You may look at the side of a mountain and see nothing beyond mottled gray and green brush, but expert forager Pascal Baudar sees something entirely different. “For me, it’s like a grocery store,” he says with a chuckle.
We are sitting with a group of Tillamook Co-Op members at One Gun Ranch, an organic and biodynamic farm in the Santa Monica mountains of Malibu, to talk about “real” food. Baudar, a wild food instructor and author, displays the treasures he has found in the land nearby and passes around herbs and seeds to sample.
“The natives used to collect 150 different kinds of seeds in this area,” he says. “Do you know how many you can find in the grocery store now? Zero. But there are tons of uses for these different seeds.”
Baudar adds that common plants such as mugwort (a weed that is “everywhere in California”), horehound, and stinging nettle have hundreds of uses ranging from flavorings to beverages to medicine.
“There are over 540 ingredients I can find in the wilderness,” he says. Some might see a mustard plant as just a weed; he sees it as a multi-purpose plant that yields mustard greens, mustard seeds, and mustard flowers. (Worth noting: Baudar provides custom blends of herbs, seeds, and flavorings to top chefs and restaurants in the L.A. area.)
To illustrate the bounty that lies in our backyards, Baudar and Chef Mia Wasilevich worked with Tillamook to create a special sampling of fresh dairy products paired with hand-foraged herbs, spices, and flowers.
On the menu: Beautifully arranged small plates, such as Tillamook cheeses with wild greens, fresh-ground spices and hand-foraged mustard seeds. And – perfect for the weekend heat wave – savory ice cream treats such as cheddar cheese ice cream with crispy prosciutto and wildflowers, and sour cream ice cream cones with cherry tomato, balsamic glaze, hand-ground herbs, and a local wildflower.
Will most of us go on to forage for our food on a daily basis? Probably not. But it’s important to recognize how many plants are around us that can be used on a regular basis – and to recognize that the supermarket is not the final word in what foods are available. And acknowledging that many generations of people lived simply off the land is an important lesson for kids to remember, especially as they become old enough to make their own food and shopping choices.
Of course, if you do forage, you’ll want to be safe. Baudar, who is also certified in food safety, offers a series of Los Angeles-area classes on foraging, fermentation, canning, making wild beers and sodas, making vinegars and infusions, wild seed blends, and more. You can read all about the classes here. And if you’re not near Los Angeles, contact your local Cooperative Extension office.
Thank you to the Tillamook Co-Op for organizing this great food education event. (Blogger disclosure: I am a Tillamook Co-Op member but I did not receive compensation for this post. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.)