Where you see a barren field punctuated by a few dried-out weeds, Ian Fecke-Stoudt sees dinner.
Fecke-Stoudt leads a weekly urban foraging session in downtown Phoenix, starting at coffeehouse/boutique Conspire. The mission: to teach people about edibles growing right under their noses. Since he’s a vegan, Feck-Stoudt keeps it strictly to plants – no feral cats or pigeons, fortunately.
I joined a recent group in April, hoping to catch a few urban foraging pointers. In one of my earlier conversations with Feck-Stoudt, he mentioned -in a very nonchalant fashion- living off the land in the Superstition Wilderness east of Phoenix for nearly three months. I expected a survivalist outlook, but he takes more of a food lover’s approach. Feck-Stoudt works for Sapna Cafe, and seems very interested in incorporating as much locally grown produce as possible – even if he didn’t find it growing wild on the corner of 5th Street and Roosevelt.
Staying Safe While Foraging
- Make sure the plant isn’t poisonous and that it won’t cause an allergic reaction. Rub it on a sensitive part of your skin (inner elbow, neck) and wait 15 minutes for a reaction.
- Be careful about where the plants are growing. Animals tend to pee on plants nears curbs, while humans will relieve themselves on plants near walls. “It’s harder to see the urine than the feces,” Fecke-Stoudt says.
- Be aware of herbicides and pesticides. Look for spots that give the plants a “burned appearance.” You can generally wash either off the plants, though.
Some of What You Can Pick and Eat Downtown
There are lots more edibles in the desert and suburban areas, but these will get you started.
- palm trees: The type of leaves will determine whether you have a date palm or not. The date palms have “feather” leaves, rather than fans. The fan palms feature black edible berries that are juicy in season. Fecke-Stoudt says the berry is caffeinated.
- sorrel: A lemony tasting grass. Look for a yellow flower to mark its position.
- oranges: Ornamental oranges have thicker, rougher skins. Despite the name and reputation, they’re still edible.
- palo verde: This ubiquitous green tree produces protein-rich seeds.
- aloe vera: A desert succulent best known as a home remedy for sunburn is also edible, but … “I personally find it disgusting,” Fecke-Stoudt says.
- nopales, AKA fan cactus: The smaller ones, also called nopalitos, are sweeter. Fecke-Stoudt says they contain 90 percent of the United States Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin A, potassium and many other nutrients.
- cholla : Apparently, you can eat the notorious jumping cactus. Fecke-Stoudt recommends driving a stick through one of the balls and cooking it over an open fire to remove the needles.
- mustard greens
After foraging, Feck-Stoudt led us to a friend’s kitchen, where we mixed our urban foraging bounty with some items from local gardeners to whip up a vegan meal. If you’re up for a foraging session, drop into Conspire on a Sunday around 4:45 and be on the lookout for Ian Fecke-Stoudt!