Spring edibles in the woods and beyond

Spring is the perfect time for wild edibles, and it’s all about getting outside and getting creative (and local) with your meals. We decided to research foods we can forage in our own neck of the woods.   Go forage and if you have suggestions for ones we missed, post them in the comments!

Bee on a LionDandelions – This flowering weed runs rampant throughout the country, and its seeds, crowns, roots, leaves and flower petals are all edible.

Mushrooms – Before you begin gathering wild mushrooms, identify any poisonous species that grow in your area.  Although many are edible, it’s better to play it safe. Also, never eat them raw and stay away from those that have been damaged by insects. A favorite mushroom in Leelanau is the morel. While black morels are mostly gone by now, you kind find whites aplenty – check old apple orchards & lawns!

Watercress – This pungent perennial potherb typically grows near bodies of water, so make sure the water source is clean before consuming it. Since watercress can be eaten raw, all you have to do is cut the stem off and rinse it with cold water.

Common Chickweed – Widespread throughout the country, this annual plant yields a distinct star-shaped flower. Its leaves and stems are edible and can be eaten raw. Typically dismissed as a pesky weed, common chickweed is a rich source of potassium and calcium.

Clover – This cosmopolitan genus is easy to find in the wilderness. Its seeds are edible, and its dried flower heads can be used to brew tea. You can eat its leaves raw, just immerse them in salt water first to help with digestion.

Burdock – These biennial thistles thrive in open meadows and gardens, but they are not useless weeds. You can peel the leaf stalks and eat them raw, and their taproot is edible as well. Be careful not to mistake this plant for the belladonna (deadly nightshade), which is poisonous.

Milkweed – Milkweed is edible but can potentially contain cardiac glycosides, which are toxic. So, it’s critical that you prepare this wild plant with care before consuming it. Steep the whole plant in water and rub the wool off young shoots. You can then boil them. The seed pods are edible, too.

Cattails – These tall monocots flourish in or near bodies of water. Peel away the outer layer of the shoots to reveal a white core, use clean water to rinse them off and eat these tender shoots raw or cooked. High in starch, their roots are also edible.

Lamb’s Quarters – Many people mistake this fast-growing annual plant for a worthless weed, but lamb’s quarters are actually edible and quite nutritious. The seeds are a healthy snack and the leaves and stems taste similar to spinach when cooked.

Empire Bluffs LeekLeeks – Resembling onions in appearance and smell, wild leeks commonly emerge during springtime deep in the forests. Both their leaves and bulbs are edible and can be eaten raw, steamed, fried or baked.

Wild Carrot – Though tougher and woodier than those you buy at the grocery store, the wild carrot grows in dry fields, and its roots are edible. Just be careful not to mistake it with similar poisonous species like water hemlock and fool’s parsley.

Wild Onion – Found on various landscapes, such as rocky slopes, prairies and forests, the wild onion smells and tastes similar to its domestic counterpart. Just peel off the outer layers and boil the bulb in a pot of salt water.

Stinging Nettles – Don’t be deterred by the stinging hairs, this plant is considered by some to be a superfood! packed with vitamins and minerals, young shoots won’t sting and older spring harvests are easily prepared by steaming to render the sting neutral.  Tastes like spinach!

Photo credits from our Leelanau flickr page: Bee on a Lion by Larry Page, Wild Leeks at Empire Bluffs by Trish P