Today as I write to you, gazing out the window overlooking the garden, things are still rather bleak. Though spring is in the air, I know it will be quite awhile until this view is filled with the bounty of my dreams. We have gratefully been eating our stored supplies and there is still plenty in the root cellar and pantry, but my mouth waters for really fresh nutritious spring greens. Thankfully, it is almost time to begin early foraging, to find good nourishment poking up and thriving before our tender domesticated vegetables are ready to eat.
Usually first, around here, to show themselves are the little garlic greens. I don’t know how it happens, but I always seem to have missed some bulbs during the last year’s harvest. Now they come up in clumps and won’t do much heading up so it’s best to eat them when young and tender. Their companions are the perennial Egyptian walking onions. I use both in cooking as I would their mature counterparts. The onions are especially good when about 8 inches. I steam them like asparagus and they are tender, sweet and yummy.
Soon the true wild things like dandelion, winter cress, fiddle heads, lily sprouts, stinging nettles, baby comfrey leaves, violet flowers, and let’s not forget the ground nut tubers will begin to satisfy that fresh food craving. All parts of the dandelions are delicious. I used to just eat the tender leaves but after a friend sautéed up a batch of chopped leaves and roots, crowns, and even flower buds with onion and garlic, I was hooked. The winter cress is another favorite. Early leaves are great raw or steamed. When they shoot up the small bud stalks/heads are good steamed or sautéed with onion and garlic
When the daffodils under the pippin apple tree bloom, I know it’s time to take a trip down to the valley to collect fiddleheads along the river floodplain. Only collect the ostrich fern heads when they are less than 6 inches high. These ferns are the ones that have large heads covered in a brown onionskin type wrapper. Clean all of the paper off otherwise they are bitter. Steam or boil for 10-15 minutes. I like them with vinaigrette dressing. The lily sprouts and baby comfrey leaves are best when about 6 inches and are great lightly steamed. There are those who think I’m crazy for eating the stinging nettles because well, they sting. However, they are so nutritious and once steamed they do not sting. Promise. Use gloves to harvest when young, again under 6-8 inches, steam until tender. I like them best with the moisture squeezed out, chopped and tossed with a toasted sesame seed and salt mixture.
Early non-greens are harder to come by. There’s always the faithful Jerusalem artichoke and the groundnut, an earthy tasting tuber, which can be eaten from thumb size up. Both are good steamed or boiled until tender.
Remember to clean all of these thoroughly as a gritty fiddlehead or dandelion concoction won’t be fun. Another thing is to eat these in moderation. Many are diuretics, or have other strong properties, which in excess take away from their health giving properties. A good spring tonic of fresh wild greens can’t be beat. Please, consult a good book about wild edibles (like Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants), which will help you identify and prepare your own feasts.
So, I give thanks that they come freely every year with little input from me. They pull me through until those first domestics can be harvested and enjoyed. However, I don’t stop foraging even when the garden is abundant– can’t beat those lamb’s quarters, pig weed, and….. Happy Foraging!!
published NOFA/Mass April 2013 e-news www.nofamass.org