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The Tools of a Forager

Foraging is the act of looking for and rummaging for wild food resources.

You may think this would be hard to do depending on where you live, but you just have to know what you're looking for.

One misconception you may have about foraging is that you need to know everything about different types of plants and herbs.

However, knowing what's growing in the area you live in and whether or not it's safe to eat are the two details to pay attention to before getting started.

What else do you need to know about foraging?

Wild edibles forager, JJ Murphy, shares everything you need to know about foraging and some simple recipes you can use.
The Tools of a Forager
Featured Speaker:
JJ MurphyJJ Murphy is a wild edibles forager on a mission to change the understanding of healthy eating. Her goal is to raise awareness of the delicious foods that are quite literally all around us and available for free.

JJ's foraging philosophy is simple: savor the abundance of edibles nature provides us each season of the year. Take only what you need, as gently as possible, doing no harm to the environment.

After earning a Masters degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Kansas, she moved to New York City and began writing about food and the environment. Her articles have appeared in the publications Wildness! Magazine, Outdoors Unlimited, and Spores Illustrated. JJ now writes The Joyful Forager column for the Shawangunk Journal in New York's Hudson Valley and is working on her first cookbook.

Her ebook, Joyful Foraging: Learn How To Feast On The Food Growing All Around You, is available for purchase on her website, Ms. Murphy regularly forages in urban and rural settings with her peers, including television host, Wildman Steve Brill, Gary Lincoff and Leda Meredith. She lives in Highland Mills, NY, at the foot of Schunemunk Mountain.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: May 28, 2015

Healthy Talk with Dr. Michael Smith MD. And now, here is the country doctor with a city education, Dr. Mike.

DR. MIKE: So, I am here with J J Murphy. She is a wilds edible forager. And she wants us to not only save money but just to understand how to eat more healthy and use what's right in our environment. But of course, do it in a gentle way that we are not harming the environment. J J, welcome to Healthy Talk.

MURPHY: Hello. How are you doing today?

DR. MIKE: I am doing great. So, I have your website here, I like it. It has a lot of pictures, very easy to follow. We like websites like this, J J, so you really did a very good job there. You mentioned in the previous segment you have a book. Do you want to just quickly tell us about the book?

MURPHY: Yes, it's called Joyful Foraging: Learn How to Feast on the Food Growing All around You. It is available exclusively at my website. And it profiles 10 plants that grow in abundance. There is no danger of overharvesting them. They grow where people live, in urban, suburban and rural environments. And they are -- I chose plants that are distinct looking that you wouldn't have a hard time mixing them up with other plants.

DR. MIKE: Good. Yes, that's important I would think because we don't all have time to become botanists and learn everything there is to know about the plant. Let me ask you something, J J, how did you get started on this?

MURPHY: Well, I think like everyone else, I was looking for a way to eat healthy and delicious food without going broke. I don't really like going to the store and shopping. And I began to notice that there is a lot of green plant life and many of the plants that, "Honey, get the weed whacker," really are tastier. They are more nutritious. Of, the cultivated plants, they are watery in comparison.

And, I just like to eat well and I thought why not? I certainly started, as I would advise everyone to start. If you are walking to school or work or around the block or walking your dog or whatever, start noticing those green things growing around you. Not just stuff growing from the earth but in flower boxes and all kinds of places where little plants grow up. Whenever the soil is disturbed or dug or scratched, or whatever, moved for any reason, a plant will grow. And many of those plants are edible. I began with the ones that --

DR. MIKE: It's funny -- I was just going to say, J J -- I am on your site right here -- I'm reading, you mentioned it's just not things growing in the ground. Here you talk about a quickweed growing into a forgotten terrace flower pot. What is quickweed?

MURPHY: Quickweed is my second favorite plant. It is also a plant that tastes like spinach. It's in the daisy family. And it has kind of a fuzzy leaf with little itty bitty daisy like flowers. So, it's better cooked. But the thing I like best about quickweed is you know how when we get a big bunch of spinach and you cook it and you get a little tiny bit of spinach? Well, when you cook the quickweed it doesn't lose volume. So, you've got -- whatever you harvest, you're going to have. If you harvest enough to fill a bowl, you'll have that after it's cooked. And that's one of my favorite things about that plant.

DR. MIKE: So, when you see something like quickweed or you see a different type of plant may be cut and growing out of the ground, or whatever, what kind of tools do I need? What's the proper way or correct way to actually harvesting that plant?

MURPHY: Well, the first thing I want to do is be sure of my identification. So, before I eat it I will study it. I'll take pictures or draw it. Make sure that I am sure of my identification. But not everybody can eat everything.

So, the next thing I'll do, which is safe, you can't get into any trouble, is you touch it your lips or your tongue, and just wait. If you don't have any kind of reaction, it doesn't tingle or make you go numb, then you are not going to have problem. If you eat a small portion like one ounce of it and then wait and make sure that it's not rough on your digestion or whatever. And learn one plant at a time. There is no rush here I think.

DR. MIKE: I see...

MURPHY: I think, this is something for me that is joyous because I enjoy spending my time... I'd rather spend 15 minutes walking around the edge of a park or a yard or something and harvesting the plants I know, than stressing myself in the store wondering who else has been touching the food and how long it's been there and where it came from in the first place.

So, you know, this is a lifestyle but I am convinced that plants I am eating not only taste good but -- I do not take any pharmaceutical medication. I rarely go to the doctor. I have great energy and eating has become fun instead of an ordeal or chore.

DR. MIKE: Yes. I liked what you said about if you are not sure, you could just touch it to your lips or your tongue and...I was watching, J J, a show about the Navy Seals and that's what they teach them to do. If they ever get lost or out in area that they are not familiar with. You can just take something that you think looks pretty good, you just touch to your mouth and see what happens. Right? Is that kind of what you do?

MURPHY: Well, fortunately we are not in a survival situation, so we do have the leisure. What I'll do is, a lot of times, take a plant-- may be I have eaten it in its baby stage and I've never seen in its full, mature stage and I want to be a hundred percent sure. So, I'll take that plant and I'll press it in a notebook or I'll consult a Seal's guide or I'll go to my colleagues and say, "Is this is what I have here?" just be sure. I use the analogy, if I invited you to a party where you didn't know anyone.

Everybody would look strange and indistinct until you started noticing details of someone's waist or their posture or their gestures. Well, that's the same with the wild plants. Spend a few minutes. Give yourself a gift of a mini-vacation, turn off the cell phone and sit with that plant for a few minutes. And the magic there is, you will start recognizing it wherever it's growing, wherever you walk. New York City is one of my favorite--

DR. MIKE: That's a nice analogy.

MURPHY: Yes. New York City is one of my fun places because I was in the city a few months ago in the summer time and lambs quarters was being sold as wild spinach for $12 a pound. One of the things --

DR. MIKE: And that's a lot right?

MURPHY: Well, spinach was $4 a pound. So, you tell me. Lambs quarter is my free spinach, which, by the way, I have in my kitchen as we speak. Another way to help yourself in identification is buy it there or ask for a sample of a leaf there and compare it what you see in your yard. It's really not hard to learn. It's just the matter of making the decision, "I am going to this," in the same as you make a decision to learn anything.

DR. MIKE: Yes. J J, I think something that you are hitting on is really important here. You know, we live such crazy lives today right? I mean, we are all just going, going, going. Everything is instant gratification and everything has to be right now. I mean, we go out, we walk our dog, and we are in a nice wooded area and all we see is just dirt and the same -- what looks like the same plant-- everywhere.

What you are saying is slow down, take your time out there, look at the plant, you'll start recognizing the differences, and you'll start seeing these different varieties. I think it's just something we -- not only is it healthy eating and saving us money -- it's just going to be good for us. Right?

MURPHY: Yes and that, again, 15 minutes out of a whole day isn't that much time. And I really am a big believer in baby steps. If you're standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs, you're not going to leap to the top step. You are going to go one step at a time and so...I do want to mention while we have our time what it is that goes to--

DR. MIKE: J J, I am sorry we are going to actually have to end it right there. We are pretty much at the end. Let me just go ahead and give the website to my listeners. It's Go check it out. You can look at her e-book. And get outside and see what you can do when it comes to foraging.

This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD. I am Dr. Mike. Stay well.