Saturday, August 1, 2009
Domesticated Hot Springs and Yet More Wild Food in a Semi-Wild Place
Hanging out in Saratoga at Lolipops, the only semblance of a coffeehouse in town, though their homemade icecream seems the main seller in the summertime. I'm mainly in town for the "Hobo Pool," the super-hot mineral hot springs that flows at 118 degrees fahrenheit. Luckily their are a few cooler pools, including the one pictured above.
I've pitched my tent in the midst of some willow thickets several dozen yards from the pools near some channels that connect to the Platte River, and only a stone's throw from a golf course. Lush growth covers the area, and deer, rabbits, and a plethora of migratory songbirds wander past my sleeping-place at all hours. And with only a cursory glance around my campsite I've found quite a surprising abundance of wild edible plants.
As I sat meditating and chanting just outside the door of my tent, I looked amidst the grass in front of my half-lotus seat and what did I spy, but two wild potato plants--at least that's what they appear to be, though I've not dug to find the tubers.
Just before reaching my tent through the brush are a batch of milkweed/silkweed (Asclepias speciosa). The shoots can be cooked like asparagus. the younger leaves cand flower buds can be prepared as a potherb, and even the early stages of the pods can be cooked and are said to taste similar to okra.
A few feet further is the first of many patches of thistle, which though common and not so appealing as many wild edible plants, has many culinary uses.
A little ways down a two-rut road that leads to the Hot Springs park I noticed off the side of the path at the edge of one of the irrigation ditches a patch of cattails, which are a virtual pantry in the wild.
Tumblemustard (genus Sisybrium) is quite common, and have reasonable quality as a potherb and can be added to salads. The seeds, though rather small, were gathered and ground by Native American Indians.
A little further down the trail grow numerous patches of Lambs Quarters, also known by the colorful names "Pitseed Goosefoot" and "Pigweed." The seeds can be ground and made into gruel or bread, and the young leaves and tender shoots have long been used in salads or cooked like spinach.
Speaking of plants named for geese, on the same path I found a very fecund gooseberry current bush. Though a bit sour until first frost or so, these raisin-like fruits have many well known uses.
Next on the path I glanced to my left and discovered some rosehips, a well known source of vitamin C.
And then rows of Lamb's Quarters/Pitseed Goosefoot/Pigweed
With all this wild food growing within the limits of a city--granted, a city surrounded by much wilderness--nature shows her bounty, available for any and all. Many of the plants I mentioned grow even in the densest urban settings, if not necessarily in the quantity required to make an easy meal, at least present enough to show that all humans need for nourishment is given by the providence of mother nature.
As a last notable wild food, one in fact more common where there has been human disturbance, I was out on the lawn behind the coffeehouse when I noticed several "plantain" plants. Not to be mistaken for the banana-like fruit, native plantain leaves can be cooked any number of ways. These plants are often found growing through the cracks in sidewalks, in lawns and on the sides of roads. My favorite mode of preparing this particular plant is battered with cornmeal or flour and salt and fried in oil like potato-chips.
Whilst I was contemplating the amazing amount of food Goddess Annapurna provides throughout the natural and even the densely populated world, I looked up and noticed that a local police officer was approaching. Despite the laptop, cell phone and digital camera, tweed jacket and nice button-up shirt--assumed signs of professionalism, etc.--some f-ing bumpkin local still stuck in the fifties and still clinging to life despite being far past his/her/their shelf-life apparently noticed a man with a big beard and long hair and decided I must be a threat to their false assumption of what is the current status quo. Well, as this post is supposed to be about wild foods and not civil liberties, I shall wait a bit before penning (er, typing) an entry about this experience. I will note, however, that the officer was quite cordial and not at all offensive. More later . . .
[Just wanted to add the photo below of a wild edible and medicinal plant I found on the path to the hot springs after originally publishing this post. Nettle, or "stinging nettle" is listed as a potherb in the Harrington book, and has various medicinal uses as a tea and to relieve arthritis. If your joints ache, just sting your aching knee or elbow by touching it to the stingers on the side of the plant, and the numbing action is said to soothe pain from your spell of rheumatism.]
[Another addendum: what I thought was Lamb's Quarter was actually saltbrush, also an edible plant. They really do look a exceedingly similar . . .]
[and just had to add this one more wild fruit I found, a wild cherry bush that along with some gooseberries and turbinado sugar provided me something tasty and delightful to add to a peanut butter and tortilla sandwich]