- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

McHENRY, Ill. (AP) - Alice Howenstine sees dinner in the weeds growing around her home.

Howenstine, an 85-year-old McHenry resident, ambles through the patches of leafy greens, yellow flowers and spongy mushrooms in her yard, picking each from the ground along her way. At the end of her expedition, she’ll wash and cook them so she can savor the unintentional produce that sprouted among the grass.

“I do it practically every day,” Howenstine said. “That’s not always the plan. When I go out to get the mail or see the animals and I go behind the buildings, I might pick something.”

Meals foraged from backyards are hitting tables across McHenry County as foraging season ramps up. The practice, local foragers say, is something anyone can pick up with a little gumption and a detailed field guide.

A child of the Great Depression, Howenstine started foraging when she was young and carried on the tradition when she and her husband, Bill Howenstine, started a family. The family still picks stinging nettles to cook and eat or devours elderberry blossoms slathered and cooked in egg batter.

“It was something we both learned from our parents,” Howenstine said. “It was sort of a challenge and fun to do the best with what we had.”

In her home on Pioneer Organic Tree Farm, which she and her husband run, Howenstine pages through about a dozen guidebooks filled with drawings, descriptions and uses for the plants she might encounter on her afternoon romp.

Checking and cross-referencing books like those are key to a successful - and not deadly - foraging trip, she said.

Woodstock resident Caron Wenzel offers the same advice to the students who take her foraging class at McHenry County College. Wenzel, 61, said she started eating wild plants about 35 years ago after reading books upon books on foraging and sustainable living.

“You just have to have confidence and not eat anything you are not absolutely sure of,” Wenzel said. “And I mean absolutely sure of.”

Experienced foragers can be another helpful resource on what to pick and where it is legal to forage, said Crystal Lake resident Cathy Cagle, the organizer of a meetup.com group dedicated to foraging and herbs.

Cagle, who has been foraging for a decade, spends time during the spring searching for morel mushrooms - like most morel hunters, she won’t say where - and other mushrooms that don’t have any similar-looking poisonous counterparts. She cautioned that eating a raw wild mushroom can be dangerous, sometimes deadly.

“Just because it looks like a mushroom you can find at the grocery store, doesn’t mean it is safe to eat,” Cagle said.

Venture to Cagle’s home any night of the week and there’s likely some foraged food such as a morel, wild violet or garlic mustard in her salad bowl. Or, there could be a cup of dandelion tea.

What to serve, she said, isn’t entirely her decision.

“Most things you put in your salad bowl you need to replace every year,” Cagle said. “These are things that are coming up of their own accord with the seasons. What the world is giving you, you are eating at that time. We’re not pulling it, we’re not killing it. We’re eating it from where the world put it.”

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Source: The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald, https://bit.ly/1cw7Wmt

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Information from: The Northwest Herald, https://www.nwherald.com

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