— Kristi Varner, Food Council Member
Every spring in our home there is a glorified sigh of relief and rejoice when the snow has melted and the new flowers and plants begin to poke out of the ground. For many that springtime elation grows to disdain over a yard overcome by dandelions and other undesirables. We are quick to fire up the lawnmowers, shovels and weed sprays, but some of these Wild Bunch serve some really useful purposes.
*Disclaimer: Always source foraged items from areas that are safe from herbicides/pesticides and soil contaminants. And ALWAYS thoroughly wash your new found produce. AND NEVER EAT SOMETHING YOU ARE NOT SURE OF! These are a few plants that are very easily recognizable and safe.
Dandelions get such a bad rap! It’s always a hustle to try to manage these yellow annoyances, but actually dandelions serve an infinite list of worthy uses. Almost every part is edible and packed with good things!
Dandelion Greens: Perhaps the best reason to eat dandelions is the abundance of nutrients present in them. The leaves contain significant amounts of fiber, protein, vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E, and K, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and zinc. They can be eaten as you would eat most other types of greens. The best way to get the tastiest dandelion greens is to collect the young leaves in the spring. Wash your greens thoroughly to remove and dirt, grit, and insects. If you got very young, early spring leaves, you can eat them raw in a salad. They make a tasty addition and add a little kick to an otherwise plain salad. You can also cook your greens the same way you would sauté spinach.
Dandelion Roots: Dried Dandelion root tea has been used as a liver tonic since ancient times. After picking the roots, soak them in water for several minutes, and then rinse them until completely clean. Chop the roots into small pieces and roast them in the oven at 200 degrees for about an hour. This will shrink and fully dry them out, and then you can then place in an airtight jar and use for tea.
Dandelion Flowers: Dandelion flower petals make a great tea with some honey. They can also be used steeped in warmed coconut oil and mixed with beeswax to create a body lotion or salve that is great for achy muscles and joints as dandelion is considered an anti-inflammatory.
In Appalachia, a common recipe for using dandelion flowers is to batter and deep fry them. In our home every spring I look forward to making a batch of them for the family and dipping them in an herbaceous buttermilk dressing! Go ahead and try this at home, here’s the recipe:
1 cup Milk
½ cup All purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon Baking powder
Lots of heat-tolerant oil for frying
1 cup Freshly washed and picked dandelion flower heads (If you pick them and store them in the fridge the flowers will close up. Also, my first attempt was a bit bitter. If you’re new to wild crafting take time to remove the bracts (the little downward leaf-looking things at the base of the flower head, where it joins the stem)
Whisk all ingredients together, except for the dandelion heads
Dip the dandelions
Fry in hot oil, flower side down (be careful!)
Flip and fry some more
Drain on a towel and serve hot
Season the freshly fried fritters with salt and pepper
Purslane grows all over the place and is delicious, nutritious and versatile with a bright lemony flavor. It has the highest amount of omega 3 fatty acids than any other vegetable. It is also high in magnesium, so if you are someone who has a lot of sore muscles and headaches this might be a good choice to incorporate in your diet. Purslane is great sautéed or in a stir fry and makes a delicious pickled condiment. It is a fairly common ingredient in both Eastern European and Middle Eastern cuisines. To find out more uses and recipes for Purslane follow this link.
The consumption of Lamb’s Quarters dates back to ancient times and has been found in the stomachs of mummies 2000 years old. During World War II some European countries facing starvation relied on Lamb’s Quarters as a viable nutritious food source and a remedy from scurvy. Lamb’s Quarters are rich in the minerals iron, phosphorus, and calcium. It also contains beta carotene and vitamins B1 and C. The young leaves can be sautéed with olive oil and garlic or added to a pasta dish much like spinach. Being a relative of both Spinach and Quinoa, the seed heads from older plants can be used as a grain and the seeds can be boiled and eaten like Quinoa.
So here are just a few ideas to utilize some of the wild bunch that will, like clockwork, start popping up very, very soon! We are just scratching the surface! It’s rather amazing to think about the literal smorgasbord that awaits outside free for the taking!!!!
To find out more about the wild edibles around you, here a few sites:
http://landbyhand.org – Cody, Megan and their team provide different programs and workshops that focus on wild medicine/nutrition, nature walks and permaculture AND some of their programs are in the Buffalo area!
www.ediblewildfood.com – A great site to learn about different plants and their uses.
www.gentlemanforager.com – Mike Kempenich’s Gentleman Forager provides wild foraged products to restaurants and retail.
The New Wildcrafted Cuisine by Pascal Baudar. Pascal Baudar is an urban forager who teams with his wife, chef Mia Wasilevich to create some amazing ways to think about sustainable food sources.
Feature image attribution: Background image created by Bearfotos – Freepik.com