Art-icle - Spring Wild Edibles

Spring Wild Edibles

When most people think of being in a survival situation, they instantly jump to fire and shelter as the skills they need to know. With good reason! Fire and shelter in most situations should be your top priority, but what comes next?

Sawyer Mini Water FilterAfter staving off mother nature’s worst and getting yourself warm and dry your next thoughts should go towards more longer-term priorities. At some point you’re no longer surviving in the wild, you’re living there! Water and food round out the core four of survival.

Spring time is a great opportunity to get out to the woods and see what nature has to offer in the way of food. Wild edibles are all around you, if you know what to look for. In a few weeks, the woods and even your backyard will be overflowing with an abundance of wild edibles. Some are breaking ground even as you read this article!

I consider myself more of a meat-eater, but I will say plants are usually easier to catch and prepare! So knowing how to id a few plants is always a great idea!

Disclaimer: While the plants I’m going to mention are fairly easy to properly identify, you should gather wild edibles with someone you trust to know what’s what or check out some of the resources listed at the end of this post. When in doubt, spit it out! (or better yet, don’t put it in your mouth to begin with!)

Always make sure you are foraging for wild edibles responsibly! Limit what you take to what you are going to eat and less than half of what you find. Don’t pull out the root unless that is the part you are collecting. Most plants can make a comeback as long as the root system is still intact. Making yourself a nice spring mix of wild edibles is one of the ways to enjoy your forged finds without needing to collect an abundance of a single plant.

Clicking on an image will give you a closer look at the plant.......and my ugly mug too, sorry!

Garlic MustardFirst on our list, adding some great garlic flavor to your woodland salad, is garlic mustard. Since garlic mustard is considered an invasive weed, finding it even in your backyard is usually pretty easy.Garlic Mustard

An easy way to identify it is to crush a few leaves in your hand and smell. The crushed leaves will have a strong garlic smell. While it does smell strongly of garlic, I don’t find the flavor overpowering. Eating it plain or adding a generous portion to your salad mix won’t be too much garlic flavor.

Wild GarlicKeeping with flavorful wild plants, wild onion and wild garlic are next. Spending my whole life living in the Pennsylvania, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a yard without at least one of these growing! They are plants that are easy to identify, not only by their appearance, but by the aroma too! Onion grass has a distinct smell like onions and wild garlic like, you guessed it, garlic! While they are similar in appearance, they are different plants. Wild garlic has round, hollow leaves and wild onion has flat ones.

While it was a little early in the year when I wrote this to collect some, new cattail shoots are another great, tasty plant you won’t find in the grocery store. Cattail MarshNew spring cattail shoots are great raw or roasted. They are pretty easy to identify, and picking them is as easy as pulling the young shoots from the ground. Cattails like wet areas, so make sure to wear your boots when harvesting and rinse thoroughly before eating raw.

As we get closer to summer, the cattail will grow two cylindrical flower heads, one above the other. The top flower head can be roasted and eaten like corn on the cob. The roots contain a high amount of starch and can be boiled or roasted like potatoes. After cooking, chew the starch off the root fiber, but spit out the fiber itself. Japanese Knotweed

Another spring edible that is high on the invasive species list is Japanese knotweed. Its bamboo-like appearance makes it another easy target for foragers. The young shoots and leaves can be boiled or steamed and eaten like asparagus. If you prefer, it can be chilled and added to your wild salad.

Purple Dead NettleA recent addition to my wild edible repertoire, is the purple dead nettle. Affectionately named because of its resemblance to stinging nettle, but without the “stinging” hairs. Purple Dead Nettle CloseupPurple dead nettle is a great wild edible for beginners since it has a few easy to distinguish features.

The purple tops that fade into green as you go down the stem are the first thing to catch your attention. Then when you take a closer look at the stem, you’ll see it is a square shape, not round like we usually think of plants being. This is indicative of plants that are members of the mint family, which Purple dead nettle is. Collect the new spring leaves and add them into the mix.

Now that you’ve had your salad, you’ll need something to wash it down with!

Collecting White Pine NeedlesA great drink any time of year is pine needle tea. I prefer eastern white pine needle tea, but any pine will work Pine Needle Tea MakingWith the exception of the ponderosa pine and lodgepole pine. Most sources say to avoid these. Also, stay away from "pines" that aren't really pines, like yew and yew pine. Needles from the eastern hemlock make great tea, too.

Just like any tea you don’t want to boil the water with the tea in it. Boil your water and then slowly pour it over the needles in the mug of your choice. Let it steep for a few minutes for extra flavor, and you have a nice, hot cup of tea that is high in vitamin C.

No matter what your tastes are, there’s always something “springing” up this time of year.

Pine Needle Tea

Check out the links below and then head on out to Mother Nature’s produce section!

Wild Edible of the Month Club - A great way to learn about which plants to eat. A new wild edible each month featuring high resolution, full-color photos, detailed descriptions including how to identify, and even recipes!
Peterson Field Guide Edible Plants A great resource to carry when out and about looking for wild edibles.
Eat the Weeds - Online resource for wild edible identification.