Backyard Bounty: spring wild edibles you don't want to miss!

Spring is here and there are green goodies shooting up everywhere! Grab your basket or bag... We're headed out for fiddleheads, fireweed shoots, watermelon berry leaves, devil's club buds, wild chives, dandelion flowers, chickweed, nettles, etc.... It's gathering time!

Fiddlehead Ferns and other Wild Edibles

I bet you've noticed these delicate, tender superfoods sprouting up in your backyard. Not only are they delicious (seriously, even my picky kids eat them!), but also chock full of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acid; antioxidants like cancer-fighting Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and B-Carotenes; vitamins from the B-complex group; and minerals and electrolytes such as potassium, iron, manganese, and copper.

Pick the fiddlehead at the base of the curly head. Take only a few from each plant so that the it can continue to flourish. The brown papery coating must be mostly removed before eating (if you live in the lower 48, you have different varieties, and might not have to deal with this stuff) . This is kind of a pain, and there isn't necessarily a "right" way to do this, but the quickest I have found is by rubbbing the fiddleheads before you wash them with your fingers, a stiff cloth, or the stiff green side of a sponge.

Fireweed Starts

Devil's Club Buds

While you are out gathering, why not throw some nutrient and flavor-dense fireweed shoots, watermelon berry leaves, devil's club buds, wild chives, dandelion flowers, and chickweed in your basket?

Fiddleheads and other wild greens need to be consumed fresh. All of these nutrient and flavor-dense wild greens can be eaten as-is in a chopped salad, although devil's club buds and fireweed shoots are better cooked. My favorite is to stir fry mixed, chopped wild greens with butter or coconut oil, onions, and a little Braggs or soysauce.

They're also great cooked into egg dishes and casseroles and they make great fritters when combined with smoked salmon or other protein. If you're looking for something new and yummy, try this fritter recipe! Seriously, they are insanely good!!

(Make sure you are picking only fiddleheads, which are ostrich ferns, as prolonged use of other wild ferns may cause stomach and esophagus cancer.)

Wild Greens and Smoked Salmon Fritters

4 cups wild greens

2 sweet potatoes

1 pint smoked salmon, canned salmon, or other tofu/fish/meat (optional)

1 cup rice or whole wheat flour

1 cup milk

1 egg

smoked salt, smoked chipotle, and pepper

2-3 T avocado or extra light olive oil

Boil a pot of water on the stove. Peel the sweet potatoes and put them in the boiling water to cook.

Prepare the greens by rubbing the brown stuff off the fiddleheads while they are still dry, then washing everything really well. Chop the greens coarsely and add them to the water. Boil al this until the potatoes and fiddleheads are tender but not overcooked, about 7 minutes.

While the pot is boiling, mix the flour, milk, eggs, salmon, and seasonings. When the greens and potatoes are done, drain them and cool them with cold water. Add them to the fritter batter.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Flick some water at it to make sure it is very hot. Spoon fritters into the pan and cook until done all the way through, about 3-5 minutes on each side.

Serve hot with nesto (see recipe below) or another delicious sauce. If you have extra batter, you can save it in the fridge for up to 3 days and cook your fritters as you please. Sometimes I like to make this a night ahead of time or in the morning before work so that we can have a quick, nutritious, and tasty meal in the evening.

Nettles

From April into the summer months, nettles are abundant here in the last frontier, especially near water sources. They grow up to 4-feet tall and have dark-green to purple heart shaped leaves with somewhat jagged edges.

The stems and leaves are covered in tiny, poky stinging hairs, so wear gloves when you are harvesting. Cut just the leaves or the top three bracts of the nettle plant to ensure that you don't harm it. The bigger the plants get, the more they hurt!

Nettles are truly a superfood, blowing spinach and kale out of the water with the highest levels of protein, chlorophyll, and plant-digestible iron of any other green. They're also super high in vitamins A, C, and D as well as calcium, potassium, and manganese.

Nettles must be cooked before eating due to the stingers, which will totally get your tongue otherwise! After harvesting, you can put them in soup, stir fry them, or boil them on their own for about 10 minutes. If you don't add salt to the boiling water, you can save it and drink it as tea or use it as a soup broth. I am not crazy about the taste, but it's so healthy, I drink it anyway. You can also dry the leaves and save them for tea and soup throughout the year.

Once the nettles are boiled or stir fried, you can use eat them as is, put them on pizza or in a casserole, mix them with other veggies in a stirfry, or make nesto, a pesto made out of nettles that is awesome as a dip or in salad dressings, on salmon cakes and fritters, pizzas, grilled meats and veggies, etc. You can freeze boiled nettles or nesto in ziplock bags for later use.

Nesto

3 cups cooked nettles (6 cups raw)

1 cup basil (optional - I usually skip this except when I have it fresh)

1/2 cup olive oil

2-3 garlic cloves

2 T lemon juice

1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts (roasted are even better)

1/2 cup feta or parmesan cheese

Put all of this in the food processor and blend until it is the consistency of pesto.

Spruce Tips

The spruce tips aren't quite ready yet, but come the end of May into June, it will be prime picking time. The trick is to harvest them when they are most tender, right after they come out of their brown paper tips. Spruce tip flavor is light, citrusey and almost minty. They make great syrup and jelly, and are also wonderful in savory baking (scones and cookies, pound cake, etc), in smoothies and stir fries with mushrooms, in your drinking water, and for flavoring condiments like vinegar, salt, sugar, and mayonnaise (awesome BLTs and smoked salmon sandwiches!!). Spruce tips are high in vitamin C, carotenoids, chlorophyll, and minerals like potassium and magnesium. Brewing them in a tea can help with coughs and sore throats. Spruce tips can be stored in the freezer or dried.

Cottonwood Buds

Cottonwood buds can be used to make a magical cure-all oil (and salve or balm) that is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and analgesic. It's great for diaper rash, sore nipples (can you tell I'm a mom?!), to heal cuts and scrapes, for sore muscles, saddle sores, and, I hear, arthritis. Once you start with this salve, you just might not be able to stop!

The best time to pick cottonwood bids is winter... It's getting a little late in the season, but if you head up high or find trees in the shade, there are still buds for the picking. The biggest buds are at the top, so if you can find an already fallen branch, that is your best and most sustainable source. The colder the day the better, because the resin will be less sticky on your hands. Putting lotion on first is very helpful to keep the resin from sticking. You can remove it with rubbing alcohol.

After you pick your buds, put them in a mason jar and completely cover them with olive oil. Place a cheese cloth or a paper towel over the top and the screw band or rubberband. Everyday for at least 6 weeks, stir the oil. Water will be evaporating. The longer the buds soak, the better -- up to a year if you have the patience!

If you want to speed up this process, you can also cook the buds and oil on very low heat (on a wood stove or a low burner) for 2-24 hours. If you take this option, you can use other oils, such as coconut oil, instead of the olive.

Once done, strain the buds out... use a metal strainer or cheesecloth. To get really clean oil, you may want to strain 2-3 times. Your fragrant oil is now ready to use, or to make a salve or balm out of. To make a salve, all you have to do is add beeswax. Measure your oil and for every cup, add 1.5-2T finely grated beeswax. Heat it on very low heat or in a double boiler until it's smooth and melted. At this point, you may want to add a preservative, such as a couple droppers of Vitamin E oil (also good for your skin!). Then, bottle in mason jars and store until needed. Buds can also be stored in the freezer or dried for later use in salves or cough cough syrups and drops.

In a future post, especially because the cottonwood buds are almost all open, I will show how to make another wonderful healing salve and tea from devil's club roots. Now, enjoy your bounty!!

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