Winter is past its hump and the warmth of Spring is thawing the roots of the plants, letting them know it’s soon time to emerge from the ground with the first tender leaves of spring. I am farther north than most of you, so you may already be delighting in the world of plants poking their heads above ground. Wild greens make great, healthy additions to your salads, garnishes, soups and teas.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion leaves are a powerhouse of nutrition, a fantastic source of potassium. The greens are bitter and are best picked in the spring and late fall, as the summertime heat makes them too bitter to be palatable. They go well in salads, or you can sautee them like spinach and serve with vinegar. Dandelion is a fabulous digestive aid and it is a diuretic, removing excess water. It is a wild food treasured in many cultures, notable in Italian cuisine. Many Italian mothers in the Northeast US still gather dandelion greens from their yards to feed their family.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
The small, tender leaves and pretty white flowers of this juicy green are a familiar sight in early Spring. Nutritious, delicious and known for being able to break down tough, fibrous tissue, chickweed blends into any salad or tea very well. It has a light, fresh, watery taste. It is excellent for the skin, being demulcent and cooling–a soothing poultice for acne, irritated or dry skin, etc. These are only some of its many virtues.
Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)
High in protein, calcium, magnesium and a plethora of other minerals, nettles is a staple food across Europe. The first few tender inches of the plant tops are harvested in spring until the plant goes to seed. The plant contains silica, which is great for your hair and nails, but after the flowering process the silica content is far too high for a suitable food. Making nettles soup (blend before serving so it is smooth) is a delicious and fabulous way to bring super nutrition to the dinner table.
Soup can be made with stock, potatoes, onion, carrot, garlic, salt, pepper, celery, boiled until tender, then the washed nettles leaves are added, blanched until tender but still bright green. The soup is removed from the heat, blended until smooth, at which point you may add sour cream or creme fraiche as you prefer. Test the seasonings before serving as potatoes have a knack for making salt seemingly disappear the longer the dish sits. I have also found that adding some cream of mushroom soup to the stock is FABULOUS and the mushrooms give the soup the real richness and depth that it needs.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Pungent and unmistakably garlic-y, this invasive, alien plant of the mustard family is the bane of many a woodland oasis. The plant secretes a chemical that can kill other plants growing around it. However, it makes a lovely green when added to dishes that can support its bold flavor. For example, I chop the leaves fine and add it to curried tuna pasta salad. I use it in place of garlic. It is delicious and always a hit! The roots can also be pounded and pureed up into a spicy paste. The seed pods also have a garlic bite with a spicy kick.
Wild Cress (Cardamine hirsuta)
Like watercress, this tiny, tiny little spring green has a yummy peppery flavor and little, delicate white flowers that look like butterflies. Add it to salads or just nibble on it as you weed your garden.
Most of these spring greens work on the waters of the body, cleansing and moving out the stagnation of the winter out and revving our bodies up for summer! It’s a natural process nature designed to keep us healthy that has dropped out of our modern diets. Also, remember: Wild foods have twice as much nutrition as commercial cultivated foods. Don’t be at war with the “weeds” in your yard….be delighted at their useful nutrition and medicine!
As Hippocrates said, “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food!”