What are these older people picking from the side of the highway?
June 9, 2012 10:17 AM   Subscribe

I frequently see a trio of older (60 - 70) year old Asian people on the embankment of an on-ramp to the expressway picking or harvesting something. From what I can see it doesn't look like anything besides prairie grass. What could they possibly be picking? This is in the north suburbs of Chicago.
posted by adverse_conditions to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Dandelion greens?
posted by gnutron at 10:22 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Plastic bottles and other recyclable things?
posted by pravit at 10:27 AM on June 9, 2012

Grape leaves?
posted by livinglearning at 10:34 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

They're doing the same thing the non-Asian people are doing in the south suburbs, all along 80-94 in NW Indiana: picking cattails, because those are good eatin'.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:39 AM on June 9, 2012 [8 favorites]

My grandparents (Italian descent) used to pick dandelion greens from open spaces near the expressways in Chicago. Just adding a vote for dandelions here. I don't see a lot of wild cattails in the NW burbs.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:38 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Around here the side of the road picking is sometimes asparagus.
posted by HuronBob at 12:47 PM on June 9, 2012

posted by humboldt32 at 1:55 PM on June 9, 2012

It's maybe a little late in the season, but my first thought was fiddlehead ferns.
posted by fancyoats at 2:15 PM on June 9, 2012

Here in Rome, depending on season, you see older folks picking either arugula, or tarassaco (the dandelion greens mentioned above), or anything else that goes into a nice, varied misticanza. (Right now, but only in certain areas, the top find is actually wild asparagus.)
posted by progosk at 2:27 PM on June 9, 2012

If they're Asian, they may be picking ji cai (or Shepard's Purse),
posted by Conspire at 2:41 PM on June 9, 2012

(Sorry, phone bonked out the rest of my message)...

...which are used in wonton filling. This would fit the older person observation, as in Chinese culture, it does tend to be the elders who spend time working on dim sum. They grow like mad as a weed in colder climates and only require a minimum soil quality to grow, which fits both the Chicago and highway profiles. Finally, from first-hand experience, I've actually gone with my mother in Vancouver to harvest these greens, so I definitely know it's do-able.
posted by Conspire at 2:46 PM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe ramps? I believe they're native to the US but may be similar enough to some kind of Chinese wild onion to translate easily.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:51 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second ramps. My grandmother also used to pick a wild green called poke.
posted by snowdrunk at 8:28 PM on June 9, 2012

Wildflowers for informal ikebana?
posted by Hither at 9:29 PM on June 9, 2012

Ramps don't grow in open fields or non wooded areas, and it is far too late in the season for them in Illinois. (The soil on the side of highways also wouldn't support ramps.) It is also far too late for wild asparagus in Illinois, unless they're picking them after they bolted. Ferns don't typically grow in that sort of place either. Mushrooms are very unlikely on that kind of soil.

It's a green of some sort, probably Shepherd's Purse.
posted by RedEmma at 6:25 AM on June 10, 2012

It's called Beefsteak Plant. It usually grows wild on the side of the road. It's also known as Perilla. The Japanese, Korean and Chinese people use it. You will find it next to your sushi if you frequent Japanese restaurants. It may also be scrambled in eggs. The taste is a little minty and a little bitter. It has medicinal properties but cannot be harvested and eaten all year since it will become toxic at certain times of the year. Most people would not grow it in their homes because it is quite prolific and will take over the garden.
posted by Yellow at 8:19 AM on June 19, 2012

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