Traveling through the Portland area with a forager puts a whole new spin on backseat driving.
“Hey! See all that lighter stuff? That’s chickweed,” says John Kallas, a font of knowledge on edible wild plants and the founder of Wild Food Adventures, a one-man Portland-based foraging expedition company. On a wet spring morning, he and I are headed to his friend’s farm, Sauvie Island Organics, endeavoring to gather enough wild edible weeds for an afternoon feast. As we merge onto U.S. 30, my guide presses his face against the window and says, “There’s licorice fern on that hill.” Suddenly, the roadside springs to life. A seasoned botanist with a PhD in nutrition, Kallas sees potential food sources nearly everywhere he looks.
“Wild gourmet garden vegetables” is what Kallas calls the plants we’re hunting—miner’s lettuce, chickweed, wild mustard and bittercress, among many others. They practically crawl to the backdoor in this cool, cloudy, damp clime. “People reject the acorns and dandelions in their yard,” he says, “but this food has got to be good if people lived off of it for hundreds of years. You just have to know what to do with it.” Despite our general suspicion of such plants, farmers markets and gourmet grocery stores have started to sell wild greens like dandelions, purslane and nettles—an indication that soon we may not think twice before adding them to our pastas and soups.