WASHINGTON, Maine — David Spahr of Washington is a photographer, an author, an educator, a mushroom connoisseur and a gourmet cook, but perhaps he’s best known as a forager. That means he doesn’t only find his food at the grocery store or in the garden but also in the woods, fields and seashore, too.
I have some friends who disappear into the woods and come back hours later with a bag of hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. Is that what you do?
I forage both mushrooms and plants. With mushrooms, there’s no avoiding the learning curve. Plants are sometimes a little easier. There’s just so many things around that are edible that people don’t realize. Wild salad kind of stuff. I just wander out into my yard and start picking stuff, like wild strawberry leaves and wild violets. Lots of other stuff that’s common and easy to find. I also have a thing for flowers. They’re undeniably great looking on a plate, and a lot of them are really tasty.
I’ve eaten nasturtiums before — they are really good and really peppery! What other flowers are good to eat?
Pea flowers. Daylilies are fantastic, open or closed. I really like bergamot and bee balm — those flowers are terrific. They’re really tasty and similar to oregano.
What else can be foraged?
Foraging is a lot easier than people really think it is. There’s real good foraging down by the ocean, plants like sea rocket and sea blite and sea beans. There’s a lot of great vegetables.
How can people learn more about foraging?
One way is by going to the Public Edible Landscape Project in Washington, which we planted in 2014. The idea was to make a place where you can go to get free food and also to teach people to be aware of foraging. Most of the plants have signage to let people know what they are. Also, there are good foraging books around. I do foraging workshops, too. Both mushrooms and plants can be dangerous [and foragers should pay attention to what they are doing.]
It sounds like you have a real interest in getting more people interested in foraging.
To me, foraging is political. We have lost foraging skills in less than two generations, and one in four children in Maine are food insecure. And yet, there’s free food everywhere you look. One of my friends has a very successful farm in town, and they have free food all over their farm. I point it out to them, and they say ‘we’re really busy with our garden — we don’t have time for our free food.’ I get more money for my weeds than I do for my vegetables. I sell to restaurants, and a month or so ago, I had milkweed pods, chokecherries, groundnut flowers, blueberries and mushrooms. I sold everything but the blueberries.