Spice of Life

Street Food

Forget the lunch cart. Find grub growing on a sidewalk near you.

By Kasey Cordell May 19, 2009 Published in the May 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Herb Pharm

ANY PORTLANDER who spent her grasshopper years mucking about in the Northwest mud likely has a memory of berry-picking season: rising early to beat the heat, then filling a bucket (OK, and her mouth) with juicy treats. Why should growing up mean growing out of such delights? It shouldn’t, say friends Bobby Smith and Michael Bunsen. Which is in part why in 2006 the Portland pair started www.urbanedibles.org, an online resource for urban foragers that they hope will bring greater awareness of our local bounty. This is not merely a list of U-pick farms, however; the site catalogs parks, ditches, and even public planters where you can fill your bag with really wild goodies—fruit, nuts, and herbs (that have uses beyond the culinary). “The site is sort of a mash-up of old-world knowledge and new-world technology,” says Smith. Currently, Urban Edibles identifies more than 200 foraging locations; some of the easiest plants for the amateur gatherer to procure are herbs, thanks to both their ubiquity and ease of transport (no berry juice to contend with). The seasonings below not only will help you fill out your spice rack as you ramp up for barbecue season, but also can cure what ails you, even if it’s as simple as bad breath.

ROSEMARY (Rosmarinus officinalis)

  • Use it: When you sprinkle your roasted potatoes with rosemary for that grill session this spring, slather some on your skin as well. This prevalent plant repels insects, so you can enjoy chowing down without being nibbled on yourself. 
  • Find it: All over! The site lists 30 locations, including bushes in a city-maintained planter at SW Market and Vista, and behind the Lucky Labrador Brew Pub at SE Eighth and Madison.

MINT (Mentha)

  • Use it: Fresh mint juleps, anyone? If your Kentucky Derby libation of choice is, instead, a stupendous Northwest microbrew, consider keeping a pinch of this herb in your pocket to do away with beer breath, as female tipplers in ancient Rome may have done to avoid having their habit discovered—and being dealt the death penalty as punishment.
  • Find it: In the parking strip at 923 SE 13th St and on NW 29th St between Thurman and Upshur

SAGE (Salvia officinalis)

  • Use it: Never mind its potential to perk up your poultry and pork, sage can also help you clear out your medicine cabinet. Because this herb is an astringent, it can be used as an aftershave, and its antimicrobial properties, says Northwest School of Herbalism owner Jo Powell, make sage a possible deodorant too. Then again, smelling like a stuffed turkey might not be quite the come-hither scent you’ve been looking for. 
  • Find it: Growing over the sidewalk at 1915 NE Couch St
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