If you don’t count grass and thistles, our garden isn’t growing any greens yet. But there are plenty of fresh greens to be harvested outside the garden! And roots! We’ve enjoyed meals of foraged leeks, dandelions, and parsnips this week.
Wild Leeks: Also known as Ramps, are our favorite wild spring edible. They are delicious and if you know the right places, can be quite abundant. They often grow by river banks and are some 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. When foraging, remember to only harvest a small percentage of what is growing in the wild. We fry them in butter to bring out the sweet mild oniony flavor. I also love making cream of nettle and ramp soup each spring.
Dandelion Greens: Everyone knows a place where dandelions grow! Young leaves are tender and less bitter than older ones. I fried ours in bacon fat with caramelized onions, garlic, smoked paprika, and salt. They were delicious, slightly bitter, and tender. Yum! My next kitchen experiment will be to try roasting the roots for a coffee substitute.
Parsnips: Wild parsnip leaves produce a sap, or plant juice, that can cause burns to the skin in the presence of sunlight. Therefore, it’s good to make sure they’re not growing in your yard. Our field is full of them, and they have begun to send up a new crop of leaves for the season. Wild parsnips are actually the same thing as edible parsnips, they’re just not bred for big straight sweet roots. They are, however, delicious wild edibles! You’ll want to harvest them now, before they send any more energy out of their tap roots and into their growing stalk and leaves. As an added bonus, when you make sure to pull up the entire plant, you’ve removed possibility of future irritation from brushing up against the leaves later in the year.
Use gloves and a big shovel to harvest, making sure to get as much of the taproot as you can. Chop off the leaves and discard them when you’re still outside (I throw mine into the field beyond our lawn). Scrub the dirt off the roots and chop against the grain. Cleaning and preparing can take some time, as wild parsnips tend to be smaller and more branched than garden-grown varieties. Cutting across the grain eliminates possible stringiness. Sauté in butter and sprinkle with salt and maple syrup.