Foraging Day

Today I met Ellen in Central Park for our annual Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) foraging foray. It is always a bit of a gamble. Last year, according to my notes, we met this same week and the plants were barely at harvesting size. Today they were three feet tall, heading to their tough, inedible stage. Nonetheless, we both got a sackful. She’ll be brewing hers into wine and I’ll be freezing mine for use in soups, pies, and sauces. Japanese knotweed tastes something like rhubarb, tart and adaptable to both sweet and savory recipes.

There were unexpected harvests today as well. Ellen spotted some Elm samaras. elm samarasThese are a new wild food for me, tasting something like peas. I wish we’d collected more, but we weren’t 100% sure of our ID until we could get home and check our field guides (forager’s rule: If in doubt, throw it out). I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of these in the next week. During their brief, two week season they’re good both raw in salads and cooked.

So you’re thinking, wow, she’s got time to wander in the parks. Not really. Most of my foraging gets done striding at speed across town between garden clients whose terraces and lobby gardens I keep pretty. That’s my day job. But instead of cabbing it between East and West side, I walk. And along the way I forage.

That said, I have to admit that most of my foraging actually consists of weeding in my garden. Many of the “weeds” are delicious edibles. Tonight I picked nettles, one of my favorite wild greens.


I dry some of it for infusions later in the year. Some I use fresh. The Scotts adore this plant, and it is a featured ingredient in many of their recipes. I like it paired with potatoes in soups or a mash. By the way, the infamous stings disappear with cooking or drying.

I’ve stopped foraging for field garlic even though it is still in season. Ellen and Nancy, my meat farmer, gave me some of their surplus garlic, so I’m well-stocked to get through till the new garlic harvest here in July.

Not sure what this is about? Read Getting Ready for the 250-Mile Diet and The Rules


4 responses to “Foraging Day”

  1. acmeplant says:

    Those samaras were a tasty find. I remember reading about them last year; I’m glad we had a chance to try them.

  2. Miriam says:

    Those Elm samaras suddenly took me back to my childhood in Long Beach, NY. We used to pick the pods open and stick them to our noses. Who knew, back then, that they were edible? Now I know. So how have you been cooking them? Stir-fried, steamed?

    I’m not Scotch, but I too adore nettles. My late Dad used to advise me to leave my scissors at home and pick my nettles with a bare hand. His college professor, a Scotsman, had told him that back home the dairy girls would collect nettles for their poultry, saying that nettles mixed in with the feed would make hens and geese lay more. You had to pick the nettles barehanded, “with a firm grasp,” and then they wouldn’t sting. Hunh. Maybe the calloused hands of those dairy girls didn’t feel the sting – but my hands sure do. I don’t mind the sting from young, slender nettles, but for the bigger, hairy variety, it’s snip the stalk with the scissors and handle with care. My Dad, God bless him, never did accept my invitation to go foraging for nettles….


  3. rosasharne says:

    Early rhubarb! I’ve been waiting so long for it to start showing up at the farmer’s market, and was just reading about the possibilities of knotweed when I saw this post. If you have any recipes you’d like to post, I’d love to know them.

  4. ledameredith says:

    Japanese knotweed has a refreshing sourness with a green note that lends itself to both sweet and savory dishes. It can be substituted for rhubarb in any recipe, although I find it best when combined with other fruit in sweet recipes (think knotweed-strawberry compote–just cook the fruit until soft with a little honey to sweeten to taste. Served with a crunchy butter cookie and maybe a little ice cream, this is a wonderful dessert!).

    For savory dishes, I like to make a soup using Japanese knotweed, chicken stock, potatoes, and salt to taste. I peel and chop the knotweed and simmer it in the stock until very soft. Meanwhile, peel, chop, and steam or boil the potatoes separately until soft. Puree the knotweed broth in a blender or with a hand blender. Add the potatoes and mash with a potato masher (if you put the potatoes in the blender with the other ingredients they get glue-y). Add more stock if it seems too thick. Add salt to taste. I like this soup both hot and chilled.

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