Tis' the season of wild edible greens, and lately I've been finding the makings for salads and steamed side dishes in my backyard. There's something fun about going out in the evening to forage up a wild dinner guest. With all the warm (and not so warm) rainy days of Springtime, emerging greens are tender, mild and chalk full of nutrients after a long Winter. It's also a time of year and economic trend when food is just plain expensive, so rounding out your food budget with wildcrafting can make a big difference.
A favorite of mine right now is Curly Dock (Rumex crispus.) It grows in abundance around here, especially in disturbed soils, and when steamed it has a distinctive lemon flavor. It's a great source of protein, vitamin A, iron and potassium. Because it is so high in oxalic acid, which gives it that tart flavor, it should be consumed in moderation to avoid risk of kidney stone formation. Truly, all things are best in moderation, so don't be afraid to try this plant. You'll find it's quite delicious. The root is also useful as a blood purifier and a means to bind and flush heavy metals from the body.
Oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) is one of my favorite wild salad greens. When picked this time of year before the white flowers bloom, it has a mild, nutty flavor. The unopened flower buds may also be used as a substitute for capers. I transplanted this one into my garden where it is growing quite vigorously with all the good soil and watering, because I just couldn't get enough of it. Historically, the flowers are associated with the old prose saying "He loves me, he loves me not."
The wildest name award goes out to nipplewort (Lapsana communis), whose name dates back to nursing mothers of the British Isles using the leaves for a poultice to relieve discomfort from breastfeeding. It is an abundant weed in the garden this time of year, and delicious raw in salads, as well as boiled, steamed or sauteed.
Many folks spend a lot of time getting rid of their dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), without realizing they have an abundant food source right there in their lawn. The bitter greens are great steamed, in a soup, or in a salad, and the flowers make delicious fritters cooked in tempura or beer batter. They are high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and contain more iron and calcium than spinach. The root has a wide array of medicinal uses, including a ground coffee substitute, a liver tonic, and a diuretic to name a few. The milky substance in the stem can be used as a mosquito repellant and folk treatment for warts. Think about spending your time harvesting these rather than spraying them.
I transplanted some oxalis (Oxalis oregana) into my yard last year, and it is thriving underneath a large fern in the damp shade. It has a delicious tart flavor, and makes for a tasty nibble. This plant is high in vitamin C, and has been used historically to prevent scurvy. With high levels of oxalic acid, this is another one to eat in moderation, but the consensus among scientists is that toxicity of oxalic acid in persons of normal kidney function is highly unlikely, so don't be swayed from trying this as a delicious salad or snack.
If you are wanting more ideas on recipes and creative ways to prepare your wild greens, I highly reccommend this book by my wild foods instrutor, John Kallas, called Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. You can find it on his Wild Food Adventures website, and it's a great resource for the field and the kitchen. Happy harvesting!