A group of University of Minnesota students, staff and faculty members stood under an oak tree on the St. Paul campus Tuesday watching their guide wield a Nut Wizard — a scepter-shaped tool used to gather nuts — and explain ways to harvest acorns and eat them.
The urban foraging tour was part of a series of de-stressing events put on by University Libraries to help students manage stress before finals week.
Kristen Mastel, outreach and instruction librarian at Magrath Library, said the creative and technology-free study break was created to fit into the topics taught on St. Paul campus.
“Students are so tied to technology,” she said, and having a couple minutes to relax while getting their hands dirty can be an effective stress-reliever.
In addition to crossing the St. Paul campus to learn about edible foods, students and faculty planted organic plants and made aromatherapy sachets.
Strolling along Cleveland Avenue by St. Paul campus’ miniature “frat row,” tour guide Charley Underwood explained how cattails are the “supermarket of wild food” because every part of them is edible, depending on the time of year.
Raking acorns into the Nut Wizard with a quick sweep across the ground, Underwood talked about the process of preparing acorn flour. Since the nuts are bitter, he suggested boiling them in multiple batches of water before grinding them in a mixer.
The powder can be mixed with wheat flour to make pancakes, he said, or on its own as a gluten-free option.
“A lot of things from the wild are sort of flavor-intensive,” Underwood said, and a good forager not only needs to be able to identify plants but also have a “discriminating taste” like a cook.
Educational psychology graduate student Ha Vo said she went to the event because she was stressed from finals week. Since she lives close to campus, Vo said it would be useful to know which plants are edible.
“It’s just cool to know that there are a lot of them around and, I can eat them,” she said.
Vo said she particularly enjoyed learning about the barberry shrubs found all around the St. Paul campus, which are currently full of sweet berries that can be eaten off the stem or made into wine.
Thinking about this new food source made her feel less stressed out, she said.
“I just feel like [I’m] in a different world, and I can distract myself from my studies a little bit,” she said.
St. Paul libraries operations manager Mark Desrosiers said he found it interesting to learn about how plant species like the ginkgo tree can change gender.
“We Americans don’t really think about food and where food comes from as much as we should,” Desrosiers said.
The other libraries are hosting de-stress events that fit closely with the different locations, Mastel said. Walter Library will hold a gaming study break Monday, and Wilson Library will have giant crosswords available throughout the building next week from a faculty member who writes crosswords for The New York Times.
Mastel said she hoped the event helped students get in touch with nature and let go of their stress.
“I think everyone walked away with a little something and got a breath of fresh air as well,” she said.