4.09.2020

SPRING FORAGING // the local food report

Friends! I hope you are hanging in there. We are doing well, mostly by the grace of spring. This week on the Local Food Report I reached out to friends all over the Cape about what they're foraging. Together, we compiled a list of what's out there this time of year. The idea is to help you keep yourself healthy and fed during these difficult times. The links are either to old blog posts on these wild edibles, or other websites that have good identification guides. I've added pictures above the entry when I have them, and linked to guides where I don't. Let me know what I've forgotten in the comments! 


WATERCRESS

I only know of one watercress spot near me, (here's a link to an old Local Food Report on that) but I'm sure there are more. In the spot I know of the watercress is growing wild near a fresh water spring that forms a little stream that flows into the Herring River. Watercress does not like stagnant water, so look for it on the edges of fast moving fresh water streams or shallow rivers. It's excellent—peppery and zingy—and I like it best alongside egg salad. Here's an excellent guide to identification.

CHICKWEED

To be honest, I have never picked chickweed, though I see it all over our yard. But so many people swear by it that I felt I had to include it. And I have eaten it in winter salad mixes from my friend Victoria, and enjoyed it. This salad recipe sounds delicious, so maybe now's the time to try!


STINGING NETTLES

This is probably the green I forage most often in spring. It grows in moist soil in disturbed places—look for it along the side of dirt roads or along the banks of rivers, streams, or ponds. It's about the size you see above in most places I've checked recently, which means you're cutting just the small tips of plants. But they add up. They sting! Use gloves, and don't eat them unless they're cooked. My favorite ways to use it are as a substitute for spinach (in just about anything—this minestrone soup, spanikopita, etc) or in pesto. For a nettle pesto, I use this recipe, and it is SO GOOD. My kids can't stop eating it. (Note: if you don't have pine nuts, walnuts are also excellent.) You can also dry nettles and use them all year long to make a delicious and highly nutritious tea.

DAY LILY GREENS

Who knew?! My friend Dave told me last fall you could eat day lily greens, and I tucked them into the category of maybe you can, but I bet you don't want to. Boy was I wrong. They are so, so good! Not raw (bad texture, weird flavor), but cooked. We've already cut ours to the ground once and eaten them sautéed several times with olive oil, onion, and garlic, and they were absolutely delicious. I used them the other day in place of spinach in this lentil soup (which, you might notice, does not call for spinach—I make the recipe as is and then add it), and my kids were none the wiser. You can cut them down to the ground two or three times in the spring without harming the plant—do it when they're about 6-8 inches tall and still tender. There's a good guide over here to harvesting—apparently later in the season you can eat the flowers and the roots, too. Day lilies are one of the first flowers up in our yard, and I'll never curse their abundance again.

HOSTAS

Yes, you read that right. You can eat first-of-the-spring hosta shoots, and apparently, they're delicious. I only learned about this last fall, and mine are barely peeking out the dirt, so I haven't yet been able to give this a try. I fully intend to. Treat them like asparagus, and pick them while they're still short and tightly rolled.

MOREL MUSHROOMS

Yes, there are morels around. You have to know where to look. More on that in this old blog post! Hint: know of any old apple trees?




CINNAMON FERN

I haven't seen any yet, but these should be up soon. You eat them like fiddleheads, which I'm familiar with from a childhood in Maine. More on this old Local Food Report with a forager in Truro, and in a video from my friend Nicole Cormier.



DANDELION GREENS

Most of these are super bitter. But if you find them in good soil—not on the side of the road, but maybe growing in your lawn or garden—they can be pretty tasty. My friend Michael says he makes a dandelion green kimchi—this one looks delicious. And I have sometimes made salads with sweeter ones! One note: Michael says to look for alternating sawblade leaves rather than symmetrical—he swears the symmetrical kind is more bitter. 

POKEWEED

This stuff is everywhere. It'll be up soon, and the early shoots and leaves can be eaten. Do not eat it later on in the season—once it's bigger than about 9 inches or starts turning purple, it can be toxic. But it's delicious when it's young—here's an excellent way to enjoy it with bacon and cornbread.


GARLIC MUSTARD

Once you recognize this plant, you will see it truly everywhere. It's small right now, which is good. Ideally you want to pick it before it flowers. It's best for a pesto—I did a blog post on this a while ago with a recipe. That's Nora above picking some the other day—we mixed it with nettles to combine them for pesto. Delicious! 

ONION GRASS

This stuff is EVERYWHERE. You know that "grass" on the side of the road that sometimes gets curly and looks like chives? That's it. If you dig it up you'll find a little white bulb underneath. It's a wild onion, and it smells strongly of onion/garlic/all things allium. I picked a bunch the other day after my friend Patricia reminded me about them, and they were so, so good sautéed with a handful of nettles and kimchi! I ate them with a piece of homemade sourdough and a fried egg, and for a moment it felt like everything might be okay.


ASPARAGUS

Most "wild" asparagus is really escaped old domesticated asparagus, but since it's so common around here, it's worth adding. Last year for the Local Food Report I dug through the archives of the Eastham Historical Society's oral histories and turned up all kinds of fascinating local history about the plant. If you have it in your garden it should be showing up in a couple weeks, and that's around the same time you'd want to start hunting wild spears on the side of the back roads. It's good so many ways, but I especially love this salad.

TURKEY TAILS & REISHI

These mushrooms are a new-to-me foraging idea from my friend Nicole Cormier. Turkey tails are one of the most common mushrooms in North America, and get their name from their appearance. They're found mainly on dead or dying hardwoods. Reishi are found at the base of hemlock trees, and Nicole says she's found both all over the Cape. They're used to make immune boosting teas and tinctures.

BEACH PEA SHOOTS

These are just coming up in the dunes. Sally was the one who pointed them out to me—"Mom!" she said. "Come look! I bet these are edible." She was totally right. If you eat so many that they make up some ridiculous proportion like 30% of your diet, apparently they can be harmful, but in more reasonable amounts, they're a-ok. We ate them sautéed with little bits of homemade bacon and frozen peas and served them over pasta. YUM. One note: this time of year they're really hard to see, even when you know they're there. So check the dunes....and then keep checking til they jump out at you. They're very well hidden. One more note: soak them, otherwise they're sandy. 

27 comments :

Laurie said...

I'm still hoping to find my first morel. I harvested the first nettles of the year yesterday, and am drying this batch. The day lilies sound interesting, so might give them a try next.

Elspeth said...

Laurie, good to hear from you! I have found one exactly once. Still looking for more!

But nettles we use all the time. So satisfying! And the day lilies are a great new find.

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