A derelict 19th century factory, the no man’s land between two busy streets, and a public park would most certainly not be the among the first, second, or even third locations that I’d visit for a quick and healthy bite. However, all these sites offer an abundant supply of healthy and free bites—provided that you know where and exactly what to look for. Foraging is not exactly a new thing. I remember days spent with my parents, foraging for mushrooms and wild berries in the forests. But it never occurred to me to actually forage in the city. It never came across my mind that urban foraging is actually a thing. However, since the rise of New Nordic Cuisine—which took foraging to new and often mocked heights—I have learned that there are numerous edible plants in urban landscapes, which are often dismissed as worthless weeds. However, most people remain wary about literally finding their food on the streets. What if the plants are polluted? How can I be sure I’m not confusing it with a different, poisonous plant? Most doubts and objections can be easily assuaged with some good old education. Since springtime is by far the best time to enjoy natures many gifts and a casual stroll through your neighborhood, we have compiled a handy little guide on urban foraging. .
Let’s start with the legal fine print. Before embarking into the urban wilderness, brush up on your local laws regarding trespassing and/or protected wild plants. You probably won’t end up in jail, but uprooting plants without permission on private and public property might land you a fine. In most cases, it’s going to be alright, though. But in the case of trees hanging over a fence, it is best to ask the owner for permission before harvesting or stealing a basket full of cherries, apples, or whatever fruits you might come across. Yes, even “worthless” weeds like stinging nettles are off limits on private properties.
Besides asking for permission, which should be a given, don’t pick more than you can or will eat. Take only as much as you can comfortably use without creating waste or harm to the plant. Best practice is to pick leaves from several different plants, instead of picking all from just one plant.
First of all, no worries, the likelihood of actually dying from eating poisonous plants is slim to none—when you take the necessary precautions, that is. Before you dive in head first, consider joining a guided tour. If you happen to live in a bigger city, chances are there is someone out there who is eager to share his or her knowledge with you. You could also browse your local bookshop or library. Also, only eat plants you’re 100 percent certain are safe for consumption. If you’re not sure, don’t eat them without consulting the right sources first.
For the novice, besides a fear of ending up sick, foraging comes with a certain level of uncertainty. To prevent unpleasant surprises, try to pick only plants that are out of reach for animals. Also thoroughly rinse them before eating, and be sure to study the landscape for possible sources of contamination, such as factory fallout or run-off water.
Published on May 15, 2016