Story and Recipes by Terese Allen, Food Editor
Wild foods grow around us during every season of the year, but it's in May, after months of heavy "indoor" fare, that fresh-flavored, nutrient-packed wild-gathered foods are at their most appealing.
Spring greens and shoots wake up the taste buds and get the blood pumping again. What's more, the pursuit of wild foods can be an exhilarating hobby with a host of benefits.
Hunting wild food is good exercise. It connects you to nature--to the original organic way of life. It dresses up menus with seasonal specialties. It can even help keep the grocery bills down.
And what a thrill it is to come across a patch of lemony sorrel in the woods, or a feathery, field-side stand of asparagus...to kneel low, smell the earth and harvest a meal.
Sometimes wild edibles are right under our noses, in backyards and vacant lots. More and more often these days, they're available at farmers' markets, natural foods cooperatives and grocery stores, too. Wherever you find wild ingredients, be sure you know what you've got and make certain they grew where no chemical sprays or pesticides have been used.
Check out these foraging tips and follow the links below for wild food facts and tasty recipes.
A spring green that's sweet and mild-mannered in flavor and high in minerals and vitamins, nettles are often compared to spinach. Read more about finding and preparing nettles (don't forget your gloves!), then try Potato, Leek and Nettles Soup or Sausage and Nettles Calzones.
An audacious cool-weather plant found in town and country throughout the United States. Learn how to impress your dinner guests with sorrel's sour power, and try Spring Tabbouleh with Sorrel and Mint or a refreshing pitcher of Sorrel Orange Iced Tea.
A native and prolific spring specialty, best-loved in the hills of Appalachia but celebrated from Tennessee to Canada between April and June. Check out the recipe for Ramps-Stuffed Artichokes and Spanish Tortilla with Ramps and Rosemary.
When life gives you dandelions, make dandelion wine... or dandelion salad, stir-fry, omelet or soup. Use the greens to cook up this Spicy Stir Fry.
Buds and blossoms make for terrific sweets and more. Read on!
..check with the appropriate authority before setting out. Foraging restrictions vary on public lands, and on private property you must get the ownerís permission. Reference a reputable field guide book, preferably one thatís specific to your region, or apprentice with an experienced hunter. Never eat a wild plant you canít positively identify. And please, donít get greedy: pick only a portion of what you find, to allow the plants to replenish themselves for next year.
In case you can't find enough in the wild or at the market, we've provided substitute ingredients for each recipe.
When you get home, take care to thoroughly clean your cache. Tender greens, especially, should be rinsed well under or in cold water and often require several washings. Dry them in cotton or paper towels and keep them chilled in plastic bags. This will help prevent loss of moisture and vitamins, but not for long--most wild greens decline after a couple of days.
If youíre new to a particular wild edible, make your first serving a small one. As with any food, allergic reactions are rare, but possible.
Finally, whether you gather, grow or purchase the wild foods of spring, get them now, for all too soon, theyíll be gone.