A Beginner’s Guide to Foraging Spring Greens

I’m not going to write a love song here the way I normally might about the virtues of wild greens. My love for them is stronger than ever, but in these strange times it feels more appropriate to cut to the chase. Chances are you’ve got bigger things on your mind than the omega fatty acid ratios in wild greens vs. cultivated ones—things like your health, your loved ones, your job, your future. I’ll save the sonnets for another day.

In uncertain times we reach for comfort food, but at the risk of sounding like your mother (no offense to your mum, I’m sure she's the best), you gotta eat your vegetables. Green leafy weeds might not sound like comfort food, but if I’m not feeling my best, nothing brings me back up to speed like going out into the yard for just a few minutes to collect a bowl of mixed greens and coming back in to toss them in vinegar and oil for a zesty, crunchy salad or piling them into a skillet to sauté with garlic, a fat and a squeeze of lemon.

It might not be the same kind of comfort provided by a pint of ice cream, but there are many comforts in your friendly neighborhood weeds. There’s comfort in being outside and using your body and clearing your mind. There’s comfort in nutrition and caring for yourself. There’s comfort in knowing your landscape and knowing you can feed yourself there. There is great comfort in being able to do this for free, especially during those days when a lot of us have more time than money. There’s comfort in food sovereignty and not having to go to the grocery store so often in times of social distancing. “Doomsday prepping” has never been a motivator for me; this article is not meant to feed the fears that a lot of us are facing. It is meant to help people feed themselves and offer comfort.

Here, I’ve compiled a list of some of our most common wild greens. It’s by no means comprehensive, but these have been the all-stars for me. These plants are widespread and easily accessible even in urban areas, and they’re delicious.

With each plant I’m including a very brief note on usage. From here, I encourage you to use a regional field guide, a local forager and other trusted resources to verify identification and preparation. If you are in the New England region, I am happy to field questions. If you are in another region and need help finding an expert, I might know a guy or girl; reach out.

In addition to the plant list I am including links to my two favorite wild greens recipes: Salted Wild Greens and Wild Greens Pesto. They have both become staples in my house and are versatile enough to adapt to most climates and diets. They are a real joy to have around.

Happy spring, folks. The turkey will gobble, the dandelions will bloom.


Common Wild Spring Greens

You do not need to wander far from home for these: they are likely just outside your door.

In addition to the Salted Wild Greens and Wild Greens Pesto recipes, wild greens are valuable and versatile additions to salads, soups, smoothies, juices, sauces, dips, dressings, rice, beans, ferments, pickles, teas, etc. Think diversity and have fun experimenting. 

 

Chickweed: Eat raw or cooked (better raw in my opinion). Tastes like fresh sweet corn.

Sorrel: Bright citrus flavor. Eat raw in small to moderate quantities, or cooked.

Dandelion: So much to say about dandy. If I could get everyone to try ONE wild green this spring it would be the dandelion crown –  the tightly packed cluster of unopened flower buds in the center of the basal rosette of spring leaves. Sharpen a spoon (or just use a knife you don’t mind sticking it in the dirt), and scoop or cut the crown off the top of the root. Chop off the greens and eat separately. Simmer the crowns in salted water for 5-8 minutes, depending on their size, then drain. Simmer again in a good ¼-inchn of melted butter for another 5 minutes. Flip to fully coat. Tastes like artichoke heart, but better

Garlic Mustard: Super invasive, so you can collect all you want. Delicious from root to seed, depending on timing. Eat raw or cooked if you enjoy a pungent flavor.

Lamb’s Quarters: Use in any recipe calling for spinach, and no one is the wiser.

Purslane: Succulent and snappy. Eat raw or cooked. I like it better raw. Makes a really good quick pickle or relish.

Amaranth: Eat young leaves raw or cooked. Older leaves should be cooked. Also, very valuable as a grain if you let it go to seed.

Cress/Mustard/Radish: A valuable food for those who like spicy greens. Some leaves are hairy and are better cooked, but the smooth ones can be enjoyed raw. Immature flower buds, flowers, immature seed pods and mature seeds are also delicious.

Stinging Nettles: A very popular food and medicine. There are lots of recipes online or in books if you’ve found yourself a patch. This is not a salad green and needs to be processed in any number of ways before eating. Wear gloves if you’re not accustomed to the stinging hairs.

Chicory: I use almost interchangeably with dandelion, except for the flowers.

Violet: Leaves and flowers are both great raw or cooked. I prefer flowers raw and the young greens either way. I cook older greens.

Cattail shoots: Fun to collect if you like muckin’ around in the swamp. Make sure your water source is clean. Wipe the mucilage from the shoots and rinse before eating, and then they’re great raw or cooked. They make an excellent pickle or crunchy salad/sandwich addition – think cucumber.

Oxeye Daisy: Eat greens and flowers raw or cooked. They have a unique flavor that I’ve come to really love. I like to sprinkle the small, young greens onto salads, sandwiches and stir-fries and add to ferments.

Miner’s Lettuce: A beloved salad green eaten raw or cooked.  I don’t have it wild in Maine, but some of our local farmers grow it because we are jealous of California, where it roams free.

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About Jenna Rozelle

Jenna Rozelle is a New England BHA Board Member and Outreach Coordinator, a professional forager and a HuntToEeat Ambassador. Follow her on Instagram @JennaRozelle.

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