Monday, April 3, 2017

Wild Food Spotlight 7: Spring Greens

This is the seventh (and final) in a series of foraging-related articles I'm writing for our local bulletin. Re-posted from the Artisan Office Bulletin.
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western bitter cress
Spring is here! The ice has broken up the soil and the rain is soaking it, and now it's a rich nursery for fresh spring greens.Wild greens are one of the easiest foods to forage during this time of year, and it's possible to create quite a variety of wild salads from around our community.

Where to harvest: Wild greens, growing mostly in clearings and along roads and trails as they like to do, are very susceptible to contamination from boots and our local bounty of dog poop. I like to harvest from areas that are either remote (like bluffs, deep forest clearings, etc.) or from yards that are relatively clean. Vertical surfaces like rocks and moss-covered logs are also a little safer. Just inspect the area you're harvesting from and be cautious.

How to harvest: We are now a culture of excess. But the wilderness doesn't work that way. Harvesting wild greens should be a frugal endeavour: just take enough to satisfy your need, and make sure you leave plenty to grow. In fact, if you try to leave enough of the youngest leaves on any single plant, that plant will hopefully continue to produce for you.

field mustard (rape seed)
What to harvest: The best way to become familiar with wild greens is to spend a lot of time exploring wild areas. Go out at least once a week and try to identify things. A good guide book that focuses on our specific area can be very helpful, as well. And when you're feeling comfortable, start eating! These are some of the easier local wild greens to spot and identify:

Mustards are very common here - especially Western Bitter Cress and Penny Cress. These begin as a radial of delicate-looking leaves, and eventually send up a stalk of flowers which, as they finish blooming, become conspicuous seed pods along the stalk. I used to think that the seeds would be wonderful, being in the mustard family, but alas they have nearly no flavour at all. The leaves, however, and to some extent the flowers, are delicious. I like them best in salads or chopped up with cream cheese and cucumber in sandwiches.

Next you should try Siberian Miner's Lettuce. Yum! Being a purslane, its stems and leaves are fleshy and juicy, and really very satisfying as a salad. The pink and white flowers are also edible, so it's easy to snip quite a bit in a hurry.

siberian miner's lettuce
Another delicious treat is sheep sorrel, which grows all over, especially in pastures, open bluffs, and ditches. It's sour and slightly fleshy, like the larger garden sorrels we grow, but being so much smaller you'll have to gather more of it to build your salad.

Blossoms: flowering currant, salmonberry blossoms, oregon grape blossoms, and dandelions are wonderful salad additions. In the case of salmonberries, pinch only a couple of petals from each blossom, to ensure that the pollinators still find it so you can have berries, later. Dandelions are not only wonderful in salad, but also make a great addition to baked goods like scones, biscuits, and bread. Just pick a basketful of dandelion blossoms, then pull out the petals and fill a clean bowl. Then mix them into the flour for your recipe. Experiment with how many petals to use - it will likely be more than you expect!

I began this foraging series last year at the end of maple blossom season, so I think it's just great to end the series with another maple food: Cotyledons!

oregon grape blossoms
Cotyledons are the pair of embryonic leaves that first appear out of a seed. Think of bean sprouts. Those are cotyledons, too. The second set of leaves to appear on a bean seedling are much tougher and differently-shaped than those first little round leaves, and not something you'd generally eat. But the sprouts are tender and delicious. And the same goes for maple sprouts!

These are some of the earliest and most bountiful spring greens we have here. Just head out in the early spring and look under or near maple trees. You'll likely find hundreds or thousands of them speckling the forest floor. Snip them off near the ground, collect them up and enjoy them fresh as a salad or tossed into a stir-fry.

sheep sorrel
This will be my last bulletin article for now. I've enjoyed sharing some of the island's natural treasures with my community, and will continue to do so in the workshops I lead through Thank you, Margaret, for the opportunity, and I hope we'll all find time to enjoy our wilderness.

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