BELFAST— Tom Seymour, an expert Maine forager, never thought his lifelong interest in scouring fields, forests, riverbeds and shorelines for wild edibles would be interesting to anyone else, but every time he hosts a wild edibles walk, he’s amazed to see how many people show up.
“I think people have realized how far removed we have gotten from the natural world, and there has been a renewed interest in re-connecting to it,” he said, while on a walk through the meadows and trails of Coastal Mountain Land Trust’s Head of the Tide Preserve in Belfast.
Seymour, a naturalist and author of Wild Plants of Maine, which is among his 13 books, hadn’t taken the River Trail before at the Head of The Tide Preserve. He wanted to scope it out before a public walk and talk he was preparing to give the following day.
A cluster of wild plants adjacent to the parking lot were the first thing he bee-lined for. Squatting down to examine them, he identified several classes of edibles, that to the untrained eye, simply looked like weeds.
“There are an amazing number of edibles you can find along the edges of old gardens,” he said, identifying Wild Evening Primrose, which is a root plant, similar to a carrot. He dug up the roots of the plant with his bare hands to display the whitish tuber attached to it.
“These are one of the first foods available in the spring, just after the snow melts,” he said. “It’s milder than a carrot, but you cut it lengthwise in an inch or two of water. It’s at its best early spring, when the leaves lie flat. You can even use the leaves in a salad.”
Seymour’s extensive knowledge of wild plants was handed down to him by his grandparents.
“It was the Great Depression; there wasn’t money for food, so you had to be very resourceful,” he said. “You went out and ate what wild plants you could find. But as a kid, I took to it and studied one plant at a time. It’s been my lifelong study.”
Beyond edibles, he pointed out a number of plants that were medicinal and useful, such as a cluster of comfrey growing nearby.
“Comfrey has excellent healing properties,” he explained.”You grind the leaves down into a pulp and use as a poultice on an abrasion or a bruise. Leave that on overnight and usually the next morning, you’ll be on your way to recovery.”
Next to the comfrey was a patch of tall green wavy leaves, which Seymour identified as curled dock: “It’s a great leafy vegetable that you’d simmer as a vegetable stock,” he said. It nutritious weed, rich with iron and vitamins.
“And of course, the common dandelion is everywhere,” said Seymour. “Everybody knows about them. I like them better than fiddleheads. They’re about the most nutritious vitamin-packed wild food you can cook. These, you need to simmer. The leaves and the unopened bud are very good alone. Once the bud opens though, and the blossom comes out, the leaves becomes bitter. In the fall, after a good frost, the leaves once again become unbitter. The blossoms are another good food product. I like dip them in a tempura batter and fry them up–they are the most delicious thing on earth.”
Along the rest of the short hike, Seymour would look around and examine what was just starting to emerge in the late spring, such as wild strawberries indicated by white flowers and three compound leaves. On the River Loop Trail which descends a hill down to the Passagassawakeag River, Seymour was interested to see what he could find along the riverbank, which usually has a number of food sources. He found wild mint (which is much more potent and redolent of menthol than wild mint grown in gardens) which is very good as a tea to soothe stomach upset and fiddleheads, which, when uncurled, are an excellent food source. These had already uncurled into ferns.
Seymour suggested that people who have an interest in foraging start with a guidebook.
“Go over each plant, but if there is even the slightest doubt that something you have in your hand doesn’t match what you are reading and seeing, don’t even try a small piece of it,” he said.
Seymour also does wild mushroom identification walks, along with tidal shore foraging walk and talks. Seymour writes four regular columns and a multitude of features including his popular “Maine Wildlife” for The Maine Sportsman Magazine. To follow him and learn about his next foraging walks and talk on June 9 in Brooksville, Maine visit: Edible and Medicinal Walk
Photos by Kay Stephens
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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