Hey all, I'm curious what edible wild plants are up right now, I know plants must be starting to come up but other than dandelions (which I've been eating amazing quantities of--which, by the way, is that healthy? I know they have detox qualities, can that be overdone?) I don't know what I should be keeping an eye out for. What have you all been gathering the last few weeks? What will be coming up over the next month or so?
March through May offers the year's largest diversity of edible salad greenery. To one who knows, it is easy to gather 50 or 100 different species to make into a salad. Besides the well known plants such as Dandelions and Chickweed, there are many plants whose edibility is little known, and seasonal "window of opportunity" brief. Such as the young tender leaves of the shrub called Indian Plum or Oso-berry; the nectar-rich yellow flowers of Bigleaf Maple; the pliable sorrel-flavored baby leaves of Oregon Grape; the peeled young stems of Thimbleberry. Right now, in Seattle, Nettles offer a supremely healthy and delicious wild treat. Heat is needed to render them sting-free. I use them in stir-fries, add them to macaroni & cheese, or even eat them alone with oil or butter. Broad Dock and Curly or Yellow Dock are two common perennial weeds that are bitter enough that they are best cooked lightly. Broad Dock is at its prime now; Curly Dock follows later. Despite the nominal kinship to Burdock (Gobo), they are unrelated. Field Mustard and its cousins are gourmet quality and at their prime now. An easy edible flower to try are the tiny Daisies sprinkled on lawns. A woodland native wildflower is Miner's Lettuce or Candyflower. Sweet Cicely shoots are emerging, and taste of licorice. Fireweed shoots are eaten as asparagus substitutes.
To learn these and dozens of others, the best way is to walk with experienced guides. But using books or websites, along with patience and due care, a beginner can still gradually learn. The overall truth is that every habitat --and there are many-- offers at each of the four seasons, something. At any given month, one habitat will yield the best return. Right now, sheltered woodland sites and many warmer corners in cities afford the best array of fresh young greenery.
Thirty years ago I was a beginner; now I know much; still there is more to learn. People beginning these days have it easier because there are more sources of information, including the Internet. I've led tours since 1981 or so, and shared much information via writing.
If anyone reading this has not tasted all of the plants I cited above, do so, sometime this spring. It will be a rewarding experience.
Sweet! I hadn't thought of eating those daisies before. Or oso berry leaves. My first snack tomorrow. Thanks ALJ! (like it's not obvious who you are).
Are all small daisies edible? I'm starting all these ornamental plants for my mom right now and I sure would like to be eating them later on. Specifically I'm asking about perennial shasta daisies, which I admit am ignorant on their size or habit.
Not only the Lawn or English Daisies are edible; also the larger Ox-eye Daisies, and the garden hybrid Shasta Daisies. But the Ox-eye does not bloom until May, and the Shasta in June. The leaves of these are edible now --just do not eat them unless you know for certain that they are daisies and not something else. It is worth noting that some people loathe daisy smell, and cannot abide eating the flowers. To me, Shasta Daisy leaves are far superior food to the East Asian edible Chrysantheum leaves. If I could only grow one daisy, it would be Shasta, because it yields the most calories, and I guess the various sorts are similar in nutrient content. The Shasta is mainly a garden flower, very rare wild. The others are mostly wild but cultivated by some people. Happy munching . . .
Wow, thanks for all of the information, I'm going to look those up and keep my eye out for them... Do you have any suggestions for good books or other resources on this subject? How did you learn so much?
To learn about plants I do work for hire; writing; research; take classes; volunteer, and so on. For specific details on how I learned so much you can download my November 2007 newsletter (PDF) from my website (http://www.arthurleej.com).
Of 9 books listed in the "suggested reading" (wild edible plants section) of my book Wild Plants of Greater Seattle, perhaps the most useful to a beginner is Northwest Foraging by Doug Benoliel (1974); various ethnobotanic titles by Nancy J. Turner are also specific to this region. Remember that both in cities and rural farm areas, non-native wild edibles abound. A few minutes ago I went out to gather greens for dinner, and got native Nettles and non-native Wall Lettuce and Wild Garlic. They will be cooked in an hour or so.