Now that spring is in full swing, plants are finally coming back to life. Stands at farmers market are filled with new produce, and the promise of good weather has us thinking about new dishes. Along with all of this rebirth comes the chance to forage. Spring is the perfect time to dive into wild foraging, because there are plenty of things starting to grow that you can incorporate into your cooking. There are also plenty of edibles that grow all year round, and spring is an inviting time to be outdoors, so no matter what you’re foraging for, you’re sure to find something.
Some important things to remember when foraging:
Check where you are foraging.
You need to know whether or not the land you’re foraging on is private or protected. In some places, foraging is even encouraged, like the Beacon Food Forest in Seattle. You can also consult the Falling Fruit map which pinpoints urban edibles around the world.
Know what you are foraging.
Rule number one for foraging is this: never ever eat a wild plant if you don’t know what it is. Get your hands on some guidebooks and consult with local experts — like Steve Brill of Wild Food! in New York City and Wild Food Adventures in the Pacific Northwest — to make sure that what you are foraging is edible.
Don’t over forage.
Be aware of how much you are taking; you don’t want to disturb the natural balance, after all.
Now that you’ve got the foraging basics down, let’s cover a few of the foods that you can forage for. Obviously there are many, but here are a few common ones.
Easy to spot, dandelions are the perfect plant for first time foragers. Dandelion greens can be used for a variety of dishes, including pesto, salad and even tea.
Morels mushrooms are in season this time of year, and because this type of mushroom is rarely grown commercially, finding it in the wild is the best way to start incorporating it into your dinner.
Ramps, officially named Allium tricoccum, but also called ramson, wild garlic and wild leek, are one of the earliest edible wild greens to pop up. You may have seen ramps at farmers market, but you can also find them in their native habitat of the Upper Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Chop them in a salad or even make a ramp compound butter to spread on fresh bread.
If you’re close to the ocean, then you are close to seaweed, and seaweed can be easily foraged. It is rich in vitamins and minerals, and seaweed gathering is easiest at low tide. You can use it in soup, or even with vegetables to give them a salty flavor.
5. Douglas fir
Sure, they sting, but nettles are also an extremely useful plant. The key with nettle harvesting is to be sure that you have the proper attire so as not to be stung. Long pants, long sleeved shirts and gloves are recommended. You want to harvest them before they are flowering. Once foraged, you can use your nettles to make tea, or in a tasty pasta dish.
7. Garlic Mustard
Mustard greens are getting more and more popular, which is no surprise given the bite of bitter flavor that they can add to a dish. In the earlier spring, you can forage garlic mustard and use like any other green. Try making a pesto out of them. Later in the spring, right before they flower, you can use the flower stalks like you would broccoli rave. The other great thing about garlic mustard? It’s actually an invasive species, which means you can pick and eat as much of it as you want.