Talking Foraging and Sustainability with a Wild Edibles Expert

by Catherine Elliott

Published: 4/06/16, Last updated: 5/24/19

This week, we’re excited to highlight the work of Leda Meredith, who writes and teaches about foraging, food preservation and sustainable food systems.

Leda Meredith has been foraging since she was a toddler (it’s her great-grandmother’s fault). She has a certification in Ethnobotany from the New York Botanical Garden, where she has been an instructor since 2002. She is also an instructor at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Leda is the author of five books including Northeast Foraging and her new book, The Forager’s Feast. You can follow her sustainable food system adventures at www.ledameredith.com.

What first sparked your interest in foraging and wild edibles?

I started foraging as a toddler. My Greek great-grandmother would take me across the street to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and teach me how to identify and gather dandelion, mustard greens and other wild edibles.

Can you tell me more about the roles that foraging and preservation play in local/sustainable food systems?

Up until the mid-20th century, foraging was part of even urban food systems. You might have bought most of your food at a store, but you knew how to identify and pick a blackberry in the park. You might have a farm or a garden planted, but in those first weeks of spring when the crops were tiny seedlings barely past the cotyledon stage, you were out picking the wild greens and roots. Also, many wild edibles are plants that thrive without fertilizers, pesticides or irrigation. Doesn’t that sound more sustainable than our current crops?

What are some of the challenges that people face in terms of building connections to wild foods?

Agency. Most people are more comfortable trusting a stranger in a factory thousands of miles away to identify and pack up their blackberries than they trust themselves to do basic plant ID and bring home their own blackberries. If you can tell the difference between a bunch of parsley and a bunch of cilantro at the store, then you know how to do plant identification. But we’ve been taught that our ability to learn such skills is less trustworthy than the “expertise” of a stranger.

If you can tell the difference between a bunch of parsley and a bunch of cilantro at the store, then you know how to do plant identification. But we’ve been taught that our ability to learn such skills is less trustworthy than the “expertise” of a stranger.

Does foraging in an urban context entail any unique considerations?

Sure. There are pollution considerations: you don’t want to harvest too close to a heavily trafficked road, for example. And if the neighbor is spraying pesticides, then unfortunately even the edible weeds in your otherwise organic garden may harbor toxins. And there are property right issues: you have to get permission to forage on someone else’s property.

When leading foraging tours, does your approach shift for different audiences?

It doesn’t. The focus is first on safety: always be 100 percent certain of your ID. Next is sustainability: is there a way to harvest this particular wild edible that will actually benefit the ecosystem I’m gathering from? Is there a way to harvest that is beneficial both to the wild edible and to my future harvests?

There are so many delicious and/or medicinal wild edibles to be found across the country. Are there any that you hold particularly near and dear?

Depends on what time of year you ask me! I tend to love whatever is in peak season. So in April, I’m all about the redbud blossoms and the dandelion greens. But May is pokeweed and lamb’s quarters, and June has me running for the mulberries.

Stay up to date with Leda!

Twitter: @ledameredith
Instagram: @ledameredith
Facebook: Leda Meredith

More Reading

8 Apple Varieties You Should Be Baking with This Holiday Season

November 24, 2021

The FoodPrint Seasonal Eating Challenge

September 1, 2021

7 Tips for Water Bath Canning

August 27, 2021

Advice From a Tomato Expert About The Best Heirloom Tomato Varieties

August 16, 2021

7 Instagram Accounts For Learning About Tropical Fruit

August 2, 2021

Summer Salad Ideas Perfect For Your Farmers’ Market Haul

July 6, 2021

Pandemic Disruptions Highlighted Importance of Local Food System in Hawai'i

June 25, 2021

The Rise of Local Flour

June 8, 2021

Farmers’ Markets Face Year Two of the Pandemic

April 26, 2021

Have Local Food Hubs Proved They Should Play a Bigger Role in Emergency Food Aid?

March 4, 2021