I had the privilege of joining Susan of Learning and Yearning (local master gardener and author of The Art of Gardening) on a real-life foraging expedition last week. I got to learn about some new area plants and their uses during the hour and a half expedition. How fun!
One of the things I love about foraging is that it really makes you look at things. You notice little details about a plant: the shape of the leaves and the pattern of their veins. Are they compound or simple? How do they come out from the stem or plant?
You begin to see the differences in how the fruits are arranged- are they scattered throughout the bush, or do they hang in clusters?
You get to know flowers- petal shapes and patterns, the way the stamen lie, when they are opening and when they are dying.
Once you begin to confidently identify a plant, you start to notice it everywhere. That mullein you just saw on the trail? It’s now repeating everywhere along the highway sides. It pops up during your family evening walks. (You might even start seeing it in your dreams.) You can’t get rid of it!
You begin to take note of the changing of the seasons more. You know when it’s too late to harvest nettle, but also when it’s the perfect time to keep your eyes out for wild grapes. Violet harvesting time is only around for a week or two in the spring, but you have to wait til late fall to dig up sunchoke roots. (Which I’ve never yet had success with, by the way.) And you begin to notice the habits of other plants too- besides just the edibles!
Foraging is great for food. It’s wonderful to obtain fresh, varied nutrition through local plants free for the taking. But more than that, it opens your eyes to the beauty in the world around you. There is a rhythm to nature’s cycles, and foraging helps you to take part in it. You get to partake of God’s good gifts- and you get to see how many there really are!
Open your eyes. Look around you. What do you see today?
When I first took interest in foraging, I would just sit and nibble little bits of dandelion leaves or wood sorrel in the yard. I didn’t really know where to go from there. How to cook wild greens or pair flavors with other ingredients still remained mysteries to me. But I didn’t want to merely remain a rabbit forever.
While I am certainly no expert in this field, I have begun collecting and trying different recipes for wild greens (among other foraged goods). Without further ado, I present to you:
Seventeen ways to use wild greens!
- Add them to soup as a green, or turn them into the main ingredient for soups. French-style sorrel soup is a popular forager’s option (from Hank Shaw), and Susan of Learning and Yearning suggested making wild greens the star of your favorite cream soup recipe (instead of boring old broccoli. 🙂 ).
- Make them a pizza topping. Why not?
- Add them to your egg dishes.
- Make them the green part in your green smoothies.
- Add them to salad, or make them the main ingredient in a salad. (Try this milkweed and radish salad from One Acre Farm for starters.)
- Put them on a sandwich (like my garden sausage sandwich), wrap, or burger.
- Roast them. (Try roasted wild mustard buds from Little Fall Creek!)
- Make them into pesto. I’ve heard of both dandelion pesto (Learning and Yearning) and nettle leaf pesto (my sister-in-law’s sister’s idea).
- Pickle them, like these pickled wild onions in honey-rosemary brine featured on The 104 Homestead. (Doesn’t that sound exotic?)
- Saute them as a side dish- this pairing of greens, salmon, and sweet potato sounds delicious and different (Letters from Sunnybrook), or perhaps this mix of wild mustard greens, dock, and onions? (Little Fall Creek.)
- Try adding them to polenta. (Little Fall Creek.)
- Turn them into sauces and seasonings, such as sorrel sauce from Mother Earth News. (My brother-in-law also enjoys using sorrel as a garnish/edible bed for fish, in lieu of lemons!)
- Use them as a dolma wrapping- Hank Shaw uses mallow leaves for this, and Botanical Arts Press has a bunch of ideas for stuffing wild grape leaves.
- Substitute them for spinach, like in this recipe from Herbal Academy of New England.
- Make them into vinegar, dressings, and marinades. (Herbal Academy.)
- Drink them like a coffee or as a tea. (Also from Herbal Academy.) We love drying plantain and stinging nettle for tea leaves alongside our more common herbal teas. Seriously.
- Use them for skin care remedies. (Have I mentioned how much I’ve been digging Herbal Academy?)
Always remember to check and double check your wild plant identification before you eat it. This blog post isn’t meant to be a complete field guide to identification. Once you know what you’re looking at, gathering from your yard isn’t so scary- but make sure you do your research first just to be safe. 🙂
I hope this list has inspired you to try something new. We just gave the dandelion pesto a whirl last week! Go get picking and cooking, and let me know what you come up with. 🙂
This post was linked up at The Homestead Blog Hop.