The Urban Hermit Forager
The early Desert Hermits were essentially culinary ecologists. Apart from the little that they could cultivate in the desert, they were foragers, harvesting the plants that grew locally and naturally. Although a desert may seem an unlikely place to find anything useful as food, those “with eyes to see” and adequate knowledge will find food and water.
While foraging may seem practical in rural hermitages, it sounds inherently unrealistic in urban settings. Again, this is a problem of perception and knowledge. There is a growing interest in urban foraging as a means of enhancing self-sufficiency.
Fr Edward has been applying his horticultural qualifications to foraging in local parks, nature strips and along railway lines. Bunches of plants (currently dandelions) are hanging in The Hermitage kitchen windows to dry.
Rebecca Lerner “Dandelion Hunter: Foraging The Urban Wilderness” [Globe Pequot Press; 2013]
“In this engaging and eye-opening read, forager-journalist Becky Lerner sets out on a quest to find her inner hunter-gatherer in the city of Portland, Oregon. After a disheartening week trying to live off wild plants from the streets and parks near her home, she learns the ways of the first people who lived there and, along with a quirky cast of characters, discovers an array of useful wild plants hiding in plain sight. As she harvests them for food, medicine, and just-in-case apocalypse insurance, Lerner delves into anthropology, urban ecology and sustainability, and finds herself looking at Nature in a very different way. Humorous, philosophical, and informative, “Dandelion Hunter” has something for everyone, from the curious neophyte to the seasoned forager.”
Gary Lincoff “The Joy of Foraging: Gary Lincoff’s Illustrated Guide to Finding, Harvesting, and Enjoying a World of Wild Food” [Quarry Books, 2012]
“Discover the edible riches in your backyard, local parks, woods, and even roadside! In “The Joy of Foraging”, Gary Lincoff shows you how to find fiddlehead ferns, rose hips, beach plums, bee balm, and more, whether you are foraging in the urban jungle or the wild, wild woods. You will also learn about fellow foragers—experts, folk healers, hobbyists, or novices like you—who collect wild things and are learning new things to do with them every day. Along with a world of edible wild plants—wherever you live, any season, any climate—you’ll find essential tips on where to look for native plants, and how to know without a doubt the difference between edibles and toxic look-alikes. There are even ideas and recipes for preparing and preserving the wild harvest year-round—all with full-color photography.”
David Craft “Urban Foraging – Finding and eating wild plants in the city [Service Berry Press, 2010]
“Urban Foraging walks readers through the seasons, discussing what plants in the city are edible and which parts are the tastiest. It includes recipes and anecdotes – historical and personal – and special sections on herbal teas, edible garden weeds, mushrooms and more.”
Ava Chin “Eating Wildly. Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal” [Simon & Schuster, 2014]
“In this touching and informative memoir about foraging for food in New York City, Ava Chin finds sustenance…and so much more. Urban foraging is the new frontier of foraging for foods, and it’s all about eating better, healthier, and more sustainably, no matter where you live. “Time” named foraging the “latest obsession of haute cuisine.” And while foraging may be the latest foodie trend, the quest to connect with food and nature is timeless and universal.
Ava Chin, aka the “Urban Forager,” is an experienced master of the quest. Raised in Queens, New York, by a single mother and loving grandparents, Chin takes off on an emotional journey to make sense of her family ties and romantic failures when her beloved grandmother dies. She retreats into the urban wilds, where parks and backyards provide not only rare and delicious edible plants, but a wellspring of wisdom.
As the seasons turn, Chin begins to view her life with new “foraging eyes,” experiencing the world as a place of plenty and variety, where every element—from flora to fauna to fungi—is interconnected and interdependent. Her experiences in nature put her on a path to self-discovery, leading to reconciliation with her family and finding true love.
Divided into chapters devoted to a variety of edible/medicinal plants, with recipes and culinary information, “Eating Wildly” will stir your emotions and enliven your taste buds—a moving memoir about the importance of family, relationships, and food.”
But urban foraging is no longer merely an interest of the eccentric Hermit. It has moved – in many large cities, like Sydney – into the domain of leading chefs, as the following extract from an article about foraging in Sydney – “Urban foraging: uncovering the secret fruits of the city” – demonstrates:
“Mike Eggert was recently asked about a garnish on one of the dishes he cooked. The chef had foraged it himself, picking the young, tender dandelion leaves from the grounds of an old, abandoned mental asylum where they don’t spray pesticides, and everything is left to get a little wild: no cars, no chemicals. One lady at the dinner, it turned out, regularly walks her dog there. “Oh!” she said. “Isn’t it going to be covered in dog piss?”
Every table in the restaurant stopped eating. Eggert found himself thinking: are you guys kidding? With the way most food is produced these days, piss is the least of your worries. Instead he said: “Everything is covered in piss. I don’t want to eat anything that hasn’t had the opportunity to be covered in piss by something. Do you really want your food to come from such a sterile and plastic environment that it’s never had the chance to be exposed to a living animal, whether it’s a fly, a bee, a dog, a bird? That should be your barometer. If it’s had something urinate on it, it’s good to eat.””