Langdon Cook pulling out the root of a licorice fern for us to taste

I’m biting down on a tiny piece of fern root which has an earthy yet exotic sweetness. I taste a hint of licorice and maybe some maple. I begin to chew it in earnest, and with that, it suddenly becomes very bitter. That’s it–one, maybe two, bites of sweetness before the twig turns bitter.

Our guide, Langdon Cook tells us that this is the root of the licorice fern which, if processed properly (infusion, for example), can add an herbal-sweet flavoring to something such as simple syrup. This weed is the most tenacious fern I’ve ever seen. It grows up the base of a tree, and all the way up each branch of a tree as far as the eye can see, like prehistoric ivy.

We walk on, exploring marshy areas, hills, the sides of long fallen trees, the forest floor. The things you see when you take the time to look up, and down, are magical. The forest, from floor to tree branch, is absolutely littered with edibles. And the bounty changes hands from season to season. I decide on the spot that I must do this again in summer for the berries, and again in autumn when mushrooms abound.

The berries aren’t in season, but we still stop and identify them by their leaves, blossoms, or buds. Thimbleberries, trailing blackberries, raspberries, different kinds of huckleberries, Oregon grape berries, salal, salmon berries. I’m impressed by the amount of berry bushes I didn’t even know grew wild in the city.

We hike on and come across lady ferns (fiddleheads), miner’s lettuce, dandelions, nettles, bittercress, and wood sorrel (oxalis), among others. I marvel that this is all just one small patch of land smack in the city. We don’t even go off trail. The veritable cornucopia that must exist off the beaten path would undoubtedly blow my mind.

The symbiotic relationships free-flowing in the forest are impressive–trees sharing nutrients with the plants below it, and in return, the plants giving back to tree roots. In fact, the whole forest is some sort of life-giving-and-taking mechanism. Mushrooms grow on old, fallen trees, until they have used up all remaining nutrients from it. Nature is pure. Wild. Interconnected. Honest.

As I chew on a fruity wood sorrel leaf, I ponder the wealth of flora around us, and feel a sense of profound joy. I live in a hotbed of incredible bounty in the Pacific Northwest and other than blackberry picking, I haven’t experienced the joy of foraging for food, or had any sort of real understanding of the surrounding indigenous plants. I plan to change that.

Not only the wild edibles, but the fresh air, the exertion of climbing, and the cool dampness of forested Seattle lingers with me long after coming back indoors.

For more information on Langdon’s tours, visit his website

Langdon standing in front of a Redwood in Seward Park
Showing us a huckleberry bush
This fern decided it was going to be the center of attention here, as weeds do.
The shamrock-looking oxalis leaves taste like fruit (!) and Langdon is
showing us some local leaf variety that he uses in place
of grape leaves for making dolmas
Miner’s Lettuce
A Redwood! In Seattle! (Not edible, but mushrooms grow under them)
And another tree absolutely covered trunk to sky in Licorice Fern
Light hiking and lovely greenery right in the city
These may be salmonberries but don’t take my word for it
Green for days
Trailing blackberries, which are native to Washington
Gorgeous trails in Seward Park (this was the Huckleberry Trail)
Not a bad way to spend part of the day.