Take Care with Spring Wild Foods
It’s Spring. The last few days have been a blur. Here at the Hawk where I live, we have been practicing social isolation for almost 3 weeks and now, we are staying home with the “stay at home stay safe” declaration…. with 13 people. I live in a community of 11, and two of our friends who live alone have joined our clan here on the 24 acres we dwell on. It’s wild. This time has brought to light all the holes. The holes of our preparedness, our supplies, our interpersonal relationships, and our skills.
People have been messaging me a lot about herbs, about wild foods, and even to delight in the strange posts I make each day of our lot’s throat singing fights and wrestling matches in our common kitchen. How to feed ourselves? Each other? Well I know we are far from being able to totally support ourselves nutritionally from wild foods alone without prior prep, but they can really help meet our nutrition and calories needs in lean times (and well, all the time). If you need any more convincing check out the sweetest people here at Gather Victoria and their case for wild foods.
In this time, when work is gone for many of us and money is a looming question, myself included, I am comforted by wild foods. Knowing that there are essential nutrients bursting from the ground right now in sudden and near chaotic abundance is deeply comforting. My partner and I have been putting up venison, bear, and nuts this last year, and so we have our fats and proteins down, but all the other calories, where could we find them right now? If the store was out of food? If we had no more cash? These are the questions we’ve been asking each other and so I want to give you the beginning of a foraging basket. Here are some easy to find, important wild foods out in abundance right now that can help ease the burden that are not just wild greens (but let’s be real a lot of them are).
Day lily: (Hemerocallis fulva) Native to Asia, this beautiful flowering lily has escaped cultivation and spread throughout the US. The flower buds are known as “golden needles” in China and are sold as ingredients for soup. I love these because they are abundant, and almost every part of the plant is edible. I also like to think about how foraged foods fit into my diet, and how one cannot live on greens alone.
The tubers of these lovelies provide a prolific, easy to harvest and even grow, wild carbohydrate and rich calorie source. The young shoots and leaves are edible raw or cooked until they begin to get fibrous as they grow taller. Beware, however, Iris (toxic to eat) can look a lot like daylily so always be VERY sure you know what you are harvesting. Also, like with all wild foods, some folks are allergic, so always try a small amount of a new food before going hog wild. Here more info also on the edibility questions of the 60,000 ish varieties that have been bred! I only eat the orange, naturalized species, Hemerocallis fulva. I’ve watched the same patches for many years and know which variety grows there. It’s just one more way to become more intimate with your bioregion.
I like to either boil and mash the tubers and then fry them into something like a latke, or saute well and season with the next plant on our list and butter.
Later in the year the leaves can be used to plait into useful things. They are a wonderous plant.
Onion Grass (Allium vineale):
Blend up this abundant wild grass with salt and dehydrate or dry and sprinkle like store bought dried onion on, well, everything! This common “weed” is the reason the yard smells like a restaurant every time the lawn is mowed in Spring and Fall. A lover of cool weather, I eat these until they fade away in the heat of Summer and again when they return in the cool of the Fall.
I really enjoy the bulbs if you dig down, they can sometimes be as big as a quarter. I’ve loved pickling, lacto-fermenting and drying these lovelies. I also just use them in almost every savory dish I prepare. I often notice them growing up over the grass, as they grow more quickly, and notice they have a tubular leaf, not a blade, accompanied by their strong onion smell. Ramps are a celebrated spring wild food, but so are the humble wild onions which are much easier to find and also not endangered.
Dave Meesters and Janet Kent at Terra Sylva have been providing information on herbal anti-viral protocols to the wider community and with that gave a great recipe for “Honion”, or onion syrup. I have made some wild onion syrup in the same spirit for breaking up stuck phlegm thanks to their inspiration. Chop the bulbs of the onions fine, place in a clean, dry jar. Cover with honey and infuse 3 - 5 days stirring with a clean spoon occasionally. Place in the refrigerator and it should keep 3 months. Take liberally as desired. Check out their work for more important information on a wide variety of herbal topics.
Chickweed: (Stellaria media)
This abundant nutritious food and medicine is going to flower right now and ending its growth season a bit early this year with this warm Spring. We gather big handfuls with scissors and blend it up in pestos and green dressings. We also just chop it fine and eat it by the forkful as a base for our wild salads. The mineral rich taste, the little white flowers, it is one of my favorites. Here’s a sweet video on how to ID it.
Nettles: (Urtica Dioica)
Nettles are just perfect to eat right now, and wow are they a vibrant shade of healthful, brilliant green. They are naturally high in silicon which is great for the hair and skin. They contain 6500 I.U.s of Vitamin A in a 100g serving! They are also surprisingly high in protein at 5.5 grams per 100 grams. They contain 33.8% crude protein, which is quite high for a plant source. It’s best to eat these, rather than make tea, to get everything you can from these powerhouses of nutrition. Steam them, stew them, or fry em up in butter. They also contain calcium, chromium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A, B1, B2, B5, E, K1, choline, folic acid and zinc.
It also has extremely high protein content. Stinging nettles even has vitamin D, which is rare in a plant source. Vitamin D is found mostly in mushrooms, but from very few plants. Its’ high iron content is what makes nettle ideally suited for people with challenges to their immune system and low energy. Nettle is appropriate to use to prevent infection and recover from infection, but since bacteria needs iron to spread, it is best to stay away from iron rich food until the infection recedes.
It’s also a diuretic, making nettle is a helpful wild food for people who often struggle with urinary tract infections. It’s often combined with dandelion leaf or chickweed. Any herbal treatment of PMS or swollen ankles is greatly enhanced with a dose of nettle. Stinging nettle is also a blessing for any one who suffers from allergies. Its secret lies in the nutritional boost it gives the body as well as the anti-inflammatory action of its leaf. Nettle is usually thought of as relief for pollen allergies but recent studies have concluded patients with skin conditions such as eczema and hives benefit as well. Nettle root increases the production of T cells, which is vital to controlling allergic reactions as well, so the leaves are not the only useful part. A dose of nettle before meals can even help people with mild to moderate food allergies as well.
I love to saute the leaves and make quiche, frittata or just plop a fried egg on top of a mess of the cooked greens and call it breakfast. I also blend them into pestos and smoothies, just make sure you really blend them well to avoid a sting!
Dandelion: (Taraxacum officinalis)
This hated lawn invader should really be celebrated for its divine nutritional content. Lowly dandelion, we are not worthy. It is very high in dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese just to name a few. Easy to find and ubiquitous, the roots are also excellent as a liver support tea, and taste delicious toasted as a coffee-like beverage. The roots are also edible when young and can be diced and spiced in the stirfry pan. They are rich in inulin, a prebiotic which aids gut health. What’s not to love?
I like to harvest the blossoms, batter them in whatever flour you like and fry them up, dip in honey and call it a magical day. Dandelion blossom fritters. I use chestnut flour from last fall ground very fine and eggs from our chickens, it is divine. The greens are quite bitter but when mixed with the other greens mentioned here, they can add a complex flavor. I find adding a tasty vinegar helps to soften the bitter blow. I have also been making dandelion blossom wild soda by mixing dandelion flowers, honey and water to taste and letting it ferment in a clean jar in my kitchen. A joyous treat and basically like drinking the Sun.
Dead Nettle: (Lamium purpureum)
Dead nettle, red nettle or purple nettle has manninotriose, a storage carbohydrate that has prebiotic, antioxidant and immunostimulatory properties. Despite it’s bad-tasting reputation, when properly prepared, it can be a delicious addition to spring wild food dishes. Dead-nettle's reported to be highly nutritious, abundant in iron, vitamins, and fiber. The oil in the seeds is high in antioxidants. And the bruised leaves can be applied to external cuts and wounds to stop bleeding and aid in healing.
Dead nettle is a good source of flavonoids including a special one called quercetin. Purple Dead-nettle can improve immune system performance while reducing sensitivity to allergens and inhibiting inflammation. It’s also useful for anti-allergy applications due to the concentration of flavonoids. This is what helps their ability to reduce the release of histamine. You can make a tea from this tasty plant as well for allergies and histamine issued. Externally you can mash the leaves so they’re bruised, and apply them to minor skin abrasions and wounds.
I love these chopped very fine, mixed with egg and wild onion, and fried up as a little fritter. We call them Dead Nettle Eggy Fritters. They are divine.
Violet: (Viola spp.)
This beautiful common wild flower has edible leaves and flowers. With over 400 species, it’s great to know that they are all edible. Famous old school forager Euell Gibbons found per 100 grams fresh leaves contain 210 mg vit C (4.5 x oranges) and 8258 IU of provitamin A. More recent analysis shows that if collected in spring, this early research reported that violets contain twice as much vitamin C as the same weight of orange and more than twice the amount of vitamin A, gram for gram, when compared with spinach. One recent study concluded that an aqueous Viola extract (i.e. tincture) inhibited the proliferation of activated lymphocytes as well as negatively affecting other hyper-responsive immune functions. This indicates that violets may be useful in the therapy of disorders related to an overactive immune system. Violet leaves contain a good bit of mucilage, or soluble fiber, and thus are helpful in lowering cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber is also helpful in restoring healthy populations of intestinal flora, as beneficial bacteria feed off of this type of fiber.
The leaves are high in rutin, which is a glycoside of the flavonoid quercetin. Rutin has been shown in animal and in vitro studies to be anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and blood thinning. Many foods that are high in rutin, such as buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), are eaten traditionally as a remedy for hemorrhoids and varicose veins.
I chop the leaves fine and add them to salads (beware, too many violet leaves are an effective laxative). I LOVE the flowers. I make a syrup every year. Check out my older post on violet for more info on one of my favorite plants.
Fermented Wild Greens
I was told that you can’t make tasty wild greens, so of course I tried it myself. I say just grab whatever is around I use nettle, violet, chickweed, dead nettle, wild onion and toothwort leaves. Wash the plants, drain them, chop them fine, place in a big bowl. Then add salt (2% – 3% of weight of fresh plant), mash up well with hands, let stand 20 minutes to draw out the liquid. Pack in jars small jars, leave to ferment 1 week in a cool, well aerated place and enjoy. Make some today to enjoy at Ostara and mix a few tablespoons of this salty connection into a few cups of yogurt to make a local “tzatziki” sauce. For exact instructions see this fantastic article.
There are a LOT more foods out right now, but these are the ones we are eating the most of right now. Remember again to NEVER eat a plant without exact identification and always ASK if you are unsure!
So my friends, take heart in the wild world if you can and know that there is much around us. I hope you are finding nourishment in this uncertain time, which for many, is how it always has been. The old structures will have to crumble, they are built for destruction.
Adhikari, Bhaskar Mani, Alina Bajracharya, and Ashok K. Shrestha. “Comparison of Nutritional Properties of Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica) Flour with Wheat and Barley Flours.” Food Science & Nutrition 4.1 (2016): 119–124. PMC. Web. 20 Mar. 2018.
Dos Santos, Raquel et al. “Manninotriose Is a Major Carbohydrate in Red Deadnettle (Lamium Purpureum, Lamiaceae).” Annals of Botany 111.3 (2013): 385–393. PMC. Web. 21 Mar. 2018.
Rutto, Laban K., Yixiang Xu, Elizabeth Ramirez, and Michael Brandt, “Mineral Properties and Dietary Value of Raw and Processed Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica L.),” International Journal of Food Science, vol. 2013, Article ID 857120, 9 pages, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/857120
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