Forest to Table
Often hidden in plain sight, edible plants abound in the Ozarks.
My grandmother was a legendary forager. Conservation agents in her hometown of Perryville would drive to her farm with plants they couldn’t identify. In an effort to learn the skill my grandmother had mastered, I set up an edible plant walk with another legendary forager—417-land’s own Bo Brown—and drove east of Springfield to his cabin on the James River.
Brown is a walking encyclopedia of foraging knowledge. We had not stepped 3 feet out his cabin door before he was handing me leafy green bits to try. In fact, throughout our two and a half hours together we didn’t stray more than a couple hundred yards from his cabin, yet he probably identified at least 30 edible or medicinal plants. He showed me plants that looked like teeny, tiny okra but tasted like dill pickles. He plucked poke leaves, dandelion and lamb’s quarters for pot greens and decorticated a slippery elm branch to make a cord.
At one point he convinced me to run the back of my hand through some stinging nettle. Initially I didn’t feel much, but about a minute later an itching and burning sensation spread over my hand. Just as the pain was becoming uncomfortable, Brown rubbed a handful of roughed-up curly dock over the affected area. It took away the pain almost immediately. As we walked over his property and he named the flora around us, it was as if a world that had been blurry slowly came into focus. Out of a forest of green, definition began to appear.
Once we had collected enough pot greens for a taste, we headed inside to Brown’s cabin. Brown threw the greens in a pot and covered them in water. About five minutes was enough to do the trick. Brown then dressed the pot greens with Lowry’s seasoned salt and balsamic vinegar. As we sat enjoying the delicious spoils of our labor, which tasted like spinach, but earthier, I couldn’t help but wonder how my grandmother liked to season her pot greens. If I had to guess, it would involve bacon grease.—Vivian Wheeler
Learn to Forage
Bo Brown leads foraging walks throughout the spring, summer and fall. You can find dates for the walks at firstearth.org. Or, grab a handful of friends and a book a private event, which typically runs between $100 and $150.