Early spring is a natural smorgasbord for foragers, but wild food hunters are worried that this year’s frigid winter weather could shorten the season.
Homesteader Eric Brown lives and forages in southern Maine, and he has noticed a difference in his annual maple sugaring practices.
“I tapped the trees in the middle of February hoping that we would get some sap, and we had some flow for a couple days and then of course we had those cold snaps that came through, which really stopped the flow,” he says.
Brown has only collected 55 gallons of sap so far this year. One estimate says maple sugaring across the country is three weeks behind schedule.
Foraging, All Types
Brown co-authored the book Browsing Nature’s Aisles with his wife Wendy.
Their home is surrounded by nature preserves and undeveloped land, so they can easily harvest wild foods like stinging nettles and Japanese knotweed shoots.
In addition to foraging, the Browns garden and raise rabbits and chickens on their 1/4-acre lot. This is still a new way of life for them — they started experimenting with self-sufficiency only five years ago.
Eric was most interested in learning about wild edibles as a way to rely less and less on the supermarket. But to him, foraging is not limited to vegetables — he hunts animals as well. He believes that if he’s going to eat meat, he needs to be able to kill it.
“It’s a tough call because frankly I don’t like killing things, I don’t think anybody likes killing things,” he says. “But as a meat eater, it’s one of those things that I felt like I needed to be able to do.”
An unmistakable sign of spring is the appearance of dandelions. While some loathe the pernicious “weed,” foragers like Brown praise its usefulness.
He enjoys eating young dandelion greens raw in a salad. They have a slightly bitter flavor, but he says, “I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.” You can also garnish the salad with some of the vibrant (and edible) yellow flowers.
Come fall, he looks for the dandelion roots. “You can roast them, grind them up and it makes a nice tea,” he says. “People say it’s a coffee substitute.”
But before the dandelions can start popping up in earnest, Brown says first the remaining snow needs to melt.