Super, Natural British Columbia is called that for a reason – so beautiful you catch yourself staring – but also abundant in its edible offerings. When you know what to look for, it’s very much a case of once you know, you know.
Spring is an exciting time in the wild plant world, with a lot of the greens popping up long before even the organically grown stuff. Here are a few things to keep your eyes open for:
Dandelion Fancy name = Taraxacum Officinale Dandelion is a good starting point when you’re new to foraging. The chances are you are familiar with the ‘weed’ in-and-around the garden or neighbourhood, but probably not how to eat it. Packed with all kinds of antioxidants, an inflammatory thing and it can even help regulate your insulin.
Pick the petals and make a simple syrup that tastes like honey (because cocktails!), you can make a tea with the roots, the leaves are similar to bitter greens for salads or sautéed, and once you’ve picked the petals and expose this small caper looking bulb, you can pickle them and turn them into… capers.
Watercress Fancy name = Nasturtium Officinale Part of the nasturtium family, it’s the ultimate swamp thing – bathing in running streams. From its tangled vibe, delicate stems, and pretty webbed leaves, to a sprinkling of vitamin C, antioxidants and calcium, there are all kinds of yes with this wild green.
Naturally, with its deity looks, it gets the garnish treatment, but flavour-wise it packs an unexpected punch with zesty, peppery, spicy notes. Use it like you’d use arugula – tossed in your salad, as a crunchy sub for lettuce in sandwiches or burgers, whizzed up into a refreshingly vibrant springtime soup or sautéed down (which mellows out its fierceness, by the way). Once you’ve cleaned your freshly harvested watercress, try and eat it within 3 to 4 days – they’re built for the here and now, so carpe diem.
Morel Mushrooms Fancy name = Morchella Meaty, nutty and earthy, morels have a bit of a rock-star reputation in the fungi world. Firstly, they only grow wild, mainly because of its unique relationship with the land, and trees in particular (this also is one of the reasons why they’re quite expensive). Follow last year’s wildfires in search of the good after the destruction and scout out rich soils, which means the morels are loaded with vitamins and mineral, but also help to balance your blood sugar, repair some liver damage, and are high in things like fibre and protein, as well.
They don’t get slimy like other mushrooms and their sponge-like holes not only make them pretty to look at, but they are epic at soaking up sauces and creating this flavour pocket. Saying that those pockets can also hold grit, too, so be careful. Food-wise think risotto, pasta, soup, stuffed with minced meat (including wild game) and cooked, or sprinkled with one of my spice blends. Don’t forget to dry some for your pantry, too.
Tip: you should always cook mushrooms.
Fancy name = Asparagus Acutifolius
Just like the regular asparagus you’d find in the grocery store, but someone hasn’t intentionally planted it – the chances are the nomadic seeds from old orchards were taken where the wind had taken them. As every edible plant is different, it’s good to know what eco-system you’re looking for. With wild asparagus, it likes to be near water but not in it, so moisture is key and so too is alkaline soil. It’s a plant species that likes to sunbathe in or around direct sunlight, so you wouldn’t find it in a forest setting, but try ditches along irrigation line or stream, or on the edges of marsh type soils (moisture, remember?)
Nettle Fancy name = Urtica Dioica Like with the other wild things listed so far, food is medicine, and nettle is no exception. Serving up a dose of iron, potassium, vitamins A and C, magnesium and calcium, treat nettles like spinach, but pricklier.
Nettle is a medium, jagged-edged leaf wild weed that grows in clusters with a thick stem with camouflaged white hair-like thorns covering its length. You want to harvest these with gloves on because, just as its name suggests, they will sting you – causing red itchiness on your skin. For that reason, you want to cook them first to kill off that sting. Both the leaves and stem are deliciously edible – try it in a detoxing tea to flush out that system (it tastes like the colour green), a hearty soup, blanched and filled in pasta, dried and powdered and lots more.
Before consuming any wild plant, it’s always good to do your research – I’m just here to plant a seed about what is possible. Another thing to keep in mind is the ‘everything in moderation’ approach (like pretty much everything) when harvesting or consuming because we share Mother Nature’s grocery store.
Photo credit: The Paisley Notebook.