Maybe you missed me, maybe you didn’t. . . but either way, now that spring is finally here, I’m more inspired than ever to start blogging again, especially with all of the magical happenings going on in the forest!
The plant growth in the PNW is simply phenomenal this time of year, so I’m feeling called to share with you a few of my favorite wild edibles, which are perfect for harvesting and adding to a wild salad right now.
These are some of the first wild edible plants that I learned about when I was a student at Wilderness Awareness School over a decade ago!
I’ll never forget my very first spring foraging adventure when I was at WAS, in April of 2008. My classmates and I split up into smaller groups and took off in various directions on our own little missions to harvest specific wild edibles. Then, we reconvened and worked together to prepare and devour an epic feast!
Afterwards, we all found ourselves lying in a sunny meadow, munching endless amounts of dandelion flowers and feeling rather elated by the deep sense of connection that we had just cultivated with the earth and with one another.
That was the first time that I had ever foraged and eaten anything “wild”, and I knew that I would never be the same after that. . .
Fast forward 11 years later, and I’m still deeply passionate about wild edibles. I truly enjoy adding them to my meals. I’m also passionate about holding space for others to connect with wild food and medicine, too!
So, here are a few of my wild salad favs right now. . .
**Gentle reminder (I know that you know this already, but it’s bears repeating!):
Please thoroughly educate yourself on the identifying features of these plants and make sure that you can absolutely and positively ID each plant that you harvest!
Also, please be mindful about how and where you harvest. Only harvest where you are legally permitted to do so. Avoid roadsides and areas that have been sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Harvest away from places where dogs like to urinate! Avoid over-harvesting, and don’t harvest in a place where there are only a few plants growing. I like to offer a piece of my hair, a song, or some water or compost tea to the plants in return for the harvest!
4 Wild Edibles to Add to Your Salad Right Now
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Some call it a “weed”, I call it “delicious”! Chickweed kind of reminds me of spinach because it tastes sweet and little salty, and its cooling and full of moisture. It’s perfect to use as the base or “lettuce” of a wild salad!
Chickweed likes to grow in a low, thick mat along the ground, in cool and moist conditions and often in disturbed soil. I’ve been finding lots of chickweed at the base of big Douglas Fir trees that are growing in open meadows!
Chickweed has oval-shaped leaves that grow opposite along the stem. A row of tiny hairs grows down the stem, alternating sides of the stem at each leaf node. Chickweed has very small, white star-like flowers, which appear to have ten petals but they really have five deeply v-ed petals. Oh chickweed, you trickster. . .
Chickweed is full of calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A & C. It also contains a slew of medicinal properties, but that’s a blog post for another day!
When harvesting chickweed, please use caution as its roots can be pulled up easily. Use scissors, or pick the plant with gentle Raccoon Hands! Chickweed can be harvested while flowering, but avoid harvesting it once it’s gone to seed because it becomes quite tough and fibrous for eating. Enjoy this delicious plant!
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion sometimes get a bad rap. People either love or hate this plant. Regardless of how you feel about it, dandelion just so happens to be one of the most nutritious plants in your backyard! The entire plant is edible and contains many nourishing vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A , C, E, and B’s, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron.
The fresh raw spring greens can be quite bitter and earthy, so I don’t suggest making a whole salad out of them. I find that adding just a few leaves to my salad isn’t too overpowering. It adds a nutritional boost, plus the bitterness of the leaves stimulates digestion. I also like to add some dandelion blossoms to my salad (but my favorite way to eat dandelion blossoms is as fritters!)
I’m assuming you know what dandelion looks like, but if you don’t, there are a few identifying features which can help you distinguish this plant from its look-alike, hairy cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata).
When I first learned about dandelion, I was taught that its look-alike, hairy cat’s ear, is mildly toxic. But after doing a bit more research, I learned that it’s considered toxic to horses, not to people. Apparently, people enjoy eating hairy cat’s ear as well! I have yet to try it! Have you??
Anyway, here are some tips for identifying dandelion vs. hairy cat’s ear:
Dandelion leaves are simple with generally jagged edges (hence why it’s also known as “the teeth of the lion”). Hairy cat’s ear leaves, on the other hand, are lobe-shaped.
Both dandelion and hairy cat’s ear leaves grow in a basal rosette. However, dandelion leaves are smooth and rather hairless, unlike hairy cat’s ear, which has very hairy leaves!
And finally, both dandelion and hairy cat’s ear have bright yellow flowers, however, dandelion grows one flower head per stem, unlike hairy cat’s ear, which grows numerous flower heads per stem. In addition, dandelion stems are hollow, while hairy cat’s ear stems are solid and forked.
Speaking of flowers, interestingly enough… each flower head on both dandelion and hairy cat’s ear actually contains many, many individual flowers! This is one of the characteristics of the Aster family (Asteraceae), of which both plants are members. I remember when I first learned this fact about dandelion flowers. Afterwards I found a dandelion and picked apart its flower head and saw for myself that it’s actually a collection of a whole bunch of tiny flowers! My mind was blown. Woah. . .plants are cool!
Anyway, excuse me for geeking out about botany. . . I hope you enjoy adding this bitter beauty to your salad!
Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
I dig when my salad has a bit of a spicy kick to it, and bittercress is a wild one that fits the bill!
Don’t be fooled by the name of this plant, it’s really not bitter! I would describe it as peppery, spicy, and mustard-like in flavor. Go figure, it’s actually a member of the Mustard family (Brassicaceae).
I’ve been spotting bittercress growing all over the place over the past couple of months. It likes to grow in moist, disturbed soils. . . in the cracks between sidewalks and buildings, in meadows, on the edges. . . I even have a tenacious bittercress growing on the side of one of my fabric garden pots. This plant is impressively resilient!
Bittercress leafs out in a basal rosette, with leaves that are divided into numerous oval-shaped leaflets. It also has an upright flower stalk, which towers above the leaves and contains clusters of tiny white flowers. The flowers stalks are tough to chew, so I prefer to harvest the leaves instead. Mmmm, this plant is so spicy and good! Kind of reminds me of arugula. And it’s nutritious, too! It contains vitamins A & C, calcium, and magnesium.
Enjoy this lil’ kick to your salad. Thanks, bittercress!
Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)
“Eat the rainbow”, they say. Well, fine. . .I’ll just add some flowers to my salad!
Right now the salmonberry flowers are poppin’. Well actually, some of them are beyond poppin’ and have already shed their petals and are starting to reveal their first semblance of berry-dom, while other salmonberry flowers are still hanging onto to their petals. I like to harvest just a few flowers, and leave the rest to the pollinators so they can become food for the birdies and for the wild children!
If you’re not familiar with salmonberry, it’s time to get to know this plant! Salmonberry offers the first wild fruits to ripen here in the PNW. I once went on a survival trip in mid-May and spent the week eating almost-ripe salmonberries and lots and lots of peeled young salmonberry shoots. Although I didn’t want to eat anything salmonberry-related for a long time after that, I have deep gratitude for this plant and its edible offerings!
Salmonberry is a shrub with woody, prickly stems and serrated leaves that are trifoliate, which means that each leaf has three leaflets. The bottom two leaflets remind me of butterfly wings. (I love to point out the butterfly wings to kids because it really helps them with ID!). Salmonberry is a member of the Rose family (Rosaceae), and its flowers have 5 magenta-pink petals. Once ripe, its berries vary from yellow to orange-salmon to reddish in color. They contain a good amount of manganese as well as vitamins A, C, E & K.
While we’re waiting for the salmonberry berries to ripen, let’s add just a few salmonberry flower petals to a wild salad, because let’s face it, eating flowers is awesome. . . plus they make a salad look pretty :-)
Alright, that about sums up a bit about just a few of the wild plants that I’ve been munching on this spring. There are lots more out there, but I’m not trying to be overwhelming! Now’s the time to harvest the greens before all of this sunshine makes everything shrivel and bolt! I’m feeling incredibly grateful for all of this wild abundance!
Which wild edibles have you been munching on lately?? Share in the comments below. . .