Is your idea of foraging for food shopping the local Farmer’s Market? Or going to one of those trendy “farm to table” restaurants? It’s the beginning of Spring and fun things are popping up for creating wild salads. I remember learning during my teen years about some edible flowers (daylily tastes like honey-flavored iceberg lettuce and nasturtium are spicy). Looking at the dandelion greens being sold, I’d think two thoughts: I can get these for free in my lawn; and Eww, I wonder if a dog peed on the ones on my lawn.
Do you have aloe in your kitchen? Or buy products with lavender in them for their calming effects? Plants have healing properties, but knowing which ones do what is the trick. I wondered what it would be like to know more about plants and their benefits beyond making interesting salads, my yard look nice, and filling farmer’s markets. I started subscribing to a newsletter written by an internationally known herbalist, Susun Weed. Pretty cool name for a woman who heals with plants!
Through her newsletter I learned about a retreat she offered called “The Green Witch Intensive.” I made the decision to sign up for this special educational seminar on a Wednesday, because it certainly seemed like an adventure! I remember calling Susun that day to ask if there is WiFi up there, so I could stay connected to work. I made the mistake of being lazy with my words and asked “do you guys have internet?” Susun made it very clear that “guys” is not an acceptable slang term for any group that included females. Words have power. By using a male term for women is a way of minimizing females, a way of making them less equal to men. As someone who has had to deal with inequality due to gender, I certainly do not want to promote it, even subtly. I have not been lazy in addressing any women as “guys” ever since.
The Green Witch Intensive
The retreat started on a Thursday morning, early. Since it was a long drive, I started out on Wednesday late afternoon, driving to her farm in the Catskills. I had brought with me an air mattress and sleeping bag, but no other camping gear. When I arrived I discovered the sleeping arrangements were not a generous as I had expected. I checked out the teepee that was offered – and with the gaping holes, uneven ground and incredible dampness from a recent rain, I opted for the floor of the classroom/drying room. One of the other women staying for the retreat also stayed there with me.
During our stay we would take walks all around the farm and in the woods, with Susun identifying plants and their healing properties. She showed us mushrooms, and even referred to the fact that she had been a “tour guide” at another time to those who ingested any (meaning she knew which ones were the psychotropic ‘shrooms. Her knowing smirk made me think she had a lot of history with assorted natural trips. I wondered what it would be like to journey with such an intense teacher.) However, she also pointed out one she called “Snow White” (for it was pretty and pure white) letting us know how poisonous it is – that even brushing it gently could send you to the ER! Certainly a strong way of driving home the point to be certain of what you’re harvesting – more than “Never eat anything you haven’t positively identified at least three times!”
One part of the weekend I really enjoyed was gathering wild salad greens for our meals. Susun had a patch of Shiso that was abundant enough to feed all of us. One of her apprentices would state a saying each time she picked a plant. I learned this was a form of a blessing and a thank you to the plants for their gift of nutrition for us. I found it an interesting way to feel more connected to the earth. One afternoon she sent us off on our own to gather the ingredients for our dinner salad.
The results from this magical weekend? A deeper appreciation for the wild greens at the farmer’s markets. A desire to grow my own Shiso (I have the seed packet, but have yet to plant them). And more excuses for letting the dandelions grow bigger on my lawn (they are not just bee food, but now I let them grow big enough for adding to my own salads.) I have also become a big fan of drinking Nettle tea, which has an amazingly long list of nutrients (who knew that the weed that stings you when you touch it could be so good for you?). But the biggest result this adventure brought me was a stronger connection with plants, and a curiosity to learn even more about the nature all around us which I used to take for granted.
With Spring in the air, and thoughts of gardening on the mind, I look forward to future harvesting of wild greens for my summer meals.
Has my story inspired you to try foraging or learning more about plants? Here is a list of books I’ve discovered along the way (Click on the photos. I’m using Amazon links, as I do have an Amazon Associate partnership with them, but these are books I personally recommend!)