Foraging with Care
With the greening of spring, it is easy to succumb to the call of the wild and head for the woods. Once there, we may remember the simple joy of happening upon a mulberry tree as a kid. Gathering with purple-stained fingers all of the ripe berries we could handle. And sometimes, we could be a little selfish about our found treasure and not share that special spot with anyone. This is typical of adult foragers too, who keep their favorite mushroom site well under wraps.
You don’t have to go on a special expedition to glean from all that nature offers up, especially in the spring. You may not have to look much further than your own backyard. We will share a guide with you to get you started on the quest to find small treasures that are delicious, but also connect to you to the age-old process of gathering your dinner.
Foraging is a wonderful excuse to be attentive to the forest floor. When you have that perfect spring day to head out to the woods, you’ll want to take some simple tools. A basket and a pair of shears. You can also take paper lunch bags and a sharpie. This way you can mark each find individually. In addition, you’ll want to take a regiona foraging guide with you as well.
Gathering wild foods is a primarily about timing. To gather wild food, you will need to mind both the calendar and the weather. Spring is the time for greens, when new leaves and shoots are tender and sweet. Ramps, nettles and some mushrooms are only viable for less than a month. When harvesting wild fruit, you want to be sure that they are fully ripened to capture their fullest flavor.
Another key component is watch where you harvest. Near a highway (that is consistently treated with chemicals) or near a sewage plant—these are probably bad choices. Pesticides are used in many areas including public parks, so just be savvy about where you go.
Each foraged food often requires special preparation: For example, Pokeweed (Phytolacca) can wreak havoc on your intestines if not cooked in several changes of water, and acorns must be leached several times to remove bitter tannins. The upshot? It will give you an honest sense of how difficult life was for those who depended upon foraging for their food.
Foraging is not a sustainable practice. It is a hobby and one that we should do with care to the environment around us. Foraging will often take you into territory where the ecosystem is somewhat fragile. You’ll want to mindful and how and where you tread. In addition, be sure that you are also leaving some healthy plants. Try to take the time to educate yourself so you can avoid plants that are threatened or endangered. Above all, foraging is an excuse to be in the woods and to be attentive to all that it offers.
Here’s a recipe that you can try without venturing further than your own backyard!
First off, there are nutritional benefits to eating this particular weed from your backyard. The leaves contain Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron and vitamins A, B and C. Fun fact: Dandelion is higher in vitamin A than any other garden plant.
Early spring is the time to harvest the leaves. They are tender, although you will have to rely on the shape of the leaves to identify them. Once they bloom and are exposed to longer sun-filled days, the leaves will become very bitter. Most of us are overly familiar with dandelions, but there are some relative plants that have spikes or hairs on their leaves. Dandelion leaves are smooth.
Warm Dandelion Greens with Roasted Garlic Dressing
Roasted Garlic Dressing
1 large head garlic, roasted
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar or red-wine vinegar
1 tbsp. lime juice⅛ teaspoon salt
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
6 cups bite-size pieces dandelion greens (about 1 bunch), tough stems removed
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Squeeze roasted garlic pulp into a blender or food processor (discard the skins). Add oil, vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper and blend or process until smooth. Transfer the dressing to a small saucepan and place over medium heat until warm, 1 to 2 minutes. Add shallot and simmer until the shallot is softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
Place dandelion greens in a large salad bowl. Pour the warm dressing over the greens and toss until they are wilted and coated. Add pine nuts and goat cheese and toss again, slightly melting the cheese with the warm greens. Season with pepper.