by Filip Tkaczyk
Some of the most delicious wild foods are wild edible greens. These wild foods are typically more strongly flavored and far more nutritious for us than their domestic counterparts. One of the best ways to get familiar with these wild plants is to include them in your daily meals. Once you have properly identified and harvested them from a clean source, the next step is making them a regular part of your life. Consider them as a daily dose of vitamins and a direct way to connect to the wild.
Below are some commonly encountered wild greens and suggestions for when to harvest them and how best to include them in your daily life.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
This familiar garden and lawn weed is one of the choice wild edible greens. Though it can be bitter, it is packed with vitamins and helps with digestion. The younger leaves are best, being less bitter and also less fibrous. The greens are typically gather at earlier stages of growth, such as in spring.
Those who can handle a little bitterness might enjoy eating it raw as part of a mixed salad or as raw additions to sandwiches (instead of lettuce). Dandelion leaves can also be blended with other greens, pine nuts, parmesan cheese and olive oil to make an excellent pesto. Otherwise, it might be better enjoyed cooked. The leaves can be chopped and cooked into a scramble or stir-fry.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
This small, delicate succulent wild edible green is often found in gardens, empty lots and other areas of disturbed soil. Its spade-shaped, opposite leaves have a very pleasant flavor. Chickweed is best harvested in early spring or early fall, but may be found growing in the middle of summer around moist places or much of the year in mild climates.
They are an excellent choice as a salad green, and are enjoyed by many. The greens of this plant are also a good choice to use as a base for pesto (to which some dandelion can be added for additional nutrition). They are an excellent choice for flavorful greens inside of fresh rolls.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
This sprawling, reddish-stemmed succulent is a common plant found in urban, suburban and rural areas in many parts of North America. This plant is resilient enough to grow out of cracks in concrete, but more commonly found in disturbed, well-drained soils. This is a summer time wild edible green and is best sought once things have warmed up into the 80's F or higher.
This slightly lemony green is a great addition to salads, as well as a good garnish with meat or fish. The tender ends are a good replacement for or addition to store-bought sprouts. This plant is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Lamb's Quarters (Chenopodium album)
This delicious leafy green is also sometimes called "wild spinach." This plant is found frequently as a volunteer in large garden beds and in the edges of farm fields. The toothed leaves of this plant are covered in a fine dusting of tiny waxy crystals, and this is often most visible near the top of the plant on the new growth.
This is another great plant that can be eaten raw as part of a salad, sandwich or garnish. Its rich flavor also makes it an excellent base for a pesto by itself or mixed with other wild greens. It can also be cooked like the more familiar spinach. The stems of younger plants are very good steamed.
Amaranth (Amaranthus ssp.)
This is a group of similar looking plants sometimes called "pigweed." This is one of the spring to summertime wild edible greens. Its deeply veined leaves are mild in flavor and are a good addition to mixed salads. Like lamb's quarters, it is also sometimes cooked and used like spinach.
This plant also produces tiny edible seeds (visible in the image above), which can be used to make flour. This plant is grown in many parts of the world as a drought-tolerant source of greens and grain.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Though not typically eaten raw, this plant is a excellent wild edible green when cooked. This plant is best eaten when it's still young, about 6-12 inches tall. These younger shoots are typically found in early spring or sometimes early fall. The stinging hairs on this plant contain formic acid and typically cause only temporary discomfort. A few minutes of cooking destroys these stinging hairs and makes nettle harmless.
Nettles leaves are excellent steamed, cooked with eggs, stir-fried or added to soups. These wild edibles are another excellent choice for pesto. This plant is packed with vitamin A, C, D, iron and calcium.
Experiment with trying these wild edibles in the ways suggested here or be creative and try them in other ways. Remember, one of the best ways to experience the full benefits of wild edible greens to include them as part of your regular diet. Enjoy these delicious wild plants!
For more information and hands-on experience with wild edibles, check out our: Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants Courses
For more information on wild edible green check out this article from MotherEarthNews.com