GATHER
 
Photos and text by Scotty Brylinsky.
 
 
Several wild mustards grow in our area. They pack a lot of flavor punch for their small size, and really jazz up a salad or starry. Three of the more common are scurvy-grass (cochlearia officinalis), Alaska baby’s breath (cardamine umbellata), and another which has no common name that I know, Draba hyberborea. They all grow on rocky beaches. The common thread is that they all have a radishy spicy taste.  Our tongues and noses are superb chemical sensory organs, and can detect things our eyes can’t. Once you get familiar with what a wild mustard tastes like, you can rely on that sense of taste in cases of uncertain identification.
Visually, the common denominator among wild mustards is that they all grow from a rosette (a cluster of leaves emanating from one point), and have a yellow or white four-petaled flower. The seed heads of scurvy-grass are particularly good. If you break one open the tiny seeds inside looks just like those you see in commercial stoneground mustard.
 
 

Scurvy-grass seed head and rosette

 
Most of the greens mentioned in my last post, “Harvesting and Cooking Wild Greens” that can be used in salads work well as a cooked vegetable. Cooking softens them up, and as with domestic greens, probably makes them more digestible. 
 
Here’s a recipe: 
1. Chop up one cooked potato, a quarter of an onion, some purple cabbage and red pepper, and a mixture of wild parsley, sea lovage, and goosetongue, and some wild mustard.
2. Fry everything up, add Alaska sea salt and black pepper.
 
 
Note: Readers may recall I mentioned the “top four” wild greens in the earlier post. Based on experience teaching over the years, it’s easy to see that while learning, a person can get overwhelmed with information. You’ll learn faster if you focus on a few species at first, and then branch out.  For the Sitka area I recommend focusing on four that are easy to identify, abundant, and good tasting. These are sea lovage, goosetongue, wild parsley, and twisted stalk/wild cucumber. We’ve posted photos of each of these plants in the earlier post, but as a refresher, and for perhaps different perspective, here they are again. These four plants comprise probably 75% of what I gather locally over the course of the season. In other areas, other plants may dominate, so this is very much a “Sitka-area-beaches” observation.
    

General guidelines for gathering:

  • Harvest conservatively – only take a few plants from each patch, and if there is evidence of other’s gathering, skip that place.

  • Harvest away from commonly visited areas – this means not in parks (where it is generally prohibited anyway), not along trails, not on popular beaches. If you are young and mobile, avoid areas that might be the most accessible for elders.

About the Author:

At 24, Scott started learning about wild plant foods, when he hitchhiked from NJ to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, bought a canoe, and floated the Yukon River for six weeks from Whitehorse to Circle, Alaska. He moved to Southeast AK later that year (1979) and quickly discovered this is a “dream place for a gatherer.” Scott enjoys sharing his wild foods knowledge through various field classes and consuming and making gourmet meals featuring wild foods with his family. He would like to note that most of the foods featured in his posts are or were part of the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples of the local area and the Pacific Northwest.