Eating the Parks: Foraging in Chicago’s Urban Landscape

You may be surprised by the number of edible plants you encounter every day in Chicago.

Local forager Dave Odd leads “Eat the Neighborhood” tours in Lincoln Park, identifying at least 50 plants you can eat or use for medicinal purposes.

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On Saturday, he held his first public foraging tour of the year in Chicago’s largest park.

“Today, it’s mostly about identification – we’re not going to be digging stuff up and stuffing our pockets,” Odd said.

Crouching next to a daylily, a common decorative flower, Odd describes the plant’s multiple culinary uses.

“The flower of the lily is edible, the bud of the lily is like a green bean usage,” Odd said. “They’re really good tempura-fried and when they’re at this stage, the greens can be cooked like asparagus.”

A few miles west, in the Logan Square neighborhood, forager Ian Fecke-Stoudt points out the durability of wood from a honey locust tree during an urban survival tour.

“Their wood is strong wood, used for fences," Fecke-Stoudt said. "It does not degrade very easily.” 

Both Odd and Fecke-Stoudt warn others to exercise caution when foraging.

“You never want to eat anything that you’re not 100-percent sure of its identity,” Odd said at the start of his tour. “Even professional foragers have killed themselves by eating the wrong thing.”

Odd says it’s his second year leading foraging tours in Lincoln Park, and though he doesn’t have formal permission from the Chicago Park District, he hasn’t received any complaints.

WTTW News reached out to the Park District regarding its policy on foraging in Chicago's parks, but the Park District had not responded as of Tuesday. In 2016, a Park District spokeswoman told us there’s nothing in the Chicago Park District code specifically addressing foraging, though the current code does contain this passage under the “Rules Generally” section:

“No person shall in any park destroy, cut, break, deface, mutilate, injure, disturb, sever from the ground or remove any sod, earth or growing thing including, but not limited to, any plant, flower, flower bed, shrub, tree, growth, or any branch, stem, fruit, or leaf thereof; or bring into or have in his/her possession in any park any tool or instrument intended to be used for the cutting thereof, or any garden or agricultural implements or tools which could be used for the removal thereof except as approved and allowed by permit.”

Foraging in Cook County Forest Preserves is against the law.

Odd’s produce company supplies food, including some plants he forages, to local restaurants.

Odd says he only forages on private land he owns or has permission to use, along with random empty lots, countryside or plants along the road.

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia

Related stories:

Urban Nature: The Forager

5 Medicinal Plants Growing in Chicago You Should Know

Mushroom Hunting in Illinois Comes with Risks, Rewards

Desert Plant Raising the Roof of its Chicago Home

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