Kathrin Brunner is the kind of person who can get anyone excited about anything. If she could be a lifelong student, she declares she would be. Kathrin teaches yoga, works in holistic nutrition and gives Thai massages.
We became the student when we spoke with her about the “more organic than organic” food movement: foraging. Kathrin was a fountain of knowledge, giving us recipes that involve weeds that can be found in many sidewalk cracks.
We heard that you are the one to speak to about foraging. Why the interest?
I grew up on a farm. As a little kid my mom and I would pick flowers and wild leaves together. As I grew older, I got into sustainability and localism. A cool part about localism is learning about your own environment and your own ecosystem and what it has to offer. I became more curious about what was right under my feet.
So, weeds for breakfast?
One of the reasons they’re weeds is that they’re so resilient and have such good protection against pests and different diseases. What's protective in the plants are those phytonutrients, which are also really good for us.
The New York Times made me aware that wild dandelion has double the iron and vitamin A content than spinach. We think of spinach as a superfood, but the new superfoods are the ones that will be in your sidewalk cracks.
That’s an economical way to get your weekly groceries!
Foraging is a bridge between my passion of sustainability and also nutrition and therapeutic foods. Many superfoods come from very far away. Foraged foods may be even better for us, will be localized for our area and have the bacteria that may be beneficial for our system.
Amazing, but we can’t just go out and make a salad of unknown weeds can we? How do we know what is safe, and what is dangerous?
Get some ID guides. Use the keys in the book to look up the plants. Start with the plants you know. Most of us know dandelion, plantain, mulberries and cherries. I first started picking herbs for tea, using raspberry leaves to help with my menstrual cramps. If you aren’t sure, then don’t use it. If you can find a friend who already knows plants and introduces you to a plant, that’s also great.
What’s a good plant to start experimenting with?
Collect the fresh growth of dandelion in the spring. These are great to add to salads, or you can juice them or add them to green smoothies. You can make dandelion sour wines. The root is really medicinal. The dandelion leaf makes a wonderful diuretic tea that contains a lot of potassium. It’s a great tea to include while you’re on a cleanse. The root is a wonderful bitter and great as a digestive tonic. It’s really therapeutic for the liver. Pick the root later in the season after the flower has gone.
Are there any plants we should definitely stay away from?
Yes, some are poisonous! To test for personal sensitivity you can bruise a small amount and place inside your lip for a few seconds and see if you have a reaction. If you react, avoid it. Some plants are really sensitive and on endangered lists, so you want to be careful not to pick those.
How can the city dwellers get in on this localized form of eating?
I think if you are going into an urban area, a city with a ravine system is a cleaner way to pick. I stay away from roadsides and parks that can have pesticides sprayed. You can call the city to find where they spray, but if a plant is yellowed or wilted, this is a good clue. If you go on a hike or camping, it’s a good way to plan your camping trip.
Do you come from a long line of foragers?
I grew up in a household where my mom said: “Go nuts! Eat everything you want in the garden or the field.” However, she had a real suspicion for what was in the grocery store. She didn’t want me to touch what was in those cereal boxes. We’re getting back to that mistrust of what’s in the grocery store, asking if it’s really nourishing us. I would trust a plant more than what it’s in a box.
We completely agree. Our grandmothers knew best!
Most of us are becoming aware of the synergistic effect of food. Many of our medicines are just extracts of plants that are concentrated. Plants can heal you in a more whole and balanced way rather than taking a concentrate that our body might not recognize as food.
If you’re as intrigued as we are, take a book out from the library and get learning! Kathrin recommends the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. She also hinted she may create a workshop and take people near a ravine to identify plants in Toronto, and if this happens we’ll certainly keep you updated.
Now, go pick some dandelions!