Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Gifts from the Wild

Summer 2013 Edible Charlotte Magazine

It was a cool morning when I rolled up to a gentleman named David’s house. I was the photographer on assignment along with a writer named Jodi. We shook hands and began walking, and David, with his grey hair and kind eyes, began to explain foraging and what he eats for breakfast every day- everything from his yard. He plucked up some weeds and took a bite of the top telling me it tastes like mustard, then a violet flower that we both began to munch on, the head of dandelion- sprinkling the yellow in the air as we ate. He grabbed a bushel of more “weeds”, “this one is used for colds,” “this one can be made into a nice tea with some honey from our bees.” I had seen all of these plants before, growing in my yard, and had no idea most of them were edible, and many of them could be used for vitamins, cures etc… All you would have to do is not spray any pesticides and you can eat them.

The scientific nerd in me wanted to stop what I was doing and devote my time to learning these plants, taking nature walks and making dandelion salads for the rest of my life. As I walked with this man explaining this foreign world, that I literally have walked over my entire existence, my eyes were opening and my heart was kind of coming alive. It was strange, but I couldn’t help but feel excited, like I was a pioneer discovering new land- learning the history of the Native Americans and the leaves they used to cure stomach aches, or the plants that are popular in some African American cultures eaten as greens… Apparently, people began cooking with herbs because their fragrance would mask meat beginning to turn, but really fresh food doesn't need much extra. This made me wonder in our culture of cheap food, if we even know what real food tastes like. Everything is smothered in sauces and artificial flavors, and topped with cheese so it’s tolerable. But after tasting wild asparagus, snapped off the stalk in the ground, crunching while walking, it was the sweetest vegetable I've ever eaten..

But my favorite part was when David showed me behind a fence, an area he let grow completely wild… it was filled with familiar and new plants. He showed me several variants of mint, blossoms and tea leaves and said something to me like, “Mother Earth if full of gifts growing wild, it’s like the earth is trying to give us a gift and we just don’t know it.” so we cut down and spray with poison And suddenly, standing in this wild tangled growth of green, surrounded by plants used to heal, leaves that salve and flower buds that give Vitamin C all bursting out of the earth with their hands out saying, “take me, I’m free, I’ll heal you, I’m good for you.” For a moment, I felt like I was supposed to be growing wild, unannounced, bearing gifts of color and healing.

The small pleasures of earth still bloom, unplanted, uncontrolled, gifting us. All along the annoyances of weeds were actually gifts; I just had to see again.

And in my revelation, standing with a bushel of weeds: chives & blackberry blossoms, a handful of eggs fresh from under the hen, and honey in a cup... that I was going to take home to use in a recipe for the shoot... I whispered to myself, I want to be wild.

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