Karen Vail: Collecting for Wild Edible Feast

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If you go

What: Yampatika’s Wild Edible Feast

Where: Sweetwater Grill, 811 Yampa Ave.

When: 6 to 9 p.m. June 1

How to help

To volunteer for a collecting team, call at 970-871-9151.

— Before the sun rises, I am awake, checking the coolers, bags, shovels, trowels, gloves, books and list of plants for the day. Collecting nature’s bounty could prove to be challenging this year with so much snow still on the ground. Our team of volunteer collectors rises to the unique challenge.

This early morning, they are sipping steaming cups of coffee and looking a little blurry-eyed. As we arrive at the first site, there is still a layer of frost on the ground. But the sun soon thaws us and the ground. I discuss what we will be looking for, the ethics of collecting and safety concerns. We collect only one thing at a time to be sure that we collect only the correct item. After we have filled our bags, I do a “bag check” to make sure every item is correct.

Our first item of the day is nettles. Yes, stinging nettles. As in they sting. We have gloves, and I remind everyone to roll down their shirt sleeves if they have long sleeves or be very careful if they are in short sleeves. Nettles have tiny glass hairs with a little bulb of formic acid on the leaf. Brushing bare skin against the plant breaks the hair and injects formic acid into the skin. But we collect safely and know that the stinging nettle soup will be worth the cautious effort.

Our next area yields two items: bracken fern fiddleheads and cattails. Bracken fern can be fickle; some years they smile in your face, other years they laugh behind your back. Novice collectors have a difficult time until they start getting their search pattern down. In a lucky year, we fill up several bags quickly. Cattail prospecting is only for collectors who don’t mind getting covered in mud. In collecting the young shoots, we plunge our hands into the muck, feel around for a small shoot coming off the root and then snap it off. These are tossed to dry land where the other collectors remove the outer leaves down to the tender white core.

We have worked up an appetite. Stopping for lunch, we have some nice fern-leaf lovage to add to our turkey sandwichs and sweet Cecily for dessert. Yummy! Our last stop will be to dig onions and yampa root. Soon the pungent aroma of sweet onions is everywhere as the tiny bulbs are dug. The flowers and leaves will be nice additions to the salad. Yampa does not give up its roots easily. I demonstrate how to find the deep roots, and we have a contest to see who can dig the largest root. Now the aroma of sweet carrots fills the air.

It is with a satisfying weariness that our prizes are hauled down to Sweetwater Grill. Fawn, the talented and brave chef, nods as I unload each item. I can see the wheels turning as she tastes them, creating the grand menu for the Wild Edible Feast.

Join us for Yampatika’s 11th annual Wild Edible Feast from 6 to 9 p.m. June 1. To volunteer for a collecting team, call at 970-871-9151.

Karen Vail is a naturalist with Yampatika.

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