Push Your Boundaries
Voluntary hardship is an enriching thing. It takes us to new places and teaches us much about ourselves. I challenge you to make your life a tiny bit harder for just one week, for the benefit of your health, your knowledge, your self-reliance and our community. And that community is the planet.
Harvesting just a fraction of your food outside of the supermarket is easy to do in most towns and cities but most of us don’t do it. You could probably find and support a local farm which sells great organic veg, without too much time or trouble. You could probably find an independent grocery store selling local produce. You could probably find someone who wants to garden share and grow some of your own veg. If you do any of these, great! But let’s take it a step further.
I want you to become:
Aware of what grows around you.
Aware of how clean your neighbourhood is, or could be.
Aware of how edible plants could be the backbone of urban planning.
Aware of how to (at least partially) feed yourself for free.
Think about adding a little something hyper-local, free and special to your breakfast smoothie. Or weave a free and local food into your lunchbox, to dazzle your colleagues at work. I want you to go out, forage something safe and tasty, clean it – and eat it – every day for a week. That’s not asking for much is it? I suggest plants that you can easily ID, maybe stinging nettle, dandelion and bramble buds. Check it’s the real thing (send me photos to check if you like) and then get sensitively plucking.
Need some help with plant ID? Ask me for help via the contact form or why not start with my Dandelion Plant Profile? Send me a quick message (bottom of page) and I’ll send you the Dandelion Profile as a pdf, along with a hello and some encouragement of course! The profile is from my online Urban Herbology Apprenticeship, a course for people who really want to embrace the urban wild. I am taking on a handful of local apprentices this season but the online part of the course is available year round, wherever you live.
I suggest that you think of a plant that you purchase and consume very often. Something that’s always on your list and which has probably been grown under greenhouse lights or shipped across at least one continent to reach you. For me, this would be spinach. It’s easy, it’s bland, it’s cheap enough and I buy a big plastic bagful each week. I keep it in the freezer and I throw a handful into my smoothie almost every single day. I barely think about it. Where has it come from? Is it sprayed? What nourishment does it really provide?
So how to replace the spinach? My first thoughts are of stinging nettle tops, full of goodness and growing in most neglected street corners. Dandelion leaves, with there nutrient rich bitter tang, grow close to my local bus stop. Chickweed. That tastes great and grows as a weed, in some pots on my roof. Those three are all low growing plants. Not the best in dirty locations, fine if you have some clean patches to forage from.
If you want to play it safer and forage above dog pee height, I suggest looking for Bramble patches and reaching high for some of the new leaf buds. Or Magnolia petals, currently ready to burst open here in Amsterdam. Just one petal will do the trick, there’s no need to take more. Or how about Hawthorn leaf buds? They are easy to spot for some, not for others. Aim for plants which are easy to identify, safe and clean. Always wash your plants at home and remember that birds spray higher than dogs..
Look up your foraged plants and build up what you understand about them. If you are not confident or experienced enough to eat these plants, at least learn about them. What are the look-a-likes? Are they used as medicines? What nutrients are they thought to contain? How do different cultures eat or utilise this plant?
Keep It Clean
“Hang on a minute Lynn, I’m not eating plants from a dirty patch of land in the middle of my town, just because it’s growing there!”
If these are your thoughts then great! Come on in and join the challenge! You have even more to gain from learning about your immediate environment and how we should improve it. We should be living in spaces that are clean enough to eat from. If we are not, something needs to change.
Whatever the situation around your home, there will be ways to edible-ise it. Maybe you request seagull proof flaps, on local street bins to stop the litter being thrown out by birds each morning? Maybe you could encourage some changes at work or school, in where the canteen sources it’s ingredients from? Maybe you could ask the owner of that vacant lot, if you and some friends could grow veg there for a season?
Improvement in urban conditions doesn’t usually happen spontaneously – We need to make it happen.
At least for 7 days*, let’s take away the convenience of being able to add a handful of supermarket spinach leaves to the morning smoothie and let’s think of some alternatives. Let’s go a little further for our green leafy friends. Let’s not get sick: Pluck safely, cleanly and wisely. Don’t pluck if you are unsure – But let’s learn!
Urban Herbology’s 7 Day Challenge is an opportunity to re-calibrate how we think about food. Are you in? If so scroll down, complete the contact form and I’ll send you a couple of messages to see how you get along (I don’t spam people). Or simply keep in touch with the post comments.
Right now, think of a food which you can switch for urban wild edibles.
Tell me in the comments below, or via the contact form, what you plan to do.
Ask me for the Dandelion Profile sheet and learn more about these plants.
Stay in touch and send me any images of your foraged finds and meals. It’s just 7 days!
It’s only 7 days* – You can do this!
Together, we can make urban living cleaner, safer and more tasty!
*Needless to say (but I will), I hope you will enjoy this challenge immensely and will make ethical urban foraging a habit 🙂