Here's a look at what I've been foraging in the past few weeks...
This spring saw the beginnings of our slow, but steady, progress towards encouraging ramps to root along our creek bank. These wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) grow very slowly, taking up to four years to flower and reproduce. They make their appearance in early spring and we are careful to harvest only a few leaves at a time, leaving the bulbs to spread. We have tried (only somewhat successfully) planting ramp seeds and ramp sprouts, hoping to start other colonies along the creek's banks. Cooked into an omelet, or scattered in a risotto, they lend a pungent garlic taste that screams springtime.
On the opposite end of the scale of ease of grow-ability is burdock (Arctium lapa), which flourishes under the maple grove at the end of our driveway. It's the plant that bears burs; you know, the ones that stick to your pants and don't want to let go. In years past, we have harvested and roasted its root, which can be quite difficult to dig. This year we harvested stems, which I boiled and then baked in a bread-crumb covered casserole. They taste a bit like artichokes and will definitely be making a repeat appearance at our dinner table next spring.
Next up was the tender leaves of the tops of pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), which I boiled (twice) and turned into poke salat, an early spring green (especially good when I add a bit of bacon grease to the skillet).
Last week, I harvested 75 elderflower (Sambucus nigra) blossoms to make elderflower cordial, which is basically a floral lemonade concentrate that I bottle and freeze to enjoy all year round.
Just last week I harvested the green blossoms from common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which I turned into a pretty green soup. Don't worry about my depleting this favorite food for Monarchs; we have hundreds and hundreds of milkweed plants growing in our fields. I took only one or two green blossoms from a dozen or so plants.
My latest foraging venture entails getting up early before the sun heats the day up and heading out to pick wild black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis). These are different from the millions of wild blackberries that grow along our paths and in large patches in our fields. These berries grow on thin arching canes that bend back toward the ground, rerooting where they settle. The thimble-shaped berries are ready to harvest only when the berries turn a dark purplish black, usually two or three weeks before the blackberries are ready to pick. The berries are sweet and tart – tasting slightly different from the domestic raspberries that grow in my garden – but I like them just as much. I took a quart to Maggie today and hope to pick enough in the next couple of days to make jam -- assuming I don't eat them as fast as I can pick them.
While out picking wild raspberries this morning, I noticed that the chicory flowers (Cichorium intybus) are starting to bloom. They bloom only in the mornings; by lunchtime they have closed up. We have been known to make chicory coffee from their roasted roots. I've got chicory on my list for next week.
I consider foraging to be the ultimate in seasonal, local, sustainable and healthy eating. Most of these plants can be collected only for a brief time. If I don't stay open-eyed to what is before me, I can miss the gifts that Mamma Nature is showering upon us. And what a shame that would be!