The very best place to find fresh, nutritious grub may not be at the grocery store or even the farmers' market: It could be in your backyard or poking up through the sidewalk at the bus stop.
So says Melissa Sokulski, of the Birch Center on the South Side. Sokulski supports this claim at her Web site, www.foodunderfoot.com. She also leads "wild edible" walks, hipping people to the abundance of widely available free-range food, if only you know where to look.
"There's an energy about them," she says, of such urban finds. "You can see it growing up through the pavement -- it's so healthy. They must have such strength and energy."
Every morning, Sokulski explains, she goes into her backyard and pulls together fixins for a wild green smoothie of whatever's available. She's also made cookies and pancakes with dandelion flowers. And the recent bounty of mulberries, just past their season, was a lovely source for sweets.
Just a few weeks ago at a farmers' market, she relates, she spotted bagged purslane for sale, a plant that she's used to seeing growing wild. Purslane, often dismissed as a weed, is an excellent leafy green source of omega-3 fatty acids, and packed with vitamins. Why buy the farmer's weeds when you can pick your own?
Lambsquarter is another backyard bounty. It's very common, and can be used like spinach. And, adds Sokulski, unlike the more familiar dandelion greens, the leaves of this plant don't go bitter as the summer wears on.
Burdock, which is quite common in the city, is also known as gobo and the root is used liberally in Asian cuisine. "I'm also an acupuncturist," explains Sokulski. "A lot of these are also herbs and can be used medicinally."
With her husband David, Sokulski runs occasional nature walks for groups eager to learn urban foraging. Walks can be arranged through the Web site.
The time is right for going straight to the source. "As there's more and more food hybridization and modification," Sokulski says, "you just know [these plants are] safe and healthy and so fresh. People are becoming aware of how good it is."