Aye, it’s already springtime here in Ireland (where one might argue that we never have to go and gather our greens, so ubiquitous are they), but don’t worry; it will reach you soon!
While you wait for your landscape to shift from brown or white into something newly vibrant, you can get ready for one of the season’s loveliest adventures: wild-foraging for spring greens.
In simplest terms, the practice of spring foraging—harvesting your own food in the great outdoors—traditionally involves using time-honored herbs (which show up early in the year) to help ease into the new season. Wild-foraging was once an everyday part of life and the activity has experienced a newfound popularity in the States.
Before you get started, some things to consider:
Guidelines for Foraging
If you aren’t sure what you are looking for, get a guide (whether a reliable plant identification book or a friend. Never eat something unless you are certain beyond a doubt that you know what it is).
Always forage away from roadsides; plants absorb car exhaust. Gather from places that you not only have permission to access, but also from which you know there hasn’t been spraying or other chemical applications going on.
Take only as much as you need for the day. Leave your foraging spot as if you were never there, full of possibility for all other creatures.
Seeking Spring Herbs
Not sure where to start? Here are some traditional choices.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
One of the earliest springtime plants (you may even spot it in winter if you live in a temperate zone). Little Chickweed is mighty in vitamin C and in minerals.
The mild-flavored herb is both delicious and attractive when sprinkled in a salad (like sprouts) or added to sandwiches (you may want to chop it a bit first, though, as some of the stems can be tough).
You could even try adding Chickweed to an omelette (just don’t cook long; the herb has high water content and is delicate, so will disappear to nothing).
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Yes, the long-reviled Dandelion. She’s actually a powerhouse of vitamins A, C, and K (and that’s just a beginning of what the herb offers).
The young leaves are wonderfully bitter but yet not too bitter for salad. You can also fry the dandelion flower into delicious fritters or mix the petals into rice dishes at the last moment for their cheering color.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Wear gloves for this one! The tiny hairs will sting you, sometimes quite painfully, but are deactivated after a few minutes of boiling or sautéing.
Nettle is rich in calcium and vitamin A, along with a bit of iron. Nettle soup (the ingredients of which you can alter to suit your own taste) is a traditional way to enjoy the fresh leaves. You might also try the herb in a way that Maia teaches to her students: by tossing the leaves in some hot olive oil until crispy and adding a dash of salt.
A former student of Maia’s and a now-expat herbalist, Jessica dwells in green grey Ireland, where she writes and teaches about the herbal landscape.