After a winter of eating frozen canned vegetables and supermarket produce, aren’t you ready to get outside and eat some fresh, wild vegetables? There is only a narrow window of opportunity to harvest nature’s first offerings. Fresh greens and wild leeks are delicious and healthy.
Greens get tough and inedible later on in the year, but in early spring, they are tender and delicate. They are also among the most nutritious foods on the planet. Greens are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals. They contain protein and are outstanding sources of calcium and iron.
Gather whatever local greens are abundant. It is essential that you identify wild foods carefully and only collect them from clean environments where they grow abundantly. If you choose to can or freeze wild greens, follow the same procedure as you do when you process spinach or Swiss chard.
Put on some gloves and gather tender young nettle leaves. Dandelion greens are a classic spring treat, too. Don’t wait long to harvest dandelion greens because they will become bitter once they flower. For a special treat, combine a variety of spring greens. Chickweed, young daylily leaves and mustard greens make an interesting combination.
Fiddleheads, the tightly furled tops of ferns, taste similar to asparagus. Edible fiddleheads have brown, dry coverings similar in appearance to onionskin over their tops before they open. Avoid ferns that have a hairy or white covering.
If you live in a city and cannot gather your own spring vegetables, you may still be able to enjoy the spring harvest. Larger grocery stores and farmers markets often sell fiddleheads for a short period in the spring. Dandelion greens are available commercially; however they are often large and bitter.
Here is a simple, delicious way to prepare spring greens.
2 quarts of freshly washed wild greens
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
¼ cup white wine
4 ounces of feta cheese
¼ cup seedless top quality black olives
¼ cup fresh herbs, chopped (basil, parsley or dill are outstanding)
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Cover the bottom of a frying pan with a light coating of olive oil. Place it over medium-high heat. Add the greens. Sauté them for one minute. Add the mushrooms and garlic. Stir frequently. Add the white wine and cook until the vegetables are tender. Remove the pan from the stove. Toss in the olives, feta cheese and herbs. Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve warm. Leftovers are tasty when eaten cold. Makes 4 servings.
Another spring favorite that preserves well is wild leek. Leeks are easy to find because you usually smell them from quite a distance away. Make sure that each leek that you harvest has an onion smell, however. Some bulbs in the woods are unsafe to consume.
Water for water bath canner
5 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 cup water for pickles
2 teaspoons canning salt
2 quarts wild leek bulbs, peeled and trimmed
8 teaspoons mustard seed
4 teaspoons celery seed
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Canning supplies including 8 half-pint jars, 8 canning lids and rings, and a water bath canner
Sterilize 8 half-pint canning jars and lids. Drain the jars and add one teaspoonful of mustard seeds, one-half teaspoonful of celery seeds, and a small pinch of red pepper flakes to each jar. Set the jars aside.
Begin heating the water in your water bath canner. Bring it to a boil.
Bring vinegar, water for pickles, and the salt to a boil in a large pot. Boil for three minutes. Add one teaspoonful of mustard seeds, one-half teaspoon of celery seeds, and a small pinch of red pepper flakes to each jar. After three minutes, add the leeks to the pot. Bring the leeks and liquid back to a boil. Simmer for three to seven minutes. Check the texture of the leeks frequently. They should be slightly soft, but not mushy when done. Remove the pan from the stove. Fill the jars with leeks and pickling liquid. Leave one inch of headspace. Use a knife to release any air bubbles. Place the lids on the jars. Process in the water bath for ten minutes. Make adjustments for elevation if needed. Makes 6-8 half-pint jars.
Spring is a wonderful time to harvest wild greens. Not only can you enjoy some fresh, tasty vegetables now, but you can also store some away for next winter.
What are your favorite spring wild edibles? Share your tips in the section below: