grass for example — do not nor do most of the weeds we eat. However, contrary to what most folks think foraging is not free. There are costs. Discounting time, one has to get to a place to forage. One has to transport the collected food and the food has to be cleaned. That requires some cost, from calories to bike tires to gasoline to clean water.
One also needs to know which plants to pick. That knowledge can come free, and/or from lessons, books, and internet services. My personal plant library of some six dozen books cost me about $1,000. You may never own more than one foraging book but my point is wild food is not totally free. But, it is the next thing to free, and the cost a lot less than store-bought food and is less subject to inflation and taxes. Once you have foraging knowledge inside your head any cost gets prorated over time to the point of being negligible. A $20 course and a $30 book totals up to $50 but if you and yours can eat for a lifetime it’s a good investment. It’s also a certain measure of independence and security.
I’m not suggesting foraging an answer to the growing food problem. With unemployment hovering near 17% (depending who’s counting and how they count) there are nearly 40 million Americans on food stamps, up 22.4% over this time last year. The government is now paying out more in benefits than it is taking in. At some point entitlement programs will be cut back. However, 40 million people can’t go out and forage even if they knew how. The impact on the environment would be devastating. The realty is not even one percent of them (400,000) are interested in foraging. I doubt that even one tenth of one percent (40,000) are interested. Maybe one hundredth of one percent might be interested, 4,000, which is close to my number of subscribers. See how uncommon you are?
This we know: Food prices are rising, sharply. There is some cost associated with learning how to forage, and most people are not interested in foraging — at least not now. I think that adds up to a strong argument that not only is it economical to forage but that it will be a steady food supply because others don’t see the value it represents, and even if they did they are far behind you in the learning curve. Learning to forage can mean you have something to eat when they don’t. You certainly have more variety and better nutrition.
When you learn to forage you are doing more than identifying edible wild plants. You are also developing a skill and confidence. No matter how dire the need, those cannot be learned overnight. Foraging is like rigging, you learn mostly by doing and that cannot be rushed. You’re already way ahead of millions.
A NEW VEGETABLE
If you could choose one wild plant to become a commercial product, what would it be? Many people have tried to make poke weed (Phytolacca americana) a green in your local grocery but toxicity and the required two-boilings has always plagued its commercialization. The ground nut (Apios americana) was one of the original exports from colonial America but it has at least a two-year growth cycle. Louisiana State University (1984-96) developed a commercial variety but the program disappeared when the professor-in-charge, Bill Blackmon, changed colleges. In 1962 Professor Julia Morton of the University of Miami recommended Spanish Needles (Bidens pilosa) become a commercial product. Nearly a half a century later that hasn’t happened, perhaps because of flavor or the fact it can grow almost anywhere as a weed. My candidate would be Suaeda linearis, Sea Blite, and if I could figure out how to do it I would.
Sea Blite has everything going for it except perhaps for its name. It’s mild but tasty, has excellent texture, can be eaten raw or cooked though cooked is the usual way. It’s nutritious, stores well, looks good, easily grows in salty ground (read unused land) and even feels good to handle. About the only downside, for me, is that I have to drive about 55 miles to get some. I need to introduce it to my garden.
Think of Sea Blite as a Chinopodium that likes to grow in salty places, either near the ocean or salt licks. It has a high sodium content but boiling reduces that significantly. If you live anywhere near the ocean or inland salty areas, now and the next few months is the time to go looking for seablight and seepweeds. To read more about Sea Blite click here.
HOW SAFE IS FORAGING?
Excluding mushroom hunters, plant foragers have a good track record of staying alive. Plant foragers have about one accidental death every 20 years, and usually that’s from eating some member of the poison hemlock crowd. That should be a word to the wise. Locally, the nemesis is the water hemlock and it grows exactly where watercress grows. When I collect watercress I look at every piece before I collect or cook it, every single piece. Actually, there are several deadly local plants: Water hemlock, the Yew, Oleander, Castor Beans, and the Rosary Pea, the most toxic seed on earth. I have been asked to do a video on toxic plants but I am afraid some idiot will not understand what the video is about and eat the wrong plant.
Most plant poisonings involve toddlers eating from the landscaping around their home, with the next highest incidence is toddlers eating the landscaping from their neighbor’s yard. Why we fill our home space with toxic plants rather than edible landscaping is beyond me.
Excluding suicides, adult poisonings are extremely rare. So, don’t be afraid of foraging. Just be careful. Study. Take lessons. Go with a friend. ITEMize!
CAN A FORAGER FIND TRUE LOVE?
According to the Timberland Company they can. The New Hampshire-based outfitting company has released the results of their 2010 eco-love survey. Oddly, it was male-centric. Apparently men are looking for love in all the green places. (Don’t shoot this messenger.)
Must Love the Earth. Fifty-four percent of men would question whether to start a relationship with a woman someone who litters. Others would ponder if a woman was worth dating if she doesn’t recycle (25%), leaves the lights on when not at home (23%) or drives a gas-guzzler (21%).
Guys Dig Green. One-quarter of men think “green” women make better life partners (24%) or friends (27%) than those who aren’t so environmentally responsible.
Plan an Eco-date. 41% of men would be more interested in an “adventure” date like hiking or rock climbing or a charity or service-focused date like tree planting, rather than the traditional “dinner and a movie” date.
Green eco-lebrities. Men say Cameron Diaz (27%) and Kate Hudson (26%) would inspire them to go green. Feelings are mixed on eco-celeb Jessica Biel. Twenty-one percent of men say she’s an inspiring green celeb, but only 13 percent of women agree.
Going Green. Almost a third of Americans (30%) feel they need to make more of an effort to purchase eco-friendly clothing over the next year. And, before you set out on your eco-date, consider eating locally grown food. More than half (53%) of Americans think that eating locally grown foods should be a priority in the next year. Almost three-quarters (72%) think Americans need to switch to energy-efficient light bulbs, 57 percent think Americans need to green their daily commutes by carpooling, walking or biking to work and 47 percent want others to take showers instead of baths to save water (showering with someone even saves more water.)
There’s less salt in your future but not less salt flavor, so it is claimed. PepsiCO did some research and found that only 20% of the salt on their products contributed to taste whereas 80% got swallowed undissolved, read untasted. So the company successfully set out to reshape salt crystals to melted faster on the tongue thus giving the same salty flavor but using 25% less salt. That would clearly cut costs for them in the future but the question is how will that be positioned on the label? 25% LESS SALT! LESS SALT MORE FLAVOR! Heck they might make an extra salty tasting product but claim it has normal salt levels. Quite a few possibilities. The new salt needs no approval, says PepsiCo, because it is just reshaped salt.
The Weeping Holly (Ilex vomitoria “pendula”) has more caffein in its leaves than any plant in North America.