- By: Cherianne Cybulskie
- May 24, 2023
Plant ID & Botany
Spring is an exciting time for foraging wild edibles! Amidst the vibrant blooms and fresh scents, lies a hidden treasure trove of wild edibles, waiting to be discovered. Wild plants possess a remarkable strength and resilience that allows them to thrive in challenging environments. Take the humble dandelion, for instance. It’s a plant that can grow through the tiniest cracks in cement, demonstrating a powerful ability to survive even in the most challenging environments.
When we incorporate these plants into our diets, we tap into their inherent vitality and adopt a bit of their fortitude. By consuming wild edibles, we not only benefit from their nutritional value but also absorb a sense of their resilience, adaptability, and connection to the natural world. It’s a powerful reminder that we, too, can draw strength from nature and embrace its transformative energy in our own lives.
I’m a big fan of utilizing the abundant and unwanted plants that are labelled as weeds or invasive. Here’s a glimpse at some of my favourite, abundant, spring foods. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re growing near you!
*Remember — don’t eat a wild plant unless you are 100% positive with your ID!
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) is a plant that forces itself on you. It feels like everywhere I look I can find dandelion – I’m sure you can too! Dandelion’s arrival coincides with the body’s natural inclination for renewal and rejuvenation after the dormant winter, making dandelion’s medicinal properties particularly beneficial for supporting detoxification, digestion, and overall well-being.
Dandelion is delicious raw or cooked. It can be as simple as adding the young spring leaves (as the season goes on they become more bitter) to smoothies, salads or stir fry!
Looking for a caffeine-free alternative to coffee? Look no further than roasted dandelion root. After drying and roasting the root, it transforms into a flavorful, earthy beverage that resembles coffee. Sip on a warm cup of dandelion root “coffee” and savour its robust aroma and taste, without the caffeine jitters. It’s a perfect choice for those seeking a healthier alternative or simply looking to expand their taste horizons.
Don’t let the vibrant dandelion flowers go unnoticed; they offer a world of culinary possibilities. From making homemade dandelion wine and infusing vinegar with their delicate flavour, to crafting fritters, cookies, biscuits, and more, these blossoms bring a touch of whimsy and creativity to your kitchen. Let your imagination run wild and explore the endless possibilities of dandelion flowers in your favourite recipes.
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a delicious invasive, this entire plant is edible from root to flower! Its first year is spent close to the ground as a basal rosette. Shooting into a tall plant in its second year. When you find one, you’ll be sure to find more.
The tender leaves of this plant possess a pungent garlic flavour, making them a fantastic addition to salads, sandwiches, and pesto sauces. You can also sauté the leaves to create a delicious and nutritious side dish or incorporate them into soups and stews for an added kick. The plant’s small white flowers can be used as a garnish or added to salads for a touch of visual appeal. Furthermore, the seeds of garlic mustard can be ground and used as a spicy seasoning or made into a tangy mustard condiment.
When foraging garlic mustard for food, it is essential to do so responsibly to prevent contributing to its spread and further invasion. The seeds of garlic mustard can lay dormant in the ground for thirty years, therefore pulling the plant by its roots can disturb the soil and encourage germination. If it is a patch that you can continue to monitor and manage, then pulling the plant up by its roots is fine. If it’s not a spot you will continually manage, then you can prevent the flowers from going to seed by harvesting the flowering tops. It’s important to properly dispose of any leftover plant material to prevent accidental dispersal of seeds.
Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is another invasive that is good to get to know. Growing in dense patches, its bright colours in the spring are hard to miss. When it comes to harvesting Japanese Knotweed, the key is to focus on the shoots. As the plant grows, the stem becomes woody and loses its palatability.
Once you’ve gathered the tender shoots, a world of culinary possibilities opens up. Many describe Japanese Knotweed as having a tart flavour similar to rhubarb, making it a versatile ingredient in various dishes. One delightful option is to create a strawberry-knotweed crumble, combining the sweetness of strawberries with the unique tang of knotweed. But the creativity doesn’t stop there!
Japanese Knotweed can be incorporated into a wide range of desserts, such as pies, tarts, and cakes. You can also pickle the shoots, or use them to add depth to soups and salads. If you’re feeling adventurous, experiment with making jelly or incorporating Japanese Knotweed into homemade bread for an unexpected twist. The culinary potential of this invasive plant is limited only by your imagination.
However, it’s important to note that harvesting Japanese Knotweed should be done responsibly, ensuring that it is legal to forage in your area and following guidelines for sustainable harvesting. Additionally, be mindful of not spreading the plant further while harvesting and disposing of any leftover plant material appropriately to prevent its spread.
Ah, spruce tip (Picea spp.) harvesting season—the time when nature gifts us with culinary delight! When you stumble upon a spruce tree, don’t hesitate to pluck a few fresh tips and savour their unique citrusy taste.
The culinary potential of spruce tips is vast and exciting. These vibrant green shoots offer a refreshing citrusy flavour that can be utilized in various edible creations. Spruce tips can be enjoyed raw, adding a zesty and tangy twist to salads or used as a flavorful garnish. They can also be pickled to create a tangy condiment, infused in vinegar for dressings and marinades, or made into syrup for addition to cocktails or mocktails – I’ve even seen spruce tip ice cream!
Additionally, spruce tips can be dried and ground into a powder, adding an earthy and pine-like aroma to baked goods, such as cookies, cakes, and bread. The versatility of spruce tips opens up a world of possibilities, allowing you to experiment and explore their unique taste in both sweet and savoury dishes.
Another clever idea is to gather a bunch of spruce tips during the spring and freeze them, saving them for Christmas baking. Imagine the surprise and delight on your guests’ faces when they taste the unique essence of spruce in holiday treats. It’s a surefire way to create a memorable culinary experience.
Hot tip for urban foragers: violets (Viola spp.) can often be found carpeting lawns. Check with your neighbour to see if they have an abundance of violets for you to add to your spring treats!
The gorgeous flowers make any meal or dessert look elegant — you can go the extra step and candy them for desert toppings. I love snacking on the flowers and leaves when I’m out on the trail. They are fun to add to salads and make vinegar & honey infusions with, along with violet syrup and jelly. Freezing the flowers in ice cubes makes for a deliciously-pretty addition to any summer drink
Check out this video from WRC’s director Yarrow Willard aka Herbal Jedi on spring violets – watch it here.
They say once you’ve met stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), you’ll never forget it! I harvest nettle with gloves on – but I know people who harvest bare hands and don’t get the sting. Some theories are the more you consume nettle, the less reactive you are to the sting. Don’t worry, once the plant has been dried, chopped, cooked or frozen, it loses its sting!
Nettle is a great example of the importance of knowing the whole plant before harvesting to consume – though there has been much debate on this. The spring greens are what you want, as once the plant flowers, it is no longer wise to eat. This is because the flowers may have a laxative effect and the plant may then contain cystolith crystals that can upset the urinary tract.
I love adding nettles to soups, stir fry and pesto. The options are endless with nettle, just like many of the others. The seeds are safe to consume, they are delicious and incredibly nutritious. The seeds contain vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, magnesium and silicon.
Enroll in our Wild Harvesting online course where College Director and Clinical Herbalist Yarrow Willard will guide you on your herb harvesting and wild foraging journey.
Connect with the land, learn the plants around you, and understand the fundamentals of how to harvest the highest quality medicinal plants–and sustain all plant stands for future generations. Find out more here.