Watoga Trail Report

THE WILD EDIBLES Festival returns to Watoga State Park Friday and Saturday, May 3 and 4. The festival provides a great opportunity to learn how to identify and use the gifts of nature – in food, drink and medicine. Above, ramps, morels and creasy greens, collected during a hike in the woods, are transformed into a delectable dinner. K. Springer photo

Ken Springer
Watoga Park Foundation

Wild Edibles Festival

Watoga State Park Naturalist Chris Bartley was visibly excited about this year’s Wild Edibles Festival when I stopped at the park headquarters to talk to him last Thursday. He started our conversation discussing the major, and likely better, changes to the format of the event.

“Instead of scheduled classes, this year we are trying an ‘open forum’ approach,” Bartley explained. “The downside to having people sign up for classes when other classes are being conducted simultaneously is that people have to choose between presentations and often are forced to miss other classes that they would like to attend. With this change, people can move from demonstration-to-demonstration and have a full experience.”

Chris said, this year, the event will be held at the picnic shelter, in the same area as the Arts in the Park events. This spacious area will allow attendees to visit demonstrations on various aspects of gathering and utilizing wild edibles, including those for herbal and medicinal use. Additionally, several naturalists from other state parks will be on hand to conduct guided wild edible walks.

This year’s Wild Edibles Festival will kick off at 3 p.m. Friday, May 3, with a guided foraging hike around Watoga Lake. Those interested should assemble at the Activities Building wearing closed-toe shoes and clothing appropriate for the weather and bring along some water.

At 7 p.m. Friday evening, the Keynote Speaker Geo Derick will discuss Wild Medicine: The Art and the Science. Derick is a Registered Clinical Herbalist and is the founding owner, practitioner and formulator of Geo Joys. She enjoys formulating custom medicines for clients that are both good tasting and therapeutic. Derick is no stranger to our Wild Edibles Festival, and her presentations are always very popular and well attended. This presentation will take place in the Activities Building near the pool.

Activities commence on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. and will continue until approximately 4 p.m.

You are urged to visit the many vendors, demonstrations and guided walks throughout the day, all focused on wild foods, drink and medicines. Opportunities will be available to sample wild foods such as garlic mustard pesto, ramp pickles and chili.

In addition, live music will be provided by Sugar Run.

For more information on the Wild Edibles Festival contact Christopher Bartley at 304-799-4087 or via email at Chris.R.Bartley@wv.gov 

A Short History of Foraging for Wild Foods

The number of people who must forage for their daily sustenance decreases every year, though they can still be found in some remote areas such as the Amazon River Basin. Agriculture, which has been around for about 10,000 years, has replaced virtually all of the hunting and gathering societies. With the exception of sport hunting and fishing, the knowledge and skills required to procure wild foods and medicines were in danger of being lost altogether in most of the industrialized world.

Although in some part of the U.S., such as on Native American lands and in Appalachia, people have always consumed seasonal plants, berries, nuts and mushrooms as found in nature.

Euell Gibbons came to public attention in 1962 when he wrote an instant best-seller titled Stalking the Wild Asparagus, often regarded as the classic of foraging guides. This was followed by six more books of the same or similar genre. Gibbons’ books were well-timed for the “Back to Earth” movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and were appreciated by the growing number of people interested in foraging for wild foods.

Gibbons was also known as the main spokesperson for Post Grape Nuts during this period. His commercials would often start with “Ever eat a pine tree? many parts are edible.” And, conclude with “the taste of Post Grape Nuts reminds me of wild hickory nuts.”

You can see some of these old commercials on YouTube, as well as many funny parodies of Gibbons, one in which he is eating a bowl of Grape Nuts and pauses to say “Of course I don’t usually eat it (Grape Nuts) out of a bowl like this, usually I just eat it out of my shoe. Sometimes I just eat my shoe…”

In the last decade or so there has been a resurgence of interest in collecting wild foods. Some aspects of this pastime have become trendy. A few years ago, upscale restaurants offered such dishes as nettle salad, causing a rush on nettle foraging – too bad it wasn’t garlic mustard. Even the term “foraging” has been replaced by “wildcrafting” in many circles – Pocahontas County is thankfully not one of them.

But, on the whole, the revived interest in wild foods has been a good thing; bringing attention to environmental concerns such as the damage perpetrated by invasive species, and getting people off their couches and into the outdoors. Books on the subject of foraging have become much more sophisticated through the years, offering delicious and healthy recipes, rather than the standby method of the ‘60s, which directed foragers to boil everything and then drench it in butter.

Speaking of recipes for wild foods, I set out on a trail last week with the intention of harvesting a handful of ramps and a mess of wintercress, also called creasy greens. I unexpectedly stumbled upon an old apple tree that had a dozen or so morels circling it. On my way back home I gave thought to how I might prepare this trio of wild delicacies.

Dinner that evening consisted of sautéed ramps and creasy greens with roasted walnuts topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction. The delicious greens sat alongside a morel po-boy with homemade aioli. This sumptuous plate was paired with a Dogfish Head Watermelon IPA.  

That sounded a lot like foodie-speak, didn’t it?

Sorry, I meant to say that I fried up those shrooms and slid ‘em into a bun with a slather of mayo. Then I boiled up those greens, put a stick of butter on ‘em, and washed it all down with a Miller Lite.

Happy Hiking and Foraging,
Ken Springer

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