In the garden: Foraged food

Master mushroomer: Alan Muskat of the Asheville Wild Foods Market offers dozens of foraged edibles and expert advice at the Asheville City Market on Saturdays. Max Cooper
Master mushroomer: Alan Muskat of the Asheville Wild Foods Market offers dozens of foraged edibles and expert advice at the Asheville City Market on Saturdays. Max Cooper


Foods in the wild

As gardeners till the soil, work in compost and dream of cultivating the perfect tomato, it's important to remember that edibles are growing right below our feet. Simple dandelions and prized mushrooms are gaining strength between the cracks in the sidewalk and on tree stumps in abandoned parking lots.

If you're new to foraging or your favorite places are picked over, adding wild foods to your diet is as easy as stopping by the Asheville City Market on S. Charlotte Street. Each Saturday from 8 a.m.-1 p.m., the Asheville Wild Foods Market's table overflows with more than 40 foraged edibles, 30 wild medicines and expert advice from forager Alan Muskat.

He spends his days scouring unmowed, unsprayed yards and waste lots, looking for wild mustard flowers, morels, ramps, bamboo shoots, onion grass, stinging nettles and any other wild, edible plants he can find. "The more we 'eat here now,' exploring, savoring and celebrating this time and place, the more we rediscover Eden, finding greater comfort with the land, our food and each other," says Muskat.

Foraging for food is at the center of his philosophy and is the driving force behind the Asheville-based Afikomen Project, a program that combats food insecurity by training children to forage safely. The goal is to reduce poverty by harnessing the region's rich temperate ecosystem. Muskat plans to expand the program nationally, with the ambitious goal of teaching every child in the United States to forage wild foods by 2030.

Each weekend, Muskat is available to answer questions about wild foods and give tours. He leads free tours of George Washington Carver Edible Park on Saturdays from 1-2:30 p.m., departing from The Asheville Wild Foods Market's booth at City Market. Feast your eyes on his booth's wide array of foraged plants and then indulge your curiosity with a tour of one of the country's oldest edible parks. http://www.notastelikehome.org.

Urban edibles

West Asheville is known for its cozy, neighborhood brunch and pizza joints, but there are dozens of hidden delicacies scattered in between. A stroll along Haywood Road reveals a salad bowl's worth of edible and medicinal plants, as long as you know where to look.

Find out what's delicious and what might be deadly at the West Asheville Urban Plant Walk on Saturday, May 18, from 10:30 a.m.-noon. Nancy Hyton, founder of the Center for Holistic Medicine, will lead eager foragers through familiar streets and back alleyways to uncover plants for both the dinner plate and the medicine cabinet.

"Going on a plant walk is an excellent way to open your eyes to the bounty that the plant world has to offer us and can change the way you think about weeds forever," says Hyton. This year's walk will partner with the Appalachia School of Holistic Herbal Medicine to pinpoint hyperlocal plants that can treat everything from fever to infection.

In the past six years of this annual walk, Hyton has catalogued more than 60 medicinal and edible plants. The educational strolls are very popular and attract a wide range of plant-lovers. "Some want to learn what plants they can harvest for food, some are interested in making their own medicine and some just want to feel more connected to nature," says Hyton.

Whether you're looking for fresh ingredients for a springtime dish or a plant to soothe red, swollen eyes, explore West Asheville with new vigor during the Urban Plant Walk. $5; children free. Registration recommended. http://www.centerholistic.com or 505-3174.

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