From the Archives: That Time Kelly Accidentally Ate Hemlock

Death of Socrates JacquesLouisDavid

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates (detail).

At the risk of bragging, in the tenth year of this blog we’ve accumulated 2,735 published posts and another 706 unpublished drafts. Using a random number generator I decided to pick out a random post to see what the heck is in the archive. A blog post by Kelly came up, from October of 2013, that tells the story of how she accidentally munched on a piece of dried hemlock (Conium maculatum) having confused it for fennel.

And so I was fooled while out on a food forage hike last week. It was grim pickings out there! Acorns seem to be the only thing left to eat in the wild until the rains come. I’d sampled something unpleasant which lingered on my tongue. I wanted to clear the taste and spotted what I thought was the remains of a fennel plant. I pinched off a couple of seeds and put them in my mouth. They didn’t taste like fennel. They didn’t taste like anything at all. So I think I spit them out. Maybe.

As I was in the midst of doing this, I said to our teacher, Pascal, “Here’s some fennel?” As I said it, I wasn’t entirely sure, because the seeds didn’t taste right.

He said, “That’s not fennel, that’s poison hemlock.”

At this point I’d already swallowed or spit out the seeds. You know, whichever.

I said, “Oh…um…I just ate a couple of seeds.”

The rest of the class made noises of dismay. Someone offered me water.

It was really embarrassing.

As you might guess, Kelly survived. And thank you random number generator for the Jungian synchronicity: our last podcast is an interview with Pascal.

As Kelly notes in her blog post, Hemlock is in the Apiaceae (carrot family). Novice foragers would be wise to avoid this family entirely. That said, Pascal tells a story of running into a group of older Armenian woman gathering hemlock. When he questioned them they explained that they boil the hemlock and change out the water multiple times to make the leaves edible. I suspect they were using the plant medicinally. Neither Pascal nor Root Simple endorse this.

Happy summer foraging and watch out for the hemlock! Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever made a foraging mistake.


Saturday Tweets: A Wacky Week

089 The New Wildcrafted Cuisine with Pascal Baudar


Our topic this week on the podcast is the spectacular foraged cuisine of Southern California based Pascal Baudar. Pascal is the author of The New Wildcrafted Cuisine, Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of local Terroir. We cover a lot of subjects in the podcast–everything from wild mustards to harvesting sugar from insects! Here’s just a few of the things we touch on:

  • wild mustard
  • weeds and invasives
  • professional foraging
  • wild beer
  • Sacred and Herbal Beers by Stephen Harrod Buhner
  • working with black mustard
  • foraging in a drought in August in Southern California
  • Pascal’s $350 energy bar
  • Native American foraging practices
  • Kat Anderson Tending the Wild
  • foraging controversy
  • what to do with broadleaf plantain (Plantago major)
  • lerp sugar
  • eating insects
  • harvesting your own sea salt
  • fermenting with sea salt
  • primitive fermentation
  • rosin baked potatoes
  • fermented hot sauces
  • ethics of foraging

You can take a class with Pascal via and make sure to check out Pascal’s amazing Facebook page.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.




Root Simple is 10 Years Old

The original Survive LA logo.

The original Survive LA logo.

Today, July 13th, is the tenth anniversary of our blog. In that time we’ve published 2,731 posts (and have abandoned drafts of 700 more!), numbers which are surprising even to us. Turns out that adage about a journey of a thousand miles starting with a single step is true.

We’d planned to do more to celebrate this milestone, but I’d be lying if I said this was a good week, or that I am in a celebratory mood. My elderly mom is not doing well and our lives are focused on caring for her. As a result, Kelly and I may not be doing much blogging in the next few weeks.

But I don’t want to let this anniversary pass without saying something. Writing this blog has been a tremendously positive experience. The subject matter we cover, a somewhat scattershot collection of the home arts and random opinions, somehow attracts very kind and talented readers, and it is your enthusiasm that makes us keep writing. We’ve been able to meet many of you in person and I hope to meet more of you someday.

A Short History of Root Simple
On the afternoon of July 13th 2006 I had a flash of inspiration. I realized that my disparate DIY interests could be gathered together into a blog. I felt like I had discovered a kind of unified field theory of home economics. That day I began the Survive LA blog that was later became Root Simple.

It took awhile to find our voice. Survive LA had a jokey, tongue-in-cheek prepper vibe. Some of my early posts make me cringe today. Coincidentally, I just found on my hard drive an incredibly embarrassing, downright offensive mission statement dating from the first few months of the blog that I wisely decided not to publish. Ultimately, I found it more productive to take our subject matter seriously and dispense with the posturing. It just takes a while to find your voice. Thankfully Kelly started contributing to the blog, and she’s a far better writer than I.

I should note that this blog had one false start: a blog about our parkway vegetable garden. That 2005 blog went to two posts before becoming an internet ghost site that I’ve lost the password to access and can’t delete it. The parkway itself is, ironically, still a work in progress. Our podcast, now in its 89th episode as of this week, also had two false starts but is going strong.

Much ink could be spilled on the influence on bloggers like us of events such as 9/11, Katrina, Y2K, climate change and the 2008 economic meltdown on this blog and others like it, but that will have to wait for another post or even a book.

Another blog post could be written on how Facebook has siphoned off readers from our blog and others like it. Hopefully we’ll all figure out a way to make the interwebs non-hierarchical again and send the Silicon Valley robber barons packing.

How the Books Happened
When this blog was young, Kelly and I went to a party at the house of the Jodie Willie and Adam Parfrey, independent and creative LA-based publishers. They read the blog after the party and commissioned a book from us, because we were covering territory which they wanted to include as part of their Process Media Self Reliance series. Unlike most publishers, Jodie and Adam are risk takers. We owe them a big debt of gratitude for taking a chance on two first time authors. The book that they commissioned, The Urban Homestead, published in 2008, went through many printings and is still selling copies.

After the success of the first book we got a lot of offers to write a sequel (or just another version of the same book for bigger publishers!). We ended up writing a how-to book for Rodale called Making It.

Thank You!
Root Simple is a group effort and there are many people to thank: our web designer Roman Jaster and our logo designer Eric Thomason. Caroline Clerc did the cute cartoons that adorn our masthead. And we thank our publishers Process Media and Rodale. We’ve also met many fine journalists after the book came out, such as Michael Tortorello who wrote a nice piece about us for the New York Times and Johnny Sanphillippo kindly made a video about us that went viral.

Most of all we thank you our dear readers for your support over the past ten years.

A note from Kelly:

Erik has said it all well, but I just wanted to add my thanks to his. Thank you, all of you, for your gracious and continual input, support and love. Somehow we’ve been blessed with an incredible community of readers and commenters, and we are so grateful for you all.










Saturday Tweets: Urine Tanned Leather, Grass Huts and Unpleasant Design