Alexis Nikole Nelson is TikTok’s woman of the woods. The 28-year-old—who lives in Columbus, OH, and works in marketing—has educated millions about how to make vegan foods, including acorn pancakes and mushroom jerky, with foraged ingredients. During the pandemic, when grocery store shelves were empty, many found Nelson’s content especially comforting. She sings and plays instruments (see her recent auto-harp ode to field garlic), she’s got jokes (she’ll be the first to tell you which seaweed tastes like Cheez-Its), and she basically has the personality of human sunshine. Though her TikTok fame is recent, foraging has been a lifelong passion for Nelson. It all started with her mom, an avid gardener who taught Nelson about the edible plants and weeds in their yard. Nelson then inhaled every single one of her mom’s books on plants by the time she was 10 and never stopped learning.
Depending on the season, 20 to 50 percent of Nelson’s food is foraged, and her ever-evolving pantry includes goodies like broadleaf plantain seeds, pawpaw pulp, and curly dock greens gathered from around her neighborhood and the nearby woods. “Foraging, for me, reinforces our connection to the past and our connection to place,” she explains. “It’s a way to cultivate gratitude for where you live.” Nelson (@alexisnikole on TikTok, @blackforager on Instagram) also mentions that her personal foraging looks different from her online DIYs. “There are some things that I feel comfortable foraging for myself that I would not encourage thousands of people on the Internet to look for,” she says, “because there are so many different boxes that need to be checked to know that it is definitely that plant.”
“Foraging, for me, reinforces our connection to
the past and our connection to place. It’s a way
to cultivate gratitude for where you live.”
When asked about her tips for future foragers, Nelson says, “So many of our foraging laws come from a place of classism [and] racism. If you do not want to get in trouble, I would highly recommend you research the location in which you want to forage.” Nelson adds that ground and water contamination awareness is also important. “If you live near a large body of water, you should check on algae levels and bacteria levels, and try not to be close to commercial harbors,” she advises. “If you’re foraging on land, give [at least a] 60-foot clearance to things like railroads, highways, and areas where you’re going to have a much higher chance of encountering heavy metals.”
In the future, Nelson plans to film longer-form content and start writing. “I would love to write a book someday,” she says. “I don’t know if a publisher wants the words of a plucky girl who eats things off the ground, but I’m just going to start writing down everything and maybe at the end of 2021, I will have a pretty little urban foraging tome.” –Anna Gragert
Alexis Nikole’s Acorn Pancakes with Nocino
The rich, nutty flavor of these tasty pancakes comes from flour made from foraged acorns (which are plentiful in fall or winter, though you may still find some in the spring that haven’t been buried, eaten, or germinated), and nocino, a spicy, slightly sweet, slightly bitter liqueur made from foraged walnuts (available from late spring to early summer). To make acorn flour, gather your acorns (about two pounds of acorns yields about three cups of flour). Throw out any that have a hole—that means an acorn weevil got there first. Submerge your acorns in water; discard any that float to the top. Next is “the crackening”! I like to hold each one in a nutcracker, then smash it with a hammer. Take the nut meat out of the shell (removing as much skin as possible). Then submerge your nut meat in water to leach out the tannins. Soak until the acorns are no longer bitter—this will vary depending on your acorns (white oak acorns take like a day, red oak acorns take like three weeks; you can speed up the process by continually running water over the acorn meat). Let your acorns dry, then throw them in a food processor and pulse until you have the consistency of flour.
- 1 cup oat milk (or milk of your choosing)
- 1 tsp. nocino (or vanilla)
- 1 Tbsp. fruit vinegar (like apple cider vinegar)
- ½ cup acorn flour
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. sugar
Mix your dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix your wet ingredients in another bowl. Mix your dry ingredients and your wet ingredients together in a bigger bowl. Spoon batter onto a medium-hot griddle and flip when bubbles stop coming to the surface. Top with some maple syrup, or my personal fave, smoked hickory syrup!
Photos: Rachel Joy Barehl
Video: Courtesy of Alexis Nikole Nelson via Tik Tok
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