This is the year of the forager, and I have found a new favorite place to “shop” for my wild foods.
I recently went on an adventure. The adventure corresponded with a news story I was writing at the time, and we needed photos.
We took a break near the end of this adventure and walked around in a small wooded clearing to stretch out and rest. I saw something that I assumed was Lily of the Valley (LOTV). Just to be sure, I plucked the tip off of one of the leaves that carpeted the woods, and I sniffed it. This was one of the smelliest wild plants I have ever sniffed. It was not the odorless, toxic LOTV, and I was ecstatic to learn that.
I pulled up a root and my companions crowded around me to find out why I was laughing maniacally. I said, “Smell this, but don’t say what you think it is until everyone has a chance to smell it.”
They looked at me suspiciously, but cautiously sniffed at the little root in my hand. It took a few sniffs, but they each started to get a look of recognition, with exception of one.
“It smells like dog poop!” she said.
I was indignant. Dog poop!? I had been searching for wild ramps for five years. I pulled up every LOTV I came across and sniffed for the smell of garlic. Here were the ramps (a wild relative of garlic and onions) I had hunted for years with no success, and they were declared “dog poop.”
On the plus side, that meant I didn’t need to share my find. I returned to harvest ramps within the next week, and then again on Memorial Day. I used a garden trowel to dig one ramp in each big patch and leave the rest to reproduce. I was kneeling and doing just that when I saw a distinctive, purple-brown flower on a hairy plant with kidney-shaped leaves.
This time, nobody was there when I started hooting and hollering. I used my trowel to dig up the knobby root just under the surface of the leaf litter. I held it to my nose and breathed in the invigorating smell of ginger. The forest was carpeted with this little plant.
I returned home with a cloth grocery bag about a third full of wild onions and wild ginger. I also had a half-filled gallon Ziploc bag with fiddleheads, but that is a less exciting story (they do NOT taste like asparagus and I have yet to find a way to cook them with some flavor).
In the end, I found a great place to hunt wild foods, but I’m a traditionalist, so I’m not about to tell you where it is. Go find your own.