Closer to the farmhouse, Kallas shows me some sheep sorrel he’s deemed too sparse to pick in any quantity, and a patch of henbit, a sweet-tasting plant with very hairy leaves. But we’re on the lookout for miner’s lettuce (Montia perfoliata), and he quickly spies a large cache growing in the moist soil. His Twistoflex watch glints in the sunlight as he grasps handfuls of the rounded, silken leaves and clips them off along with an inch of their slender stalks.
As for the stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) that we spy sprouting nearby, the persistent sting that comes from their toothed, fibrous, heart-shaped leaves keeps many would-be foragers at bay. But it’s not as risky as it may seem to consume a plant that can raise a rash. “It needs to be boiled,” Kallas says as he plucks the tender tips from a half-dozen plants. “But it’s just like spinach.”
Kallas admits that one of his favorite foraging spots is his own small North Portland backyard, where he insists you can find wild greens that taste just as good as cultivated garden varieties. It’s also a prime habitat for what has become the most popular commercially sold edible weed: dandelion greens (Taraxacum officinalis).
“Most people think that you should only eat them in the spring before the flower buds appear,” he says. “But as long as there’s lots of cloud cover and rain, you can eat them year-round.” In back of the farmhouse, we pick from dense rosettes of young dandelion greens. When I pluck a jagged spear-shaped leaf to taste, I’m braced for a bitter hit, but I’m surprised by its subtle bitterness and deep vegetal flavors. “Out of 100, I’d give this a 12 for bitterness,” says Kallas, a self-described “supertaster.” I pop another leaf into my mouth and think about how fantastic these dandelions would be sautéed in olive oil with crushed garlic.