Discover The Kitchen Delicacies Hidden In Your Own Backyard

Jason Neumann dives fork-first into the bounty of nature—and he can teach you how to do the same.

It’s Jason Neumann’s job to connect people with nature. And as public programs manager at the Cincinnati Nature Center, he takes a holistic approach, trying to always engage visitors’ heads, hearts, hands, and—when they are foraging—stomachs.

“We incorporate natural history, folklore, human history, how a plant ecologically fits into the system,” Neumann says. “But once you understand that there’s food everywhere, it opens up this whole other spectrum of understanding the world.”

Harvesting things safely, effectively, and appropriately requires your full attention, Neumann says, because eating the wrong wild plants can make you ill, or even kill you. Plus, irresponsible foraging has negative impacts on our natural world, so rule No. 1 is to always put the land first. Never forage for rare plants or overharvest. Leave no trace on the lands you visit and get permission to forage.

Next, personal safety. You must be 100 percent sure you’ve chosen the right plant in the right place, away from roadsides, industrial sites, agricultural fields, and places where dogs use the bathroom. Wash foraged food thoroughly and eat the right parts at the right time of year.

Doing it correctly can produce incredible culinary delights—Neumann told me about his elderberry mojitos, violet jelly, and roasted dandelion root ice cream. But he begs of us, don’t rely on a plant app—not even two. Think instead about joining a foraging group, like the one at the CNC, or studying published, trusted field guides. Start with small amounts of foraged foods, eating just one species at a time, and consider eating invasive plants, like young garlic mustard.

Eat This…

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Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

The leaves, crowns, stems, and flowers are all edible and have many applications. Most tender and least bitter in the spring.

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Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Highly nutritious mild green that grows in patches. Found in yards and woods. Eaten raw, in a salad, or blended into a smoothie or pesto.

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Wild violet (Viola sororia)

Grows almost everywhere. Comes up in late winter, early spring. Leaves and blossoms are edible raw, or cooked, and high in vitamin C.

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Garlic mustard (Alliariapetiolata)

An herb brought to the United States in the 1800s as an edible that has spread uncontrollably and is now an invasive plant. The young stems are described as tasting like a cross between a garlic scape and a snap pea.

Wild black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis)

Full of antioxidants. Let the fruit ripen until it is dark purple and slips easily off the stem. Look for them in early summer.

Not That!

Illustration by Emi Villavicencio

Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum)

Easily confused with wild carrot and elderberry, this plant is extremely toxic and kills people every year.

Illustration by Emi Villavicencio

False morels (a term used for several species)

Look-alikes to tasty morel mushrooms, but these contain a toxin called monomethylhydrazine, which causes dizziness and vomiting, and in severe cases can lead to death.

Illustration by Emi Villavicencio

Moonseed (Menispermum canadense)

Vine that has round purple fruit that resemble grapes but are poisonous to humans.

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