Welcome to our foraging series. Here you’ll get a few pointers about what’s growing for free at certain times a year. Foraged food is nutrient dense, and often more tasty than anything you could buy. And, as always, if you’re not certain what you’ve found, DON’T EAT IT! That’s how you end up at the vet. Just ask the badger. Induced vomiting ain’t no joke, and your mom takes incriminating video of you looking all loopy. Also, you may die.
What’s growing in the yard this week
Spring has sprung in the land of the honey badger, and there are plenty of things to sniff and wonder why your monkey is starting to eat the yard.
The look on the badger’s face was priceless as she watched me eat handfuls of violet blossoms last week. A quick tour of just the yard at the farm reveals plenty of food. There’s chickweed, violets, curly dock, daisy fleabane, dandelions, hosta shoots, field garlic, dead nettle, henbit, and cleavers. The redbud trees are blooming, as is the forsythia. And that’s just what’s really obvious out there. Your yard may have even more or different things.
Why eat wild food? Well, the cost is certainly reasonable. (FREE) It’s also more nutritious than grocery produce not only because it’s fresher, but also because these plants haven’t been dulled to serve the bland tastes of the average American. Even the mildest tasting weeds, like chickweed, has so much more depth of flavor as opposed to iceberg lettuce. What do all these things taste like? Here’s a start.
The mildest tasting from the above list are: chickweed, violets, cleavers, and redbud blossoms. Chickweed is kind of like a lettuce or cress type flavor that one would describe as “green”. Violet blooms are very mild as well, with just a tinge of a floral aftertaste. Redbud blossoms taste like raw peas! Delicious. Cleavers have a weird texture thing going on, though. If hairy salad bothers you, try to get them young. Next would be dandelion greens, dead nettle, and henbit. They have more of a flavor, with the dandelions being a tad bitter sometimes. Forsythia flowers can be that way as well. Dead nettle and henbit are often confused for each other and they do indeed taste pretty much the same. I wouldn’t eat a whole plate of them like I would chickweed, but I’d add them to a salad without hesitation. Hostas are kinda like asparagus. Make sure you get them when they first come up and the shoots are tight. Dock is like spinach or some sort of green you’d have cooked. It’s not a pretty plant cooked. It turns a yellowish, army green color. Don’t let it throw you off, though. Dock is a good and plentiful choice for greens well before many of the others that you’d plant or forage later are around. Daisy fleabane is a favorite of mine for yard snacking or adding to a salad. The fuzzy texture can be offputting, but get this… it tastes like radishes. So while your early garden hasn’t given you radish number one, daisy fleabane can fill that void. Field garlic (wild garlic) tastes like, well, garlic. A little goes a long way.
Many of these can be made into jellies, jams, or herbal remedies. Edible weeds are often medicinal as well. All these things are free or cheap, and just there for the taking. Do some research and go play in the yard. Or woods.
A couple of cautionary statements: be ABSOLUTELY certain what you have before you eat it. Also, if it’s something you’ve never eaten, for cryin’ out loud, don’t eat a whole plate of it. Try a little. You might have an allergy to an otherwise benign food. Don’t gather food by busy road or railways, or near anything nasty. Should be obvious, but there. I said it. There’s lots of great foraging books (check the shop here), websites, and actual people to learn from. If you can make the acquaintance of an old timer, he may tell you they ate dock during the Depression. Check your local parks and arboretums for interesting programs and teachers. Please don’t just eat something because it looks edible. You may be wrong.
Later in this series, I’ll spend more time on individual plants and give a more rounded description of them and uses. Right now, I want to encourage everyone to get outside and look around. See what you have, make sure that’s really it, and get some free snacks.