Bookmonger: Seattle author advises where to find edible weeds

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 28, 2013 

I've been outdoors a lot this past month: putting my garden to bed for the winter, diligently mulching in an effort to keep the weeds from having their typical head start over me next spring.

Then one day last week, when I came in to give my aching back a rest and to brew a cup of tea, my eyes fell on a book that had just arrived in the mail. Half an hour later, my nose was still in the book and my tea had grown cold. I was completely engrossed in "The Front Yard Forager" by Melany Vorass Herrera.

The Seattle writer, a former state environmental analyst, advocates for do-it-yourself harvesting right outside your front door, and she identifies 30 edible weeds that are commonly found in urban settings.

Dandelions? Sure. Nettles? You bet. Japanese knotweed? Time to whip up some chutney!

These, of course, were the just the sort of green scourges I'd been yanking out of my garden and relegating to yard waste only a short time earlier.

Truth is, I've tried dandelions before. I know they're supposed to be picked in the spring when they're young and tender, but even then they've tasted bitter to me.

Still, I appreciated Herrera's lively narrative and can-do point of view. I suspect that woman could prowl through just about any city park or parking strip and come up with the raw ingredients for a tasty "weed cuisine" banquet.

And some of the other edible weeds she promotes certainly reside in my garden: sheep's sorrel, dead nettles and - heretofore way up high on my list of most odious weeds - cat's ear.

That's the plant that has a flower that looks like a dandelion, but the leaves hunker down close against the soil while the blossom waves high atop a wiry stem, and then closes up toward the end of the day. With a healthy smattering of cat's ear, my humble grassplot often appears to have an infestation of yellow chicken pox. I've tried digging it out, while my neighbor, similarly accursed, wields her vinegar spray.

Next time I'll know that eating that stuff is the best revenge. But I'm not going as far as Herrera, who chirps that intentionally planting it in the lawn is a great idea.

In this guide, each profiled plant is illustrated with a very clear photograph, a detailed description, and whether there are any poisonous look-alike plants to avoid. (There's also a section in back with plants you should never eat.)

Herrera advises on where to find edible weeds and when and how to harvest them. She even provides recipes for each plant - imagine eating Thai-style horsetail, or clover soup with weed seed crackers!

For Herrera, it's all about freshness, nutrition and self-sufficiency.

"The Front Yard Forager" makes a very convincing case for the importance of learning how to forage - it's an uber-local practice, good for the budget, great for your health and a handy skill should a calamity come along.

Barbara Lloyd McMichael writes a weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com

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