Fiddlehead ferns are an unusual and succulent wild harvest. Fiddleheads are the unfurled shoots of the ostrich fern, unfurled being the key word here because as the shoots mature and furl, they become poisonous. So, as with many wildcrafted foods, timing is everything. Part of the romance of foraging is the ephemeral nature of the activity, getting into the woods after long winters, as soon as the snow melts and buds start to pop.
Fiddleheads are my favorite forageable because the season is pretty short, but they are easily spotted and are prolific, so prolific that I have them in my backyard. If you have spent any time in the woods in the springtime, you have most likely seen them. Many people just don’t know that they are edible, let alone delicious. The little ferns taste like a cross between green beans, asparagus, and woodland moss (in a good way). To cook the them, simply sauté them in butter with minced shallots and garlic until just tender.
Ramps or wild leeks are another easily harvested wildcraft that are found across the country. To find them, look for soil that is sandy and moist; the plants have broad, smooth, light green leaves with light burgundy streaks, terminating with a small, scallion-like bulb. There is a poisonous lily that looks very much like the wild leek; to be sure that you have a ramp, just rub the light green leaves. If you get a nice onion scent, you have a ramp. Wild leeks generally cluster together, so when you find one, you will find many; take what you need, and leave the rest. The chopped leaves are a great addition to salads; the bulbs can be used like onions and take to quick pickling very well.
Our great state has many more easily identified edibles, such as cattails, watercress, mustard grass, wild asparagus, morels, pigweed, and purslane. If you are interested in foraging, one school book to start with is Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons. Many of you may remember him from the Grape Nuts commercials in the seventies.
If you are not up to or not able to hit the state parks for a foray of foraging, many of the local co-ops carry seasonal wildcrafts. Slow Food Minnesota has an upcoming dinner event titled Wild About You, which will feature the edibles named here and more.
Ever eat a pine tree? Some parts are edible.