Thursday, September 8, 2011

Clover heads? Ok. Locust seeds? Better not...

Last weekend, Mike and I decided to go on another foraging adventure. We decided to try another spot in the area, so we set out for Port Washington. Bike trails are great for urban foraging because usually it's like cutting a path straight through the woods, but it's paved. The Interurban trail is one of the most extensive paved trails in the state, stretching from Mequon to Belgium. Along this path I have observed wild asparagus, wild grapes, wood sorrel, high-bush cranberry, raspberries, rose hips,and many other great edibles. And in the morning, further north on the trail, not too many people are out, giving you the impression that you are all alone, a welcome feeling when you live smack in the middle of the densest neighborhood in the city.

When we arrived in Port (as the natives say), we parked right next to the start of the trail, adjacent to the old light tower. We were once again armed with plastic bags and scissors. As we started off along the trail, we began to look for plants to harvest. It being close to autumn, most of the fruits were gone, except for the cranberry, which aren't ready yet, and the wild grape, of which we had had our fill. About 15 minutes in, single berries dotted the raspberry bushes, and we nibbled on the them, so long as a bird hadn't stolen half of the berry before us. We walked and walked. This had once been our favorite biking spot; somehow our memories of the distance from point A to point B were coming up in bike miles. Walking took much longer than we would have thought. At a certain point, I started to feel hungry. Hunger then gave way to desperation as the coffee I had had that morning turned into low blood sugar. I was about ready to pass out. I needed to eat something.

All around me were light purple clover flowers. I realized that I should probably eat some, since I felt light-headed; at this point we had crossed the over pass of the highway, and were about 2 miles from where we started. I grabbed about 6 plump, spiky purple clover flowers and started eating. They can be quite good, with a texture that is not my favorite, sort of grainy and grassy and the same time. The flavor though is worth it. A kind of perfumy, honey flavor, with a hint of sweetness. In about 3 minutes, I felt much better, and we decided to head back to the car. We had not really found anything to harvest.

About 1/2 mile before the car, I looked to my left and saw white and purple pods hanging down from a tree with pinnate leaves. I thought it looked like a black locust tree. I had never really noticed these before, so I got out my field guides. These were definitely black locust pods. In Sam Thayer's book The Forager's Harvest he explains that many people say these are poisonous to humans. He goes on to say, however that Euell Gibbons claimed that he and his family used to harvest the green seeds and cook and eat them without any consequences. He also says that he has eaten them and that he never had a problem. So Mike and I did something that we should never have done. We opened up a couple and ate some seeds. They were delicious! They were a cross between raw sugar snap peas and green beans. Upon further inspection, I realized that the book made a difference between raw and cooked. The cooking process took care of the toxins.

Now we had really done it! As we walked back to the car, Mike told me he felt strange. I asked him what he felt like. He told me that he was spacy and sweaty and that he felt shaky and was extremely hungry. Of course these were the very symptoms I had experienced a half hour before. He had the coffee jitters, but of course our mental state was all about being poisoned by the seeds.

He began to eat wood sorrel and started to feel much better. We then headed into town to eat at some family restaurant. I was pretty worried, especially since I had only eaten three seeds and Mike had eaten like three pods. I was afraid I had killed my friend!

That night, I called him to see if he was still alive. Then, for good measure, the next morning, I sent this text: still alive? He never answered back. Luckily he called me later that day. We had survived, but we will never again eat anything where there are conflicting stories. I looked up black locust seeds, and apparently if we had been horses, it might have been a different ending...

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