I am a second-generation forest.
Maybe a third or fifth-generation wood at best. I did not grow up in a family or culture that planted my feet deep into the wisdom network of undisturbed mycelium.
I was not placed within a matrix of thought or ritual that gave daily blessings for the rising sun or the sweet, nourishing rain.
I was not raised in this world with a viewpoint of ecological connectedness and belonging. Few of us are.
Once, or maybe many times, cut down, I may look the same as an old-growth forest; I may have the same human form as my ancestors, but I am a different creature entirely.
There is a leap our culture must make in order to work toward sustainability; it’s more than just “sustaining” the status quo and upholding our broken system as it is. We need to humbly study the old ways, the indigenous systems that follow and reflect the health of nature.
It is not enough to make changes in our technical, economic, and agricultural models; we must fundamentally shift how we think of ourselves, our relationships with each other, and with life as a whole.
Just like many of us with parents who grew up in the era of TV dinners and worshiped at the holy altar of ease and convenience, it has only been deep into my adult life that I have come to see the connection between our ecologically boring landscapes, industrialized food systems, lack of wild foods, and the resulting dullness within our own spirits.
I have come to see how in the process of losing wild foods from our diets and our landscapes, we have lost some innate resilience and unnamed hardiness in our natures.
We have forgotten something essential within ourselves.
In many ways, wild foods are pathways for us to explore and remember our interconnected heritage to all life. Our ancestors had a diet that was composed of hundreds of diverse plant foods—we just get the same highly engineered rice, corn, soy, and wheat over and over again. This lack of complex flavor leaves our brains, tongues, and guts nutrient-deficient and badly unstimulated.
Wild foods could be mushrooms, pine needles, or the most unassuming weed on the edge of a neighbor’s field.
When we bring them to our noses, they smell strange: complex, foreign, maybe a little musky. Their unusual aroma awakens a bit of curious wild within us. It stops us, and we feel the earth beneath our feet. And at that moment, we tap into an entire web of relations, feeling the moonlight, sunlight, weather, water, and millions of years of evolution that worked to create that single plant before us.
“In losing wild foods from our diets, from the landscape, we lose something unnamable. The silences are so loud, they have become their own sound. We face a spiritual crisis, an existential loneliness greater than any heartbreak. To be without the ecstasy of the wild is to face a bland future.”
The truth of this dreary destiny rattles something deep inside me.
We don’t even realize the degree to which we have become domesticated, colonized, and standardized and how this severing from nature keeps us from truly belonging to the living world.
There are many ways for us to start small and simple:
I have begun by including just one wild food in my diet each season. The lemony-green freshness of the weed purslane has stood out amongst the other foods on my plate lately, clearly different and refreshingly earthy. Relatively easy to identify, readily available on the outskirts of the garden, and extremely high in nutrients, I chop it up and add it to the tops of my salads and stir-fries.
Here are a few other things to consider when feasting wildly:
Don’t make it super complicated.
Choose plants that are easy to identify. Double-check your plant identification from multiple sources when working with a new plant.
Don’t eat anything you are not sure about.
Pick only what you need. Foraging is about guardianship, not greed. Educate yourself about vulnerable species in your area. A wild food, such as ramps, can take up to 10 years to grow from seed to harvest.
Forage carefully and with respect.
Never pick in areas that might be polluted or receive heavy sprayings of herbicides and insecticides.
Don’t forage along roads.
Don’t let taste be a stopping block. If your taste buds are only acclimated to foods created by scientists in a lab—it may take some time to adjust. Let your tastebuds and body acclimate, and keep experimenting until you find wild foods that appeal to you.
Another book I found helpful was Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine by Rosalee de la Foret and Emily Han.
There is so much wilderness that we don’t even know we are missing in our lives.
Hopefully foraging brings something forgotten into our consciousness, reminding us that we feel our best when we are connecting with our wild source.