Tag Archives: cleavers

Taste of the Neighborhood

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Before I moved to Los Angeles, I pictured the city as most people probably do, full of freeways and sprawl and plastic surgery clinics and unnatural sheen. It’s true; we have plenty of those things. But that’s not my LA. My LA is the land of secret stairs, of meandering walks, and hillsides laden with nasturtiums and wild fennel. My LA is expansive yet charming, urban yet natural … and, if you know how to look, filled with growing things to nibble on.

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Today my neighborhood walk takes me up and down three of Silver Lake’s historic staircases (originally built in the 1920s so pedestrians could reach the city’s streetcars) as well as some of my usual detours into abandoned and empty lots. The sounds of civilization are never far off, yet I can almost get lost in these hills as I peek around new corners and check on my favorite spots for edible weeds or public fruit.

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Everywhere spring is evident, from the soft young fennel fronds to the verdant miner’s lettuce and patches of wood sorrel humming with the dance of bees. It’s because of these all-important bees that I pluck just a few of the bright yellow sorrel flowers. As much as I love their tart, lemony flavor, I’ll leave them for the pollinators.

Foraging for a morning snack isn’t a necessity for me; I have a well-stocked pantry at home a few blocks away, and I’m still learning about all the local creatures that truly rely on these plants for food, shelter, and egg-laying habitats. Yet it does fill my spirit to at simply taste what grows around me, to become closer to my environment and have it become part of me in such a direct way.

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As my walk draws to a close, I sit on my favorite hillside overlooking the neighborhood and tuck into this week’s treats: nasturtium leaves and blossoms, dandelion leaves, fennel fronds, cleavers, wood sorrel leaves and blossoms, and miner’s lettuce. My “salad” needs no dressing, as the flavors are so vibrant on their own: peppery, bitter, sweet, tart, green. I play with my food, eating the leaves and flowers in various combinations to create new tastes – each little bite a different expression of LA.

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{Note: If you decide to forage yourself, make absolutely sure you know how to identify what you’re picking. In urban environments, you also want to avoid roadsides and dog pee (or worse!). I will share some recommended foraging resources and field guides in a future post.}