One of the first vegetable bounties of the year can be yours for free, well, monetarily free at least. This bounty will, however, cost you a little time in the fresh air, maybe some dirt under your fingernails and possibly a sweaty brow. I am writing, of course, about foraging, sometimes called wildcraft. Foraging is a great way to experience the wonderfully tasty weeds in your yard, local woods, and just about any field or ditch.
There really are many very tasty edibles around us at any time, but you will need to take a few precautions before you eat your freebies. First make sure that the edible is indeed edible, staying away from all mushrooms unless you are a trained mushroom forager or mycologist. Also, make sure that no pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals have been applied to the harvesting area. All you will need are a few basic tools when wildcrafting: kitchen scissors, a bag to hold your harvest, gloves, and a long-sleeve shirt (if harvesting nettles).
There are a few no-brainer finds that are unmistakable; dandelions, for example, are easy to find; everyone knows what they look like; and they have two edible parts. The greens of young dandelions are well suited for a salad mix, tea, or a quick sauté to accompany many main dishes. The petals or flower pods can be used to make dandelion bread and wine.
Stinging nettles, also known in these parts as itchweed, are another extremely prolific wild edible, which can be found in the margin areas of fields, in ditches, and around buildings. There are some precautions that have to be taken when you harvest nettles. They do, as the name says, sting, so wearing gloves is an imperative. Use scissors and snip the tops of young nettles that are about twelve inches tall. Then the leaves need to be blanched in boiling water for approximately sixty seconds; this process neuters the stinging properties of the leaves and makes them ready for use. Nettles have a very robust spinach flavor that, for some, may be a bit too intense. My favorite way to prepare nettles is creamy nettle soup. The soup mellows the intensity of the nettles and really makes the flavor shine.
Stay tuned for a few more edibles and my stinging nettle soup recipe.