Yay! Spring has sprung! Let the bountiful foraging days begin!
Each spring I get super excited when I start to see the all the green life poke up around me, and I just can’t wait to get out there and pick. My daughter is particularly fond of the flowers and any given afternoon, she may wander off and come home with an armful or basketful, and usually a mouthful, of spring flowers and greens which most would see as just pesky weeds. This past weekend, we wandered out to the edge of the woods where the wild violets grow and gathered some salad ingredients to go with dinner.
On the way back, I also grabbed a handful of dandelion leaves to chop toss in. These were all in addition to a “normal” salad: lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes from the grocery store, and carrots fresh from my garden! (more on that particular piece of wonderment later…)
Wild violets come in a variety of colors, ranging from the all white we picked and shown above, to full, deep purple (violet). They make a beautiful addition to any dish that is not only pleasing to the eyes, but also nutritious and pleasing to the palate. The leaves are very slightly tart and the flowers are very slightly sweet. They can be eaten raw, cooked like spinach, pesto-ed, or even candied and used as a cake decoration (or snacked on!).
Violet leaves are heart-shaped, with a jaggedy edge. The width, length, and depth of the jageddy “teeth” around the edge can vary. They aren’t really waxy (like a lesser celandine which has a yellow, star-shaped flower), and aren’t fuzzy (like a African violet you may have in a pot in your house, which is not actually a viola, has five-petaled “standard” flowers, and is NOT edible).
Violet flowers always have five petals, but are asymmetrical in their arrangement: two on top, one on each side, and one on the bottom. If you aren’t completely sure what you are looking at is a violet, I would recommend simply waiting until it flowers to be sure, as I find the flowers are the most telling characteristic.
Ok, that’s what I call these things. They grow everywhere in the yard, spread like crazy, and are super delicious. Ever mow the lawn in the spring or fall and get a distinctive onion smell in the air? You have some around.
Technically, they are two separate plants: Wild garlic (Allium vineale), has round and hollow leaves, while wild onion (Allium canadense), has flat, solid leaves. Wild garlic leaves also branch from the main stem, while wild onion leaves come from the base of the plant.
That said, I’m pretty sure what is in the picture above is wild garlic. It has the hollow leaves, and greatly resembles a green onion (which is probably why I call them onion-garlics). But the wonderful thing about these whatever-they-are’s is:
if it looks like garlic or onion, and smells like garlic or onion, its edible…and of course, delicious!
I find the bulbs are a little difficult to get around my yard unless the ground is wet, so I prefer to pull the bulbs from the richer, always-sorta-damp soil when we are out in the woods. But the tops I collect regularly to use as I would chives or green onions in my cooking: salads, toppings for soups or potato dishes, stir fried with other vegetables, or even mixed up with sour cream for dipping.
Eating wild and foraged food doesn’t necessarily have to be a complicated ordeal. Wander your yard, pick some yummies, and toss them in your salad. Done. It’s a great way to incorporate some wild into your diet and get familiar with what is available in your area and what you actually like before diving into anything more involved.
So I challenge you! With spring springing up everywhere, try to incorporate something wild and local into a meal each week. And I would love to hear about your adventures in eating super-duper-local in the comments! Happy eating!