/As the winter wanes, the warmth of spring sends us a bounty of beautiful wild food to forage. The lion’s share of this forage takes the form of fresh greens, right at the time when we need the very vitamins and minerals such vegetables have to offer. There are also some very tasty flowers that bloom early, providing serious flavor and pizzazz in the kitchen.
Because these plants are wild, they propagate themselves as soon as they can, as soon as the temperature allows for it. This means that at about the time most gardeners are putting their cold-hardy spring seedlings in the ground, wild forage plants are already ripe for the picking.
Not only does spring foraging supply a great collection of wild edibles, but it’s also a great reason (if another was necessary) to get outside and enjoy the season. Many wild foods grow along hiking trails and in areas we naturally go. It just makes sense to harvest a little.
1. Dandelion (Taraxacum officiale)
Dandelions are the ubiquitous wild edible on every foraging list, but it’s important to always list it. Dandelions are easy to identify, and they are easy to find, popping up in just about any yard or field. They are delicious, with edible leaves, roots, and flowers.
2. Wild Onions (Allium canadense, etc.)
Wild onions, where they grow, appear with prolifically. Lawns and garden spaces can be completely covered in them, more than is possible to eat. They have delectable greens and bulbs. With wild onions, if it smells the part, it said to be safe to eat.
3. Ramps (Allium tricoccum)
Technically, ramps are just another type of wild onion to harvest, though they are often referred to as leeks, which are from the onion family. These are found in the woods and have flat leaves. They grow most prominently on the forest floor in Eastern (US) woodlands.
4. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Despite requiring a bit of caution, stinging nettles are a very tasty addition to meals. The springtime is the perfect season for foraging nettles because it’s the young sprouts that are desirable. These leaves do need to be cooked before consumption.
5. Sorrel (Rumex acetosa, etc.)
There are actually many types of sorrel to look out for. Sheep’s sorrel, wood sorrel, and common/garden sorrel. Common sorrel likes to grow in grasslands, and the leaves have a mildly sour flavor. It’s actually cultivated by many gardeners.
6. Claytonia (Montia perfoliata)
A Pacific coast specialty, claytonia is also known as miner’s lettuce, as it was used as salad by miners in Northern California (It is found in other places, too). Claytonia is especially good in that even mature leaves are pleasant to eat.
7. Chickweed (Stellaria media)
A very easy, mild tasting forage green, chickweed arrives in abundance in the spring. Because it lacks oxalic acid, it can be eaten in abundance as well. It has a good, earthy flavor when raw, and does nicely sautéed with some wild onions and garlic leaves.
8. Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Chicory is a very common weed that likes to grow, like most weeds, where soils have been disturbed. It’s edible from flower to root, with leaves that make great greens and roots that are substituted for coffee (or combined with it). It’s an easy id for newbies.
9. Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Cleavers aren’t difficult to identify, and they show up across the US. They are medicinal plants that require some precautionary measures before eating (not when pregnant, not on blood thinners). Allergies to them are not uncommon, and they have an odd texture. Still, cleavers are abundant and the flavor is nice.
10. Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra, etc.)
Elderflowers have a short season, blooming for only a couple of weeks in late spring, but they have lively aroma and taste. Obviously, with berries, there is an added level of foraging fear, but these are some of the more easily identified. The flowers are used to make lots of drinks, namely booze.
11. Black Locust Flowers (Robinia pseudoacacia)
Black locust trees are renowned for their lumber qualities. Though the wood doesn’t cut into boards well, it’s very good in the weather and used as fence posts and such. In the spring, the flowers come out, and they are a really tasty treat.
These are some fun adventures for the spring, and even for those not up for foraging just yet, it’s fun to look out for these plants and become more familiar with them. They should only be consumed when foragers are sure and have researched the idiosyncrasies of the plants they are dealing with. That said, foraging is definitely fun, definitely something that can be picked up quickly, and spring is a great time for it.
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