Spring has sprung in all its glory! The ephemerals have reached full size, the invasives are robust, and the trees are leafing out! Nature is nearly a fully stocked grocery store! Wild edibles I’ve eaten this month include wild leeks, trout lily, spring beauty, live forever, bedstraw, garlic mustard, cattail, swamp saxifrage, partridgeberry, northern white cedar, dandelion, and more.
One of the highlights over the last few weeks was finding a fairly clean patch of garlic mustard, which can be somewhat rare since it usually grows in the most disgusting habitat.
Garlic mustard is one of my favorite wild edibles for a number of reasons. First, it is invasive, so you don’t need to feel any guilt about harvesting it in quantity. I harvest bags full of the whole above ground portion and use it to make pesto by simply substituting the mustard for the basil in any pesto recipe.
I also stir fry or steam the flower stalks before the flower blooms. These are very tender at this time of year and they are the least bitter part of the plant. But, that’s not all! The roots offer a horse-radish type substitute.
Steve Brill provides a good recipe for this in his book Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not so Wild Places). The only thing I miss about garlic mustard horse-radish is the really strong nose rush. Despite the lack of pungency, it’s great on crackers with a slice of cheddar cheese.
While harvesting the garlic mustard, I made sure to pull out every plant by its roots, even roots that weren’t big enough to save, so that I could try to make a dent in its population. I am worried that if garlic mustard continues to advance across the northeast, it will take a major toll on native plants.
Wild leeks are always a highlight. Despite the fact that they are native, they often grow in such vast quantities that you can harvest a fair amount of them without damaging the stand. This doesn’t mean I endorse yanking out more than 20% of a stand and trying to sell it to local co-ops like I’ve seen people do. See my post on “wild edible CSAs” for why I am strongly opposed to this practice.
Wild leeks are a great utility plant, and this year I used them in quiches, tacos, quesadillas, and I even added them to the garlic mustard pesto I made. I also had them by themselves, lightly sautéed and served with salt sprinkled on top. They are to die for and I prefer them to cultivated leeks.
A final highlight worth noting is dandelion. I often eat some raw leaves and raw flowers when I find clean stands of them, but my favorite part is the “heart” or tender inner portion of the crown before it sends up its flower stalk. My other favorite part is the root. The roots taste great boiled and served with butter and salt. They are not as bitter as the rest of the plant. They are even better as a coffee substitute. I cut them into one inch portions and then let them air dry for about a week. Once they are fully dried, I bake them in the oven at 250-350 degrees F for 20-40 minutes. The temperature and length of time cooking them determines what kind of roast you have. I then grind them in a coffee maker in the morning when I feel like coffee. I no longer drink coffee, so dandelion roots are a nice caffeine-free substitute. They are also strongly diuretic, which helps in disguising them as coffee!