Things are finally greening up around here!
Early spring is the perfect time to forage for wild greens. Many of the first plants to emerge from river banks, forests, and fields are edible, and they’re available before anything is ready from the garden. In addition, early shoots are often the most delectible part of plant to eat! If you need any more convincing, research the nutrition content of these greens – they’re all packed with vitamins and minerals.
When foraging, remember: Never take everything! Leave enough healthy plants so that your favorite sites continue to produce year after year. This, of course, is not true if you’re harvesting edible invasive plants.
Wild Leeks: Also known as Ramps, these are our favorite wild spring edibles. It’s delicious and if you know the right places, can be quite abundant. It often grows by river banks and is one of the first green leaves to emerge in the spring. Bring a trowel with you to harvest the nice white bulbs along with the green leaves and purple stems. We fry it to bring out its sweet mild oniony flavor and use it instead of leeks or onions in recipes.
Marsh Marigold: We harvest Marsh marigold leaves, stems and flower buds before the flowers open. Stems are tender and break for an easy harvest. This plant can be toxic if eaten raw! Because of high tannin levels, we boil in three water baths. Bring a pot with your chopped marigold harvest to boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and repeat three times. The result has a mild flavor and a texture similar to over-cooked spinach – soft and slimy. If they can accept the texture, marigolds are good for those who don’t like the common bitter hints in many wild plants.
Dandelion Greens: Everyone knows a place where dandelions grow! Young leaves are tender and less bitter than older ones. We harvest before the plants bloom and fry the leaves. The slightly bitter and very dark green leaves can be used in place of collards in recipes. Dandelions have thin tender leaves though, so they don’t need as long a fry time.
Nettles: I first harvested nettles to dry for tea. Now I enjoy them as an edible green. The leaves loose their stingy-ness once they are boiled, but use caution when harvesting!! I use gloves and pinch the tender tops off of young plants. I wash in a colander, stirring with a slotted spoon to avoid being stung. Boil in a shallow water bath for about 10 minutes to get a deep green spinach substitute! Leaves can also be thrown directly into soup broth. Some tasters found the mild green flavor to have hints of fishyness. This disappeared when used as an ingredient in a larger dish but was present when eaten plain.
Want to learn more about foraging? There’s a lot of really good books out there! I like The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants as well as A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America to use as references and field guides. Stalking The Wild Asparagus is a great read that was very popular in the 70s, but is less well known today.
Our next eagerly awaited harvest will be fiddleheads. Once they’ve finished up, we should be on to asparagus and spinach from the garden!