This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of joining Melissa Sokulski, author of the wonderful blog "Food Under Foot" on the Wild Edibles Hike at Frick Park. Thanks to this amazing Earth Day celebration, I had the opportunity to learn about foraging from a professional! I learned so many new things and feel much more comfortable foraging than I did when I first started researching. I have to say, while online research is certainly valuable, it doesn't get much better than learning from another person!
Melissa took our group of about 20 people on a quick socially distanced walk through Frick Park. Along the way, we stopped by various flora and Melissa shared her extensive knowledge about their respective properties and uses. I was amazed by how many plants that I see every day are actually edible. She used her background in herbal medicine (Chinese herbal medicine in particular) to explain to us eager listeners how much the Earth has to offer us. For the rest of this post, I hope to impart some of that knowledge to you! Here are some of my favorite edible plants we discussed and how they could be used.
Eastern RedBud – who knew that these beautiful magenta blossoms were edible?
- The flowers on the tree are very high in vitamin C and vitamin A and you can use them as a colorful addition to salads. They tasted slightly sweet and a little tart.
- You can eat the pea pods as well! They can be eaten when they are young and tender, Melissa recommends sautéing or steaming them.
- Native American tribes, including the Alabama, Cherokee, Delaware, Kiowa, and Oklahoma tribes, used Eastern Redbud for various purposes. For example, the bark was made into a tea to treat whooping cough, and taking cold infusions of the roots and inner bark treated fevers and congestion.
Garlic Mustard – invasive, but delicious.
- One very interesting fact Melissa told us was that Garlic Mustard's root system releases compounds in the soil which prevents any other plants from taking root there. This explains how it can quickly take over forest floors.
- However, its leaves make a delicious pesto. Using some of the garlic mustard that I collected during the Wild Edibles hike, per Melissa's suggestion, I made some amazing garlic mustard pesto. Here's a link to the recipe I used: https://food52.com/recipes/28281-garlic-mustard-pesto
- Additionally, you can use the roots of the plant – they taste a lot like horseradish!
Violets – beautiful and versatile
- Violets can be used in so many ways, and they add a nice pop of color any way you prepare them – like as decoration for a cake or a salad topping
- Another thing I can't wait to try is violet syrup. All you need are violets, water, and sugar, and you can enjoy the sweet subtle floral taste all year round. Here's the recipe I'm planning on using: https://www.thespruceeats.com/violet-flower-syrup-recipe-1327872
- Violet jelly, like the syrup, requires only a few other common household items to make a delicious, fruity and floral jelly, weeks before you'll find any wild berries around!
- I had so much fun researching all the ways you can use violets, my list of uses could be endless! However, I'll leave you with these for a jumping-off point: violet tea, soap, candied violets, violet lemonade, and even violet butter!
I learned so much during the Wild Edibles hike and I cannot wait to start applying my knowledge this summer. Not only did I learn about entirely new edible plants, but I was inspired by new ways to use the ones I already knew of. For example, while I researched dandelions before and discussed them in my first blog post (https://pittsburghparks.org/foraging-for-beginners/), I had no idea that they were good for your liver health and are often considered a "spring tonic". And even more fun, apparently you can dip them in batter, fry them up, and eat them with syrup! Violet syrup perhaps? Anyway, I would absolutely recommend checking out Melissa's blog: http://patreon.com/foodunderfoot if you get the chance. Happy foraging!
Raeanne Heuler - Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Intern