For­ag­ing in and around Santa Fe

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I was a for­ager — the orig­i­nal lo­ca­vore. Though she knew about God’s warn­ing not to eat fruit from the for­bid­den tree, she none­the­less took a chance on a snake’s rec­om­men­da­tion and sought out a new snack, only to get her­self and Adam thrown out of the Gar­den of Eden. At Sun­day school, though, we never pon­der just how delicious the first bite of that con­tra­band ap­ple might have been, or stop to ap­pre­ci­ate Eve’s de­sire to ex­pand her palate.

For­ag­ing — or har­vest­ing ed­i­ble plants from the wilder­ness — is both an­cient and sud­denly ul­tra­hip, com­bin­ing the con­sump­tion of lo­cal pro­duce with the prac­tice of sus­tain­abil­ity. In 1962, Euell Gib­bons’ Stalk­ing the Wild As­para­gus in­tro­duced the Cat­a­log gen­er­a­tion to the idea of liv­ing off the land and mak­ing tasty con­coc­tions out of what you might find grow­ing there. Th­ese days, for­agers sell sal­sify and wa­ter­cress to fine restau­rants or herbal tinc­tures and po­tions at the farm­ers mar­ket, re­mind­ing us of the var­ied uses of the weeds lurk­ing in plain sight on the bor­ders of our gar­dens or hik­ing trails.

New Mex­i­cans have been for­ag­ing for cen­turies, har­vest­ing chokecher­ries in Mora, porci­nis in the San­dias, and piñon in Pe­cos. The prac­tice is handed down through gen­er­a­tions, picked up from field guides and herbal­ism sem­i­nars, and part of a whisper net­work among chefs. At the Anasazi Restau­rant in Santa Fe’s Rose­wood Inn of the Anasazi, ex­ec­u­tive chef Edgar Beas said he learned about lit­tle-used ed­i­bles from the groundskeeper at Ojo Caliente Min­eral Springs, where Beas worked a few years ago.

“I would just kind of walk around and get a feel for the ter­rains or land­scapes and what kind of plants were there,” he said of his for­ag­ing habits. At Ojo Caliente, he fig­ured out how to use crabap­ple, co­rian­der, and nas­tur­tium blos­soms to make flo­ral honeys. On his sea­sonal menus at the restau­rant, he dries ju­niper berries to use as a spice rub or sea­son­ing and har­vests prickly pears for vinai­grette. Sun­flower petals go in a dish along­side sun­chokes, duck, and sun­flower seeds, while Dou­glas fir nee­dles end up in a cheese­cloth sa­chet for parsnip soup. “It gives it this Christ­mas aroma,” he said.

On a re­cent stormy Sun­day evening in Peñasco, Kris­ten Daven­port of Box­car Farm pointed out a long hedgerow of wild roses along­side a plot of her farm­land. She de­scribed the process of mak­ing the wild rose vine­gar she sells at the Santa Fe Farm­ers Mar­ket. “I pick the petals and in­fuse it in vine­gar. Fill your jar half­way with petals, cover it in vine­gar, and wait two to three weeks.” The vine­gar not only makes a pretty sight and a base for a flo­ral dress­ing, it also cools com­mon sum­mer ail­ments like bug bites and sun­burn.

As mon­soon clouds rolled over the planted field of gar­lic and pota­toes, she waxed on about rose-petal jam, rose tea, and the au­tumn rose­hip har­vest. “It’s very in­va­sive, which, to me, makes good food. Any­thing that can take ad­van­tage of our cli­mate and re­ally grow well and in­vade and be plen­ti­ful is some­thing that we should be eat­ing. Don’t eat the rare plants — eat the plants that are ev­ery­where.” She of­fered a tart bite of purslane, a ground cover splash­ing along the edges of the gar­lic plot. “It’s a sum­mer crop — it comes up with the sun and the rains. It’s re­ally high in omega-3.”

Daven­port’s fields are home to an ed­i­ble won­der­land of wild plants that grow un­bid­den and un­wa­tered along­side the in­ten­tional crops. Over the course of a half-hour walk, we sam­pled pig­weed (nutty) and lamb’s quar­ters (spinachy), found ripen­ing wild plums and nu­tri­tious net­tles, and crossed a creek to pluck hawthorn berries (good for the heart, both phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally). Daven­port praised the anti-in­flam­ma­tory and ex­pec­to­rant benefits of mal­low, or malva ne­glecta. She steams or sautées mal­low in the spring­time in a mélange of good-for-you greens that in­cludes net­tles and nar­row-leaf plan­tain. (The lat­ter is also a pop­u­lar medic­i­nal for skin erup­tions or stings.) She ex­plained how white­top, or hoary cress, is a much-ma­ligned weed that makes a good stand-in for broc­col­ini, and how she looks for­ward to the spring treats of wild mus­tard and the young stems of cat­tails.

Daven­port has been for­ag­ing for decades — read­ing books, tak­ing herbal­ism and botany classes, and pick­ing up tips from res­i­dents of the Navajo reser­va­tion near Gallup, where she worked as a jour­nal­ist. She is cir­cum­spect about her hobby’s trendi­ness. “I think one of the big prob­lems, re­ally, is that it’s so hip that in the North­west and on the East Coast, there are peo­ple pick­ing ev­ery sin­gle ramps plant in sight and sell­ing

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