Go Wild for Food

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Dandelion greens can be cut or pulled up and added to a variety of foods. Photo by Getty Images/gjohnstonphoto.

Do you ever get bored with the same old recipes? Me, too.

So what’s the solution to a ho-hum meal? Hint: It’s in your backyard.

The red clover growing in your grass? Sprinkle the flowers in your salad. The fresh spruce tips on your tree? Toss them in a rice dish or your morning omelet. The wild sorrel flourishing near your garden? Add it to your soup.

Spend a little time foraging, and your meals will never be boring again. Best of all, you didn’t have to plant them or weed them or water them. These wild, tasty, and nutritious weeds take care of themselves — and they’re free.

Let’s face it: Gardening can be a lot of work, so if you can find free food in your yard, you can save yourself time, effort, and money. Sign me up for that! I’ve been interested in foraging for years. I even attended a few wild edible and medicinal workshops with local experts, but then never harvested a single specimen from my own backyard. What a waste!

So this spring, I decided to remedy that. I went on a hunt with my kids to find what I hoped would be all kinds of interesting and delicious morsels. Here’s a sample of what we discovered growing wild on the farm. CAUTION: During both foraging workshops I attended, the instructors warned us to properly identify the plants we were foraging. In many cases, there are look-alikes that could be poisonous.

Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album)

This weed should really be called “free spinach.” It grows wild in my garden — and likely in yours, too. I strongly encourage you to pick it, but don’t even think about throwing it in the compost bin. Lambsquarters leaves are delicious when freshly picked throughout the summer. Although it tastes similar to spinach, you’d have to eat a lot more spinach to get the same amount of nutrients.

One chopped cup of lambsquarters has almost three times the daily recommended intake of vitamin A, more than 100 percent of your daily value of vitamin C, and more than 1,000 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin K. Try adding lambsquarters to your salad, or cooking it as you would spinach.

Lambsquarters can be used in salads, soups, eggs, and more. Photo by Getty Images/seven75.

Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis)

We have more wild mint than we do grass at our farm, and it often tries to creep its way into my garden. But I don’t complain, because I’m looking forward to tasting mint honey from my bees, who frequent its purple flowers.

We harvest fresh mint leaves (although the stalk is edible, too) throughout the summer, and throw them into fruit smoothies. The dried leaves also make a soothing tea that helps with digestion. Mint is fairly easy to identify by its square stems, opposite leaves, and, of course, its strong, minty smell.

Wild mint is delicious added to foods. Photo by Getty Images/Whiteway.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Red clover is found in abundance around the farm, and it’s especially loved by my kids, who pluck the blossoms and suck on the inner part of the sweet flowers.

Although I don’t enjoy eating clover by itself, the children collect the blossoms, and I toss them into our morning blueberry pancakes. If you want to get fancy, you can sprinkle the flowers in your salad or use them as a beautiful cake garnish.

Red clover grows wild and can be used to liven up various dishes. Photo by Getty Images/Peter Llewellyn.

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)

This is hands-down our family’s favorite weed, mostly because it tastes like lemon sour candy. You can eat the leaves raw, but I prefer throwing them in salads, sandwiches, and soups for a little extra lemon zing. You can also make a refreshing tea by steeping the leaves in boiling water.

Although this weed is more commonly found in the woods, we discovered it growing among our strawberries. I think I may have overdone it with the wood chips; even the weeds think it’s a forest floor. Wood sorrel is easy to identify by its heart-shaped leaves that grow in groups of three. It typically grows a maximum of 15 inches tall.

Wood sorrel tastes like lemon sour candy. Photo by Getty Images/alder7.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Our field turns into a sunburst of dandelions every spring. Their happy, yellow heads set against the green grass are a feast for the eyes — and our tummies.

Dandelion greens are best picked young, before or just after they begin to flower. Otherwise, they become bitter. I tried harvesting the leaves and making dandelion fruit smoothies, but it was a complete and bitter flop. However, they’re delicious sautéed with butter, vinegar, and garlic, or by simply adding a few petals to your morning eggs.

Although I’ve never tried it, you can make tea or a coffee substitute with the dried roots, and dandelion wine with the flowers.

Dandelion leaves, flowers, and roots can used in a variety of foods. Photo by Getty Images/Olesia Denysenko.

Plantain (Plantago major)

After learning about this common weed during an herb walk with medical herbalist Savayda Jarone of Mayflower Herbs Clinic & Dispensary in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I couldn’t wait for the next time one of my children injured themselves. I wanted to test out its healing powers. Kidding! (Not kidding!) Although you can use the leaves in a salad, stir-fry, or a cup of tea, we use it on the farm as a natural remedy.

You can chew the fresh leaves and apply them directly to the skin as a first-aid remedy for drawing pus, poison, dirt, splinters, and stings from the skin.

Plantain has great healing powers. Photo by Getty Images/seven75.

Spruce tips (Picea spp.)

You can eat spruce trees? Yes, you can! And yes, I have probably taken foraging a little too far. But, I promise you the young tips of spruce trees are delicious, and they’re high in vitamin C and antioxidants. Enjoy them raw, or steep the needles to make a tasty tea.

There’s a good chance that you have food growing in your yard or around your home that you didn’t plant, and that you probably didn’t even know was there — except for the dandelions. You probably spotted those.

The tender tips of a spruce are delicious. Photo by Getty Images/Mantonature.

Reprinted with permission from 52 Homestead Skills by Kimberlee Bastien, published by Ogden Publishing.

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