Destination DIY: Foraging In The City

By Julie Sabatier, host of radio show Destination DIY

Foraging is something that’s not generally associated with an urban environment. But edible and medicinal plants can be just as accessible in the city as they are in more rural areas...if you know where to look. Julie Sabatier , host of the public radio show, Destination DIY, spoke with an urban foraging expert.

Rebecca (Becky) Lerner is the author of Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban WildernessJulie: Becky Lerner teaches urban foraging classes in Portland, Oregon where she lives. She’s the author of a book called Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness. She loves showing people what kinds of edible and medicinal plants can be found right in their own neighborhood. Becky showed me several interesting examples when we went for a walk in Willamette Park in SW Portland.

Becky: So, we’re standing in front of a western, red cedar tree and this is one of the trees that’s native to our region and one of the really interesting things about western, red cedars is that it was used to make totem poles and canoes. It was also used to make the plank houses that the indigenous people were living in here for thousands of years and the reason for that is because cedar has natural anti-fungal properties in it. So, it doesn’t rot. 

Becky: Let me go feel these leaves over here (footfall sounds). Feel this. Feel how soft they are?
Julie: Yeah.
Becky: That’s how I know it’s thimbleberry right here. It’s got these leaves that are sort of shaped like maple leaves and they’re really soft and fuzzy and whenever I see this bush that has leaves that are shaped like maple leaves and I’m thinking, oh this might be thimbleberry, I touch the leave and the texture gives me that positive identification. (footfall sounds) And as we’re walking on the lawn, I’m noticing a lot of what are commonly called lawn daisies and lawn daisies are actually edible too. You can eat the flower. All parts of it are edible, but I’d say that’s the best tasting part to snack on. It’s just kind of neat to be out and about find food everywhere and medicine everywhere. It really changes the way you look at nature.


Photo: Rebecca (Becky) Lerner is the author of Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness

Becky Lerner and I sat down in the studio to talk more about her adventures in urban foraging and about her book: Dandelion Hunter. The book starts out with Becky’s personal challenge to forage all her food for an entire week.

Rebecca (Becky) Lerner learned to forage for food in an urban environment. Photo by Joshua McColloughBecky: That’s when I really dived into it and I was like, wow, can this knowledge actually possibly save my life? How far will this go? Um, it was a pretty rough experience. it didn’t work out so well. I was trying to do it in late May and um the real nutritious parts of plants come out in the fall — the nuts, the fruits, the roots, things like that. You really want to dig up and enjoy later in the year. So, that did put a little damper on it for me, but at the same time, I wanted to succeed. And my desire to figure out how to do this also deepened my interest in learning about it.

Julie: You did some research for the book about foraging in modern times. So, who forages?

Becky: These days lots of people forage. Foraging is something that’s not new. It’s been going on a really long time. I think it’s something people feel is really natural to them because it is. It’s just wired into us.

Becky: But what’s neat, too, is getting, from my perspective as a teacher, getting to see people who have never thought about foraging before start to do it. There’s this little wall that they have to go over because at first, they’re like, I was taught not to touch anything that I don’t know what it is and I don’t know what any of this is, you know. But once people get past that and they really go for it and they try it, it’s a really neat expression to see on someone’s face when you see that thing click. It’s like, Oh, I knew how to do this. I knew what this was. Oh, I remember this feeling. It’s really cool to see and it becomes very familiar.

Julie Sabatier  curates the public radio show and website, Destination DIY. Find out more at destinationdiy.org.

Photo: Rebecca (Becky) Lerner learned to forage for food in an urban environment. Photo by Joshua McCollough

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