I've managed to arrive in the Adirondacks just in time to watch the tail end of spring get chased away by humid summer days and roaring thunderstorms. I wanted to at least get a half day of foraging in before the heavy rains, so I set out for one of my favorite wild edible hotspots. I survey the roadsides for patches of wild asparagus and stinging nettles as I drive down the winding country roads. The drainage ditches and fencerows are just beginning to fill up with flowers and weeds.
I park the car and head into the woods. The trees block out the sun with their newly acquired headdresses, creating a cool and still atmosphere within the forest. The tiny purple flowers of wild violets pop out of the leaf duff in every direction, and just like that, I've spotted my first wild ingredient. Wild violets are so common throughout the United States that many consider them garden weeds. What most people don't know is both the little flowers and leaves are edible. The leaves can be used in salads while the flowers can be candied, jellied, or used as a garnish.
I lazily meander among the trees picking a few flowers here and there until I come to a slow-moving stream. I follow the stream until it opens up into a meadow of ferns. I immediately know I've hit the jackpot: ostrich fern fiddleheads. I start breaking off the little furls one by one, making sure to only take one or two per grouping. Unlike violets, fiddleheads are often victim to overharvesting. This proves to be a conundrum for me, as I'm a forager looking to make a living off ingredients like fiddleheads. I harvest two or three pounds of the curled ferns, leaving about two-thirds of the patch untouched.
I continue to follow the stream downhill until I come to a dirt road being choked out by thick patches of stinging nettles. There's no pacing myself here; I throw on my gloves and start cutting the nettles at their base. Nettles grow everywhere, taste delicious, and are considered a super food, but most people fear them because of the sharp pain that occurs when the plants contact skin. However, cooking nettles will quickly render them harmless. I fill two large bags up to bring home for nettle pesto.
As I make my way back to the car I reflect on my bounty. I think about my responsibility to mindfully harvest these ingredients. There is a delicate balance when trying to make a full-time living from wild foods; take too much and you damage the natural ecology of the area; take too little and you can't support yourself. This is why I make sure not to overlook abundant species like violets and nettles. Harvesting these common species means I can take less of the delicate species like ostrich ferns. The sound of building thunder brings me away from my thoughts, and the first raindrops fall just as I reach the car. I pull onto the road and start thinking about the hot cup of nettle tea waiting for me at home.