Spring is early this year, bringing with it wild edible greens like dandelion leaves, violets and ramps that Berkshire hill people used to gather eagerly after long dark winters of root vegetables.
Those of us used to supermarket shopping may not be drawn to strange foods growing in the woods or in our own backyards. But new fresh tastes are there for the taking and help in identifying them is at hand.
A series of "Where the Wild Things Are" foraging walks around the Berkshires begin Saturday and run through May 20. Produced by Berkshire Farm and Table, a group of local restaurants and inns, and co- sponsored by Williams College's Sustainable Food and Agriculture Program, these walks are designed to give participants active knowledge of wild foods that grow in our area.
Local and regional expert guides will focus on harvesting wild food safely, responsibly and sustainably; discuss the history of foraging in the Berkshires; and give out recipes and tips.
Four walks will take place in Williamstown and one each in Great Barrington, Pittsfield, Stockbridge and Tyringham.
Last year's walks, the first offered, were so popular they all sold out. Foragers came mostly from the Berkshires and nearby Central Massachusetts and New York state although a few did come from the Boston area and New York City.
Many of last year's experts have returned to lead the same walks. Blanche Derby, Russ Cohen and Aimee Gelinas will lead the Williamstown walks this coming weekend and the next.
Gelinas, a musician, environmental educator, trek leader and founder of Gaia Roots World Music and Tamarack Hollow boreal forest conservation area in Windsor, will take a group up Stone Hill behind the Clark Art Institute.
Derby, a Northampton artist, writer, videographer and cook of wild edibles, has foraged and led foraging walks for over 40 years. She will take participants along the trails around Field Farm, a Massachusetts Trustees of Reservations property in South Williamstown.
Cohen, a professional environmentalist and self- described wild food enthusiast from Eastern Massachusetts, will lead two walks. The first will be along Money Brook Trail in the Hopper at the base of Mount Greylock; the second on Cole Field near the Hoosic River behind Williams College.
Evan Strusinski, of Camden, Maine, forages and leads foraging walks for a living. His interests and experience in the food industry connect him with fine dining establishments around New England and in New York City. He will take walk participants to Laura's Tower and the Ice Glen Trail just out of the center of Stockbridge. The next day he will lead foragers up Monument Mountain in Great Barrington.
Gelinas will lead a second walk through the 200- plus acres of Tyringham Cobble. And, finally, Berkshire County master mycologist John Wheeler will guide an edible mushroom walk in Pittsfield State Forest.
They and others like them, teach what is safe and good to and eat and when, for example, ramps or stinging nettles or wild ginger are at their best. They demonstrate how to harvest sustainably so these edible plants will be there again next year. And they teach which plants are taking over the habitats of native plants. If invasives are tasty and edible, so much the better for gathering them.
Japanese knotweed is an invasive that was imported and planted in the mid-19th century for its beauty. It is fast filling river banks and forest verge. It is also good to eat.
Knotweed is in the buckwheat and rhubarb family. Cohen said that in early spring when its young stalks look like asparagus with bundled, spearlike leaves at the shoot top, they also taste rather like asparagus and can be eaten like asparagus. He also uses knotweed's tips and peeled, hollow stalks in pies like rhubarb all season long.
Last May, he brought a delicious knotweed crumble he had made that morning for "Where the Wild Things Are" participants to snack on with some sumac tea he also made and served.
However, Cohen always includes this caution: " When foraging for wild ingredients, you should always find an expert or someone with foraging experience to accompany you. Some wild plants and mushrooms are poisonous and can be harmful or fatal if eaten."
Saturday, April 28, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., led by Aimee Gelinas at Stone Hill, Williamstown.
Sunday, April 29, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., led Blanche Derby at Field Farm, Williamstown.
Saturday, May 5, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., led by Russ Cohen at Money Brook Trail, Williamstown.
Sunday, May 6, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., led by Russ Cohen at Cole Field, Williamstown.
Saturday, May 12, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., led by Evan Strusinski at Laura's Tower/Ice Glen Trail, Stockbridge.
Sunday, May 13, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., led by Evan Strusinski at Monument Mountain, Great Barrington.
Saturday, May 19, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., led by Aimee Gelinas at Tyringham Cobble, Tyringham.
Sunday, May 20, 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., led by John Wheeler at South Mountain Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation in Pittsfield State Forest, Pittsfield.
Registration and non-refundable payment required at least 48 hours before any walk at www.berkshirefarmandtable.com/where-the-wild-thingsare- 2012/sign-up. Walk-ins not accepted.
Tickets: $25 plus $2.37 fees per person. Williams College students are free with student ID based on availability, but they must register at the walks' website and confirm their registration by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.