Foraging in March: some early greens.

Life is really busy for me right now. I am working on a small reforesting/edible landscaping project, preparing for a photography show, recording an album, attempting to document the changing of the seasons, as well as just being a dad. I have however, had time to do some foraging.

Here are some plants that I have eaten recently. They are all non-native weedy greens. I am much more into learning about native plants, but might as well know about these too. They are here so we might as well use them, and foraging can be part of managing their populations.

Photo of field garlic
Field garlic (Allium vineale).

Field garlic is very common around here. It is one of the few plants that usually sprouts in fall and sticks around all winter. I usually just eat little bits here and there, but I have also used it as flavoring in my cooking, as well as in salad dressing.

I don’t recommend eating much of it (or other Allium species) if you are concerned about pollution in your foraging grounds. Steve Brill says that it can accumulate toxic metals. On the other hand, if grown in a clean environment, they can apparently also remove metals from your body.

Close-up photo of young dandelion rosette.
New dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) leaves.

Most people know dandelion, but I would suggest getting to know it better. There are a few similar looking plants that are often confused with it (as far as I know, all of these are also edible). There are many uses for dandelion, and most foraging books cover it.

Photo of me holding garlic mustard.
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

Garlic mustard is a serious ecological problem, it out competes native woodland plants and is highly invasive. This makes it a very important plant to learn (and use). As is usually the case, I completely agree with Samuel Thayer’s assessment of garlic mustard’s best culinary uses. He suggests harvesting the second year shoot before it’s flowers open and the flavor is still mild. The rest of the year garlic mustard can be eaten (even in winter if you can find it under the snow), but it is much too strong to be eaten in any quantity.

Photo of veins on underside of garlic mustard leaf.
Veins on underside of garlic mustard leaf.
Photo of me holding garlic mustard plant, showing roots.
A fairly large garlic mustard root.

I learned how to find and use large garlic mustard roots as a substitute for horseradish from Steve Brill’s book Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants. Dig them in the winter, clean and chop them, and put them in vinegar. They have quite a nice bite.

Photo of sheep sorrel.
Young sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) leaves. Avoid the reddish ones, as they are more bitter.

I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I was only recently able to find and identify sheep sorrel. It is apparently quite common, and often one of the first wild foods people learn.

Anyway, I have now found a very nice patch of it at the park near here, and have sampled it a couple times. As I said previously, I am not real big on non-native plants, but this one is an exception. It has a wonderful lemony flavor, and really is quite beautiful.

Close-up photo of sheep sorrel leaf.
Slightly larger sheep sorrel leaf, note the shiny specs.

Thanks for reading,

Nate

* any pictures or descriptions of plants or information about them is provided for your information and inspiration. I highly recommend foraging, but buy yourself a reliable guide like either of Samuel Thayer’s books from Forager’s Harvest Press.

** I rely heavily on Nature’s Garden and The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer, and to a lesser extent Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill. All three books are quite good, however I find Thayer’s work more reliable and detailed.

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