Foraging Spring Edibles

Spring is my favorite time for a walk in the woods. I love seeing everything come back to life and explode into green again. One of the very best things about spring though is the great opportunity it provides for foraging and wild crafting some fantastic wild foods. Finding and harvesting wild food is a great way to get outside, learn more about nearby the forests and fields,  and to enjoy unique, fresh foods.

Though foraging for your own food may seem daunting, it’s actually really easy to do. Many of the woods, fields, and riversides by your home will be full of plants that you never realized were edible. When I go anywhere where wild plants are allowed to grow, I am on the lookout for wild edibles (even if I won’t have the chance to forage them). You would be surprised to see the many places that food grows. You probably have some food growing in your front yard right now.

As a society that is very out of touch with nature, it is important for us to learn about wild plants and their multitude of uses. The following tips will help you begin to take advantage of the food that is growing all around you.

  1. Choose your foraging site wisely. I never forage plants for food off the sides of roadways or in places where I think people may be inclined to spray chemicals. Though many plants found in the wild are safe to eat, the toxic chemicals that people carelessly introduce to the environment are not at all safe for human consumption and can make you very sick. I don’t say this to scare you. Just be smart about where you forage and consider any potential toxins that may have been introduced to the area.
  2. Respect the Forest. Be sure to treat the area that you have chosen to forage with respect. Do not over harvest one small area. You want the plants to keep coming back every year so you, and others can enjoy them. Insects and animals depend on plants and fungi for food and habitat. Don’t ever take more than you need and never ever take all the plants from one spot. Be considerate to the plants you are harvesting and don’t harm them any more than necessary. For example, if you are foraging something just for the greens, snip only the leaves, and leave the roots and part of the established plant intact.
  3. Don’t Forage from Nature Preserves. Nature preserves protect the health and well-being of their land and the plants that grow there. Don’t ever collect plants from protected areas.
  4. No Trespassing. Know who owns the land you plan to forage and make sure you have their permission to do so. Most people don’t mind if you take their nettles (actually most people thank you for doing so), but just make sure you ask first.
  5. Know What You’re Harvesting. While much of what grows in the forest is edible (even though it may not taste great), there are certain plants that can be dangerous if consumed. Know how to identify the plants you plan to eat and make sure you know the proper methods for preparing them (some plants aren’t edible til they’re cooked). In general, our nature phobic society is too cautious of plants, however, there really are some plants that can make you sick so just be smart about what you eat.

wild ramps growing in the forest
Now that you have an idea how to forage, let’s talk about what we’re looking for. The plants available will certainly vary based on where you live, but the following plants are common in many areas of the United States.

 

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) 

Nettles are by far my favorite spring food to forage. They are delicious and amazingly versatile. I’ve used nettles in teas, soups, smoothies, paninis, pastas, pizzas, spanakopita, infused vinegars and oils, and more. Nettles are also great for you. They are low in calories and high in important nutrients like potassium, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C. After a long, hard winter, nettles are the perfect nourishing food. Below are some great recipes for using the nettles you harvest this spring.

For more information about nettles, check out this video where herbalist, jim mcdonald, talks about them in more detail.

Morels

You’re probably already familiar with this edible mushroom. It is one of the most well known wild springtime foods and I often see people looking for them along the forest trails I frequent. Often morels are sold in grocery stores and at the farmer’s market in the spring, but they are very expensive. This definitely makes it worth it to forage your own if possible. As with anything you are harvesting, be sure you are able to properly and confidently identify any mushrooms before consuming them. For more tips on hunting morels, check out this quick guide.

There is a very short window of time during which you will find these delightful fungi, but if you can locate some, it’s certainly worth it. They are very tasty sautéed with butter or as a unique pizza topping. Check out the recipes below if you’re looking for ways to enjoy morels this spring.

Ramps

These wild leeks are another one of my favorite spring foods to forage. They have a fantastic onion-garlicky flavor and are great on salads, pizzas, and eggs.

Though ramps are easily enjoyed in a variety of dishes, it is best to harvest them sparingly. Recently, ramps have become an increasingly popular wild edible. Over harvesting this slow growing plant can easily cause an area to stop producing and that’s what’s happening more and more now that ramps are in high demand. If you’d like to read more on the topic, this wonderful post from Heartstone Herbal School goes into more detail about how to harvest ramps sustainably and why it is important to do so. 

When foraging ramps you should harvest only the leaves (and don’t take more than one leaf per plant) so the rest of the plant can remain and continue to grow. The leaves are just as flavorful and versatile as the bulbs , so you won’t be missing out.

For some ideas of how to use ramps, check out some of the recipes below.

 

Violets

Violets make wonderful infused vinegars, gins, vodkas, syrups, and other beverages. They can also be used in wild flower jellies. I love using violets as a delicate garnish on a salad or any other spring dish.For more information about using violets and some great recipes, check out this post I wrote earlier this spring about wildcrafting violets.

Dandelions

This common weed is one of my favorite springtime foods. All parts of this cheery little plant are edible and each has a variety of uses. The nutritious leaves are great in salads, stir fries, egg scrambles, pizzas, pastas, and more. The root can be used in teas, bitters, and stir fries. I especially enjoy using the sunny yellow flowers in the springtime. These make syrups, wine, fermented condiments, and veggie burgers. Check out the recipes below for more ideas.

For more information on foraging dandelions, click here.

Chickweed

Chickweed is another nutritious and tasty common weed that is easy to find in the spring.  There are many delicious ways to enjoy this pretty little plant. Some of my favorite uses are adding it to salads, sandwiches, pizza, pesto, or egg scrambles. Chickweed does not store well because it is so delicate, so it is best to use it fresh and soon after harvesting.

 

There are many more spring edibles worth collecting and eating. I’ve just mentioned a few of the ones I find and use most commonly to help get you started. We are always finding and foraging new things, so check out the blog throughout the season for more recipes and information about our favorite wild edibles.

If you’re looking to learn more about plants you can forage and how to enjoy them, I recommend checking out the book Foraging and Feasting by Dina Falconi. It is beautifully illustrated and has lots of great recipes and tips for foraging and cooking with a variety of wild plants. You may also enjoy perusing the following blogs for foraging tips and seasonal recipes:

 

Happy foraging!

Spicy Nettle & Tofu Soup

20140515-232556.jpgThis past winter was – as Midwest winters often are – long and cold. I cooked a lot of soup for about five months straight. Now that it’s been warmer outdoors, I haven’t been making soup at all. But, sometimes the chillier temps and cool rain that are common in the spring months here in Michigan been make me crave a warm bowl of soup again. 

By this point in the season, I’ve used up all of my winter vegetables, so when cooking this dish, I decided on a light, spicy soup that would use up some of the springtime produce I already have in the kitchen. I used fresh nettles in my soup (and I highly recommend them), but you don’t have to. If don’t have any or don’t know where to get them, you can substitute any other spring greens you have on hand, like spinach, chard, collards or kale.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces of portobello mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups of fresh nettles,* washed and roughly chopped (can substitute fresh spinach, kale, chard, or collards)
  • 5 fresh ramps or green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup white miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of ground fresh chili paste (I used this kind. I found it at my local grocery store)
  • 1/2 Tablespoon of coconut oil
  • 12 ounces of tofu, cut into small cubes
  • 12 ounces of light beer (optional – but does add nice flavor)
  • 1 yellow onion

*Be careful with fresh nettles as they don’t fully lose their sting until cooked. I have noticed that nettles that have been picked more than a day or two ago and stored in the fridge do lose some of their sting, but if you don’t want to get stung, I’d wear rubber gloves while washing and chopping the nettles.
Directions:

Heat a large pot on medium high. Add a 1/2 Tbsp. of coconut oil. When the oil has melted (this should happen very quickly if the pot is the right temperature), add the onions and the mushrooms. Let cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring as needed to keep things from burning or sticking to the pan. Add, 1 tsp. sea salt, stir the mixture and let cook another 3-5 minutes.

In the mean time, add 1 cup water, miso paste, and chili paste to a medium bowl and whisk to combine thoroughly. Then add the miso-chili paste mixture, beer, nettles, and tofu to the pot and stir well. Add about 1-2 cups of water to the pan depending on the desired thickness of the soup. This soup will be brothy in nature either way, but if you’d like it to be more brothy add more water (or less, depending on your preference). Bring the soup to a boil and let bubble vigorously for about 5 minutes, then reduce to medium heat. Then add the wild ramps. Cover the pot with a lid and let the soup simmer for 15-20 minutes. While the soup simmers, wash and chop cilantro and set aside.

When your soup is done, remove from heat and serve with fresh cilantro on top. Enjoy!