Spring is springing, plants have sprouted, and I bet $10 you can find enough edible greens for a tasty salad within a mile of your front door. You may even be able to bring home enough for dinner tonight.
Interested? Let’s forage.
Before we start, be clear on the ground rules. Never, ever eat anything you aren’t 100% sure about — especially mushrooms. Most plants are easy to positively identify using a field guide, Wikipedia, foraging websites, or a knowledgeable friend.
Garlic mustard is native to Europe, parts of Asia and Africa, and is an invasive plant in the US. In Iowa garlic mustard grows everywhere, and is so prevalent our Department of Natural Resources puts out maps of garlic mustard clusters on public land and invites the public to collect the plant to their heart’s content.
Look for garlic mustard in woody areas — it’s especially easy to find right now because most of the taller overgrowth has yet to come out. It’s a green leafy plant whose heart-shaped leaves have scalloped edges. When picked, its roots smell distinctly of garlic.
Like radishes, garlic mustard starts mild and develops heat as it grows. Younger leaves are tasty in salads and pastas and spicier older growths make a delicious pesto. Here are a few garlic mustard recipes.
Wild asparagus bolts a bit earlier than cultivated varieties, so April is a good time to hunt for it. It likes well-drained soil near rivers and lakes and is reportedly hard to spot — most foragers recommend you look for last year’s dead asparagus brush in order to find the new shoots.
Dandelions are drop-dead easy to find, though you’ll need to be particularly careful to make sure they haven’t been sprayed with pesticide. It would be wise to hunt dandelions on conservation land or property which you’re familiar with to minimize the possibility of coming into contact with poisons.
When picking dandelion greens, know the smaller, younger shoots and leaves are less bitter. You can blanch bigger leaves to ease their bitterness. Dandelions are tasty in a mixed green salad or sauteed in pastas.
- Keep yourself free of poison ivy and bug bites by foraging in long sleeves and pants.
- Watch your hands: don’t grab hold of plants you aren’t familiar with. Nettles are common in the habitats these wild foods like and a palm full of nettle hairs is a burning fury.
- Take a cell phone and make sure someone knows where you’re going. It would suck if a tiptoe through the tulips to collect wild greens turned into an overnighter in the cold with a broken ankle.
- Know your foes. People in the southwestern US know what a rattlesnake looks like, but people in the midwest need to know, too. Rattlers live in South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa, though they’re rare.
But this is an easy start, right? We take care of you at Offbeat Home — no more paying $2 for a teeny bunch of mustard greens at the grocery! When you’ve collected a bag of tasty, crunchy greens, rinse them thoroughly in cool water, dry, and store in your crisper. And then snap a photo of whatever dish you make and share it in the Flickr group.