Women in Food: Forager Dina Falconi Talks Wildcrafting and Dancing with Land
June 21, 2016 | Anne Craig
Growing up in Manhattan, Dina Falconi foraged her food at the grocery store. But when she relocated to Marbletown, New York, in the foothills of the Catskills, she discovered a powerful fascination with food harvested from the earth, particularly from the wild.
“How amazing it was for me to discover that many of the ‘weeds’…surpass cultivated plants in nutrient content while also possessing additional therapeutic properties,” she writes in her book Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook.
The crowdfunded book, illustrated by botanical artist Wendy Hollender, walks would-be wild cooks through the entire plant to plate process for 50 wild plant species. And yet, as delicious as these wild plants can be, Falconi maintains an approach that also emphasizes foraging’s less tangible rewards.
“To forage means to dance with the land” she writes. “It means responding to and resonating with ecosystems: acknowledging the gifts that the earth offers us; learning how to use wild plants for food, medicine, clothing, and more. This resource — a treasure found often right in our own backyards and literally at our fingertips — is so vast it’s astounding.”
Today, she’s turned her passion into a 20-year career as a teacher and clinical herbalist focusing on food activism and nutritional healing. She’s also developed her own line of natural body care products, Falcon Formulations, and medicinal tinctures, Earthly Extracts. Falconi is also a founding member of the Northeast Herbal Association, an organizer of Slow Food-Hudson Valley, and a chapter leader of the Weston A. Price Foundation. Not bad for a city kid.
With the air warming up and wild spaces filling in with new growth, Seedstock sat down with Falconi to discuss her philosophy and glean a few tips for experimenting with wildcrafting this season.
Seedstock: You’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from wildcrafting and permaculture. What sets them apart? Or do they overlap?
Dina Falconi: Wildcrafting focuses on procuring food, medicine, fiber, and more from the wild. It brings us into a relationship with the uncontrolled part of the landscape, and it requires that we learn how to read it to recognize these wild gifts.
In permaculture, you are working with and mimicking nature to create landscapes that offer an abundance of food, medicine, fiber, and so on. So you are really co-creating a rich, diverse overflowing landscape that will have many gifts to offer. I think wildcrafting and permaculture, or foraging and ecological gardening, are naturally strong partners. Here, on the land where I live, I strive for this blend of wild and cultivated.
Seedstock: What’s the difference, nutritionally and flavor-wise, between herbs that are foraged or homegrown and the ones we find on the supermarket spice shelves?
DF: Generally, wild and homegrown herbs are much more flavorful and nutritious than ones found on the supermarket shelves. Freshness, measured as the distance from dirt to mouth, is very short for plants we harvest ourselves, which means nutrients and flavors are intact, not diminished during shipping and storage. Additionally, wild plants tend to have stronger flavors, a more diverse flavor palette, and more nutrient density than their cultivated cousins. When speaking of homegrown, the way we care for the soil often reflects how our food tastes and nourishes us.
Seedstock: So how hard is it to learn to forage safely?
DF: Foraging safely is not hard, but it does require time and practice, like learning a new language. Daily practice over several years makes us excellent foragers.
Seedstock: What if somebody wants to start growing herbs for nutrition and healing? Are there any particular species you would recommend as widely useful and easy for a beginner to grow?
DF: This question is really hard for me to answer as there are so many wonderful plants that are easy to grow (or wildcraft) that make excellent food and medicine. Nettle, a very nutritious, tonic herb-weed can be harvested from the wild or easily cultivated–beware though, it can take over, so give it ample room. Also, getting to know the common dandelion and bringing it into one’s life for food and medicine is so easy since it grows everywhere. Right now dandelion blossoms are fun to add to dishes. Lemon balm is another lovely choice: pleasantly aromatic with some impressive therapeutic qualities. Really I could go on and on: anise hyssop, peppermint, and wild lettuce. And let us not forget the culinary herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, hardy marjoram, sage, basil, etc. that add serious flavor and healing qualities to food.
For more wild information of foraging and cooking with nature’s bounty, check out this mini audio-class with Dina from HerbMentor Radio