So the students at Alderleaf Wilderness College, the school that Michelle and I work for in Washington state, just finished up their four day-and-night wilderness survival trip. Four days and four nights in the wilderness with nothing but the clothes on their backs (not even a knife!). Their recent experience inspired me to create this post, since spring wild edibles is all that students ate while they were on their trip.
No doubt many of the following plants can be found in areas other than the Pacific Northwest, but I am writing about the plants that I am experiencing right now in my home in Washington state (so just keep in mind some of these may or may not be local for you too, wherever you are)… Also, if you are unfamiliar with any of the following plants, please look them up and be 100% sure you can positively ID the plant before trying to eat it!
1. Dandelion: flowers, leaves, and roots– This awesome nutritious and medicinal weed grows all over the country. The flowers and the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. My favorite way to eat the flowers is to either throw them into a salad raw, or batter them up and fry them to make dandelion flower fritters. As for the leaves, I find they are better cooked than raw since they are a bit bitter. The greens are great cooked with some garlic, oil, and salt & pepper. They can also be used in substitute of basil to make a pesto. As for the roots, I use them in a couple ways. First, they can be dried, roasted, ground and used to make a nice flavorful tea (has a very bold flavor because of being roasted). The second way I used the roots are to pickle them! Make sure that the roots you are canning are fresh, and use whatever pickling recipe you like.
2. Stinging Nettle: leaves– Stinging nettle is another amazing nutritious and medicinal plant– that should only be harvested before it flowers! The leaves can be eaten raw, just make sure to fold them up so the stingers wont sting you. I have a few favorite ways to use this plant. First, I like it more than dandelion leaves as a substitute for basil in pesto. Second, I like to spread a bunch of the leaves on a baking sheet, drizzle in olive oil and garlic powder, and throw into the oven until crispy to make nettle chips. Another way I like to use it is throw leaves into a blender, and add to a cookie recipe. And finally, I just like to add it to anything I can. Pasta, stir fry, whatever!
3. Salmonberry: young shoots, flowers, berries– When the salmonberry shoots are just coming up, and the stalk looks red, it is a perfect time to eat them. Just peel the outer skin off (that contains the thorns), and eat the juicy green shoot beneath– tasty when raw. Also, the flowers are a great addition to salads. And of course the berries are edible too, but those won’t really be out until summer.
4. Japanese Knotweed: young shoots- The young, tender shoots of japanese knotweed are edible, and have a tangy taste like rhubarb. Because it contains oxalic acid like rhubarb, sorrel, and dock, don’t go overboard when eating it, or it could irritate your stomach (some people are more sensitive than others. My stomach, for example, doesn’t get bothered by it, but I know others who are more sensitive). It can be eaten raw or cooked, and can be cooked almost any way you like– pies, breads, soups, etc. A cautionary note: stuffing your face with knotweed for a few days, or ingestion every day for a prolonged period of time, can make your sense of taste go away for a little bit (a few of the students on the survival trip experienced this, and patients taking knotweed for lyme disease also experience this).
5. Burdock: leaves, roots- Burdock has two stages of life, its first year plant, and its second year plant. Its first year plant, as well as part of the way through the second year, the basal leaves stay close to the ground–this is the part of the plant’s life when I like to eat the leaves. I just cook like the leaves like spinach. The first stage of life is also when I like to harvest the root. Of course, once it moves on into its second stage of life, you can still harvest the root, but it will not be as tender. When I harvest roots in the first stage of life, I cook them like spinach and put them in stir fry, and when I harvest roots in the second stage of life, I dry them for tea, or pickle them.
6. Chickweed: whole arial portion- Awesome chopped up and cooked, and also awesome raw and in salads. It can be substituted for basil when making pesto, though I do recommend adding another green that has more flavor because chickweed is not as flavorful as basil.
7. Bittercress and Mustard Family: flowers, leaves– Bittercress and the entire mustard family is edible. Some mustards are stringer in flavor than others,
8. Miner’s Lettuce– awesome raw and in salads. Siberian miner’s lettuce can be eaten the same way.
9. Sorrel- All kinds of sorrel (wood sorrel, french sorrel, etc) are tasty raw. I like adding them to salads because they bring a tangy flavor to the mix. The tangy flavor comes from the oxalic acid in the plant, so don’t over-eat it.
10. Dock: very young leaves– the very young leaves of this plant are what you want to eat– the ones that are just coming out of their “sheath” or the ones that have just come out. This plant, too, contains oxalic acid, so don’t over-eat. Add to salads.
11. Canary Reed Grass: corms– the tender whitish-pinkish corms of the plant are awesome roasted; Great survival food.
12. Edlerberry: flowers– the flowers are great battered and fried (but i’m sure you can use them without battering them is frying isn’t your thing)! Also good in tea.
13. Maple trees: flowers- also good battered and fried!
14. Lamb’s Quarters: leaves– lamb’s quarters have yummy leaves! I love nibbling on them raw and adding them to salads.
15. Morel and Oyster Mushrooms– bring a mushroom guide and make sure you can positively identify them! Morel mushrooms especially have look-alikes that contain toxins, the difference is all in the way the cap is attached to the stem– The entire cap of real morel mushrooms are attached to the stem. But seriously, bring a guide!