Back To Basics
Wildcrafting reignites the ancient practice of living off the land.
Jackie Dill leads expeditions to teach wildcrafting.
Simplicity is in. The hip crowd is moving out of the malls and grocery stores and getting back to the land. The new trend of “wildcrafting” may be the world’s oldest tradition, but it’s making a spectacular comeback. Newcomers to the scene are learning that the art of foraging from the land yields crafts, medicines and some of the best food they’ve ever tasted.
Jackie Dill of Coyle, Okla., a lifelong “locavore,” hosts wildcrafting tours that attract people from all walks of life, from top chefs to rugged survivalists. Everyone, it seems, wants to know how to live off the land.
“You can virtually forage everything you need to survive if you know how to do it,” she says.
Wildcrafting’s a simple art. With a desire to walk and a few open acres of land, anybody – given the right training – can do it. Wander the land and stop looking at it as grass, trees and bushes. See that delicious dish, that soothing medicine and that new furniture for the patio. It stresses purity, freshness, simplicity and a rewarding DIY sense of accomplishment.
Dill’s watched her wildcrafting tours fill up faster and faster every year over the past decade. There’s no clear-cut explanation for wildcrafting’s recent explosion as a trend. But there are a few guesses. Wildcrafting yields delectable herbs that turn an ordinary meal into a taste sensation. Why pay for prescriptions that do no more than a simple herbal tea? And the local import store? Why pay them hundreds of dollars for patio furniture that you can make from foraged bamboo and a few cushions from the thrift store?
Dill and her fellow enthusiasts are fortunate to live in the second most biologically diverse state in the nation. On a good walk she can find anything from horsetail and rose hips to morel mushrooms and bamboo. And each has a use in any home.
Dill’s not kidding when she says everything you need to live is right there in the forest. The most interesting thing she’s made with her wildcrafting harvests? A blowgun. “You have to understand that it’s something useful. You can hunt with it. You could use it as a weapon,” she notes. “Lately, with all the survivalists, they want to know, ‘What could I use if I were out in the middle of nowhere without a weapon?’”
Jonathon Strangers, owner of Oklahoma City’s Ludivine, began walking with Dill two years ago. His restaurant’s goal is simple: serve the freshest possible food.
“Ludivine sources as locally as possible,” Strangers says. “Not only does it leave a smaller eco-footprint, it also guarantees the freshest food. The restaurant is 100 percent seasonal and as local as it can possibly be. Foraging fits right in with what we’re doing.”
The ingredients he forages often drive the dishes on his menu.
Exclusive restaurants need exclusive ingredients. Foraged foods can’t be bought and ordered, though they’re not expensive to obtain. All it takes is time and knowledge. They’re distinctive, unique and not offered by competitors. And they can turn an average meal into a delicacy.
“I think it gives us a real competitive advantage. The most important thing about our food is where we get our ingredients. As more and more diners become educated, that becomes very important to them. When they can make the connection between what’s the freshest, what’s available right now in the garden or the woods, they think, well, that’s Ludivine. Because we’re the only ones doing it,” says Strangers.
Dill warns that getting serious about wildcrafting means not thinking about it as a fad.
“Wildcrafting is not something you learn in, let’s say, two years. It’s maybe something you learn in thirty to forty years,” she says. “There’s always something different. There’s always something changing. There’s always something more to discover in this state.”