Editor’s note: Gardener and potions master Jason McClintock is a lover of both forests and fine food. Here, he talks about some of his favorite wild, edible plants. As always when foraging, use a good guidebook and common sense.
Before joining the Spotts team, I worked as a cook at a fine dining restaurant. Despite knowing early on that I would not pursue cooking as a career, I gained a passion for fresh, locally grown and foraged foods. Working in a restaurant exposes employees to ingredients that are hard to find in local grocery stores. I’d like to talk about a few early spring delicacies that I worked with in the kitchen and have found hiking in local forests.
Ramps (Allium tricoccum)
Also known as the wild leek, the ramp is an edible spring bulb. The leaves, stalk, and flower are all edible. It can be identified by two broad green leaves culminating in a reddish-purple stem. The flavor is a combination of onions and garlic. The leaves are great raw or sauteed in butter; the bulbs are great pickled or sliced and can be used as you would onions or garlic.
Alpine Violet (Viola labradorica)
This little beauty is considered a weed by many and can be found in most gardens and lawns. The leaves and flowers are edible, although the flower is the best part. They are great raw or candied, and they can be used in a simple syrup for cocktails or tea.
The fiddlehead fern is the furled frond of the young fern and can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. The two commonly eaten fiddleheads in North America are the western swordfern (Polystichum munitum) and the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). Ferns are great blanched in boiling water or sauteed with salt and butter.
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
The Eastern redbud is a small tree native to eastern North America that can grow 20 to 30 feet tall. The trees flower in April or May with charming reddish pink flowers. These flowers can be consumed raw or made into a jam and make for a sweet snack.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Garlic mustard was introduced as a culinary herb in the 1860s and has many great uses. However, it is very invasive and has become the dominant understory plant in many woodlands. Luckily, in this case, the best way for humans to eradicate a species is to eat it.
All parts of the plant are edible, but the leaves become bitter as it grows older. It can be identified by its broad heart shaped leaves with coarse rounded teeth, and its small white flowers. The roots are spicy and taste similar to horseradish.
Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenate)
Cutleaf toothwort is a flowering perennial that thrives in moist woodland soils and is a member of the mustard family. It can be identified by its three leaves, each with three or more deeply notched lobes (hence the name). The flowers range from soft white to lavender. The leaves and roots of this plant are edible. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and the roots have a pungent peppery taste. Native Americans would wrap the roots and let them ferment for several days to give them a sweeter taste. (This is the only plant on this list that I have yet to try.)