Foraging: The Wild Side of Sustainable Eating
By Debra Illingworth Greene | Photos By Jim Klousia 2
When my children were young, I encouraged signs-of-spring walks in the woods adjacent to our home. We would admire little bits of green coming up through the forest floor or new growth on woody plants—but it never occurred to us to eat what we found. Lisa Nudo, on the other hand, looks at nature through a different lens. She always walks with a bag or basket and a knife. That way she is ready to harvest any wild edibles she sees along the way.
Spring salad walks are a daily affair in May for Lisa. “I stop and get some chickweed, then walk down to the stream and get some watercress. Then, on my way back up, I pick the small violet leaves, which are an edible green. Typically at that time of year, when the violets are blooming, I might be able to find a few other things in the disturbed soil of the garden. The last stop is to snip some dandelion petals onto the salad, then pick a whole bunch of violet flowers for the top. It’s beautiful.”
Lisa is a wildcrafter—one who harvests plants from the “wild” to eat or use for other purposes. She does much of her wildcrafting on the 35 acres of land outside of La Farge, in the Kickapoo River Valley, where she lives with her partner and two children.
Lisa’s earliest memories of wildcrafting, though she didn’t have a name for it then, go back to age five or six, when she lived in a rural area of northern Illinois. “I had a lot of free time…so I spent a lot of time lying in a vacant field loaded with blackcaps (wild black raspberries). We would tunnel through the brambles and make rooms where the good eating was. They’re sweet and wonderful, like a really rich raspberry. The other two things I remember doing was eating wood sorrel—it looks kind of like a shamrock and is very lemony—and grass. I would pull grass out of its sheath and nibble on it.”
Hunting and fishing, which Lisa lumps with wildcrafting, were also learned as a child from her father and the neighborhood boys. Her grandma, a devoted organic gardener, was also a big influence on Lisa. “She instilled in me the desire to make it with your own hands. Make it, grow it, can it, store it, dehydrate it. And if you don’t know how, find a book about it. The information is out there. Go out and find it.”
Lisa continues to live her life in this way, learning and doing as she goes. “Once you find something you’re passionate about, you’re a magnet for those things. Over the past 17 years I’ve found a small tribe of like-minded people around me. I have friends who have the information I don’t have, so we’re constantly teaching each other.”
And what has Lisa learned? Enough to provide between 25 and 45 percent (depending on the season) of her family’s diet through wildcrafting, venison, trout and the occasional rabbit or squirrel.