Not only delicious, but loaded with nutritional value that is lacking in supermarket wares, wild edibles are becoming popular ingredients with professional chefs and home cooks. For those of us who grow our own produce, particularly in harsh winter climates, wild edibles are a welcome addition to our diets and provide a fresh taste that awakens our senses and prepares us for the bounty to come. NOTE: ALWAYS have permission from a land owner before harvesting any wild edibles!
For weeks last summer, rain fell almost constantly on my western North Carolina farm and our winter was exceptionally cold and wet. Very few crops produced significant yields and many were a total loss. Last week, I surveyed the greens I planted in the fall and noted they were only just beginning to develop mature leaves, although arugula and mustard are both blooming, signaling the end of their season. I hope to gather seeds to save for the next planting, but even those will be fewer than in past seasons. Thankfully, creasy greens, a type of wild cress, is plentiful this spring and we enjoy this spicy green in fresh salads and as an addition to cooked greens.
For early Appalachian mountain settlers, creasy greens were the saving grace that helped these pioneers avoid scurvy, a condition caused by Vitamin C deficiency. Loaded with an impressive amount of that vitamin, as well as a significant dose of Vitamin A, creasy greens are easy to identify, gather and prepare. I enjoy them lightly sauteed with wild onion bulbs and dandelion greens. Dandelion greens are also easy to identify and are equally packed with healthy vitamins and minerals.
Now that spring is finally warming our days, fiddlehead ferns are appearing in wooded areas and alongside streams. This week, I was fortunate to be invited to accompany Chef Clark Barlowe, owner of Heirloom Restaurant, in Charlotte, NC, on a foraging expedition. The fiddleheads, wild violet blossoms and saw brier tips he harvested will appear on the restaurant’s menu this week. If you would like to try these delicious spring treats, make plans now to visit Heirloom.
Saw brier tips, small tender shoots that form on thorny green brambles, are delicious eaten raw, in salads, or lightly heated in a small amount of olive oil and served with a sprinkling of sea salt. Deer love saw brier tips and Chef Clark often pulled from high overhead to gather tips that were out of reach for those four-legged eating machines. Wild violets are blooming abundantly and their blossoms are as daintily beautiful as they are delicious. I like to dip violets in beaten egg white, sprinkle them with sugar and allow them to completely dry. As an edible dessert garnish, they are lovely.
For a simple, delicious and packed-with-healthy-goodness dish, toss a handful of creasy greens, dandelion greens and wild onion bulbs, diced or whole, in a large skillet with a bit of hot olive oil. Briefly cook and then add cooked pasta to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine, serve hot, with grated Parmesan cheese and crusty bread. Finish with a splash of herbed vinegar, if you like.
I thank Chef Clark Barlowe for allowing me to accompany him as he foraged for wild edibles and I look forward to enjoying his unique, delicious cuisine at Heirloom. As we left the forest, Chef Clark remarked it will soon be time to gather fresh morel mushrooms.