Eat the Weeds
It's that time of year. Spring is upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere. For some it has long since arrived, for others it is just now unfurling from its sleep within the dark earth. Buds have opened, pollen is dispersing, green things have begun to spring up from the still-cool earth. This time of year is also when most foragers, or those new to foraging, begin their year of forays out into the wildwood in search of those lymph-moving, chi-stimulating, nourishing spring green edibles.
I should say upfront that I am not a master forager, though I am learning and exploring. Always be sure that you are cross-referencing your finds from multiple field guides and state or government botany websites (NOT blogs, including this one!) and are absolutely sure of what you have found before eating or ingesting any herb or wild plant that you have come across. Many have deadly poisonous look-alikes! Also be wary of plants that are growing too close to roads (my bare minimum distance is 100 yards) to avoid automobile chemical/oil/fume pollution; staying away from fields and edges of fields where commercial agriculture takes place to avoid toxic fertilizer/pesticide/herbicide/fungicide chemicals; and to avoid urban areas where polluted rain water gathers, cars are driving/parked, people spray their yards, or where animals (especially cats) defecate to avoid pollutants, toxic chemicals, and things like parasites.
It is also best to try new plants one at a time, in small amounts, particularly to test for allergies. You can do this through stages, such as rubbing the bruised plant on the inside of your elbow or wrist, touching it to your lips (if it tingles, DON'T eat it!), chewing a small bit in your mouth, and then finally eating it. My first time wild foraging anything other than dandelions and wild onion, and from my own yard even, I picked a bunch of things that I *thought* I had positively ID'd and ate them all at once. About twenty minutes into eating my delicious sauteed greens, I started to feel unwell. I proceeded to have a weird sensation in my chest that spread into my head, felt nauseous, and just all around uneasy for about an hour or so. I tried flushing any toxins with a lot of water and activated charcoal capsules, and took homeopathic remedies for both poisoning/overdosing and allergic reactions (since I wasn't sure what was happening). I hadn't been told the one-new-thing-at-a-time rule and had a bad experience that could have possibly been a lot worse. Avoid that if you can. Also, generally speaking, eat as many "invasive species" (I really hate that terminology) as you please and be mindful of at-risk or endangered species, foraging protocol and etiquette, etc. I recommend seeking out foraging experts local to you who lead Foraging Walks to learn about your local edibles and safely/ethically foraging.
I'd also like to mention the concept of reciprocity-- of giving when you take, of giving before you even ask to take. Offerings to the Plant Spirits, to the Land Spirits of Place where and when you forage. Of asking permission to take. And not taking when permission-- consent --is not given. And ultimately of building relationships with these Plant Allies, with these Wild Places on a Spiritual level, preferably before you begin wildcrafting, but wild harvesting of herbs and edibles can also be a part of that journey. Be a caretaker of the Land, be a friend to the Spirits, not just one more consumer raping the earth for all its resources just for your own gain. We are of the earth, an interconnected conscious superorganism, and it deserves respect just as we ourselves do. It is my belief that as more people tread lightly, their bare feet digging into the dark earth, giving offerings in the wild places and building relationships with wild things, living our lives intertwined once more with Them, that we can heal a very old, a very deep wound, both in our collective psyche and of the earth.
In my neck of the woods we currently have Common Henbit (pictured not in flower above), Purple Dead Nettle/Archangel, Violets, Chickweed (first photo at the top of this post), Wild Pea, Dandelion, and Wild Onion* (pictured next to the henbit, above). In other areas there are Nettles, Garlic Mustard, Watercress, Wintercress, and other Wild Mustards, Cattail* shoots, Kudzu* shoots, Lambsquarters*, Day Lily*, Wild Garlic (or Ramsons), Wood Sorrel, Cleavers, Bittercress, Chicory, Fiddlehead Ferns*, and others growing.
Since I don't have access to wild nettles or lambsquarters, and the chickweed growing at my house is contaminated by cat feces, I am growing all three in pots from seeds. Which is a great alternative for those who want to eat wild/less domesticated plants, but can't or don't want to forage for them. This would also work well for violets!
So you've gotten your wild edibles correctly-identified, cleaned, and ready for the eating. How do you eat them? Most spring greens are bitters like dandelions and the mustards, and do well as additions to salads (avoid anything fuzzy though, like Archangel). The younger the leaves, the less bitter they are (but also the harder they are to identify). Some are not bitters like chickweed and lambsquarters and could make up the base of a salad. All the greens are great as pot herbs, cooked in bone stocks and vegetable broths for soups, or sauteed in grassfed butter or coconut oil. Fats are necessary to extract the vital nutrients from most green veggies and dark green leafy plants, which are fat-soluble. Edible flowers go great as garnishes for salads, smoothies, and cakes. Wild onion and other herbs like nettle can be turned into finishing salts. La Abeja Herbs has a great recipe over at their blog. Roots of dandelions and chickory can be made into coffee substitutes (or medicine or magical amulets!). I'm going to be making a finishing salt using handcrafted local sea salt and wild onions soon, and I decided to take some greens that I had access to and turn them into a Spring Green Tonic/Herbal Vinegar, influenced also by La Abeja Herbs.
For my Spring Greens Herbal Vinegar Tonic I used what I had on hand, which was sweet violet flowers and leaves, purple dead nettle tops, henbit leaves and flowers, and dried nettle leaves since I don't have access to fresh nettle. I placed an equal amount of each plant into the clean glass canning jars, shook up my RAW apple cider vinegar to mix up the sediment at the bottom of the bottle and topped off the jars. Because vinegar can be reactive with metal, I capped these with plastic lids. I then set them in a cool, dark place where they can sit and infuse for at least six weeks. This vinegar can then be used as a base for salad dressings, used as a braising liquid, added to soups and stocks, or taken straight by the spoonful as a medicinal tonic.
Oh! And I am hoping that I also get to attend this year's Wild Edibles Foraging Adventure, a weekend-long camping/hiking/foraging expedition in the Appalachian Mountains led by Natalie Bogwalker of Wild Abundance. The link is below in the Resources, and it is May 5-7 so just around the corner!
I'd love to hear what you've been foraging this Spring, and what you've been making with your finds! Leave a comment or send me a message, and maybe if you're in my neck of the woods we can carpool to the Foraging Adventure in May. Below I have also provided some resources for your studying pleasure~
Into the Wilds My Friends,
Some Recommended Books Specifically on Foraging (be sure to check out Peterson Field Guides for plant identification):
The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
Nature's Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast by Hank Shaw
FORAGING & FEASTING: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi
*These plants in particular (possibly some of the ones I did not star as well, so be sure to research) have poisonous/toxic look-alikes so be particularly wary when harvesting these. Some poisonous plants also sprouting this time of year and that can be confused for some of the edibles mentioned above include: poison hemlock, water hemlock, common ragweed, foxglove, some species of lilly, wild arum, poison ivy, and others.
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