I thought we would be hunting for wild mushrooms, like morels, when I set off on a foraging hike at Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg. I envisioned a slow, meditative walk, deep in the shaded woods. A-foraging we went, but not for ’shrooms.
Instead, Clay Morris of Forgotten Foods Gastronomy shepherded me and seven other foragers-in-training across the bucolic resort property. We ambled along the outskirts of a forest in search of all kinds of other edibles, like cattails, garlic mustard, purple dead nettle, broadleaf plantain, and sumac, a flowering plant that is not at all the same as poison sumac.
The broadleaf plantain is largely considered a weed, but it’s also a wild edible that’s packed with nutrients. Many edibles are invasive weeds, leading Morris to live by the mantra, “If you can’t beat it, eat it” when it comes to offensive — but edible — plant life.
From spring to fall, Morris leads twice-monthly foraging hikes at Salamander Resort. He’ll even teach you how to best prepare your edibles. “There are ingredients that we have a lot of access to,” says Morris. “They should be a part of our cuisine.”
Wild edibles can make coffee, vinegars, marinades, even crackers. A Civil War-era hardtack-esque bread can be made from acorns. I couldn’t believe it either, but you can concoct a baking flour out of acorns (yes, the ones that fall from trees). It’s naturally gluten-free, too.
By day, Morris works for Prince William County as a restorative ecologist, so he knows a thing or two about native and nonnative plants, as well as poisonous, prickly, and edible plant species.
After 75 minutes spent getting to know edibles across the 340-acre resort, our group settled in at the Stallion Barn, a restored stone building. It was time for the good part: tasting them. All of us were eager to sample from the smorgasbord he had prepared for us.
There were several vinegars, including dandelion vinegar, heirloom pear vinegar, and pine vinegar. Morris likes to start with condiments. “It’s good to build a comfort level with common, recognizable edibles,” Morris adds.
A pestolike spread made from garlic mustard was delicious on French bread. He also brought a thermos of dandelion root coffee, as well as the ground roots used to brew it. It has the look and feel of coffee, but it’s herbal, so there’s no caffeine. We wrapped up our two hours together by making pine vinegar using pine needles and apple cider vinegar.
You don’t need to be a resort guest to participate in the foraging hike, which costs $75 per person (ages 8 and up). However, you will need to book the hike through the resort.
This story originally ran in our July issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.