Planting For Foraging

Picking too many fiddleheads from a single ostrich fern plant can reduce its productivity. Jared Rosenbaum, a field botanist, never harvests more than one or two from any individual plant. (Also, cooking with fiddleheads can be toxic, so be sure to wash them well and never eat them raw: Always boil them before you sauté or cook them in any other way.) Jared Rosenbaum/Wild Ridge Plants

Margaret Roach delivers the goods when we need a dose of useful plant life information:

Why It’s Better to Plant Wild Greens Than to Forage for Them

This spring, don’t forage for wild edible plants. Instead, welcome them into your garden.

Jared Rosenbaum knows the primal thrill of foraging — a sense of interdependence with the natural world that he wants his son to experience, too.

But as a field botanist, he also understands that foraging is one of the many pressures on native-plant populations. And he has a proposition for gardeners: What if we gave back to the wild edible plants that tempt us on our springtime woodland hikes, by welcoming them into the landscapes we cultivate?

For a fleeting moment each spring, wild leeks (otherwise known as ramps) are a star of restaurant menus, creating a demand that has intensified the pressure on wild populations. Jared Rosenbaum/Wild Ridge Plants

It’s one layer of the habitat restoration and ecological design inspiration that he and his wife, Rachel Mackow, provide to clients of Wild Ridge Plants, in rural Pohatcong Township, N.J. And it’s reflected in many of their mail-order nursery’s plant choices, too.

In Mr. Rosenbaum’s recent book, “Wild Plant Culture: A Guide to Restoring Edible and Medicinal Native Plant Communities,” he revisits that idea: “The time has come to reconnect with our habitats, right where we live, work, and play,” he writes. “Not as museum pieces, but as vital, sustaining elements in our lives, livelihoods, and lifeways.”

That includes our gardens. “These are native plants’ once and future habitats,” Mr. Rosenbaum said in a recent interview, “the places where they used to reside that we have excluded them from for so long. One way to help these plants is to garden with them.”

“With foraging,” he added, “the connection can be very one-sided. It’s not relationship, and it’s not interdependency.”

On his list for building “food habitats” are not just native fruiting shrubs and trees like blueberries, elderberries, beach plums, persimmons and pawpaws, but also herbaceous perennials with edible features.

Could you make room for homegrown wild leeks (Allium tricoccum), otherwise known as ramps? Or ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), whose at once crunchy and tender fiddleheads with their crazy spiral geometry make for a unique mouthfeel?

And did you know that wildflowers you may already be growing — including giant Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum var. commutatum) and the cutleaf, or tall, coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) — likewise have springtime garden-to-table potential?

Time to dig in, in the garden and at the table…

Read the whole article here.

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