Sustainability Students Forage Edible Wilds For A Forest-To-Table Meal

Students (from left) Nina, Steph and Levi display cattails and thistle harvested from the property.

Students (from left) Nina, Steph and Levi display cattails and thistle harvested from the property.

Better Farm's sustainability students last week foraged wild edible plants on the property for a forest-to-table meal.

Nina, Steph and Levi headed out into the woods, fields, and pond to find cattail, nettles, burdock and thistle for inclusion in Vietnamese pho, a traditional noodle soup.

The Edible Wilds

Cattail stems = delish. image from eat the weeds

Cattail stems = delish. image from eat the weeds

Cattails— Cattails are part of the "Fantastic Four": plants that could save your life. Cattails are referred to as the supermarket of the swamp—they've got all the makings for shelter, fire-starting, and most importantly, nourishment. You can chop up the base of the stems, adorn yourselves with the leaves or weave water carriers, baskets or canopy cover, use the pollen for thickener in soups or nutritional boosts for pancakes and breads, and cook the roots up like potatoes.

Thistle. image from dow agro science.

Thistle. image from dow agro science.

Thistle—Those spiky, obnoxious plants that hide along the edges of your lawn or in open fields are actually really yummy to eat (I know... who knew they had any redeeming qualities?). And actually, this plant has been used ground up as feed for livestock, a cure for liver problems, a fever reducer, and much much more. We just cut the spiky leaves off the stems, which were then ready to be chopped up and added to our dish.

burdock. image from eat weeds.

burdock. image from eat weeds.

Burdock—The stems and roots of this invasive plant are perfect for chopping up and adding to any salad or stir fry. Our students utilized the stems and roots of young plants. For full instructions on harvesting your own, click here.

nettles. image from wikimedia.

nettles. image from wikimedia.

Nettle—Nettles are known for their prickly hairs that irritate your skin when it comes in contact with this plan. HOWEVER! Nettles are also a vitamin-rich food source and remedy for a bunch of medical conditions from painful muscles to gout and anemia. The stems can be used for twin, fish nets and snares, and the plants have even been dried and fed to livestock throughout the winter. The leaves are an excellent spinach substitute; and recipes for nettle pesto, nettle soup and nettle salad are all delicious. We just chopped ours up and threw it into the soup pot.

The Meal

To make traditional Vietnamese Pho, you make a broth and add a ton of veggies (and meat if you're into that). We made ours vegan, utilizing the basic schtick of a classic vegetable-broth-from-kitchen-scraps-recipe found at Oh My Veggies:

Onions, celery and carrots: the building blocks of any great vegetable stock. From there, add any root vegetables, ginger, lemongrass, parsley, you name it!

Onions, celery and carrots: the building blocks of any great vegetable stock. From there, add any root vegetables, ginger, lemongrass, parsley, you name it!

Once we had our stock, we added our foraged ingredients along with some frozen veggies from last year's veggie harvest at the farm. Then we added rice noodles, a little bit of Braggs Amino Acids, and voila: easy vegetarian pho.

vegan pho. image from recipe mash.

vegan pho. image from recipe mash.

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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.