Spring has finally arrived, thank goodness, and with it comes all the lovely wild Spring greens. Throughout history these plants have proven vital to our ancestors' health as they are the first plants to emerge after long winters and are 'chock full' of vitamins and minerals that can help to revitalize the body. These plants were harvested and cooked as “pottage herbs” which means they went “in the pot” to add nutrition to soups, porridge, stews or anything else that was being cooked at the time. So like our ancestors, you too can care for your nutritional health and get out and harvests these lovely nutrient dense treasures for your family!
Things to consider when harvesting plants in the wild:
Plants should be harvested in clean, unpolluted areas away from roadsides, sprayed gardens or farm fields, toxic dump sites or other suspect activity. This is particularly important with our spring plants as they seem to draw the pollutants to themselves over the winter for some reason.
While our Spring plants are nutritionally best used fresh they can all be preserved for later use if you wish. Just make sure to harvest them on a dry day and either quickly blanch and freeze them or dry them on screens or a in a dehydrator for use later.
Also please note that while none of the plants described below are harmful if taken as a food, many do have therapeutic action when taken in larger amounts, so please check with a herbalist before embarking on consumption of large amounts of these plants on a daily basis and especially so if you are on medications, pregnant, breastfeeding or have a serious or chronic health issue.
Below we have featured some of the lovely plants that grow abundantly in our Valley and even included some recipes as well to get you started on your Wild Spring Tonic herb adventure!
The bane of many gardeners, dandelions are a nutritional powerhouse. Loaded in vitamins and minerals, particularly potassium, calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, in fact a serving of dandelion greens contains the same amount of calcium as half a cup of milk! All parts of plant are edible raw but be aware this plant can be bitter, especially the older leaves; the young leaves or those growing where there is less/no sunlight are the least bitter. We gather the young leaves in the early spring and they can be used as a spinach substitute in cooking. The roots are best when collected in very early spring or late autumn, peeled, sliced and cooked in 2 changes of water with pinch of baking soda. The roots can be roasted as coffee substitute. The unopened flower buds can be eaten raw or used in cooking (they make yummy dandelion fritters!).
This stinging plant requires a bit of effort to harvest but it is worth it! The young leaves can be lightly blanched and then used as a green in any of your cooking. They are loaded with vitamins and minerals and have a natural antihistamine action that can help ward off allergy symptoms (perfect with allergy season almost upon us). You can locate them throughout the Valley but particularly in moist areas with dappled shade. The plant is at its nutritional best when picked before it goes to flower (between 6 – 8 inches high).
One of our earliest Spring weeds, chickweed is rich in vitamins A, B and C, flavonoids, rutin, iron, protein, and fatty acids. You can generally find chickweed in any open areas and in many waste spaces. It particularly likes moist, partial shade areas. It is pretty easy to identify if you want to harvest it. It is easily recognized by its straggling, succulent stems bearing paired leaves and white flowerlets. However I should say that you do need to really look to make sure you have the right herb as there are other plants that are actually misidentified as chickweed, so if you’re going gathering, always be certain you know what you are after. Don’t panic though; it really isn’t that hard to identify this plant. You can identify it easily by finding a slight line of small hairs that runs up only one single side of its stem. When the stem branches into a pair of leaves, the hairs will switch their position to the opposite side, yet still only run up a single side at a time.
This weed is a pasture plant common throughout Europe and North America and is easily recognized by its clinging leaves and sticky seeds attaching themselves to any animal or person passing them. Cleavers is an annual plant found in moist or grassy places and along river banks and has a tendency to climb fences (making it easier to harvest!). This plant can be used as a green in cooking, smoothies and juices and is rich in nutrients, especially vitamin C. It is wonderful for cleansing out waste material from our body via the lymphatic system.
Plantain is another one of those plants that seems to thrive right on the edge of gardens and driveways, but it’s also edible, so make sure to harvest away from possible contaminated areas. Pick the green, rippled leaves and leave the tall flower stems. Blanch the leaves and sauté with some butter and garlic just as you would with kale or any other tough green. This is also a great plant to have for bites and itching – simply crush the leaves and rub on your skin for relief!
Loaded in nutrients, the leaves of this plant are great used raw in salads, or cooked in soups, in mixed cooked greens, or in any dish that calls for cooking greens. Although lamb’s quarters are best before the flowers appear, if the fresh young tips are continuously harvested they can be eaten all summer. This plant is an excellent source of usable calcium (note – lamb’s quarters are susceptible to leaf miners; be careful to harvest plants that are not infested.)
Wild Amaranth (aka Pigweed)
Often found in disturbed soil areas and fields, the whole plant – leaves, roots, stem, seeds can be eaten. The amaranth seed is small and very nutritious and easy to harvest, the seed grain is used to make flour for baking uses. Roasting the seeds can enhance the flavour, also you can sprout the raw seeds using them in salads and in sandwiches Young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach, sautéed, steamed etc. A nice slightly tart nutritionally dense tea can be made from fresh or dried amaranth leaves.
The young leaves and stems of this pretty plant can be eaten raw in salads; the whole plant can be boiled and eaten as a potherb; and the aerial parts of the plant can be powdered and brewed in a cold infusion to make a tasty beverage. The plant contains vitamins A, C, and K, as well as flavonoids and rutin.
Another one of our plants that is considered a noxious weed, purslane is rich in vitamins and minerals; in fact Gandhi actually numbered purslane among his favourite foods! It’s a small plant with smooth flat leaves that have a refreshingly sour taste. Purslane grows from the beginning of summer to the start of fall. You can eat purslane raw or boiled. If you’d like to remove the sour taste, boil the leaves before eating.
Wild throughout the Creston Valley, this sweetly scented beauty is an incredible edible. The leaves are high in vitamin C and A. Both the leaves and flowers in salads and can be layered in sugar to create a delicious treat for baking. Keep in mind that late season plants without flowers may be confused with inedible greens. Play it safe; forage this plant only when it is in bloom.
Wild onions and wild chives grow in fields or disturbed land and can often be located in the subalpine meadows in the area. The whole plant may be chopped into salads, soups, chili and stews. Likewise for wild garlic if you are lucky enough to find this elusive plant. There is some evidence that eating wild onions, wild garlic or wild chives may reduce blood pressure and lower blood sugar.
Cleavers Cleansing Juice
As a juice it can be taken ¼ cup/80ml two to three times daily (try adding a tsp of lemon juice to the juice for extra lymphatic cleansing). To make it as a juice you put the fresh herb and just a small amount of water (for every cup of chopped herb add about a ¼ cup water) then use a food processor, or blender to pulp it. You then strain the juice out and refrigerate for up to 3 days. You can freeze the juice in small batches and defrost as needed. It is okay stored for about 4 months in the freezer.
3 cups Chickweed
3 cups grated carrots (4 or 5 medium carrots)
Add any of the following:
-Violet leaves and flowers
-Small dandelion leaves and flower petals
-Chopped wild onion
Toss everything together. You can serve it marinated or with dressing on the side. Sprinkle with violet flowers and dandelion petals.
Nettle Quiche with Flax/Sesame Seed Crust
1/2 cup Flax Seed
1/2 cup Sesame Seeds
1 Egg White
1/4 cup Olive Oil
In a well greased pie pan mix ingredients and pat the mixture against the bottom and up the walls of the pie tin. Cook in a 350°F oven for 8-10 minutes remove from oven. Cool 5 minutes then pour in quiche filling.
1 cup cheddar or semi-hard cheese of your choice
2 cupped finely chopped nettles
1/4 cup wild onions chopped
4 eggs plus yolk left over from the pie crust
3/4 cups cream
Saute wild onions and nettles until soft and wilted. In a bowl whisk cream and eggs. In pie crust layer cheese on the bottom cover with nettle/onion mixture and pour the egg mixture over it all. Arrange tomatoes on the top and bake for 10 minutes at 400°F, reduce heat to 350°F and bake additional 20 minutes or until the quiche is set. Serve with a mixed wild green salad.
Chocolate Violet Cake
2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/3 cup violet sugar*
3/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
To make violet sugar put 2 cups of granulated sugar and 1 cup of edible violet flowers into a food processor and blend well. Store in a glass jar for 1 week at room temperature. Sift to remove violet pieces and store sugar in an airtight container until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside. Cream violet sugar and butter in a large bowl. Add 1 egg, continue to beat until light and fluffy. Add remaining eggs, beating after each addition. Add vanilla. Alternate adding flour mixture and milk to creamed butter mixture, gently folding to mix ingredients.
Lightly grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Divide batter between the two pans. Bake 20 to 25 minutes. When done, top will spring back when gently pressed and toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake will come out clean. Remove from oven and let pans cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Gently remove cakes from pans, and cool completely on wire rack. Decorate with icing or confectioner's sugar.
All material contained herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care.