Learning How to Eat Florida Weeds with Green Deane
“The birds were eating them!”
This was the explanation I, then three or four years old, told my mother nearly forty years ago. She frantically peppered me with questions after I told her about the red berries I had just plucked off a neighborhood bush and ate. Although they were juicy, I distinctly remember the berries being bitter and not tasting very good.
Learning How to Forage with Green Deane
That was my first venture into urban foraging which earned me a trip to the bathroom after being forced to drink “the throw up medicine.” That was also the last day I tried urban foraging, up until yesterday when I joined expert forager Green Deane on a walk in Port Charlotte, Fla., to learn about edible plants literally in my backyard.
About a dozen of us gathered under the shade of an oak tree and following introductions Deane, originally from Maine but now a Floridian since the early ’70s, began picking up acorns. He searched for dark ones without caps and explained the process of harvesting, soaking, drying and processing them for consumption. Almost disappointed, he didn’t find any with holes, which indicates a grub living inside and if he had found one, he would have demonstrated how to harvest it for consumption.
By early afternoon and after four hours, we walked a few miles, learned about at least 40 different edible weeds, grasses, bushes and trees and sampled greenery along the way. We learned which plants are good famine foods, which weeds have medicinal properties (I was really excited learning about bitter gourd which can be made into a tea and consumed to lower blood glucose), which greens will give a high when smoked, and which foliage produces a berry more poisonous than ricin. We also learned which plants can be consumed raw and which need to be cooked.
Some plants I nibbled on included sea purslane (tastes like salted green pepper), pepper root (has a nice peppery taste) and turk’s cap (only eat the flower and none of the stem; closer to the base is sweetest). Yum! One of the things I didn’t taste by choice was the berry from deadly nightshade, which when ripe, isn’t deadly.
Don’t Worry Guests, I Won’t Be Harvesting Greens for Dinner Salads in My Backyard, Yet
Returning home, I started to look around my lawn trying to identify something edible. My mind was actually saturated from the day’s outing but I was able to recognize a few edible weeds I could toss in a salad or garnish my fish.
Nuts & Bolts About Eating the Weeds with Green Deane
Green Deane is salt of the earth. He’s very likeable, patient, extremely knowledgeable and genuine. If he didn’t recognize a plant, he’d admit it. He leads foraging classes throughout the state, traveling to a different destination each Saturday and Sunday. Classes are typically three to four hours, held rain, wind or shine and cost $30 per person. Currently, he’s in the following Florida towns once a month and may expand into other parts of Florida:
West Palm Beach
Green Deane is available for private classes, too. Visit EattheWeeds.com for the current class schedule which is updated weekly.
EattheWeeds.com is a terrific resource for foraging, plant identification and tips for living off the grid. There’s also an active forum for others to interact. Register for the Eat the Weeds newsletter and become a fan of its Facebook page.
I really loved taking this foraging class and hope to take another in 2013. Anyone else interested?
Additional Florid Botanical Resources
If you’re interested in learning more about Florida’s botanicals, check out the book (available in print and eBook) “Florida Gardens Gone Wild” by Lucy Beebe Tobias. Sandra Friend’s guide “Exploring Florida’s Botanical Wonders” is excellent for discovering the Sunshine State’s blooming side.