Foraging for Wild Foods

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?

rose hips

A Few Tools of the Trade:

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.

  • A large basket with handle that can fit over your arm is very useful.
  • A spade or dandelion digger work best for gathering small roots.
  • Garden snips are wonderful for harvesting above ground plant parts as well as chopping roots into smaller pieces.
  • White plastic grocery bags hold in moisture and keep out sunlight to keep your plants fresh and tasty.
  • Give them a drink! Add water from a spray bottle or put some in your collecting bag. This is especially important if it is hot out or if you will be out for a while.
  • Kitchen scissors are wonderful for cutting greens as well a chopping them up into salads and other dishes. Since many wild foods are bitter, chopping them small helps to incorporate them into a dish without overwhelming the flavor.
  • A plastic bin or metal bucket is useful for rinsing roots outside before bringing them into the kitchen.
  • A natural bristle or plastic scrub brush can be a wonderful tool for removing dirt from your roots.

      lambs quarters  

The Plants:

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.

yucca fl enhansed  

Wildly Delicious Recipes:

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.

Green Spice:

  • Yellow dock leaves
  • Dandelion leaves
  • Nettles
  • Kelp
  • Chicory leaves
  • Alfalfa
  • Chickweed
  • Sea salt, Himalayan or Celtic salt (optional)

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.

Rose Ambrosia:

  • Fresh Rose Blossoms
  • Brandy
  • ½ cup Powdered Dark Chocolate
  • 1 cup Rose Hydrosol (or water)
  • ½ cup Raw Honey

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.

Green Dip:                                                

  • ¼ cup Purslane
  • ¼ cup Lambs Quarters
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Parsley
  • ½ cup Plain Yogurt
  • ½ cup Sour Cream
  • 1 teaspoon Green Spice (see above)
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • One sprig each of Thyme, Sage, Dill and Peppermint
  • Dash of Celtic Sea Salt

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:                  

  • 4-5 Burdock roots
  • 2 tablespoons Raw Honey
  • 2 tablespoons Coconut Vinegar
  • 1/2-cup Water
  • 2 tablespoons Sesame Seeds

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:       

  • 2-3 cups fresh Dandelion Blossoms
  • 2/3 cup Organic Cane Sugar
  • Rind of half a Lemon
  • 1 quart Vodka

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:                                     

  • 1 cup Violet Flowers
  • ½ cup Maple Syrup
  • ½ cup Raw Honey
  • 2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • Dash of Cinnamon
  • Dash of Nutmeg

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.


Nettle Casserole:

  • 2 cups Brown Rice
  • 4 cups Nettles (fresh or dried)
  • 1 small Onion
  • 1 clove Garlic
  • 6 Mushrooms
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 cups Cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Green Spice (see above)
  • ¼ teaspoon Celtic Sea Salt

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

  • 6 to 8 cups Purslane Stems
  • 1 clove Garlic
  • 1 bunch fresh Dill
  • 1/2 cup Celtic Sea Salt
  • 8 cups of ice-cold Water
  • 4 large Yellow or White Onions
  • 3 cups Organic Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 4 cups Organic Cane Sugar
  • 2 tbsp. Mustard Seeds
  • 1 tsp. Turmeric
  • 2 cups Water
  • Mason Jars with lids

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.

Recommended Reading:

Want to find out more about wild foods? These folks really know their stuff!

  • Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt to Plate by John Kallas
  •  An Herbal Feast by Risa Mornis
  •  Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson
  •  Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield Eaton

© 2014 Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist IMG_3077

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

5 Comments on “Foraging for Wild Foods

  1. Great article, very informative, interesting recipes, can’t wait for these “weeds” to grow.

  2. Seeing the first green of spring always brings a smile to my day. I’m so excited at even the thought to be more apart of the season and these plants. Having people like you willing to share and guide us on this edible journey, so wonderful!! Thank you. Your the BEST!!

    • Thanks, Domini! I appreciate your comments. Let me know how your spring foraging goes!

  3. “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not be discovered.”
    – Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Thanks for the cool article, Elaine! ?

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