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Eating Off the Land

Identifying the Right Plants To Eat Is Critical

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Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2013 12:00 am

Taking a walk outdoors with Barbara Kolander is like strolling through nature’s produce department.

For the past 18 years Kolander has been learning about wild plants that can be harvested and eaten. Some she eats raw in a salad; others she cooks.

She shares the knowledge she has gained in her wild plant identification and cooking classes. Kolander cautions against folks just cutting plants and eating them. “If you don’t know what the plant is,” she warned, “you can poison yourself.”

Her passion for eating wild foods is partly economic—“it’s free!—but more than that it’s because these foods are good for you.

“If you eat good food,” Kolander said, “you feed your body right. Locally grown, fresh food is good for you.” Eating local honey, for example, makes you less likely to react to pollen from local plants.

“It is so incredible we have so much growing around us,” she said. “Dandelions, for example. People spend thousands of dollars to poison them. They are a nutritious and versatile wild food. You can use every part. They are good for your liver.

“When you’re good to your liver,” she added, “it’s good to you.”

Nettles are also good for the liver, Kolander said. “They are soothing, nutritious and cleansing.” She shows people how to harvest and eat nettles, noting she likes to eat them in the spring when they are young and fresh.

The potato and nettle soup she makes, Kolander said, “is one of the best things I have ever eaten.”

Many of the plants Kolander talked about can be seen in the area near the Lake Gregory ball fields. Lamb’s quarter, she said, is also called wild spinach. She uses it in salads, puts it in soup and dries the leaves, which she crumbles and then puts into bread for extra nutrition.

The lamb’s quarter she found by Lake Gregory last week was going to seed. Those seeds, she said, can be used like quinoa. “Add them to rice,” she said. “The seeds are high in protein.” The plant is also called goose foot for the shape of the leaves.

Chickweed, Kolander said, grows everywhere on the mountain and is delicious. She eats the flowers and leaves of wild mustard—in the same family as broccoli—putting the leaves in salads or floating the flowers in soup.

Kolander picked a plantain leaf and said it can be used as a wrap. Fill it, she suggested, with some rice or bulgar. Native Americans used it as a poultice to draw out the poison from a snakebite.

Her next wild cooking class will take place this Sunday, Sept. 15, at 2 p.m. One highlight of this class will be the making of elderberry wine. For more information, call Kolander at (909) 436-4863.

“Everybody loves the class,” she said. “They can’t believe they can eat weeds they have growing in their yards. They are free and good for you.”

At the class, the participants will walk with Kolander as she shows them how to identify edible plants. She brings some samples with her so people can see what grows on the mountain.

“We’ll talk about uses for the plants and their nutritional content,” she said, “and whether to eat them fresh in a salad or cook them or use the seeds.”

She then goes step by step through the recipes, with the students helping with the chopping and cooking. Each goes home with a packet of information that includes the recipes.

“This is gratifying in so many ways,” Kolander said. “It’s important to teach and do something you love. People benefit from learning about these plants.”

She said it’s actually easy to pick up, “even if everything looks green.” Kolander teaches folks how to see the characteristics of each plant.

“If you can identify two plants and know how to use them, incorporate them into your diet, then you’ll start to feel better,” she said.

“It never ceases to amaze me we have all this stuff available for free,” Kolander said.

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