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Edible Plants: The Edible Planet
Hunting may seem a little old-fashioned, but gathering never goes out of style. Here's how to turn your next stroll through the woods into a shopping spree.
Text by Robert Earle Howells   Photograph courtesy of John Kallas
Illustrations by Lindsey Balbierz

Photo: John KallasLong before we humans learned to reap what we sowed, we made our living foraging. That's why harvesting comestibles in the woods can be not just a source of nourishment but one of deep psychological satisfaction as well. So claims John Kallas, Ph.D. (pictured at right), a wild-food workshop leader, lecturer, and writer in Portland, Oregon, who is used to roasting cattails over the campfire while his buddies dehydrate fettuccine Alfredo.

Wild food can be dang tasty—but every bush chef needs a mentor, because inexperience can spoil the soup. Kallas recalls an early effort to make a birch-bark spaghetti he'd read about. "I dutifully cut the bark into strips and stuffed them into my chicken broth. It was like eating strands of dental floss." He discovered later that he should have used the cambium—the thin, tender growth ring inside the bark—and only from recently downed trees, since stripping cambium is harmful to live ones. "When you forage with an expert or go to a wild-food festival, the possibilities open up," he says. "You become one with nature in a totally new way."

Prime your palate with some of Kallas's simple recipes and discover the joys of eating alfresco.
UTENSILS: The Bush Chef's Tool Belt 
Kallas recommends this basic kit for any foray: scissors (eight-to-nine inches long) in a belted sheath; a fixed-blade knife in a sheath; a hand-size spade-pick combo; a spray mister to keep green things moist; white plastic storage bags (they reflect sunlight); and a fanny pack held open by a plastic tub (not high in style points, but it'll keep your hands free for harvesting).
FIELD TRIPS: Gustatory Gatherings Near You
A wild-food fest is the best way to forage with folks who know their water hemlock (deadly) from their wild carrots (delicious). Here's where the outdoor gourmets are going for groceries in 2007. 

April 27-29: North Carolina Wild Food Weekend; in Reid ($100;

June 22-25: GingerRoot Rendezvous (Kallas's signature event);
in Hood River, Oregon ($290;

August 25-27: Midwest Wild Harvest Festival; in Fall Creek, Wisconsin ($100;

CORE KNOWLEDGEIllustration: Dandelion

Toss It: Dandelions are high in vitamin A, calcium, and iron and can also be surprisingly tasty. "The trick," says John Kallas, "is to harvest them in late winter or early spring, when they're getting moisture from the soil and very little direct sunlight." Julienne the leaves and sprinkle them onto a salad; boil them for three minutes and eat them like you would cooked greens (it's best to discard the lower third of the leaf); or use the petals to make a dandelion soup.

Illustration: CattailsBoil It: "Eight parts of a cattail are edible," says Kallas. "They're really substantial, and you can find them anyplace that's wet," including roadside ditches. Simplest method: Get 'em while the spike—composed of protein-and-carb-rich pollen—is still green. Boil the upper part until tender, flavor with salt and butter, and eat like corn on the cob.

Illustration: Acorns
Grind It: "Eat acorns raw and it's a totally bitter experience—unless you're a squirrel. The key for us is getting out the tannin," Kallas says. Grind the nuts into a coarse flour, percolate with water for 15 minutes, then strain and dry. Use this powder as a version of cornmeal—to fry up acorn cakes, make acorn porridge, or cook acorn pudding—and you'll be the envy of every small woodland creature.

Cover: Adventure magazine

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