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Take a walk on the wild side

What can you make in the kitchen with the five featured edible invasive species? A lot. The app provides dozens of recipes, including quiche made with butterfly ginger. TAHITI HUETTER photo

Chances are, you’ve passed by it without a second glance: a tallish weedy-looking plant with small daisy-like blooms. It may look unremarkable, but don’t be fooled. This herb plant, called Spanish needles (so named for its barbed seeds), has a few superpowers. Among other things, it possesses potent antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antimalarial properties and is used to treat several diseases. The edible plant can also be used in a number of recipes, everything from soup to pesto to kimchi.

Spanish needles grows on Maui and is often hidden in plain sight. And now there’s a free smartphone app that can help you find it.

Earlier this month, Wailuku resident and internationally recognized wild food forager Sunny Savage debuted the Savage Kitchen mobile app to help users identify, harvest and prepare five edible invasive plant species: Spanish needles, strawberry guava, butterfly ginger, wild amaranth and Java plum. All five are commonly found in the Hawaiian Islands and other tropical and subtropical locations around the globe.

“Food is literally growing all around us,” Savage said. “I created this app as a bridge, connecting people with the most abundantly found wild foods — all of which are highly invasive species — in our ecosystems. This innovative approach to community land management prepares us to better handle crises like COVID-19, hurricanes and other unforeseeable challenges.”

Savage developed a passion for wild foods while growing up in the Northwoods of Minnesota. Today, her name is synonymous with wild food foraging. A wild food advocate, Savage’s work includes authoring a book, “Wild Food Plants of Hawai’i,” and hosting a wild food cooking television series called “Hot on the Trail with Sunny Savage.”

Internationally recognized wild food forager Sunny Savage recently launched the free mobile Savage Kitchen app to give users the tools they need to forage with confidence. TAHITI HUETTER photo

The Savage Kitchen app uses GPS mapping technology and crowdsourced data to help users find the five featured plants nearest them. There are learning modules, photos, videos and dozens of easy-to-follow recipes from chefs (including Savage) so foragers can turn the plants they’ve harvested into nutrient-dense meals. The app gives users all of the information they need to safely and responsibly locate, access and harvest each plant — including its location, possible lookalikes and how and when to pick it — along with important rules like never eating an unknown plant and foraging only where you have permission to do so.

And it’s safe to say the newly launched app couldn’t have come at a better time.

“COVID-19 has most of the state sheltering in place, so why not learn to harvest healthy wild foods found growing in your own backyard?” Savage said. “I’m offering the Savage Kitchen app for free because this is a very real solution that will put free food and medicine into the hands of the people in a very short time. We are preparing for the impacts of global climate change, and this is my gift to humanity and for the health of our planet.”

If you’ve ever been curious about foraging, Savage encourages you to give it a try.

“Let the app spark your curiosity,” she said. “Let it guide you in the knowing that a forager of over 20 years is holding your hand and giving you the best information available.”

The Savage Kitchen app uses GPS and crowdsourced citizen science to link people worldwide with the edible wild foods growing in their own backyards. Image courtesy of Sunny Savage/Savage Kitchen app

The Savage Kitchen app is available for free download on the App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android. For more information about the app or to learn more about Sunny Savage and her work, visit www.sunnysavage.com.

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.

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