Maine gardeners know that raising their own fruits and vegetables provides their families with wholesome food with a flavor that can't be compared with those bought in the store. They also know that Mother Nature provides a host of wild foods ready for the picking. These wild foods are bursting with flavor and add a heaping helping of vitamins and minerals to your diet.
If you are new to foraging and harvesting wild foods, these five wild greens are a good place to start, as they are easy to identify and locate and don’t require any special preparation. Because they are all greens (or come from the greens), most can be served either fresh or cooked, as a side dish, or used in casseroles, soups and sauces.
Check out these five wild greens readily found throughout Maine and treat your family to fresh wild greens long before those in the garden are ready for harvesting.
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Dandelion greens (Taraxacum officinale) are one of the first wild greens to appear in the spring. The tender young leaves are picked or dug with a small section of the root and cooked much like spinach. Like spinach, dandelion greens shrink when cooked. Dandelions provide a heaping helping of iron and are high in Vitamin A and C. But beware! Dandelion can be bitter and may require a change of water while cooking. Some add a pinch of baking soda to the first water to remove the bitterness. Serve hot with melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Check the Old Farmer's Almanac for more info about the amazing dandelion.
If you are gardener you probably recognize lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album) as a garden weed. In many areas lamb's quarters is called pig weed. Harvest the tiny leaves when they are young and tender and cook as you would spinach. Lamb's quarters shrinks to about one third after cooking. Lamb's quarters is in in both Vitamin A and C. Serve lamb's quarters with a dab of butter and season with salt and pepper. Check Mariquita Farm for more recipes ideas for Lamb's Quarters.
Dandelion blossoms are often overlooked when it comes to eating nature's bounty. These fluffy blooms can be harvested, dipped in batter and fried for a tasty spring treat. The Twin Eagles Wilderness School provides several recipes for cooking dandelions, including dandelion fritters made from dandelion blossoms.
Fiddleheads emerge in early spring and can be found along stream banks. The coiled heads of the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) are harvested before they unfurl and are typically boiled or steamed and serves with melted butter as a side dish. These tender morsels have delicate flavor and can be used with soups, sauces and a variety of dishes. Fiddleheads & Fairies offers over 75 fiddlehead recipes and provides detailed information about identifying, picking and cooking fiddleheads.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) can also be cooked and served like spinach, but these fleshy little leaves do not shrink when cooked. According to the University of Maine Extension, if you harvest just the leaves the stem will produce another flush of leaves to harvest again later. Purslane can also be served fresh to add flavor to green salads.