Sheep Sorrel is a summer delight. Those interestingly shaped leaves – are they sheep heads with little tiny ears and big fat snouts? Or electric guitars? Or Arrowheads? Whatever they are, they are tart, tangy and delicious.
I rarely cook Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), though it can add a nice tang to soups and hot dishes. I prefer to eat it plain as a snack when I’m out in the yard, or else in my salads and smoothies.
Sheep sorrel grows in sunny spots, and I see it flowering along country roadsides everywhere. As a member of the buckwheat family, it has a tall flower spike with tiny florets adorning it. Unlike other plants, the leaves of Sheep sorrel stay tender and tasty even when it’s flowering. It is hardy, too – it grows in our yard and gets mowed down over and over again….only to keep popping back up, over and over again.
Advice from Sheep sorrel: When life mows you down, dig your roots deeper and come back stronger.
This is such a pretty little plant, and delicious, too. Chickweed (Stellaria media) is one of those nice wild greens that never gets bitter and can be good to eat all through the growing season. The flavor is mild and tastes like summer. I see it in a variety of places – alongside an old barn, out in a pasture, on the edge of the woods. The long, leafy stems like to lay down, but if they get crowded with other plants, they will grow upright.
At first glance, the Chickweed flowers look like they have 10 petals, but a closer look shows that there are really 5 deeply lobed petals. This is a common trait in the Pink family, which Chickweed belongs to. You might see a very small, sort of fuzzy plant that looks just like this, with the same kind of flower – that would be Mouse-ear Chickweed. That one is edible, too. Fuzzy food is not my favorite, so I just leave that one be.
I usually eat Chickweed raw in salads and smoothies. I’ll go out and snip some stems with a scissors, then pull the leaves off the lower, tougher end of the stem. The stem tips are usually tender enough to use.
I see you there, baby Chickweed, growing in my strawberry bed, lol!! It’s okay, you will make a nice ground cover, and since this is right out my back door, I won’t have to walk very far to pick some tender leaves for my salads.
I love this little flower, and it’s a good thing, because it grows ALL OVER my yard and property. It is delicate and beautiful and it makes me happy to look at those sweet blossoms with their heart shaped leaves. And they taste good, too.
The blossoms have sort of a nutty, raw-pea kind of flavor, and the leaves are just nice and mild. I like to chop the leaves and put them in salads and fritters (my current-favorite way of using wild greens, recipe down below). The flowers I’ll leave whole and put on top of salads and dips as an edible decoration. They make a nice presentation when bringing stuff for a pot-luck.
These delicate, innocent-looking little plants grow very robustly, so I’m not worried about over-harvesting at all. They are related to pansies and johnny jump ups, which are also edible flowers. They grow around the edges of buildings and woods, where they get some shade for part of the day, and are happy no matter how much or little rain there is.
Okay, here’s the recipe for my current-favorite way of eating wild greens: Fritters!
1 cup grated fleshy vegetable like sweet potato or zucchini.
1/4 cup flour of choice (I like garbanzo bean flour)
Now here’s the fun part – chop up whatever wild greens you’ve got on hand, throw in about 1/4 cup (more or less, depending on taste) and mix it up good with the other ingredients. Spoon onto a hot griddle with plenty of oil and flatten into a disc shape. Fry until golden, flip and repeat. These are delicious hot off the griddle or cold so they are great to pack in lunch boxes.
Here we go, Spring Foraging is about to come into full bloom!! My plan is to feature one or two In-Season plants in each blog post from now until the deep, dark winter comes again. To start us off, here is a list of Good Harvesting Practices to keep in mind.
First and foremost, before you eat a Wild Food, be absolutely sure of its identity, and Don’t Eat Something if You Don’t Know What it is. (Go ahead, click the link, you won’t regret it) I often tell people that learning about Wild Foods isn’t hard, but it does take effort. You can go to the grocery store and tell the difference between Lettuce and Cabbage, right? Or Iceberg from Romaine Lettuce, right? And if we were to confuse those lettuces at the grocery store, we’d still come home with food that is safe to eat. That’s not always true in the wild, though……many plants have look-alikes and look-similars that will make us and our loved ones sick, so let’s be sure of what we’ve got.
Get Permission. If it’s not your own backyard, make sure you have permission to harvest. On many local trails, parks and public land it’s perfectly fine to forage, but if you aren’t positive, make a phone call to be sure.
Harvest from clean areas. I like to be aware of whether the area has been sprayed with chemicals like herbicides and pesticides, and avoid those places. In my county, most farmers use these things, so I’ll refrain from foraging near corn and soybean fields. I have friends who employ a service to spray their lawns with weedkiller, so I don’t harvest from their yards, either. I’m sure it’s not any different from what we find on conventionally grown foods in the grocery store….but…if I’m going through all this effort to find beautiful, nutritious Wild Foods, I’m going to make sure it’s organic, too.
Harvest with the Plants’ health in mind. We want these plants to thrive and keep growing so that we can continue to come to them for food and wisdom. You’ll find a variety of ‘rules’ about How Much to pick – anywhere from 10% to 50% is what I’ve seen. I don’t think any one percentage can be applied across the board. A yard full of Dandelions would be hard to over harvest, in my mind, lol!! I would say to be Mindful as you go, listen to your intuition, even go ahead and ask the plants themselves. Be Friendly. 🙂
Start Small. It is a wise practice to eat ‘just a little bit’ when you are trying out new foods, whether they are Wild nor Not. Everyone’s body is different, and you may be able to eat as much Chicken of the Woods as you want, but I know from experience that I cannot eat it at all. (I’ll spare you the messy details…..)
Okay, I know this is more than Five Best Practices, so consider this a Bonus: Have Fun!! Get outside, enjoy the sunshine and the rain, take your kids and grandkids along, talk to the plants, listen to them, and enjoy the heck out of life every day. Why not?
Diving deep into Wild Food culture can land you in some really interesting places. What started off for me as a cool way to get free food (foraging beats the pants off of Ultra-Couponing) has led me into some other very satisfying and creative endeavors. Here are some of my favorite tangents that foraging has led me to……
Botany: Well, you can hardly study Wild Foods without acknowledging some Botany, right? Knowing characteristics of Plant Families helps to narrow down the possibilities so we can more easily get to a positive ID. A walk in the woods with my field guide has me looking up any interesting-looking plant these days.
Fermenting, Wine making, Cheese making: Successful foraging means you’ve got a bounty of wild foods, maybe even more than you can eat up. You *could* share it with friends, but they *might* not appreciate it as much as you do…..so in comes Wine Making and Fermentation. I could freeze those berries to make smoothies, but I prefer a nice bottle of blackberry wine, lol! I can freeze or can fiddleheads and wild leeks, but lacto-fermenting them makes them SO delicious and even more healthy than they already are. Cheese-making isn’t exactly a Wild Food thing, but once you start making wine and fermenting vegetables, it’s just going to happen…
Conservation: More and more I am finding myself talking and teaching about protecting plant and animal habitats. We can’t very well forage or hunt if we destroy these things in the process, or allow others to destroy them with harmful practices.
Primitive Skills: Cordage and Willow Weaving are two new skills I’ve learned recently. Eventually I want to try my hand at birch bark basket making, primitive fire starting, and gosh just all kinds of stuff……..
Outdoor fitness: Kinda comes with the territory, right? There’s a lot of hiking involved when we go looking for mushrooms, ramps, fiddleheads and berries! Kayaking and canoeing are the methods we use to get Lotus Heads and Wild Rice. And while we are spending all that time outside on trails and such, let’s try a little Geocaching, just for funsies……
Personal health: “Food is medicine”. “You are what you eat”. The more I learn about the foods I eat – not just the Wild Food – the more I feel empowered to keep myself healthy.