Weed Salad, anyone?

Apr 10, 2013

Spring has finally sprung here in Virginia, and that’s got one Charlottesville man on the move - pulling weeds, but he’s not just any gardener. 

26-year-old Patrick McCafferty is planning meals around the greens he gets for free. He finds his lunch by hiking a forest, or strolling around the yard.

He's learned the tricks of the trade of foraging for food, and become a master of plant identification.

“On the highway, I can identify weeds going 60 miles an hour from like, a hundred yards away.”

Actually, he avoids most land along highways - fearing air pollution that settles there, and rail lines, which are often sprayed with weed killers.  Above all, he’s learned which plants are poison.

“There are really only a few to look out for that are really dangerous: poison hemlock, that has leaves that look like carrots  leaves. It’s easy to confuse.  Some people do try to find wild carrots, which are around here , also known as Queen Anne’s Lace, so anything that resembles carrot or parsley leaves, I would stay away from as a beginner: milkweed,  pokeweed. But other than that the plants that I’m showing you right now don’t have any close look-alikes, and these are safe enough that I feel comfortable teaching them to the kids at my school.”

McCafferty teaches elementary school kids at Mountaintop Montessori in Albemarle County, and his students will staff a special salad bar at this weekend’s TomTom Festival.

“We’ll be having some chickweed, dead nettle, dandelion.  We’ll have some sorel, which is kind of lemony, and kids love it, some clover, some wild garlic, yellow dock.”

He’ll also feature mugwort, which has applications beyond the salad bowl. “That’s one that you can use for tea.  It’s soothing to the soul and to the muscles.  You can crush it up and put it in your bath after a long day’s work, and you can drink it as a tea before bed.”

Weed salads will be served free of charge from nine to noon April13th, and McCafferty plans to lead edible weed walks before and afterward.  He’ll explain why harvesting weeds is nutritious and cost-effective, and he’ll recommend a book written by two Charlottesville women called Foraging and Feasting - with recipes to make Virginia’s wild greens even tastier. 

WVTF and RadioIQ are taking part in TomTom - a four-day festival spanning five blocks in downtown Charlottesville.  It begins  April 11 at 5 pm, and we’re sponsoring one of sixty concerts as part of Public Radio Music Month.  The festival will also feature Tom Talks, focused on innovation, and pitch night, in which contestants tell how they would use a $10,000 prize to make their community better.