PORTER | Gathering ingredients for a gourmet salad at home can be as easy as taking a stroll on your front lawn.
Shagbark hickory, Easter redbud, Queen Anne’s Lace, and pokeweed are all native plants that can be used in cooking, said botanist Dave Hamilla, of Chesterton.
Hamilla was the guest speaker Sunday at Cooking Wild, a program sponsored by Indiana Native Plant & Wildflower Society, at Indiana Dunes State Park.
With his walking staff in hand and flowing gray hair and beard, denim-clad Hamilla inspired others to forage for wild edible plants in their backyards.
Hamilla also is a professional geologist and a former restaurant chef who has gathered more than 1,000 recipes using the 126 species of Indiana plants and wildflowers that can be used as food and made into teas.
“The idea is not so you can be a survivalist,” said Hamilla. “The idea is to augment or substitute these plants for plants you buy at the grocery store.”
Even professional chefs use native plants in award-winning dishes, said Hamilla.
“A good example is creeping Charlie,” said Hamilla. “One recipe using this plant was nominated for a James Beard award. That’s something that anyone who works as a chef strives for.”
Hamilla cautioned the audience to know their weeds to avoid accidental poisoning from “toxic” plants.
“Know what they look like. Know what they are,” said Hamilla. “Be sure of them.”
It is best to know the plants by their Latin name rather than the common name, to avoid confusion, Hamilla said.
“There is so much garbage on the Internet, it can get very confusing when using the common names,” Hamilla said.
For example, there are about seven native species of sorrel.
“Are you talking about wood sorrel or curly dock?” asked Hamilla. “Then there is also the situation where the taste is different.”
Hamilla said native plants are not only convenient, but are “higher in vitamins and minerals and much better for you.”
“The numbers are higher for plants that are not in the grocery store,” said Hamilla. “These are the ones that are in your lawn.”
The well-attended program was the first presented at the state park by the North Chapter of INPAWS, said the organization’s treasurer, Scott Namestnik.
“We weren’t sure what to expect on a cold winter day,” said Namestnik, of North Liberty, Ind.
INPAWS President Steve Sass said the organization’s mission is to promote the appreciation, preservation and conservation of Indiana native plants and to educate the public.
Chesterton resident Susan Collins frequently attends programs at the state park and was intrigued by Sunday afternoon’s program.
“I’m curious about learning about what we can eat,” said Collins. “Maybe I can incorporate it into my diet instead of going to the grocery store.”