Gardening and foraging ingredients for healthy nutrition-focused lifestyle

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Jessica Merritt

At Special Liberty Project (SLP), we are dedicated to empowering military widows and veteran families on a healing journey towards holistic wellbeing. As “Wellness Jess,” I am excited to share with you the transformative benefits of our programs while hoping to inspire you, our valued readers.

Central to our mission is the belief that everyone deserves access to tools and resources for nurturing their mental, physical, and emotional health. Our programs, tailored for military widows and veteran families, offer a wealth of opportunities for self-discovery and growth. But these benefits are not exclusive to them; they’re for each and every one of you seeking to prioritize your wellness.

One of the key aspects I prioritize in both my personal life and through the work we do at SLP is the value of maintaining a nutritious diet, especially in the scenic surroundings we love to explore here in Macon County. Recognizing the profound impact of nutrition on not only physical health, but mental health, we emphasize this principle as a cornerstone of our approach. Through culinary workshops and herbal remedies, we empower individuals to embrace the healing potential of food, ensuring they have the vitality to fully enjoy life. 

One way we love to boost our mental and physical health is with growing nutritious food and teaching others how to as well. Gardening isn’t just about growing plants; it’s a journey of connection and self-discovery. If you haven’t explored gardening yet, I urge you to step into your backyard, dig your hands into the earth, and experience the joy of nurturing life. As you witness the growth of your plants, you’ll feel a deep sense of fulfillment and connection to nature. 

And while you’re out there, why not explore foraging for delicious and nutritious weeds like dandelion greens? You could even give one of my favorite recipes, Dandelion Green Pesto, a try. It’s not only delicious but also packed with essential nutrients to boost your vitality and well-being.

DANDELION GREEN Pesto can be served over pasta, with roasted vegetables or as a spread on bread or crackers.

Dandelion Green Pesto

  • 2 cups dandelion greens, washed and dried
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pine nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a food processor (a blender works, too), combine dandelion greens, nuts, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Pulse until finely chopped.
  2. With the food processor running, gradually add olive oil until the mixture reaches a smooth consistency.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and pulse to combine.
  4. Serve over pasta, roasted vegetables, or as a spread on bread.

So much can be foraged in this region besides dandelion greens, such as chickweed, berries, violets, and various fungi, such as chicken of the woods. But make absolutely certain, especially when it comes to fungi of any kind, that you know what it is before consuming it. 

We teach proper foraging during programs at SLP, but there are others offered periodically in the community. In fact, on May 10, starting at 5:30 p.m., Mainspring Conservation Trust hosts a Spring Foraging Walk led by Cara-Lee Langston, founder of Wildcraft Kitchen, For registered attendees, she will share her extensive knowledge on foraging and herbal medicine during a one-to-two-hour “gentle walk” around Tessentee Bottomland Preserve. She provides information on plant identification, cooking methods, foraging ethics, and medicinal preparations. Learn more at:

Together, let’s cultivate a community of wellness and resilience that uplifts and empowers us all.

Jessica Merritt, “Wellness Jess,” is co-founder and executive director of Special Liberty Project, a program for veterans and veteran families based in Franklin. To learn more about Special Liberty Project’s mission, visit