When was the last time you ate something straight from the source?
For most of us, our daily diets consist entirely of food that has been planted, picked, processed and packaged before we ever see it.
While our food industry has made it possible for us to get plenty of high-quality food for not a lot of money, the system also has the side effect of disconnecting us from the natural world around us.
We don’t see our environmental behaviors impact our food supply. Many of us don’t know how many basic foods are made or even what they’re made of.
Children especially may not be able to identify different fruits and vegetables — some have no concept of the different places and ways food is grown and made.
It’s not like this everywhere in the world — when I was in Trinidad last summer, we visited a school where the kids showed us some bushes near their playground that were growing grape-sized, pinkish fruits they called “fat pokes.”
The fruits were very delicious, and the kids didn’t seem to think anything of finding food just out and about in nature.
In Costa Rica this summer, my classmates and I learned about many different edible plants, including one special flower that many kids in the country identify and eat as a treat.
On a hike in the country, we found some of the flowers and discovered they made for a delicious, citrus-flavored snack.
I’m not telling these stories to encourage anyone to go out and just start munching on whatever they find in nature — that’s dangerous and could get you in medical trouble. But the fact is, in other places, people and even little kids know a whole lot more about the world around them — and the food available there — than we do.
I may now know of many edible plants in Trinidad and Costa Rica, but here in Kentucky I’m afraid I was uneducated about what snacks or meals may be available in the forest or even in my own back yard.
So I decided to find out what dishes might be out there. Now, I get food from the grocery store and I’m not interested in trying to live off the land. I don’t expect to go out and find supper for myself in the woods, but understanding what’s around us can give us a better appreciation for what we have.
In my search, I found the website trails.com, which has a section on wild foods in Kentucky. The Kentucky portion of the site is here: http://bit.ly/PL0EON.
Most people have heard of some of the edible foods growing wild in Kentucky: blackberries and nuts from walnut and hickory trees, for example.
There are also fruits known as ground cherries that grow well in sandy or rocky areas.
My favorite discovery is prickly lettuce, which looks similar to thistles but can be eaten just like regular lettuce.
All these foods may not be in season right now, but I plan on studying up so I can go for hike in the spring or summer and safely identify these edible plants. I may just see how many of them I can find, or I may try eating them.
Either way, my new knowledge of the Kentucky wilderness will help me enjoy life off the pavement that much more.
P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about the plants growing in Kentucky, that’s great, but please consult an expert before you try to eat anything growing wild.