Foraging with Green Deane

On Saturday I had the amazing fortune of taking a foraging class with Mr. Eat The Weeds himself, Green Deane. I will not go all fangirl in this post, I promise, but I was pretty excited. I would describe myself as an advanced-novice forager/wildcrafter. I have a lot more book knowledge of herbs and wild plants than field identification skills, so I was greatly looking forward to going out in the field with a real person instead of a book, someone who was able to answer questions.

The group started at the Boulware Springs trail head. We walked along the fence line and then down by the water, across the field and into the trees a bit. There were so many plants to discuss in that small area that we didn’t get very far.

I learned a huge amount. There were many plants that I could identify, but I didn’t know the uses for the parts of the plant, or even that some of those parts were edible. One exciting example is beautyberry. My sister was rushed to the hospital and had to have her stomach pumped when she was little because she ate beautyberry berries, so I was pretty convinced the berries were toxic. The picture above is of Green Deane eating a small handful of berries.

Another example is the winged sumac. I could identify the tree, I know it’s a butterfly attractor and caterpillars feed on it, but I didn’t know that the berries of the native winged sumac taste like sumac, the Middle Eastern spice.

We saw two kinds of purslane side-by-side to identify the edible purslane (wide, spatulate leaf, plump purple stem) and the non-edible purslane (narrow, succulent leaves with a bright purple flower). My yard is full of the non-edible purslane, of course, but at least it has a pretty flower.

Then we drove over to Newnan’s Lake. The water was too high to walk out to the wetlands plants like the cattails so we wandered around the verges and the roadside. We saw gorgeous fields of scorpiontail, tiny wild cucumbers, and a cool poisonous plant that I’ve heard of but never seen- the soda apple. Turns out we shouldn’t have left it there, we should’ve ripped it out and burned it- it’s an invasive exotic.

The only disappointment in the whole class was an utter lack of the major prize- the winged yam. For sustenance foragers, the most important plants are the calorie staples. Roots are usually the calorie staples, and the biggest here is the winged yam. Unfortunately a close relative of the winged yam, the air potato, is way more common in this area and no matter how many times I’ve read the descriptions, looked at the pictures, and gone out and stared at the vines, I can’t tell the difference between the various dioscoreas. I kept finding vines and Green Deane kept saying “no”. I’ll just have to keep looking for that one.

I came home sweaty, covered in insect bites, and grinning from ear to ear. If you have a chance to go to a class with him, go. I’ll go every time he’s in the area to further refine my field skills. Thank you Green Deane for such a great class!

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