On the trail with master forager Langdon Cook
Rain is falling at Tiger Mountain, and the thick, thorough damp suggests rain is always falling at Tiger Mountain. Twelve of us stand at a trailhead beside a gravel parking lot a half-hour east of Seattle. We’re about to push through wet woods searching for edible plants with Langdon Cook, the man who literally wrote the book on foraging wild food in the Pacific Northwest.
“I see half a dozen edibles within ten steps,” Cook says before we set out. Despite the rain, he’s not wearing a hood or hat. His salt-and-pepper hair somehow stays dry while already I’m soaked through my raincoat. Cook leads us into a network of Tiger Mountain’s muddy lower elevation trails, through typical Western Cascades Douglas fir forest. All the while, he speaks with a scientist’s authority and an epicure’s sensualism.
Cook hikes like most of us stroll a supermarket. Every step offers something to eat—if you know what to look for. Some stuff, like miner’s lettuce and wood sorrel, we munch on the spot. Some require preparation: lady fern fiddleheads, bracken fern, devil’s club, and stinging nettles need to be boiled or blanched or sauteed before eating. We thwack through stands of salmonberry, huckleberry, thimbleberry and blackberry, though due to the season, none are fruiting. Beneath a massive Doug fir beside the trail, bravely arising from a lumpy mound of forest duff, is a white, delicate, three-petaled wildflower called a trillium or avalanche lily. This bloom, Cook explains, indicates the soil is warm enough to foster Morel mushrooms, though it’s too soon for shrooms. Most of these edibles are extremely nutritious; flavors range from cucumberish Indian plum leaves to beetlike dandelion greens.
After three hours of thorough identification tips, we end up back at the parking lot. None of us will ever again go hungry while hiking.