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The Art Of Gathering Wild Food in Los Angeles

A young man in a green t-shirt and wearing glasses stands among trees and is pulling on a green plant
How to LA host Brian De Los Santos prepares stinging nettle found in the Santa Monica Mountains on Nov. 17, 2022. (Evan Jacoby/LAist)
(Evan Jacoby
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The first time I ever heard the word “foraging” was in a TikTok video by this enthusiastic Black Midwesterner named Alexis Nikole Nelson who scavenges for mushrooms, berries and tree gum in the wild. In this video she talked about how you could eat certain types of seaweed found on the beach. The fascinating thing I learned about this process was that some of these edible treats found in the wild could end up on a plate at Michelin-star restaurants!

Nelson is in Ohio. What can we do in L.A.?

For our latest podcast episode of How To LA, host Brian De Los Santos explores this practice with professional foragerJess Starwood. They went out hiking and gathering in the Santa Monica Mountains, looking for mushrooms, acorns and stinging nettles to make a meal. But for Starwood, this process isn’t just about plucking wild produce and herbs from the earth, it’s making the most of what is around us.

"There's a lot of bad connotations on what foraging is,” she said. “You know, you're just pillaging the land…but it's actually the mindset of putting to use what is available.”

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A woman is cooking a green plant called stinging nettle in a skillet.
Jess Starwood sautés stinging nettle in the Santa Monica mountains on Nov. 17, 2022.
(Evan Jacoby

Urban foraging doesn’t have to just happen in the woods, either. It can include the fruit growing from the trees in your backyard, which makes me recall my cousin’s vibrant orange tree in her Compton yard. They never let those oranges go to waste.

“I find it so silly that in Southern California we buy lemons and citrus at the store when everybody seems to have some sort of citrus in their neighborhood already growing
— Jess Starwood

It ties us back to the earth, too. How To LA podcast producer Evan Jacoby wrote in an article a few years ago that Indigenous communities around the globe still forage as a main food source and, as Starwood, points out, it was a practice in our hills for thousands of years before L.A. was even a thought. In an NPR profile last year, Alexis Nikole Nelson noted that enslaved African Americans traded knowledge about foraging with Indigenous people across America.

To be honest, I had not really given a lot of thought to foraging before listening to my colleagues’ podcast but I am kind of hooked to know more about it. Cause you know what they are looking to make with those unusual ingredients I listed above? Tacos. You just gotta listen for yourself.

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A SHORT DISCLAIMER: Starwood and Nelson are expert foragers. Eating wild food can be dangerous, even deadly. Please don’t do it unless you know what you are looking for. Please do your research or reach out to people who are knowledgeable. 

As always, stay happy and healthy, folks. There’s more news below — just keep reading.

We’re here to help curious Angelenos connect with others, discover the new, navigate the confusing, and even drive some change along the way.

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Wait! One More Thing...'Tis The Season To Eat And Drink

a chocolate cake in the shape of a log
Dear Bella Creamery offers a 100% gluten-free and dairy-free Buche de Noel.
(Courtesy of Dear Bella)

It is finally the last month (and the best month) of the year. And you know what that means: holiday treats. Good thing LAist has a long list of options on this front here and here.

Starting today Dear Bella Creamery is welcoming back their Peppermint Buche de Noel through Dec. 24. It’s a hefty price at $45, but it’s a treat you can dig into with the whole family. If you are tempted, make sure you pre-order this Yule log dessert!

Also, if you’re a bourbon lover like me and you REALLY want to indulge, check out the Wayfarer Hotel Downtown L.A. on Thursday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. They are serving up a cocktail and a three-course dinner. Tickets are $110.

Speaking of cocktails, this Saturday the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles holds its last Cocktails in Historic Places at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel downtown. You can find the details here and check out a bunch of other fun things to do this weekend.

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