Every spring, I look forward to the “weeds” growing in my yard, garden and the wilds around us. Gathering wild food and eating it satisfies something primal inside of me. Maybe it is the connection to our hunter-gatherer ancestors? Certainly, before grocery stores, our predecessors craved the first spring greens after a long winter without vegetables.
I love that wild foods choose their own places to grow, without asking permission, without our guidance and without needing our help. Numerous wild edibles are considered weeds, those reckless outlaws so many of us learn to hate. Yet I am in love. These plants are the fighters, the pioneers, the survivors. They give me hope. These “weeds” tolerate conditions that few other plants could. Imagine how healthy it is for you to ingest that kind of fierceness. Couldn’t we all use a little of the survivor in us?
We have a family tradition of collecting and cooking the first dandelion buds of the spring. My sons adore this yearly ritual. They are constantly bringing me plants and asking, “Can I eat this?” Often, my little herbalists tell others about the edible plants around them. I feel that eating wild foods has deepened their connection to the natural world, and helped them see nature differently, even in their own back yard. Since most wild foods have never been cultivated, they retain much of the nutrition, antioxidants and phytonutrients that cultivated species have lost. Most beneficial phytonutrients have a bitter, sour or astringent taste, which our ancestors generally though of as less appealing. Cultivars have been bred for thousands of years for mild taste, disease resistance, visual appeal, or better shelf life. Along the way, they have lost much of their original nutritional value. Add the fact that much of our soil is nutrient depleted and many of our fruits and vegetables travel long distances to get to our dinner table and we end up with a sever lack of nutrients in much of our produce. Culinary herbs are an exception to this phenomenon. The have been left in their original, wild state. Much like wild foods, they offer us far greater amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Now, aren’t you excited to forage some wild plants?
I recommend a few tools to make foraging easier. Being prepared and keeping your wild foods fresh is important for maintaining their nutritional value as well as their tastiness.
This list is just a few of the many edible plants growing in North America. I encourage you to check out the local species growing in your area. Some wild plants are quite poisonous. Remember to always make a positive identification before eating any wild edible. Also be careful where you harvest your wild plants, as they can be sprayed. Wild Foods: lambs quarters, amaranth, purselane, chickweed, plantain, sheep sorrel, wild mustard (seeds and leaf), mallow, yellow dock (leaves and seeds), shepherd’s purse, dandelion (the whole plant!), nettles, sow thistle, chicory, alfalfa, wild strawberries (leaves and berries), burdock (young leaves and roots), violet (leaves and flowers), monarda, kelp, wild rose (petals and hips), wild onions, red clover, edler (flower and berry: cooked), knotweed, prickly pear (pads, flower petals and fruit), sunflower, watercress, wood sorrel, yucca flowers.
It can be easy and rewarding to incorporate some wild foods into your diet. For our family, sometimes it is as simple as chopping a few dandelion greens into our salad or adding dried nettles to our soup. If you want to get a little more intricate, try some of the below recipes. Remember to check carefully about HOW to prepare a wild food before eating it. Some plants need to be cooked well or parboiled several times before eating.
This recipe is very versatile and can be used with many wild green herbs so get creative, play and see if you can find your own favorite combination. Lay the herbs on a screen to dry. Once dry, powder them in a blender or with a mortar and pestle and put the mixture in a shaker. Green Spice makes a healthy and nutritious alternative to salt. Save extra herbs whole to retain their potency and then powder as needed.
Tightly pack a pint jar with fresh rose petals. Pour brandy over the top until all the petals are covered. Soak the rose blossoms in brandy for 2 – 4 weeks. Strain well. Add chocolate, rose hydrosol (or water) and honey in a saucepan, mixing thoroughly. Heat gently until all ingredients are dissolved. Let cool and add to the brandy mixture. Use over ice cream, desserts, mochas, chocolate milk and hot coco. This blend can also add a little fun to an evening of romance.
De-stem any woody looking pieces of herbs. Put all ingredients in the blender and mix until the dip is a smooth consistency. Add salt to taste. Enjoy with fresh vegetables, crackers or bread.
Sweet and Sour Burdock:
Cut burdock roots thinly and soak in water with a dash of vinegar for 15 minutes. Parboil roots by cooking them in boiling water for 20 minutes two separate times. Drain each time and add new water. Add honey, water and vinegar and cook another 5 to 10 minutes. Garnish with the sesame seeds and serve over organic brown basmati rice.
Dandelion Flower Liquor:
Make sure your dandelions have not been sprayed. Use only the flowering heads of the dandelions and do not wash them. Mix ingredients in a jar and cap for at least two weeks. Drink and enjoy! Makes an especially wonderful spring tonic after a long winter.
Violet Flower Syrup:
Put all ingredients in the blender. Blend until the syrup turns a lovely purple color. Store in the refrigerator and use over pancakes, yogurt fresh fruit or hot cereal.
Cook the rice in boiling water for 45 minutes or until tender. If fresh, steam the nettles until they are tender. Cut and sauté the onion, garlic and mushrooms. Strain off any excess water. Beat the eggs. Add 1 cup cheese and Green Spice to the eggs. Mix all ingredients together and put in a greased casserole dish. Sprinkle the top with 1 cup of cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes.
Sweet Pickled Purslane Stems Recipe
After picking the purslane quickly rinse with water. You can use the purslane leaves to toss into salads, make Green Dip (recipe above), add to omelets or blanch them and freeze for the winter. Fill jars with fresh garlic and or fresh dill before continuing with the below instructions. Mix the salt and the ice water in a large bowl. Chop the purslane into 3” pieces. Peel and thinly slice the onions. Place the purslane and onions into the ice water brine and chill them in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour. Mix the apple cider vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, turmeric and two cups of water together in a stockpot. Heat the mixture until it boils, stirring occasionally. Add the chilled purslane and onions to the boiling mixture using a slotted spoon. Bring back to a boil and continue boiling for five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the entire mixture to cool in the pan. Spoon the purslane and onions into mason jars using a slotted spoon then add the juice to each jar. Seal tightly and keep refrigerated.
Want to find out more about wild foods? These folks really know their stuff!
Elaine Sheff has been studying medicinal plants since 1987. A Clinical Herbalist, she is a graduate of both the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies and the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. She is passionate about the inherent healing connection between people and plants. Elaine has a longstanding clinical practice providing herbal consultations for individuals with health concerns. A best selling author, Elaine teaches herb classes throughout the United States and is the co-founder of Meadowsweet Herbs. She is a certified instructor of Natural Family Planning, a safe, effective birth control method used to avoid or achieve pregnancy. You can often find Elaine in her garden, homeschooling her children, or cooking some delicious gluten-free meal