Foraging and Feasting With Dina Falconi

Foraging and Feasting - an interview with Dina Falconi
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Foraging is an ideal way for people to learn about the wild foods around them. Unfortunately, many of us have never been introduced to foraging. Dina Falconi is a foraging expert who offers an enticing and exciting experience in her book, “Foraging & Feasting.” Join us for a sensuous walk where we’ll forage for delicious wild edibles, liberate ourselves from a broken food system, and nourish our souls.

Dina Falconi

Dina welcomes you to identify wild edible plants with instructive, botanical illustrations; harvest & cook them into delicious food with her recipes. To see what’s on  Dina’s menu, follow her through her website, Botanical Art Press, FacebookInstagram, and YouTube.

This post contains affiliate links through which I may receive a small commission.

Other Links In This Episode:

Highlights from today’s episode:

ADRIENNE HEW: Hello and welcome to the Nutrition Heretic Podcast. This is Adrienne Hew, the Nutrition Heretic, talking to you this week about foraging. In light of the direction this country is taking, it’s becoming more and more clear to me that we have to be masters of our own destiny and we clearly cannot rely on governments to do it for us because they stop us every chance they get.

One thing that I’ve been focusing on is here in my local neighborhood; the schools here in Hawaii. We live in probably the most affluent town on the island; however, 70% of our children are on free and reduced lunch. And don’t even get me started on what that free and reduced lunch consists of. However, it really is unnecessary in so many parts of our country, but particularly in Hawaii. Because where other parts of the country foraging often means consuming things you would never find in a supermarket. Here in Hawaii almost everybody has some kind of citrus, avocados, amaranth, well (that’s not necessarily available in the supermarket. It is in Jamaica if that helps), but it’s just really unnecessary.

If I want cinnamon, I go to a local park and pick cinnamon leaves. If I want guava, I go to my back yard or I go to a park. My friend up the street has beautiful oranges and sage and rosemary, and all these things growing in her yard that she is not eating. So she says, “Adrienne, just come by and pick whatever you want, take it.” It’s just so unnecessary for people to be starving, in this state particularly. But throughout the country there are things that you can eat. You are standing on food, believe it or not, and that’s why I wanted to have this week’s guest. Our guest heretic is Dina Falconi, she is the author of Foraging and Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook. It is a gorgeous book, oh my God, Dina, how did you do this? Welcome to the show.

DINA FALCONI: A lot of love and sweat.

AH: Clearly, it is one beautiful book. I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw a book this gorgeous that was about food. I’ve seen similar books about…dragonflies. This is really just a phenomenal concept for a book. Tell me, how did you get into foraging?

Dina’s First Experience With Foraging

DF: I got into foraging via food as medicine. Just being that I’ve been chasing after and following since I was a kid. As a pre-teen eleven-year-old I got very interested in healing through food and that segued into herbal medicine and foraging for your food in medicine.

AH: Okay. Were you suffering with anything in particular? You have a mentor, or at least you did at that time who introduced you to it. Was there something in particular that was bothering you or a family member or was it just the ah-ha moment of, “Oh, this is why we put things in our mouth?”

DF: A friend pointed out my motivation to use food as medicine and that following that path really had to do with control. I was raised in the East Village of New York City in the hectic late ’60s and ’70s into the ’80s and it was a pretty wild and crazy time and also an incredible time for food exploration. That area was rich with diversity of people investigating all these different food themes: macrobiotics, raw foods, the wheat grass craze, as well as ethnic foods were surrounding me. So I was steeped in a very food-focused culture. My mom also loved food. 

But the healing part, the choices to narrow the thinking so that I was navigating and helping myself I think was probably an underlying motivation or unconscious mechanism but at that age I was suffering from headaches that would come and go. They were just intense and it wasn’t a migraine necessarily but it was enough to say, “Hey, I want to do something about this.”

There was a mentor, his name was Mickey Carter and he had cured himself of terminal illness and he was my inspiration. He led me, not too verbally, and not very much with any formality. I would go to him, “So what do you do now, what herbs do you take now?” He gave me my first herb book. He was not well-educated. He was the super of buildings in our neighborhood, but he was so heartful and soulful and for whatever reason he sparked it or he held it, and I followed that. And it continues to grow from so many different angles.

I remember picking the mint at a camp for Mickey because he would always drink his peppermint tea after dinner. I remember at 12 years old I harvested a lot of this wild mint so I could dry it and give it to him. And things like that set the stage a bit for this. I think it’s the empowering part that’s most exciting to me about the foraging and again about the food as medicine. 

We can really help ourselves and we can feed ourselves and the issue of food sovereignty and you speaking to the starvation issue is something that I feel deeply about as well. I feel that part of Foraging and Feasting, the book’s theme is to help people reconnect to all the abundance and all the food they step on every day.

AH: Absolutely. Because of the way you phrased it, it has really got me thinking on this track. We, not you and me, probably not most of our listeners, but people are led to believe that GMOs are going to save the world. We’ve already done episodes on how flawed that thinking is because these crops do not produce more. One of the things that I am often talking about is the fact that we throw away so much food. We’ve also done episodes on how much at the supermarket goes into the trash but here is another way that we can understand that even though they’re throwing the leftover organics, the GMOs, “We gotta grow all this food, but then you’re too poor to afford it”

We’ve got laws here in the US where we can’t feed the homeless. People are going to jail for giving a homeless person a sandwich or something is ridiculous. We know that in India they are literally taking thousands or hundreds of thousands of pounds of lentils and rice and throwing them into the ocean because the untouchables don’t deserve it. So why in the heck we’re going towards GMO when there’s so much just literally being trashed is ridiculous.

Surprising Foods That May be Growing Near You

Here we’re also talking about another thing which is that we’re standing on food. There’s so much that we have had bred out of us in recognizing what is growing wild. I think most people don’t realize the dandelions that grow on their lawn are edible as an example. What are some of the other surprising foods that people might have right now in their back yards and have no clue that that was food and they’ve been working really hard to exterminate it?

DF: Depending on where you are. Right now in the North East where I live there’s not a whole lot out there other than snow with six degrees this morning.

AH: Which, by the way, I’ve used to flush my toilet. My water pipes broke in the winter once in New Jersey so my daughter was like, “We could use snow.” I was like, “Brilliant!” So we filled up the tank with snow.

DF: I’m looking out the window here where I live now in the Mid-Hudson Valley and I can see the pine trees so they’re still there for us if we want to make a pine tea with the needles. You can make a nice fragrant beverage with some vitamin C in it. For surprises now you need to hunt. You need to hunt more than you need to forage, I’d say. You could find rose hips out in the landscape still.

AH: Pine needles, is that like a Native American tradition? Consuming pine needle tea?

DF: I believe it is Native American, probably also European. Wherever the pine grew these people would drink its tea. This is the white pine, the one we have here. And the bark was used, though I have to confess that I’m not a survival eater. I’m really somebody who loves the easy forage. Some people I know are working with bark now and I’m not going to go for that. 

AH: Come on, there’s a limit on everything.

DF: Well, there doesn’t have to be. It’s just because I live where I live. I’m a hybrid person so I pick the best of both worlds. I go to an excellent food co-op so we can purchase our food and it’s not our regional, some of it’s regional but some of it’s shipped in.

Two Herbs That Are Surprisingly Available and Safe to Pick

I’d say in the North East in the winter it isn’t the time you need to be focusing so much on foraging but in Hawaii there is, oh my God. In southern parts of the United States and in other parts of the world; we just happen to be in a harsher winter climate. So the surprises you might find, let’s say, if you’re a little further south, maybe in the Carolinas, you’ll find chickweed, which is another weed most people throw out that they weed out that’s an incredible salad green in the cooler months. That’s something that you could go forage. If it’s warm enough here and the snow melts and the ground melts a little, we’ll have chickweed, that’s the first thing we’ll see. That’s really mild but potent in terms of nutrient content, salad green and really easy to serve. Mix it with some lettuce if you have newbies that you’re feeding, but really I could just get handfuls of that and put vinaigrette on it. It’s the best mesclun. It’s delicious and tender.

Another green that you’re going to come across is garlic mustard. That’s another one that’s available through the winter in milder climates. And that’s the hated. The weed that people are hating these days because it’s invasive and rightfully so perhaps. You need to control it. I wouldn’t say hate it, but it’s an incredibly useful food. All of its parts are eaten. Dig the roots and 

use it as horseradish. Eat the leaves like a salad or make a pesto. Eat the flowers when they come. Eat the seeds if you feel you want to go that far and make mustard out of the wild seeds. So this is invasive, it’s a biannual. An example of what people throw away, they hate it and spit on it and in fact it’s their food medicine, it’s also medicinal. All these plants that are our food and that are wild are often very medicinal too.

You’re speaking to his idea of all the waste and the waste stream and it’s everywhere. It’s almost like you have to change the way you see the world. It’s all right there and the issue of scarcity is more of a political one, and it’s a real one when you live from that world and it’s all you see. It’s a total issue and part of my hope with the Foraging and Feasting theme is to celebrate the hidden. Celebrate the things that are actually already there, you just need to retrain how to see.

The same with what you’re throwing out, with all the waste that we have. I’m very much into making stocks. We do eat a lot of animals but it’s from a grass-fed herd that a friend of mine raises so I’ll use every part of that animal including the sinew that most people will throw away once you’ve eaten the steak. I’ll stash all of that away and then you make this incredible broth. It’s just rethinking. Which is something I really enjoy, it’s not some desperation. It’s both a celebration and for me for whatever reason, my personality appreciates that challenge of how to maximize use and really honor all the parts as much as possible, related to food use.

AH: I don’t forage per say now that I live here. We’ll get into my foraging background. But with the bone broth, it started because I was broke and like you, I loved food so I would turn on Julia Child or whoever was the chef du jour on TV or buy a book and it would say, like get a Chinese cookbook and it would say, “add two tablespoons of chicken stock.” Well where am I going to get chicken stock? I don’t want to use the bullion and so I would save all my bones like you. It didn’t matter if I’d made a curry with it or whatever. I’d save all the bones in a bag and when I had enough I’d simmer them and make a stock then I’d freeze that in cubes. Then when I do my little stir fries and things, I’d throw a little cube of chicken stock in there. So really simple stuff.

How NOT to Poison Yourself

You talked about garlic mustard. I remember when I lived in New Jersey, having these little weeds so to speak, and they were clearly some kind of garlicy-chivey thing. The reason I’m bringing this up is not to talk about me, as much because other people go through this. Where they pick it up and they sniff; smells like some kind of onion. Because it’s not on the store shelf we think, and then of course the government likes to back it up with, “Don’t do that, you don’t know what you’re going to get.” And then you watch movies like Into The Wild, Did you see that movie and how he ate that thing at the end of the movie and then turned the page and it was like I ate the poisonous thing that looked like the food. I think a lot of people are afraid they’re going to eat something that is poisonous. How do we get past that? I think your book is a great place to start, but how do people get over misidentification?

DF: It’s a huge issue and as you say, the literacy. We’ve lost our connection to understanding plants, learning how to use them for food and medicine. So it is re-establishing that language, becoming literate again in plant identification, which was part of our ancestry. We had to do that in order to survive and it’s been cut off in the US for a good three or four generations now. If you go to other countries it’s still intact, there’s a lot of forging. In a lot of Europe, they still hold onto the foraging but here in the US…Yeah, the issue is we’ve been frightened since we don’t know anymore. What we don’t know then frightens us. That’s part of my job as an herbalist is to help people re-engage with nature through plants and understanding how to connect with the plants again through tactile or sense. It’s called organoleptic learning so it’s direct learning through your senses.  You become awakened again to the language of the plant kingdom through just simply looking, smelling, and touching. Tasting is last and not safe always. I wouldn’t say that to a beginner.

So it’s re-establishing your connection to the plant kingdom. It isn’t like you’re going to learn all the plants at once, it takes time. You have to practice the language of foraging, you have to practice this lost art. Then it starts to come right back, it’s pretty exciting and very fast, but it does take practice and you’re not going to go and eat things until you’re 100% sure of identification. I’m with that same story but you don’t have to approach the plants with fear but with just respect and patience because you need to go through the stages of knowing the plant and then once you do then you say, “Ah, here’s my food,” or “Here’s my medicine.” Or, “No, I don’t eat this plant.” So there is some danger in this, but it’s not large. At least in our area, there aren’t many plants that will kill us, maybe three or four. Some might make us feel uncomfortable; mostly it’s just pretty safe. Having said that, don’t go out and eat something you don’t know you can eat with 100% certainty. That’s my job here, to help bridge that world again. Reintroduce. And for me, too, because it’s something I’m constantly developing.

Every year new plants arrive; I need to learn what they are. “Who are you? What do I use you for?” It’s developing the skills of identification and then using cross reference, so you begin to do ethnobotany. To me it’s super exciting. It’s a little nerdy, but it’s one of my passions.

AH: How does somebody go, your book in hand, and they see something and it looks like the picture or the illustration. Is there another text or something they can go to if they’re still not quite sure, or is it just when in doubt, throw it out?

DF: No, not when in doubt throw it out, when in doubt, observe.

AH: Okay, observe the habits of its growth?

DF: The whole thing, observe, like you’re meeting new friends, “Who are you? What do you look like? What do you do?” You’re really spending time and that’s the part that most Americans don’t do.

AH: No, instant gratification. So it’s sort of like going on a date; you don’t want to jump into bed with this thing.

DF: Right. In this case you don’t want to put it in your mouth yet, that’s the difference. Though you can certainly spend time learning about the plant, which is what I do. When a new plant arrives, I don’t know who they are. I’ll spend time watching it grow through the whole season, watch it flower, watch it seed. I might have to watch it for two years because it doesn’t flower in its first year. Because I have some skill there I can start narrowing down who I think it is; what family it belongs to, what genus, so categorizing it in botanical terms which sounds a little far out, meaning difficult. It’s not at all, you’re familiar, and you get to understand patterns in nature, patterns in plants and you put them…Ah I believe that’s in the mustard family but I won’t eat it until I confirm with its identification 100%. Even me, I won’t. I might take the teeniest taste just to get a slight feel for the flavor and then I’m going to spit it entirely out because I don’t want to take that risk but I still want to learn the plant. I’m going to pay attention to it, when in doubt, you really do then want to pay attention more than ever. When you know the plant, alright, I know who you are; I don’t have to pay attention anymore.

So I would say that the Foraging and Feasting book tries very much to give the reader all the clues they need to confirm they’re with that plant. Some of the plant pages track the plant for two or three years because it’s a perennial and you would not see some of it. So it’s cheating for the viewers; me bringing to them something they’d have to see for three years, and then I’m giving them the clues. So you always want to match what you’re seeing; being a plant detective I call it. So the plant pages help you do that well. But then really get involved with your local foragers and foraging groups. That’s a great way to learn. Just go out there, spend time and you learn 10 or 20 plants really quickly and then you’re going to forget them unless you practice. Keep reviewing them. In the Foraging and Feasting book you would then refer back to that book so you could say, “This is who we have here,” and remind yourself why you know it is what it is. It’s a very simple game but with persistence it comes.

AH: Yeah, you had me thinking about a mushroom walk that I did some years ago. It scared the bejesus out of me because they’d turn around, and I guess mushrooms fall into that category of things that we’re more aware can be poisonous, has the potential for being poisonous, and they just kept driving that home.

person_holding_brown_woven_basket
Photo by Marie Dashkova on Scopio

DF: Mushrooms are really much more dangerous and that’s the difference in the plant. So differentiate. When you’re foraging for plants, again there are some risks, but mushrooms are the realm of mushrooming is so much more risky. I don’t teach that because of that. I feel more concerned there, a lot more concerned.

AH: I have a friend in New Jersey, she’s from Italy originally, and she would just go out into the woods and come back with a bag full of mushrooms and hand me some, and I’d be like, “Do you know what you’re doing lady?” She’s still walking around, although I haven’t heard from her in a couple of years. I was like, “Let me see you make some eggs and put some mushrooms in it and I’ll observe you for a few minutes before I eat.”

DF: It is a point where people from other cultures, like this Italian friend, or I know other Eastern European friends, Russian friends, they know their mushrooms and they just do it. They go out there, it’s like second nature to them and for us there’s phobia around it. Pointing to that same issue, I feel that mushrooms are more dangerous so I’m not going to be as easy with them.

AH: Absolutely.

Foraging: Being Cheap vs. Food Sovereignty

DF: But foraging the mushroom is still intact in many other parts of the world. So here, us Americans have to catch up what we’ve lost or reconnect the dots that have been disconnected for us. And I think it’s a big part of the food industry piece, food sovereignty.

AH: Oh yes, I really think that they want to scare us so that we depend completely on them and whatever swill they throw at us. We’re compelled to buy because we’ve had all those instincts bred out of us.

DF: Exactly it’s alarming.

AH: It really is disturbing and I think like you, a lot of people came to natural health the same way that you did. My mom was a registered nurse, she grew up in Jamaica so she knew about the power of nature, let’s call it. But also back in the ’60s medicine was very different and even today I find myself much more impressed with books that were produced on health in the ‘60s and ‘70s than most of the stuff that’s come out in recent years. Because back then it wasn’t until the ‘80s where we really started to see this kind of monopoly approach to food and health. So there were a lot more books like yours back in the ‘60s and ‘70s that were this kind of labor of love I want to share with the world, not I want to turn a fast buck. And unfortunately, even with the natural health we get people on these completely skewed diets; this one’s all this and the other one’s all that. When I’ve met a couple of these people, and people I know have met a couple of these people who write these books, and they’re all darned if they could get a story out them that doesn’t involve how much money they’ve made this year. It’s really scary. I’m not naming any names, but you know who I’m talking about. We’ll talk later.

DF: I’m not sure who you’re talking about. I’m not that up on it.

The Importance of Regenerative Harvesting

AH: Oh you’ll know how I’m talking about, don’t worry. Regenerative harvesting, talk to us about what that means to you.

DF: That’s a really beautiful image. Regenerative harvesting is where, for example, I’m going to go out and I’m going to gather food for myself and the act of my gathering that food brings more food. So that instead of a human being an interruptive or destructive force, my actions are regenerative. It’s really simple to go out and pluck, for example, the chickweed I was speaking about. If you harvest that chickweed without pulling it out by its roots and you snip it, you’re giving it a trim so to speak. You’re going to come back to that patch and it’s going to be more lush because you did that. It’s happier because you actually harvested it so you’re regenerating through your actions the life force of the plant. It’s giving more food, I love that image. 

So humans can work within the landscape. I think that truly our role is learning how to work within the landscape and that by feeding ourselves we’re actually creating more abundance through that act rather than destruction which we’re always being told is what we do. Which is what monoculture does and the cathodes of animal raising does, but if you’re mimicking the patterns of nature which is now more permaculture. The talk of permaculture is something that I resonate with a lot, you’re looking for how can your actions actually while benefiting you benefits the ecosystem, benefits the other animals or you provide more food for more humans. It’s a really important concept in my mind to remember that humans can create more rather than mining and destroying which is more what we think of.

AH: That’s an excellent tip as well for the home gardener because we’ve covered regenerative farming from permaculture standpoint but also I study Korean Natural Faming and Master Cho is coming to the island in a couple of weeks so I’m going to be studying with him.

DF: Who?

AH: Master Cho, he’s the developer of the Korean Natural Farming system. Like your mentor, he doesn’t have a college education and he has developed this system of regenerative farming using pretty much kitchen stuff. Things that you’d find in your kitchen; sugar, some herbs, cinnamon, stuff like that. And he has found a way of making the plants stronger and then incorporating these so called weeds as protective of your food crops. 

He’s working on the concept that those little white molds you see on weeds, we cultivate that and basically transfer that to the soil where you’re growing the food that you want to eat. But also he’s not fighting the weeds. He recognizes the weeds as holding moisture in the soil so you have to water a lot less when you keep a certain amount of weeds and our objective is essentially outpace the weeds with our stuff, not completely kill them. So we harvest the best qualities in weeds and transfer them to our food crops so it’s a really really cool system. 

But one of the things he’s well known for is during the Beijing Olympics they needed to feed a lot of pork to a lot of people and they needed to do it close to the stadium so they brought him in to apply his system of raising pigs right there in the middle of Beijing. Nobody could smell them, that’s always the challenge with these different systems. So he applied his system which is essentially lactic acid bacteria which comes off of the milk, yeah, he’s Korean, he uses milk, so don’t even start with me people about how people of different descents don’t consume milk. He uses that lactic acid bacteria.

DF: He’s fermenting the pig poo into usable compost right away or something like that?

AH: To some extent, yeah, because he’s feeding it to them so it’s going right into their digestive tract and they don’t stink.

DF: Oh I see, so he’s using probiotics.

AH: Yep, exactly, and we spray down the bedding with it as well, I have chickens, you’d have no idea I have chickens. My neighbor’s garbage smells stronger than my chickens. Literally. 

DF: As an aside, so you’re spraying milk onto your chicken poop?

AH: Essentially, I can go through the whole process, or you can listen to the episode, it’s basically, think of the whey off of your yogurt, although the way we cultivate it supposedly has more diversity because we use the water used for washing rice to start that fermentation process and then it separates and you use that liquid and you’re just using a tiny, tiny amount, like a homeopathic amount of this liquid. You’re spraying down the coop every so often, you’re putting a little in the chicken’s water, you might spray their food a little bit, and they don’t smell. 

DF: Interesting.

What to Know About Foraging on Public Lands

AH: it’s very, very cool, and their eggs are delicious, by the way. Where are some of the good places people can feel safe about picking? Obviously one of the things you mentioned in your book, in the best-case scenario, we are avoiding the pesticides and herbicides and other ‘cides.

DF: Run-off, and highway run-off.

AH: Exactly, all that nastiness. First of all, are there restrictions on foraging on some public lands? How do you know where it’s safe for you to do this? Hawaii’s a little bit like the Wild West, “Oh, there’s a fence? Let me jump it.” People don’t bother you usually. But in other places it’s not like that. What are the restrictions on use of public lands and how do people start to get comfortable with knowing that nothing was sprayed in this area?

DF: Well, first of all, each public land has its own rules so you’d have to find out. Is it a park, is it a preserve and you’re going to ask the questions to who runs it, are you allowed to forage in there. Public parks in your city, there’s been a lot of mixed stories, yes you can, no you can’t forage so I can’t answer to that for each area. They can have their own thing, but yeah, why not, learn about that, because you have resources like that. 

We have a lot of wild land around us and we can go berry picking, incredible amounts of wild berry picking around here. Maybe they wouldn’t let us, maybe they would; I didn’t ask. So my point is each area will have its own rules and also you’re going to see how obedient you’re going to be, what risk is there. The other thing is, for the kind of foraging that I suggest, is either weeds that really grow near human disturbance so you don’t need to go into pristine wild zones. You can go to an organic farm, it is a great place to forage. You know they’re not treating the soil and they have these areas they haven’t gone to that they haven’t weeded and that’s going to be amazing food. As much as I love the farming the wild weeds that come are really right there along with that. 

Wild garlic butter

You were talking about the Korean Farming techniques and you do want to grow plants, because I like a lot of cultivated plants, too, but right amongst them are your best-eating wild edibles. So why not partner up with some local farms, farmers, organic gardens, and community gardens that are organic, and you’re going to be able to forage amazingly. 

I was going to say it’s not like you have to go to see pristine piece of land that’s far away from humans. Often there isn’t a whole lot to forage in those settings, they’re more homogenous. Often the more activity, the more stuff comes up from the earth. The soil is disturbed and the seeds sprout then. You know the seed banks are in there and disturbance they make things pop up. The disturbance makes a lot of good wild tasty food so often when I do teaching I do private walks on people’s land and they want to learn what they have and we’re going to find the most around the areas where they’re disturbing the soil. And they want to go looking in the woods where hardly any activity occurs and there’s not a whole lot of diversity there. It’s much fewer species and much less for us to eat.

AH: Right, that makes sense. I guess this is similar to what you’re saying. A friend of mine, she works down an hour south of me. She cleans the house for some swanky person who has tons of acreage and she goes in there and she forages for māmaki. I don’t know if you know what that is, it’s a native Hawaiian plant that has a medicinal use of really, just as a general tonic, I’d say. If you look it up it will say things about circulation, it’s good for liver congestion and this and that so it seems like it’s a general tonic. It doesn’t have that much of a flavor to be honest; some people say it has a very strong flavor. I don’t taste it, to me it just cleans up the water, it makes the water taste extra watery.

DF: It refreshes the water.

AH: Yes, it makes it much more refreshing. And she just goes there and she asks them, “Can I just pick?” because wild-crafted is theoretically better, it’s not manipulated to grow in that area, it’s growing there because it’s the strongest, survival of the fittest.

DF: I love wilds, but I’m also happy with something cultivated, I’m happy with all of it.

AH: Yeah, absolutely.

DF: I was gonna add though, to the thinking along the lines of foraging for very common weeds, which is a lot of what I focus on in the Foraging and Feasting book, is to really educate people about the weeds that are going to be everywhere and be very prolific. I just had that thought, just put the words, for the most prolific weeds, those are the ones we really want to get to know and include in our menu regularly, not the ones that are far away or that are endangered or very slow growing perennials.

AH: Or skeptical; you may not be able to identify it right away. Most of us know that we have lambs quarters and dandelions in our yard.

DF: Yeah, not being able to identify it is another issue which has to be addressed, but even if you’re 100% sure, still you might not eat so much of something that grows much more slowly or is less prolific so that’s part of my theme, too, and it’s part of the food sovereignty theme, is that the food that is everywhere grows for everyone. The weeds are everywhere pretty much so it’s reclaiming that. It’s changing our thinking about what a weed is and what is this alien or this stranger. Ah, it’s a friend, it’s a gift. And it’s prolific so that’s another part of my statement around it. 

So when doing a plant walk with somebody, you’re going to meander around where the most disturbance is and there are going to be plants that they’re going to see every day all the time, so we want to get to know those plants. Not to put down the beautiful pristine black holhage or golden field which I do use as an herbal medicine practitioner, but I’m not going to use them in the quantities that I will with lambs quarter in my life, or nettle or straw or burdock or dandelion and these are just things people are always eradicate these things and the idea is to turn that around. Why? So much to offer.

AH: Now this is part two of your book; the recipes. You have found some of the most gorgeous ways to incorporate these foods. What I love is; I complain about his all the time on my show, but I sometimes go to a meal that’s supposed to be healthy; and by healthy, they usually mean somewhere on the vegan scale. And it’s usually incredibly tasteless and incredibly not making my stomach happy. What I love is that you focus on these traditional recipes and things that are very flavorful and almost romantic the way you’ve presented it. Things that come to mind are your fruit ketchup, the urban-fused whipped cream, even the ever-lasting stock pot. These are things that really to me are just so…they are just really soulful. I don’t see that in a lot of so-called healthy cookbooks. 

As a matter of fact, I was saying to somebody, I was duped again. I went to this restaurant to support somebody, it was a vegan restaurant. Okay, I eat vegetables all the time. I go there, I feel sick. Two days later I said to my friend, did you smell anything when you walked into that restaurant. The food didn’t taste horrible, like some of them, they just taste bad. It didn’t taste horrible, but there was no fat, there was no salt, or very little salt. I said to her, “Do remember smelling anything?” Because I had just made something in my kitchen that was vegan which I don’t think in those terms, but when I turned around, everything except for the fish which I made later was vegan. But my friends walked in when I was just making the first part of the meal and they said, “Oh my God, it smells so good in here.” I was like, that’s what was missing in that other meal; there was nothing telling my body to start the digestive process. Start your mouth watering, start releasing some acids to digest this meal, and that’s what was missing from this meal. So when I look at your book and I see these recipes, this is brilliant! You’ve really done a gorgeous job.

DF: Thank you. I appreciate your words because I worked really hard so it feels really good when somebody gets what you’re doing. And you’re right; the idea is to be steeped in the lusciousness of deliciousness that’s also good for you. The recipes reflect the connections to the plant kingdom but it doesn’t stop there. Although the recipes do honor a vegan choice some of the time, the recipes are still designed to be juicy and fully wanted. They’re not prim and proper or puritanical but they are in a sense clean, or that’s not even the right word, but committed to the foods that heal; the foods that are nourishing. I think that the juicy and the tasty go hand in hand with that, so that when you’re deeply satisfied your taste buds are deeply satisfied you also are well-nourished physically. To me they’re part of the same story.

AH: Absolutely. I think that gets missed all too often because people try so hard to be politically correct in their choices or their recipes and there’s usually an element of satiety that gets forgotten. It’s more about the caloric content, filling the belly, having x amount in cups on the plate, not about the deeply nourishing, juicy, sensuous connection to the food. For lack of a better description, your book, although a million times better, sort of reminds me of some of the older, like witch craft books. Do you know what I’m talking about?

DF: Yeah, 

AH: Not in a negative way.

DF: A witchy perspective.

AH: Yeah, it’s got this kind of connection to these herbs and in this very tactile way that we don’t see a lot of anymore. 

DF: Right, because it’s also that the recipes really reflect, hopefully, that the reader will go out and gather with their hands these fragrant, rich with personality plants, and you’re going to put them in dishes that can also be really delicious. The whole experience is you out in nature gathering back into the kitchen and mixing, chemically creating, and then feeding your body the thing that’s going to make it happy. To me, that’s what I have tried to do in my life and that’s what I try to reflect through this book. It’s connecting all those dots. How do you immerse yourself in life, in nature, or in an experience and then bring that into the plate that’s also going to go into your body and feed you deeply. Really make it so that your teeth are strong and your bones are healthy and you have deep dreams or whatever you’re looking for. That you’re fed well. 

That’s part of the fun of this cookbook, you get to play with flavors that are outside of the normal supermarket flavors and also because my commitment to using real, whole ingredients. There’s also that so you’re not putting anything artificial to cover and everything, the expression of the food is of itself so it speaks. So you’re looking for those things that are going to speak clearly in a dish. You’re going to start with that real, beautiful organic grass-fed raw heavy cream. That’s what you’re going to whip and then you’re going to infuse it with lemon balm that you just picked from your wild patch or maybe you planed it, that’s fine too. You get this infused with cream and that’s just delicious and it’s reflecting all of where it just came from. It’s not been pasteurized and homogenized and the herb hasn’t been shipped thousands of miles and basically tastes like sawdust. So you’re celebrating that freshness, hopefully you can. It’s all there for us. That’s what I keep trying to share as well. I don’t want it to feel elitist, is part of the point.

AH: Right, I’m glad that you said that because in a way, in addition to seeming like a witch craft book, it also reminds me a little bit about some of these chefs that are doing the molecular cuisine. In a way some of these ideas seem like they could be that, but they’re not. They could be influenced by that but it’s much more artistic than that without having to bring helium or whatever the frig they use for their recipes.

DF: Nitrogen. This is the peasant’s kitchen; it’s the food that’s available to all, that’s my wish. It isn’t the elitist chemical factory. It’s actually snipping the cords to the food industry. You’re saying no, I’m not going for anything you’ve invented for me to eat. I’m coming back to food that’s in its natural form and I’m going to create, I’m going to concoct, I’m going to empower myself in the kitchen to feed myself. I’m not going to sip the straw back to the food industry labs. There are all these political undertones here.

DF: It’s an act of rebellion; it’s a very strong act. It’s empowering and bringing you back to the point you made at the beginning of this conversation, it really is about giving us our strengths and our freedom. Educating ourselves enough so that we can feed ourselves. That we’re not dealing with issues of starvation.

AH: Right, and I love that because it brings us more hope than what we are normally given when we are so tied to that industry. We lose our freedoms. There’s no other way to say it, right.

DF: Exactly.

How to Use the Recipes and Develop Your Own

AH: One of the things you had me thinking about just now, is I see your recipes as very creative. Many of them do, at least if they don’t actually harken back to another era when ketchup just wasn’t one thing, I’m going to throw this out again. Ketchup wasn’t just this tomato thing; there was mushroom ketchup, fruit ketchup. Where did you start with the blueprint and for those people who want to maybe design some of their own recipes, how do you suggest they get started. Is it like take your macaroni and cheese and add this, or is there a blueprint they can follow to build upon.

DF: My wish in creating the 100 master recipes that are in the Foraging and Feasting book, they’re actually blueprints; they’re master recipes. They’re templates so they’re designed to educate the reader so that they’re fluent in a recipe and that recipe then can then be transformed to their needs, to their likings, to what’s actually available in their neighborhood at the time. You don’t have peaches right now, you don’t have plums; you have bottom olives, you have blueberries, the rotating produce of reality, of what we have access to is honored. That’s the idea with the master recipes so there are 100 master recipes, they are templates for someone to learn the language, the kitchen art language, basically. And then they have variables in them so then you begin to learn what you can move in and out and what has to stay static. So there’s a skeleton and there are parts you can dress slightly differently or I think you know what I mean. And then the other thing with the master recipes is that they give you the freedom once you have the technique. Let’s say you learn how to make a gratin, it’s a very basic, cheesy custard, baked dish. And that gratin then can be made with 100s of different vegetables depending on what comes through the season and other nuances that change.

It’s really the same thing I said about the plant literacy; it’s the same with kitchen literacy. It’s just learning. For me, though, I’m a cookbook collector and I’ve also been cooking since I was eleven because that was my beginning on this journey of whole foods and changing the way that I ate. That theme of food is medicine began back then. I was already in the kitchen at a very young age and that is how you learn, you practice, constantly making food. I’m a cookbook collector so I’m reading and reading about different kinds of food preparation on that and I’ve spent years and years cooking. Then I was hoping that those templates, the master recipes that you’re asking for that help someone learn to cook well. Take that ketchup recipe and you can see the anatomy of the ketchup and you can see what you can plug in and out; that was my hope that it would bring kitchen literacy.

AH: Right and I can see that. I’m glad you’ve elaborated on that element. Another thing I want to draw out for a lot of people, because a lot of our listeners are interested in lacto-fermented foods and you do a lot of that in here.

DF: Sure, I have for many years of my life.

AH: Those also really put another spin on the standards that I think most of us are already familiar with. Your typical pickles and stuff.

DF: It’s pushing the edge, too; it’s pushing the edge so it’s trying to get folks to push the culinary edge, not like in a crazy elite way, but in a practical way, almost. It’s practical to go this way. This is what we have and all of a sudden you’ve got to be creative and it pushes your edge and that’s the idea. Creativity is at the core of this book. How do we become creative human beings? Creating our own reality, creating our own food, or co-creating because often we’re not creating the foods, it grows for us, but then creating the dishes from what nature grows.

AH: I always tell people that my best dishes come when I’m on vacation and I only have about seven or eight ingredients on hand. Basically I’m cooking in some foreign kitchen somewhere and I’m obviously not plugged into my regular availability of ingredients and I’ve come up with some things. Unfortunately, I can never reproduce them because I’m not boiling my pasta in seawater, but necessity is the mother of invention.

DF: The cookbook part though is very concrete in terms of holding your hand through technique, it’s like you get to tour around the food world very safely with a highly skilled outcome. So you’re not just being tossed out into the wind. The creativity arises from the strength that you get, from the understanding that you’ve taken from touring around these master recipes is the image I have. You have the confidence and the basis to then let creativity flow.

Tips on Getting Started with Foraging

AH: Thank you so much for talking with us today, Dina Falconi. What are a couple of tips or parting words that you’d like to leave with people who want to get started with foraging, what to start cooking and tasting, is it just starting in your garden?

DF: If you’re lucky enough to have some foragers in your neighborhood, get together with them; just start attaching yourself to foragers, that’s how you really learn. Get a copy of my book if you want, it’s a great tool. You can have it by your bedside and study the plants on the plant pages and you begin to imprint that and your mind and you will start to recognize them when you see them. So it’s just opening yourself up to the plant kingdom. Observing, going slow, no rush, taking your time. And I always suggest eat a little wild but not prematurely. Try to learn a couple of plants that you can then just constantly just put a little bit into your life, a little food, a little sprinkle on your salads. I would say get creative in the kitchen. Take some time to really cook food. Don’t eat the food that comes from the food industry; eat the food that comes from the earth directly or from a farmer. Go back to that more primitive state of food and then create something with it. I could say a million things but maybe we’ll just end there.

Foraging and Feasting

AH: Oh Dina, thank you so much. Again, her book is Foraging and Feasting: A Field Guide And Wild Food Cookbook. Do you have a website, Dina, where you can send people? 

DF: Yes, it’s BotanicalArtsPress.com 

AH: Fantastic, and you’re book’s available through Amazon?

DF: It’s available through us, we’re actual the publishers. It’s great if they go to our website to buy it, and it is available on Amazon, but it’s through us, through a third party, it’s not through Amazon direct. You don’t get a better deal on Amazon. We give you the best deal….that’s a whole other conversation.

AH: We’ll talk about that later. Okay, thank you so much and please, originally when we were contacting you we wanted to talk about your heavenly hair book, the Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Hair and I wanted to talk to you about that, so maybe we’ll have you back about that one day.

DF: Sure, my pleasure, thank you so much for having me on your show.

AH: No problem, anytime, thank you so much for being with us. 

You may also like to Kate Krukowski Gooding’s 50 Ways to Eat Beaver.

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