After months and months of waiting, spring seems to explode into action all at once and before you know it, summer is here. That's why it's so important to take advantage of the profusion of delicious and nutritious wild spring edibles before they've disappeared. Below you'll find a list of four of my favorites and how they can best be utilized in the kitchen. Enjoy!
DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale) Everyone knows the cheery sight of sunny dandelion flowers scattered over a lawn and their prevalence as a weed makes them incredibly easy to find in abundance. The entire plant is edible, but in the spring I especially love to use the leaves and flowers, which are both excellent sources of vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin A, which is essential for immune health.
How to use: The leaves are quite bitter, and tend to become more so as the plant flowers, so it's best to pick them from plants that have yet to flower. In salads, it's best to mix the leaves with other greens, as they can be quite intense on their own. They are also delicious steamed or lightly boiled and then slathered in butter or olive oil, lemon juice and salt. The flower petals can be scattered over salads or soups and the entire flower is delicious when coated in a light batter and fried to make sweet or savory fritters, which is possibly my favorite way to eat them.
VIOLET (Viola spp.) There are several species of violet growing in the woodlands this time of year (Canada violet, wood violet, and western mountain violet to name a few) and all are edible, though some are more palatable than others. They are a great source of vitamins (including vitamin A and C) as well as soluble fiber and rutin, which is a strong antioxidant.
How to use: Both the leaves and flowers are edible and make delicious additions to salads. The leaves can be added to soups where they act as a natural thickener due to the high mucilage content. The flowers make beautiful decorations for cakes and platters and can be frozen into ice cubes for fancy drinks. Violet syrup is another fun way capture the subtle flavor by infusing the flowers overnight in water and then cooking down the resulting infusion into a syrup with the addition of sugar. This can be combined with sparkling water for a refreshing spring drink.
NETTLE (Urtica dioica) You won't forget nettle in a hurry if you pick it without gloves, but despite its prickliness and infamous sting, it's one of the most delicious and nutritious of the spring wild greens and is worth every bit of pain it causes. The leaves and tender shoots are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and are extremely delicious.
How to use: The first spring shoots and tender leaves are the best to eat, as the plant grows more fibrous as it ages and nears flowering. Heat denatures the stinging hairs so cooking is highly recommended. They can be steamed, boiled, or sauteed and are a good friend to a bit of butter or olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. I love adding them to soups and stews, tarts or omelettes, finding they seem to pair especially well with eggs. The leaves can also be steeped to make a nutrient rich tea which is delicious with a little mint and fresh lemon.
RAMP (Allium tricoccum) The site and pungent aroma of ramp's wide, leathery green leaves is one of the first signs of growth in the woodlands after the snow makes its retreat. The leaves, bulbs, and flowers are all edible, although I mostly prefer to use the leaves as they are far easier to harvest and I find the bulbs to be a little too pungent for my personal taste.
How to use: The first tender leaves can be chopped and eaten in salads, but after this, a little heat is usually necessary to soften the intense garlicky flavor and prevent indigestion. The leaves and bulbs can be sautéed and added to stir-fries, mixed into mashed potatoes, used in tarts or as a delicious topping for pizza. Both are also excellent added to soups or blended with other greens like spinach to make a strong flavored pesto. I much prefer them cooked to raw, but some people do love their intense pungency.Writer Danielle Charles Davies holds a Bsc in Herbal Science from Bastyr University and completed the two-year clinical training program at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism in Montpelier, VT. Her writing has appeared in Taproot, The Journal of the American Herbalist Guild, and Kindred Magazine, among others. She lives in Northern Michigan with her husband, two dogs and eight ducks. She blogs at www.bluemoonkitchen.com. For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.