Your Dinner is in the Yard

Forager/naturalist to conduct LA Arboretum workshop on eating what is all around us

Published : Thursday, September 20, 2018 | 5:18 AM

Christopher Nyerges never met a weed he didn’t like. Or a leaf, for that matter.

The longtime local self-forager and author will discuss such tasty natural morsels Thursday at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, teaching and demonstrating from his book, Foraging California.

Nyerges told Pasadena Now this week that much of what he has learned and now teaches grew out of his tutelage with former Arboretum Senior Biologist Dr. Leonid Enari, who emphasized that the way to learn about plants was to understand their “familial” relationships.

Nyerges began following and listening to Enari as far back as the mid-seventies, he said.

Christopher Nyerges will speak about "Foraging California” on Thursday, September 20 from 9:30 a.m. - noon at the LA County Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave. Arcadia.

“Dr. Enari was the senior biologist at the Arboretum,” Nyerges recalled. “I took many of his classes and then, understudied with him by, by going there whenever I could and bringing in plants. And so I’m going to tell the story of how he worked with me, how I was able to bring in plants.

As Nyerges notes, “The story is partly about him because he’s a unique individual. He earned a PhD in both botany and chemistry, in his native homeland.

Enari “knew basically everything about why a certain plant would be good for food,” said Nyerges. “He was just an incredible walking encyclopedia.”

Much of Enari’s original impetus for “foraging” came from his time as a young man in Estonia, which was under some Nazi occupation, in his late teens or twenties, Nyerges recalled.

“He always would tell students that if you know how to find food and make food, you’ll never go hungry.”

As he further explained, “Some beginners sometimes struggle with that, but I tell them you’re you’re way ahead if you grasp the relationship of plants. Some of them are native, some of them are non-native, and I try to emphasize the non-natives, like so-called ‘leaves’ because nobody minds if you pick them, gardeners pull them up all the time and they’re not interacting. You’re not damaging the native flora if you’re using leaves. So yeah, these are things that you would use it in an emergency, but I use them every day, and I encourage people to find them in the yard, or grow them in your yards, and let them go.”

But Nyerges notes that what most people would either ignore or toss away might be far more tasty than they might realize.

“Now that we have this campaign to not have lawns because of the drought,” Nyerges explained, “you might have weeds growing in. The overwhelming majority of them tend to be edible.”

At a workshop last Saturday, in fact, Nyerges took a group down to the Arroyo Seco Wash, though the weather and surroundings were very dry.

“We found purslane, for example, down in the wash,” he said. “Purslane is from India, it’s in my book. It’s very nutritious, it’s the highest source of omega three fatty acids. “

A mass of reddish stems and dark green leaves, purslane grows rapidly and is one of the most common species of weeds in the world. The plant has thick and succulent leaves for storing water in dry climates.

“We put that to an egg dish, we put that in a salad,” Nyerges described. “We found another European weed called a Lamb’s Quarter and we put that in a salad and a soup. Lamb’s Quarter is from Europe and it’s like eating a mineral tablet. We also had a cactus, which we picked, and cactus of course, as you know, it’s not as affected by the drought, but we ate that in an egg dish as well. That’s good for good anti-diabetic food. Most of the weeds, contrary to what people seem to think are more nutritious than foods at the supermarket.

Nyerges will describe just some of the plants available, but emphasizes that real foraging requires study. It isn’t just eating whatever you see in an emergency.

Said Nyerges, “I’m going to describe how [I was guided] along the path of learning families. Don’t worry about learning quick rules of thumb when you’re trying to identify plant families. I have a slideshow where I’ll show some pictures of just the different steps along the way in general. The talk is about what’s available right now.”

“Christopher Nyerges: Foraging California”, Thursday, September 20. 9:30 a.m. – Noon. LA County Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave. Arcadia. (626)821-4623 www.arboretum.org

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