When you are outdoors to hike, camp, etc., why not collect foods from nature? Your ancestors did, and all children instinctively love to do it. It’s educational, satisfying, and connects you to your landscape like no other activity can. I nearly always carry a pocket knife and a couple of plastic bags when I’m outdoors, and sometimes if I know something’s in season I bring leather gloves or a garden trowel as well.
- Gibbons, Euell. Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Field Guide Edition. New York: David McKay Company, 1962.
- Gibbons, Euell. Stalking the Healthful Herbs, Field Guide Edition. New York: David McKay Company, 1966.
These two books are classics from the 1960’s and 1970’s and although lots of other foraging books have been written since then, none are better. These are erudite, well-researched, and don’t make exaggerated claims. If a plant doesn’t taste good or is too much work to prepare, Gibbons will say so.
Here are my picks for the top ten wild foods in Marin County, California:
Blackberries (Rubus species) Summer. This ubitiquous plant needs no introduction. We make pies.
California Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) Summer/Fall.
California Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) Fall. The wild hazelnuts in Marin have thicker shells than the kind you buy at the store.
Wild Apples/Pears (Malus sylvestris domestica) Fall. Apples aren’t native to California (actually, a lot of the plants on this list aren’t), but wherever you find the site of former ranch you usually find a few old fruit trees. The flavor is often intense.
Cattails (Typha species) Spring/Summer. This plant has a number of edible parts, with a season for each. I like “Cossack Asparagus” in the spring.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) Spring. Believe it or not, the young tips of this plant make really good greens when cooked.
Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) Spring. Use as lettuce – it tastes very similar and it’s everywhere.
Dandelion Greens (Taraxacum officinale) Spring. An acquired taste, I really like them when they’re collected young and tender in the early spring.
The California Mussel (Mytilus californianus) and the Blue Mussel (Mytilus edulis) November – April (State quarantine from May-October). These were very important to the coastal Indians, and they taste really good.
Acorns (Quercus species) Fall. Although acorns are bland and tedious to prepare (you have to leach the tannins out), they used to be the most important staple food in California. You ought to try them at least once for this reason alone.