Why wild food?

My first gardening experience came when I was a teenager. Back then “gardening” for me was an after school job at a small, family-owned garden center, lugging around a heavy, interminable garden hose to water, each in their turn: the herbs, the perennials, the shrubs, and the flats of annuals. Out alone among the plants, I felt a sense of peace. It was one of my first realizations that I felt much happier being outside, even in the stifling humidity of summer. My moments in the herb section were my favorites – I would rub the leaves of the different varieties while I watered, discovering the incredible secret fragrance each contained.

Twenty-something years later, I have graduated from plant-waterer to full-fledged gardener. Once you’ve discovered the pleasure of watching your own zucchini grow from seed, stickered and packaged grocery store produce loses much of its charm. And yet, this isn’t quite enough. Perhaps falling in love with plants opens one’s curiosity about them to more than just those found in a plant nursery. Becoming a gardener may be a slippery slope for some of us; many of us eventually start to ask, why not wild food? Why not eat weeds and edible native plants too?

Considering the incredible amount of food waste we generate in the developed world, and the resources that go into growing, packaging, transporting and retailing most food, it feels like an act of rebellion to source even part of one’s food needs from what nature is willingly offering instead of what we must beat out of it. Many weeds and other wild foods grow without watering or other maintenance, so harvesting these edibles also appeals to those of us who prefer a lazier approach to bringing food to our tables.


Beyond the environmental and economical benefits, I also like to incorporate wild food into my diet for the nutritional advantage. Fruits and vegetables start to lose their nutrients shortly after being harvested – just how much depends on the fruit or vegetable. The best way to get the maximum amount of nutrition from your produce is to eat it quickly after harvest. When we overlook the wild edibles growing in our yards, we’re missing out on free vitamins and minerals just there for the plucking.

Chad and I have harvested fruit from a neglected apricot tree in town, nibbled on sweet, candy-like huckleberries in the Uintah mountains, tasted milkweed pods, spiced things up with sumac, savored little mallow seed heads while weeding our garden, and cooked up pots full of delicious lambsquarters, pigweed and amaranth.

I am not a wild foods expert, but I’m slowly working on it. If you are interested in beginning to eat wild foods, find people in your area who are knowledgable and experienced to help you get started. You will certainly be able to find a few easy to identify weeds, preferable in areas that haven’t been sprayed and don’t have run off from roads. Dandelion is one that most of us can recognize, and beyond the fun of blowing off the puffy seed head while you make a wish, you can eat the greens as a salad and harvest the root for tea. Why buy dandelion tea at Whole Foods when you have dandelions growing by your front step?


Cooking wild asparagus

Asparagus grows wild and abundant around here in the springtime, but we only have a few small patches growing near our driveway. We harvested a few stalks one morning for brunch, and it made a delicious side dish with our omelettes. But my sweetie had been telling me he could take me to a place where we could harvest bags full of asparagus. The opportunity came up and we walked up to one of his dad’s pastures. Well, the pasture did not disappoint.

There was asparagus everywhere, and we didn’t even get to the motherlode. On our little foray we harvested over 3 pounds worth, a nice big bag full!


When you buy asparagus at the grocery store, you don’t tend to scratch your head and think, gee, what am I going to do with all of this? No, you parse it out and fight over the last spear with your tablemates. Not so when you’re picking it wild. I love asparagus but the idea of eating it the same way over and over made my stomach curdle. So I started digging deep into the food catalog part of my brain for ideas to keep the asparagus interesting. Here’s what I ended up making.

Meal 1: Sauted asparagus with fried eggs:IMGP2376

Meal 2: Asparagus potage (cooked and pureed asparagus with a little half and half):IMGP2421

Meal 3: Asparagus quiche with charcuterie served with garden salad and homemade  gf sourdough brown rice bread:IMGP2441

Meal 4: Asian style asparagus served with sticky rice and pink sauerkraut:IMGP2475

Meal 5: Sweet potatoes, onions, ground beef and asparagus:IMGP2547

All of these meals were pretty simple and delicious but I think my favorite was eating it with sticky rice and sauerkraut. The brightness of the sauerkraut makes a nice contrast with the earthy asparagus and the sticky rice provides a nice framework.

If you’re rolling your eyes at me because you don’t have a pasture full of wild asparagus at your disposal, go plant some! You don’t even need a garden, just plant it in a healthy spot in your yard and let it do it’s thing. Consider it an edible landscaping plant.

One of the coolest parts of our asparagus foraging adventure was an encounter with a skunk. It was totally oblivious of us for at least a minute, so we got to observe it doing its thing. And when it did notice us, it took off running so quickly we both had to laugh. My sweetie pie captured the lovely pasture under a moody sky and got a souvenir of our unexpected foraging buddy here:



Milkweed is one of the loved, cherished weeds we have growing on our property. The plant is very important for monarch butterflies and may be edible (this subject gives rise to much debate!). And they are beautiful! We were wondering, though, if this was the RIGHT milkweed for monarchs in our area of the country. So I finally decided to check.


Seed head from Showy Milkweed in fall

And yes indeed, our property is home to Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) which is the best milkweed for monarchs in the Intermountain West region, followed, according to Monarch Watch, by Broadleaf Milkweed (Asclepias latifolia).

Why is having the RIGHT milkweed important? Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, and then the caterpillars only eat milkweed. If you plant the wrong type of milkweed for your region, it can severely mess up the monarch’s reproduction cycle (they might lay their eggs at the wrong time). More on that here: Plan to save monarch butterflies backfires

So, if you also have milkweed or are thinking about planting some and want to make sure it’s the right one for your region, check out this guide at Monarch Watch and you can quickly find the right varieties.

And as far as eating milkweed goes? I figure the butterflies need them more than we do anyway. Problem solved.