Garlic mustard. Strong tasting. You're going to want to eat some Cat Mint after this...and it's growing wild, probably behind your house.

“We’re looking for a grubby alley,” Nancy Klehm told our group of about 18 urban foragers.

Week before last, I had posted about the foraging expedition that Klehm was to lead in Austin Gardens.

But then the Park District of Oak Park got wind of it, and explained that this “activity is not in compliance with the Park District code (Rules & Regulations Governing Uses of Park Facilities). In particular you may be in violation of ordinance numbers 7.6, 7.12, 7.16, and 7.17.”

Sheesh.

It would have been nice using Austin Gardens to forage for edible foods growing wild and free. But after the stern warning from the village — which seemed to indicate that we could not even congregate in Austin Gardens, let alone eat the foliage — we went in search of an area around the park that was, to use Klehm’s word, “un-preened.” That is, we wanted to find areas that had not been cultivated, fertilized, treated with insecticides, or otherwise brought under the control of human hands (PS. Despite the fact that it was relatively preened and off limits, Austin Gardens looks like it has a lot of edible stuff growing).

Wandering in the streets and alleys around Austin Gardens, we found over 24 edible plants (usually considered weeds), all of which we nibbled as we walked. I’ve included just a few of them in the slide show above.

This was an absolutely fascinating look at ignored nature, the stuff growing in cracks and crevices and behind garages. This is nature that most homeowners don’t want: weeds, volunteer greenery, stuff you pull out of your garden and put into a big bag for the Village to haul away. So this exploration of unwanted vegetation offered a fascinating perspective on what we deem fit to eat and what we consider weeds and thus unworthy.

Klehm will be holding another foraging workshop in Austin later this summer; I’ll keep you posted and, honestly, you will probably not find a more fascinating and productive way to spend a few hours.

Note: we’re not botanists over here, and the nutritional value of the plants, as expressed in this article, are those of Ms. Klehm, whose opinions I, personally, trust.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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