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Henry Hong on Edible Plants


cham101
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I am absolutely fascinated by the CP article explaining the edible plants that grow wild in the Baltimore area. Is there any way you might be able to add some pics and give us some harvest windows of opportunity so we know for what we are looking? I would love to find some tasty free treats locally and would like some visual help with this project.

Hi cham101, sorry for the delayed response. Sigh, I actually do have some decent images from my foraging last year, but they're on my FUBAR lappy. However, I will try to get a reader to pull them off the HDD tomorrow. When I was foraging, it was well into fall, and perilla (or beefsteak plant) was right at the limit for picking. Once the seed pod bursts, apparently, the leaves no longer taste as good. Now this is info via my mom, so take it as you will. Right now you may still be able to find some ramps, but I haven't had time to go out and check the patch I know about. I know for sure that there are wild strawberries to be found, on the footpath at Lake Roland for one, along some of the paths at Prettyboy as well. I do have some pics of perilla I just found on my email, which I've attached. You can see there was a ton of it growing along Dulaney Valley Road.

Epazote grows all over the place, and I'll keep my cam on me tomorrow in case I come across some. Finally, there is wild asparagus, which should be ready to harvest right now, but I have yet to find any around here. I've heard that it grows along Rtes. 40 and 70, west of the beltway. Speaking of which, "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" by Euell Gibbons is more or less the bible of foraging. And then of course there's Steve Brill, who I think was profiled in the Sun a few years ago.

I plan on exploring the Korean side of found food more this year. I just think it's a crazy coincidence that such parallel ingredients exist so far apart. Well, maybe not so crazy, since we're talking about parts of the world that are both covered in deciduous forest (the best kind!), and people tend to emigrate to places with climates and geographical features similar to home. But I digress....

-Henry

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Thanks for the info. I'm pretty sure I have run into Perilla last year, I didn't know I could eat it. I had a big handful of wild strawberries for lunch when I was on the trail on Saturday over at the Patapsco and realized I had forgot my lunch. The wild strawberries didn't taste very good but it kept my stomach from being empty. I also have a wild strawberry patch growing out of the crack in my concrete curb in my alley. I have to be quick about grabbing the little strawberries because a large rat lives in a drain pipe behind it and we are both competing for the same fruit supply.

I spend a great deal of my time in deciduous forests. If I can get good at identifying edible plants and knowing what to do with them then I can further decrease my pack weight, and that is always a good thing.

I will check out the Gibbons and Brill books.

Please, please, please keep the pictures coming. Maybe I can organize a "gather the free food" hike event during July and August.

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How fun! I used to hunt morels and chanterelles in Illinois, and I harvest epazote out of my Grandmothers' fields in Florida. I had no idea that we had shiso growing here! If you organize something, please share! -Linda

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As an aside, if you can find a cattle farm that has a wooded area with a patch of perilla/shiso, they will be more than happy for you to help them get rid of it - while it's harmless to humans, it's pretty bad for cattle if they get into it.

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As an aside, if you can find a cattle farm that has a wooded area with a patch of perilla/shiso, they will be more than happy for you to help them get rid of it - while it's harmless to humans, it's pretty bad for cattle if they get into it.

Indeed! A commenter on my article noted that perilla is considerd an invasive plant. At the downtown farmer's market last year, I spoke with a vendor who was selling purslane for $5/lb, and she noted the irony of it being her best seller, since only the year before she was pulling the stuff up as a weed. Keep in mind that wild perilla has a sharper flavor, and sometimes coarser texture, than the farmed stuff. We Koreans almost never eat the leaves raw, instead they are either pickled or steamed with a buttload of garlic and red pepper, then used as wrappers for rice usually.

And as a bonus, more pics! I happened upon a thick patch of urban flora on the corner of Maryland Ave. and 22nd St.(first pic), and right in the middle was a big old epazote plant (second pic). It's also called wormseed, and apparently Baltimore used to be a major production center for wormseed oil. The herb can be used in soups like chilaquiles or sopa de res.

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How fun! I used to hunt morels and chanterelles in Illinois, and I harvest epazote out of my Grandmothers' fields in Florida. I had no idea that we had shiso growing here! If you organize something, please share! -Linda

Linda-

Perilla is actually not shiso, they are related but are distinct both in appearance and flavor. Perilla, at least the kind you can find around here, is considered the "korean" or "purple" variety and has less pronounced jaggedness around the leaves. The flavor is milder and lacks the licorice-like notes of Japanese shiso. The stuff grows EVERYWHERE! Once you successfully identify your first perillas, you will start noticing them all over the place, in much the same way as when you buy a new car, you start noticing that car all the time.

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