the urban gleaner

(contributions from anna b.)

students from all fields of studies are actively participating in a food justice course at the uw. but there is so much more for us to learn about deep local food than from a class room. we needed to get outside, find real local food, and cook! here is the story of a few of us who ventured out with an pro forager to discover edible plants hiding around the uw campus...

our guide, arthur jacobson
"there are many edible plants, but not all are worth eating. like beer - there may be many on tap, but not all are worth drinking" ... arthur guides us through the cream of the crop for foraged foods.

sweet violet stunningly lives up to its name

the first plant was the evergreen huckleberry. hidden under a mat of springy hair, plant expert arthur jacobson was explaining his color preference for its berries (take the blue ones over the black, any day). arthur, who has authored more than 330 articles and several books on wild plants in the Seattle region, had graciously agreed to take a group of us on a foraging tour around campus on a pleasantly sunny day in early february.

for two hours straight, Arthur helped us navigate through the wild world of weeds, pointing out everything from “stinky bob” to tall oregon grape. he identified numerous plants, including chickweed, miner’s lettuce, and fennel, that border the segment of the burke-gilman trail that is alongside the uw farm. he located raw garlic near the uw gym, warned us against foxglove (which closely resembles comfrey), and advised us on the best places to gather berries and hazelnuts in the coming months.

what you thought was just weeds, may be herbs - like fennel!

one notable observation from the trip was arthur’s insistence on practicality. a tree might produce berries with pits too large, a variety of weed might have a spine that complicates its preparation, or a tasty plant might just be too dinky. the focus on convenience extended to influence his gathering sites; arthur admitted that he doesn’t discriminate between cultivated or wild plants for his nightly pre-dinner collection. on a typical evening he will forage 20-30 different types of plants from around his neighborhood, but noted that he has made salads with upwards of 130 kinds just to prove that it’s possible. "like people who shop at the nearest grocery store, i mostly just forage close to my home." it's amazing what you can find when you know what to look for in an urban landscape... wild ginger, stinging nettles, wild carrot, dandelion flowers, sweet violet, vetch, berries, wild garlic...

the dark green leaves on this indian plum tree taste exactly like fresh cucumber - it's unmistakable