By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER — Jackie Dill walks into the woods to gather her lunch daily. Living off the land is part of her heritage.
On a walking expedition with OKSprout, a Sustainable Stillwater gardening group, Dill explained that you can forage everything you need to survive if you know how. She estimates she spends about $50 a month at the grocery store for a family of four, foraging, raising and growing everything else they need to eat.
“Wildcrafting is simple — just knowing where to look and walking the open acres of land — you’ll find what you need,” she told the Stillwater NewsPress.
A lot of edible plants, such as dandelions, can be found anywhere — even in the cracks of sidewalks. From the grasses, trees and bushes, Dill can pick out fresh herbs for a delicious dish, leaves for a soothing medicine or berries for soap. Several top chefs check with Dill to develop delectable new taste sensations for their restaurants.
“Wild foods are a whole different thing. The taste is so loud — making the dishes more inventive. I think that is why the chefs are really taken by foraging,” Dill said. “Mother Nature does it — you can’t match the intensity in a cultivated crop.”
A big treat at the Oklahoma Wildcrafting Festival is a potluck lunch with foraged foods, along with a wild food dish contest judged by top chefs — Marc Dunham, director of culinary arts at Francis Tuttle Technology Center; Lisa Beckland of Living Kitchen Farm and Dairy, and Jakub Hartlieb of River Spirit Casino Elements Steak House. Jonathon Strangers of Ludivine’s in Oklahoma City also seeks out Dill to create the best culinary experiences at his restaurant, which promotes seasonal, fresh ingredients.
Weeds are not bred for shelf life or yield, so there is a diversity of micronutrients. The world is dependent on 25 main vegetables and four crops — wheat, soybean, rice and corn — but there are more than 6,000 edible wild plants.
“We live in the second most biologically diverse state in the country. There’s always something more to discover,” Dill said. “Everything you need to live on is in the forest.”
Dill said she’s always learning something new and that’s why she thinks the festival is great — to share and learn from others. She admits to not being formally trained in any academic sciences, but wildcrafting attracts many from academia.
Proper plant identification is critical because a mistake can lead to death or illness. Dill said it’s been a mutual learning experience as she finds herself having to investigate the proper Latin names because a common name for a plant can change from region to region.
“I had to teach myself the species,” she said.
“Our grandmothers used to teach us how to gather food and preserve it, but we no longer have that generational giving — it’s a dying art,” she said. “I have been doing it as long as I can remember. It’s my Native American heritage.”
She is listed as a wildcrafting national instructor but it is something that is also part of her every day life. Dill teaches because she doesn’t want the art of wildcrafting to be lost.
“All this great food is around us and we don’t recognize it,” Dill said, emphasizing that foraging knowledge is especially important for those who don’t have enough to eat.
Weeds are the ultimate opportunistic, sustainable plants in the world surviving drought, storms and disease through thousands of years. Seeds often can last for decades. In many places, weeds grow when nothing else is living. They’ve been around forever and will continue to thrive.
Exploring with OKSprout, Dill found mushrooms, onions, poke, henbit, garlic, fennel, wild herbs, mustard and more.
Her best tip was collecting soapberries for a laundry detergent that is low in suds and biodegradable, saving the environment and the budget with a low-cost alternative to pricey cleaning products.
“I’m not a scientist,” Dill said. “I’m just outside there all the time in the wild.”
There are ethics to wildcrafting which is to act responsible when taking plants, Dill said. To do this, wildcrafters should take what they need and leave the rest to ensure future generations can forage for that same item.
“Don’t go out in the wild and pull everything up,” Dill said. “Use what you need only. This land is for our children, too.”
Elizabeth Keys writes for the Stillwater NewsPress.