The landscape is greening up, more edible plants and shoots are emerging, and some less desirable plants are perfect for pulling! Now is a great time to enjoy green fresh first harvests and remove any invasive plants from your yard and garden.
It’s magical to watch the progression of spring from the big windows of our new home. Everything seems wonderfully green this week. Trees are blossoming and leaves are emerging, providing dappled shade and protection from the strengthening sun.
We’ve experienced several exciting firsts of the season this past week: our first all-you-can-eat asparagus dinner, our first tulips, our first cilantro, our first thunderstorm, our first creemie (what we call soft serve in Vermont), and my first tick. I’ve also removed several ticks from our cat, who spends much of his outdoor time stalking mice and voles in the long grass.
There are many possible dangers associated with all the activities we do every day, including playing and working outside. I strongly believe, however, that the benefits of time spent outside far outweigh the risks. Take a moment to learn to identify any poisonous plants in your region. If you are outside with kids, check out my Poison Plant Guide Activity for young naturalists. Once you know to identify any irritating plant neighbors, it’s easy to avoid them and enjoy your time outside without itchy or stingy consequences.
If ticks are increasingly common in your area, I encourage you to read my post on Ticks and Outdoor Play. This five minute read covers the basics of tick identification, avoidance and removal. Ticks are now part of our outdoor environment in Vermont and Lyme Disease is well worth avoiding. When you know what to do when you find a tick, it is easier to be carefree as you enjoy outdoor explorations and adventures.
With bright blue skies, warm sun, bird song choruses, green grass, and bright new leaves, I know I don’t want anything dampening the joy and contentment I feel in nature at this time of year. I hope you have fun outside!
Whether you are young or old, if you want to have positive experiences in nature, it’s good to know how to identify the poisonous and irritating plants in your region. If you work with kids outside, this is especially important! What do you see in the photo below? If kids or adults know their edibles (black cap berries) and encounter this scene, they may learn about poison ivy the hard way.
Here’s how I help my groups of kids start to learn their Poisonous Plants:
Introducing…….The Poisonous Plant Guide!
1) Collect your specimens: Turn a gallon zip lock bag inside out and put it on your hand like a glove. Find your poisonous plant of choice. Break off a leaf, flower head, and/or any other parts you’d like your group to become familiar with. Turn the bag back inside-in, push out the air, and zip it shut.
2) Create Poison Plant Guides: Have your group look at each specimen closely. Use magnifying glasses if you want! Draw and label each plant in your very own Poison Plant Guide. Help your young authors notice details such as jagged-edged leaves, the number of leaves are coming off of one stem, the colors of leaves and flowers, and other details.
3) Find Examples Growing: The best way to really learn to identify plants is to see them growing. With enough sightings, even very young kids can become experts in a growing season.
4) HAVE FUN OUTSIDE! Now that your group knows what plants to avoid, there’s nothing to stop them from fully experiencing, playing, observing, and discovering the outsidoors in wild (and not so wild) places.
5) Don’t stop with poisonous and irritating plants. Once kids start getting the hang of identifying plants, add edible and healing plants to your guide!
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.