Spring is a favorite time of year for many to head out into the woods and search for natures bounty. Like a gift given to us from mother nature for enduring a long cold winter the forest floors and countryside start to produce many wild edible plants that are high in nutrition and make a fun outdoor adventure to find!
Morel mushroom hunting is a favorite forage and springtime activity for many. Morchella, the true morels are a genus of edible fungi. Characterized by its honeycombed exterior they are one of the most sought-after wild mushrooms in the world. While growing times differ depending on where you reside, they usually start to grow when soil temperatures reach around 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius. In early spring when the ground begins to warm you will find them on south-facing slopes in generally open areas. As it gets farther into the growing season look on north facing slopes and deeper into the woods. Look for Oak, Elm, Ash, and Aspen trees which morels often grow around. Lots of foragers will cut the mushroom off at the stem to leave the root system behind as well as carry their finds in a mesh or open bag. These steps are to help spread the spores and promote mushroom growth in the future. There are many delicious ways to prepare morels one of the simplest being sliced in half and fried in butter with salt and pepper. Look online for a good recipe to suit you. People often dehydrate these mushrooms or freeze them to preserve them giving them the ability to have a morel mushroom meal well after growing season has ended, however the best time to eat them is after they have been freshly picked as I’m sure many would agree.
When the snow resides in the early spring out comes the field garlic. Wild field garlic is a cool-weather perennial bulb. It will grow in shady well drained soil on wood lines and along fields. The entire plant is edible and smells like garlicky onion. The stalks are long and hollow and grow to a height of 30 plus inches. The bulb of field garlic is small. It does not usually grow to be more than 1 inch in diameter. It prefers cool weather and will recede as spring ends but will return in the fall rains.
That’s right that stubborn plant that will make your arms and legs ich are edible. Similar to spinach the nettle is a versatile green. They are even more nutrient dense then spinach and are high in plant protein and minerals. Nettle is a perennial deep green plant that can reach heights of 7 feet. Its leaves are dark green on the top, lighter green on the bottom, and oriented in an opposite pattern. They are covered in fuzzy hairs, deeply veined and have a rough toothed shape. The nettles biggest identifier is its sting. It doesn’t have thorns or stingers but instead fine hollow hairs that are filled with formic acid. When the formic acid breaks open the skin it will give a pins and needles like sensation and a person may see hive like bumps and symptoms as a result. These symptoms are all produced by the hair like needles found along the stems and leaves of the plant. The juice of the plant may be used to neutralize the sting as well a rinsing with fresh water. Drying or cooking the plant will cause the formic acid to dissipate. Nettle can be eaten fresh in cooked dishes or dried. Fresh nettles and be used as a substitute for spinach or in recipes that call for greens. Look to use this plant in light sautés or any other recipe you think It could add to.
Ground ivy is usually identified as a pesky ground weed infesting the mulch and rock beds around your home. At a closer look ground ivy can be a useful addition to your green meals and also used as an herbal remedy. It is a creeping mint family plant growing no more than 6 inches off the ground. It has square stems and small opposite heart shaped leaves. The plant will have small purple flowers the bloom in late spring and when the leaves are crushed, they give off a fragrant mint like scent. Ground ivy can be easily picked by hand in spring but will die back after it blooms and begin to recede and turn dry in late spring into summer. Ground ivy with its minty flavor can be added to many dishes calling for such profile. The plant can also be muddled and used in place of garden mint in a mojito. Ground ivy can also be used to steep a tea and has been used to reduce head and chest congestion.
Plantain is a wild perennial plant that grow everywhere. In the spring the plantains small, tender, lemony leaves can be added to a wild mixed greens salad. The foliage of broad leaf plantain is smooth and veined, growing up to 4 inches wide and 6 inches long. The leaf stems can have a red tinge of color at the base. The foliage of narrow leaf plantain is more dry and hairy with leaves that grow up to 8 inches long and are lance shaped and pointed. Both types will produce long flowering stalks in the summer that are covered in small edible white seeds. Gather fresh leaves in spring when they are bright green and fresh however plantain is abundant and can be gathered across seasons. Use / add raw young plantain leaves to any salad taking advantage of their light lemony flavor. Plantain has also been used to make wild tea’s in combination with other ingredients.
These are just a few of our common and suggested forages so please head out and explore this spring. Look for wild edibles and introduce them to your diet. Outside from supplements these wild plants can be higher in nutrition than your local grocery store produce since they are growing in mineral and nutrient rich soil. When foraging for wild plant be 100% sure on your identification. There are many plants and fungi that may look the same as good ones but can be poisonous and harmful to your health. As always Be safe, Be prepared.