Featuring Jesse Brownlee
The sun is starting to tint the sky pink. It was just warm enough last night that there wasn’t a frost this morning, although the day is dawning cool, fresh and clear. The pack on my back is almost empty, holding nothing but water and several empty grocery bags, Ziploc bags, and empty Tupperware containers. What a day to go grocery shopping! I close the door behind me and head off down the road at a brisk pace, hoping to warm up before I reach the cover of the forest.
The first rays of sunlight are beginning to stream through the trees, glittering on last night’s spider webs as I slip into the woods. I am headed for a spot I know well, a spot that has been covered in snow and ice since December 9, 2016. This has been the worst winter in my memory, however all that remains of that craziness are small patches of snow interspersed with lots of broken limbs and last year’s limp, soggy blackberry vines.
As I come to the creek I turn and follow it down the hill. Hidden amongst the stones, branches and rubble clogging the water I spy my prey and my excitement surges; I look around and see the trappings of the best grocery store ever – one of the many wild places scattered throughout the Columbia River Gorge.
There is fresh watercress in the clear, cold stream. It will make an amazing breakfast tossed with fried potatoes, onions and bacon. Nettles are just starting to surge towards the sun in the marshy places where the creek overflows its banks, and my mouth is already watering at the thought of fresh nettle soup for lunch, and the delicious omelet for tomorrow morning. Candyflower, Miners Lettuce and chickweed are found peeking out from the rich, moist soil at the base of a rotting tree and will make a perfectly crisp, mild and succulent salad. At the edge of the creek I find several yellow dock plants whose young leaves will be great when stuffed with seasoned meat and rice and baked for dinner. As I head down to the water, I stumble upon a large patch of wild ginger under a huge old cedar. The roots pull easily from the dark earth and will make a wonderful warming, spicy tea to enjoy before bed. The cottonwood branches blown down by the creek are covered with fragrant, resin-filled buds; I happily fill a bag with these and will start this year’s batch of potent salve when I get home.
I realize I can barely fit these buds into my pack. And my stomach is growling, so I turn and head home with my pack and grocery bags overflowing.
As I’m rinsing the dirt from the bounty I just gathered, a feeling of intense satisfaction settles over me. I am proud that I am able to provide so much food and medicine for myself and those I love after just a quick morning stroll through the woods around my house. I am already looking forward to the months ahead- maple blossom fritters, fresh fir tips to make the very best refreshing summer drink, luscious wild berries… the list goes on and on.
Breakfast is ready, and I smile as I tuck into my feast- the foraging season has only just begun.
Join Jesse on March 26th for her Introduction to the Wild Foods and Medicinal Plants of the Pacific NW class. Click here to learn more and to register.
Jesse Brownlee is the owner of Half Wild, LLC. Born and raised in rural Georgia, she now lives and works in the Columbia Gorge. She is a Ranger, Certified Interpretive Guide and Wilderness EMT who spends large amounts of time in lush forests of the Gorge hunting for the freshest local delicacies.