There is an isolated patch of stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) along the Charles River in Boston. They can be seen in the early spring, but soon they get covered up by the desert false indigo (Amorpha fruticosa) that grows all along the banks. At the end of fall, when all the indigo has been cut back, the nettles make a brief reappearance. Many edible spring greens make a fall reappearance in fact. There is still enough warmth so that their leaves do not freeze, and the leaves of the tall trees and the shrubs that have been shading them all summer have dropped away, so they come out again to gather the last of the fall sunlight and fatten their roots. And so even in early December, even after a little snow, I can still go out and gather some nettles, some curly dock (Rumex crispus), dandelion greens (Taraxacum officinale) and ox-eye daisy greens (Leucanthemum vulgare). While the ground is not yet frozen, burdock root (Arctium lappa) and evening primrose root (Oenothera biennis) are available too.
By the time March rolls around, evening primrose rosettes are back out, making January and February the only two full months of the forager's lament. I alleviate the lament by stocking up for the winter months by jarring, drying, and freezing. Whatever I jar usually ends up in the freezer because I'm always too rushed to do a good job with the sterilization process. Too many things going on in the summer in the city to do a good grandmotherly job jarring up the apple sauce. I bought a cheap food dryer on craigslist last year, which makes drying tea herbs and apples for winter usage easy. Somehow I even cut corners on drying my apples and I noticed some fruit flies on them a few days later. They are in my refrigerator now. Although I'd like to embrace additional aggressive eco-stunts including “unplugging the fridge”, given my ineptitude with jarring and drying, I'm not ready for that yet.
Rather than spend too much time lamenting the frozen ground, I prefer to catch up on the things I've missed because of foraging too much – reading, watching movies, studying up on mushrooms. Just the other day a friend forwarded me an article on dumpster diving [link to http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/12/for_local_freeg.html] and this got me thinking: I don't need to forgo foraging afterall in the winter, I can turn to a much more urban version of it – jumping into grocery dumpsters late night and digging out the perfectly good food that gets thrown away in quantities I don't like to think about every day. One of the things that attracted to me to foraging in the first place was that foraged food is free. Dumpster food is neither Local nor In Season, but it is a sad waste that occurs on a massive scale. I am a little worried that when I do my first dive, there will be so many viable munchies I won't know what to do with myself (I sometimes have this feeling when I find a neglected apple tree loaded with fruit – I sigh and wonder when I'm going to have the time to chop and jar all of the apples that I'm stuffing into my backpack). I am really hoping I do not find OK meat. I'm a vegan usually, but my policy is, if an animal product is getting tossed, I eat it. It's bad enough that people eat factory-raised meat, but then to have it thrown out, ugh. I hope not have to face the dilemma of 'should I take those packages of ham?' Please let my first dumpster be filled with slightly bruised bananas, day old whole wheat bagels, and celery.