Urban Foraging with Nance Klehm
Foraging is not something I grew up doing. As I've grown older, I've developed a passion for it, which probably began when I took an outdoor learning and plant identification course in college. I have been excited to learn more about nature's gifts ever since.
Last year, I signed up for a foraging class that was put on by Other Wild in Echo Park and led by a woman named Nance Klehm. Klehm is not your average American. Mainly because she can identify plants and knows how to prepare them both for food and for medicine.
For me, being able to identify species in the natural world is incredibly important. In an emergency, the person who has these primitive skills would probably become the head honcho and teach the rest how to thrive off the land.
I am not saying get ready for the apocalypse, but I hope that I can share some of the info I have learned form Nance because she is a badass, an incredible educator and carries the important and sacred knowledge of the plant kingdom. My goal is to start sharing some of this education on my blog and within my community. Enjoy and happy foraging!
Nance Klehm is a steward of the earth. She is an ecological systems designer, landscaper, horticultural consultant, and permacultural grower, as well as an in demand consultant, speaker, and teacher. She is respected internationally for her work on land politics and growing for fertility. Nance’s recent undertaking, The Ground Rules, is a unique community and earth-building initiative that seeks multiple communities to work with. The Ground Rules involves creating community-run Soil Centers that gather organic waste from local businesses. Community members are directly involved and asked to invest a real labor and time commitment to the project in order to create a long-lasting local relationship with soil and soil issues. She is the founder of Social Ecologies, an organization that acts as an umbrella for a variety of ongoing ecological and system-regenerating projects.
Q+A with Nance Klehm
Q: What is your name and what do you do?
A: I’m Nance (pronounced ‘Nancy’) Klehm and amongst many things and I work as an ecological designer, horticulturalist, writer and herbalist. I teach at both the community and university level and write and publish on a slew of topics. I live in the city of Chicago where I raise native quail and chickens and grow and forage much of the food I eat and the medicine I use.
Q: What got you inspired to connect with the plant world?
A: I grew up on a 500 acre plant nursery in rural NW Illinois. The land had large tracks of wild areas and across the road was the forest preserve. We had a large kitchen garden, an orchard and many animals to take care of. My brothers and I spent all our time outside exploring, working and playing and my parents encouraged us to do so. My father who is a 4th generation horticulturalist introduced us all to the importance and beauty of plants. His version of church was to take us for long walks and show us the interconnectedness of everything – plants, animals, soil, ourselves. I grew up knowing that the world was alive and intelligent and I can’t be convinced otherwise.
When I moved to a city, I was lonely amongst so many people and started going for walks in old industrial corridors and along train tracks and waterways. I was amazed at how many signs of rewilding were happening in these relatively neglected areas. I started identifying and mapping edible and medicinal plants as well as ones important for insects, pollinators, mammals and birds. After a few years of this habit, I started organized walks of these areas or ‘urban forages’. I have been leading them for many years no matter where I travel, encouraging others to learn about the ecology of the place they live in. It is my goal to help others feel the connection their bodies to the living sensuousness and health of their urban environments, no matter how subtle this health and joy may seem.
Q: Why is it important to connect to the plant world?
A: We all know that plant foods and medicines are amazing for us, and that cultivating or harvesting them ourselves ensures and enhances our health, so I will say something a bit different here: about 15 years ago, I had my first loud and explicit communication from a plant. It was a pine tree that called to me—an 800-year-old pine that I encountered while in Ireland. It was spring and I approached it as it was encompassed in a buttery halo. I realized upon closer inspection came from puffs of pollen flowing out in clouds from its multitude of male flowers. I put my hand on its deeply flaked bark and it held me. I could not move my hand and didn’t want to. It poured itself into me, filling me like a river. “Oh, I hear your message.” I told it silently. The strength of its flow made me start to cry.
Learning to listen to trees led me to listen to other plants as well. I found that some plants pulse, while others stream. Their flows are different frequencies, strengths and textures depending on the plant’s species, its health and its age. They are intelligent and have more to offer us then just their health.
Q: What are your top 5 favorite plants in LA that are edible.
A: Five common plants I love to forage while in L.A.:
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica and the closely related Urtica urens) has a long medicinal history. In medieval Europe, it was used as a diuretic (to rid the body of excess water) and to treat joint pain.
Stinging nettle has fine hairs on the leaves and stems that contain irritating chemicals, which are released when the plant comes in contact with the skin. The hairs, or spines, of the stinging nettle are normally very painful to the touch. When they come into contact with a painful area of the body, however, they can actually decrease the original pain. Scientists think nettle does this by reducing levels of inflammatory chemicals in the body, and by interfering with the way the body transmits pain signals.
According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100 grams of miner’s lettuce — about the size of a decent salad — contains a third of your daily requirement of Vitamin C, 22 percent of the Vitamin A, and 10 percent of the iron. Combine this with stinging nettles and you have everything you need to revive your system from a winter’s worth of heavy meats, dried grains and roots.
Chickweeds are medicinal and edible plants. They are very nutritious, high in vitamins and minerals, can be added to salads or cooked as a pot herb, tasting somewhat like spinach.
The major plant constituents in Chickweed are Ascorbic-acid, Beta-carotene, Calcium, Coumarins, Genistein, Gamma-linolenic-acid, Flavonoids, Hentriacontanol, Magnesium, Niacin, Oleic-acid, Potassium, Riboflavin, Rutin, Selenium, Triterpenoid saponins, Thiamin, and Zinc. The whole plant is used in alternative medicine as an astringent, carminative, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, laxative, refrigerant, vulnerary.
A decoction of the whole plant of Chickweed is taken internally as a post-partum depurative, emmenagogue, galactogogue and circulatory tonic. It is also used to relieve constipation, an infusion of the dried herb is used in coughs and hoarseness, and is beneficial in the treatment of kidney complaints. as an astringent, carminative, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, laxative, refrigerant, vulnerary. A decoction of the whole plant is taken internally as a post-partum depurative, emmenagogue, galactogogue and circulatory tonic. Chickweed is also used to relieve constipation, an infusion of the dried herb is used in coughs and hoarseness, and is beneficial in the treatment of kidney complaints. New research indicates Chickweed's use as an effective antihistamine. The decoction is also used externally to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers. Chickweed can be applied as a medicinal poultice and will relieve any kind of roseola and is effective wherever there are fragile superficial veins or itching skin conditions.
Mugwort is a common plant in the British isles; its angular, purple stalks growing more than three feet in height. It bears dark green leaves with cottony down undersides. Mugwort is said to have derived its name from having been used to flavor beer before the wide use of hops. The botanical name is derived from Artemisia, the Greek goddess of the hunt, fertility, and the forests and hills. Roman soldiers were known to put mugwort in their sandals to keep their feet from getting tired. Native Americans equate mugwort with witchcraft. They believed that the rubbing of the leaves on the body are said to keep ghosts away, and a necklace of mugwort leaves is said to help protect against dreaming about the dead. It has been believed that John the Baptist wore a girdle of mugwort in the wilderness for protection. Other magical attributes include protection for road weary travelers, and general protection against the evils of the spirit realms.
Salvia Mellifera, Black Sage. Salvia comes from the Latin salveo, “to save” which refers to the medicinal uses of many salvias. In the case of Black Sage, components in the plant’s volatile oils are antimicrobial against gram positive bacteria. Mellifera means “honey bearing”. Nectar gathering bees utilize this plant and it is one of the best honey plants along the California coast.
Black sage grows between sea level and 1200 meters. It is found in both the soft (coastal scrub) and hard chaparral. It is a perennial evergreen shrub with very aromatic foliage. There are glandular hairs found all over the plant. Leaves are between 2/5 – 7 cm (1 – 3 inches) long. Black sage blooms February – July. The pale blue-lavender flowers are found in whorls or ball-like clusters spaced out around the stem. These whorls remain on the stems after the blooming season. They darken as they age and give “black sage” its common name. Pollinators are solitary bees.
Black sage may be semi deciduous with leaves dropping in reaction to short days (low photo period) and not stress from drought. It needs about 15” of rainfall. Plants in areas below this rainfall may get additional water from fog drip. It is shallow rooted and able to grow in a variety of soil types.
Seeds are brown, inconspicuous nutlets (single seeded fruits) in groups of four. These are disbursed by gravity and also by ants. Germination rates increase after exposure to either light or components of fire (charred wood, smoke and Potassium Nitrate. Seedlings are found in the clearings between adult shrubs, especially in the first couple of years after a fire. Plants take two years to mature.
Black sage is used extensively in native landscape gardening, restoration and erosion control. It is used in re-vegetation projects because of its resistance to drought, rapid growth rate and spreading habitat.
Plants provide both habitat and food for wildlife. As with other salvia species, the seeds of Black Sage are a staple food for numerous birds and small mammals. It is also an important butterfly and hummingbird plant.
Along with many coastal sage scrub species, black sage is susceptible to air pollution damage from sulfur dioxide and ozone. In some areas of southern California, it is used as a biological monitor of air pollution.