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Foraging Hawai’i With Sunny Savage

Story by Kristen Hettermann

Photography by Sue Hudelson

“Food is such a great way to bring people together… we gather, we share, we commune.”

Sunny Savage can walk anywhere in nature, look at the natural plants, and create a meal. She calls herself a forager.

Sunny’s world is nothing short of a brilliant energy, nourishment and creative abundance. It’s hard not to be captivated by Sunny’s gorgeousness, as she gushes about the healing properties of the weeds growing in her garden. “Did you know elderflower plant and berries shorten the average viral infection from 7 days to 3-4 days?”

It’s easy to latch on to Sunny’s captivation with the huge diversity in plants and the many cultures, textures and flavors to be explored. Committing one hour a day to food harvesting and processing, her daily foraging is a practice of humility, gratitude and sharing. “The plants and I share the earth…its atmosphere and its water,” she say. “We share a moment in time together while I’m out there foraging. I sing them a song and they dance in the breeze. I think positive thoughts while harvesting and they nourish me.”

Sunny feels that every moment as a forager is an opportunity to think about the broader implications of our relationships with our plant friends and how best to peacefully coexist. She has dedicated her life to campaigning on behalf of wild greens and their bounty of micronutrients, phytonutrients, and fiber.

Coming from a “back to the land” family in Northern Minnesota, this visionary didn’t take long to hit the road. At the age of 18, she landed a job running a kitchen at McMurdo Station in frosty Antarctica. Years later, she found herself in Africa working with the Pygme Folks through a USDA Grant to introduce wild foods in gardening projects. By the time she was 30, Sunny had ventured to every major continent and held a resumé that boasted a Bachelor of Science Degree in Dietetics and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Education, with a focus on the antioxidant properties of wild greens.

“I grew up close to nature—with a respect for nature. Some of my fondest childhood memories include tapping maple trees and harvesting wild berries,” says Sunny. “I received inspiration from my mom, who taught us a lot about medicinal plants, about making tinctures and salves that cured all of our ills. I knew from an early age that going to nature was the answer for optimal health.”

While she was filming her TV series Hot on the Trail with Sunny Savage in 2008, Sunny traveled by RV and motorcycle through 17 states visiting state parks and wildlife refuges. The show currently airs in the U.S. and can be found in markets in Eastern Europe. “My goal has always been to educate as many as I can about wild foods and to share my passion. There is incredible fun in getting outside and recognizing how to eat these gifts that are just waiting to be unwrapped!” Sunny’s Hot on the Trail tour took her to Maui and Kaua‘i, where three episodes were filmed. She rented a room for her project base in Maui, where she fell in love with her landlord, Ryan Savage. Their love affair took her around the world on yet another adventure.

“It was my husband’s lifelong dream to sail around the world,” says Sunny. The couple made plans to go on a sailing adventure like none other, exposing Sunny’s first son, Saelyn, to the world at large. Leaving Maui in August of 2010, Sunny and Ryan picked up their sailboat in Florida and circumnavigated around the Caribbean. Starting in St. Lucia, they sailed through the Caribbean chain to northern South America, Colombia and the Caribbean side of Panama, then back up to Florida via Honduras and Mexico. “I am a forager at heart, so I was always looking for new and old plants to play with,” says Sunny. “I was able to learn about many new plants, as well as share my own knowledge with hundreds of others.”

Some highlights? Teaching the Kuna that cattails were edible. Preparing several wild food dishes while presenting at the University for Peace in Costa Rica. Sharing knowledge with rastas in Dominica. Tending a permaculture farm gone wild. “I nibbled my way through many countries…tasting their wild side.”

Foraging Hawaii at www.ediblehi.com

Back on Maui, Sunny and Ryan decided to have a child, and a short year after the return from their adventure, little Zeb was born. In describing the honor in motherhood, Sunny’s face melts as she talks about her service to her newborn son. “He smiles and it melts my heart. Nourishing myself is nourishing him.”

Sunny is adamant about raising her little one with wild foods. Babies can start with poi and stewed wild greens. Kiawe flour and edible flowers are wonderful additions for growing keiki, and Jamaican vervain flowers (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) are great little flowers for children to utilize. “Our children learn through example,” says Sunny. “Eating a bio-diverse diet, full of different colors, smells, flavors and textures, sets the nutritional foundation of a healthy life.” And the uses of wild foods don’t stop at eating. Baby Zeb is often dressed in handmade bamboo onesies with wild nettle and milkweed fibers dyed with wild coyote brush.

Sharing is a major theme at the Savage home, as Sunny, her family and their Woofers all work the land daily. Her terraced, permaculture-style garden going far into a gulch has over 30 weeds and plants harvested weekly for food. “Nature is so abundant that I oftentimes find myself with more than my family and I need. Our property has 11 people living on it, so sharing the abundance feels good and is integral to community building.”

Foraging Hawaii at www.ediblehi.com

So what’s up next? Sunny is releasing Wild Food Plants of Hawaii, a self-publishing effort covering several wild food plants of the Hawaiian Islands, as well as her personal manifesto on the importance of eating wild foods in the face of punctuated global change. Once the book is finished, Sunny is moving toward editing an inspirational film about her family’s trip through the Caribbean. In addition, she is excited to find new combinations of plants for her medicinal clothing line, and will continue teaching and strategizing about the use of wild foods here on Maui and for our global family.

“I relate to aloha. I feel it. I live it. I teach it to my children. Love of my fellow brothers and sisters, love of the ‘āina, and love of the Ha‘ikū mist that blesses us and brings rainbows.”

To buy Sunny’s upcoming book: wildfoodplants.com

For more information on Sunny Savage: sunnysavage.com