Wild fare

Wild Greens Greek Salad (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

“Ridiculous as it sounds, we might be better off nutritionally if we threw away the crops that we so laboriously raise in our fields and gardens and ate the weeds that grow with no encouragement from us–indeed they grow despite all our strenuous efforts to eradicate them.” ­ — Euell Gibbons

It is May. The snow is gone. The lakes are open. Crocuses have bloomed; now our forsythia is bright yellow, as are the daffodils. Tulips will be here soon.

Foraging season has begun. Dandelion greens are abundant. Ramps are coming up in open woodlands. Other garden “weeds” — like sorrel, lambs’ quarters and purslane, are beginning to show. Ostrich fern fiddleheads will be here soon.

Burdock root and sunchokes can be dug up now. Like the dandelion, burdock is a European native brought by colonists to North America as a food source. In herbal medicine, burdock is a cleansing botanical used to support liver function. The roots and leaves are a good source of fiber and promote colon health. They contain inulin, a type of fiber that promotes intestinal lactobacilli, probiotic bacteria that aid digestion and help us absorb calcium and magnesium. Its flavor is like a nutty potato. The root is cultivated and used in stir-fries in Japan.

Sunchokes, also called Jerusalem artichokes, are an American native tuber with beautiful yellow flowers in late summer or early fall. They grow in fields, pastures, and along country roads. Like burdock, sunchokes are rich in the fiber inulin. They also contain ample potassium, vitamin C, thiamin, phosphorus, magnesium, niacin, vitamin B6 and riboflavin. The knobby roots are crisp and crunchy like a water chestnut, with a slightly nutty flavor.

Coltsfoot flowers look similar to dandelions. The bright yellow blossoms come up now along roadsides and ditches where the water runs off. Fleshy, woolly, hoof-shaped leaves will come later. Another European native, coltsfoot is part of folk medicine from Europe to China. The root has been used in cough syrups, and extracts were made to flavor candies. The buds, flowers and leaves are used to treat burns, sores, insect bites and respiratory ailments from the common cold to bronchitis and asthma. It is most often steeped as a tea, but the flowers can be tossed into salads or chopped up and added to pancakes, muffins or fritters.

Fiddleheads are another wild food of early spring. The tightly coiled Ostrich fern fronds poke through the earth just after the snow melts and should be picked when they’re just one or two inches above the ground. There is only a two-week window to gather them before the fern leaves unfurl and the tender stalks become tough and woody. Their delicate flavor resembles asparagus or green beans The bottom end can be tough and should be snapped off; eat only the round heads and upper part of the stems. Fiddleheads are great added to salads of wild spring greens with a light vinaigrette dressing, frittatas, omelets and stir-fries.

Lambs’ Quarters, also called Pigweed or Goosefoot, is a fast-growing, shade-tolerant weed with pale blue-green leaves that resemble the foot of a goose, and large stems; often the veins of leaves, roots and stems are crimson. It is related to spinach, beets, and chard, though it may take a little longer to cook.

Sorrel or sour grass is another European transplant brought to the New World as a food crop. Sometimes called sour grass, the tart, arrow-shaped leaves, similar in flavor to kiwifruit, can be added to salads. Tart sorrel leaves are used in a traditional European soup. Sorrel’s delightful tangy flavor and the leaves’ ability to melt or disintegrate make it a great ingredient in sauces and soups. It is a good complement to fish, chicken and veal. It is used to flavor potatoes, soups and gratins.

A hardy perennial green in the buckwheat family, sorrel is native to Europe and Asia, and more than 200 varieties grow wild in woodlands and pastures. Egyptians and Romans nibbled on fresh sorrel leaves to soothe the stomach after their elaborate feasts. In medieval Europe, sheep sorrel was used in spring tonics to refresh logy wintry metabolisms. It is high in vitamin C and was used to prevent scurvy and to reduce fever. Poultices of sorrel are used to heal wounds, bruises, burns, sores, boils, and acne.

Chickweed (Stellaria media) grows as a weed in gardens and lawns. This creeping, loosely tangled mat of small oval leaves was once listed in herbals for its health benefits. The small white star-shaped flowers on bright green stems gave rise to its Latin name, stellaria. The common English name, chickweed, came about because it is favored by chickens — as well as other animals, both wild and tame. They recognize a tasty tonic! Dogs and cats often eat chickweed to soothe the digestive tract and help with the expulsion of hairballs.

In Chinese medicine it is considered a cooling herb, and the Greek physician Dioscorides used it to treat eye inflammations and ear infections. Herbalists use it to speed healing. Poultices of chickweed will soothe burns, rashes and dry, itchy skin irritations. The herb is rich in vitamins C, A, several B vitamins (niacin, thiamine and riboflavin), calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese. It contains GLA, an important omega-6 fatty acid, as well as many flavonoids and antioxidants, including rutin, which strengthens capillaries and helps treat bruises and varicose veins.

Add the greens raw to salads. Cook them in soups and stews. For a medicinal tea, pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 tablespoons of fresh chickweed and steep for 10 minutes. Blend chickweed with yogurt and fruit juice in a smoothie.

Ramps or wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) grow in rich, moist soil of hardwood forests from Georgia to Canada. They often blanket the ground on hillsides under beech, maples, and oaks. The long, lance-shaped leaf and reddish stem and their distinct onion scent help identify them. A fleeting spring delicacy, the wide, flat, rubbery leaves will die as soon as the trees above them form a leaf canopy blocking out sunlight, leaving behind a thin, bare stalk that will bear a cluster of small white flowers in mid-summer and dark blue seeds in early fall.

These early spring greens are high in vitamin C and A, lutein, magnesium, calcium and selenium. They have diuretic, laxative and antiseptic properties, and contain the cholesterol-reducing compounds found in garlic and other alliums, as well as prostaglandin A1, a fatty acid known to be therapeutic in the treatment of hypertension. Native Americans used ramps to treat coughs and colds. They made a poultice from the juice of the bulbs to alleviate the pain and itching of bee stings.

Spicy, ornamental leaves of cress and the succulent, paddle shaped purslane leaves will be here in late spring or early summer. Both are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. They are great in salads, soups, fish and egg dishes.

When harvesting wild greens, pick the young tender leaves and leave the root, allowing for sustainable harvesting. Take only what you need and be careful not to over-harvest any area. Avoid picking along major roads, where plants contain high levels of toxins from exhaust and have probably been sprayed with herbicides and pesticides.

Like any greens, wild greens are best fresh; store in the refrigerator and eat within a few days of harvesting. Plastic or damp paper towels will help keep them a bit longer. To clean swish in a pail of cool water to remove grit, and scoop the greens from the top. You may have to do this more than once. Dry in a salad spinner.

Spring greens will fade quickly. Harvest them before the dandelion becomes bitter, the fiddleheads unfurl their ferns and the ramps bloom. Enjoy them while they’re here, before the garden produces its bounty.

Spring Frittata


2 slices bacon

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup ramps, shredded

1 to 2 cups finely chopped greens — dandelion, lambs quarters, sorrel, purslane, etc.

3 eggs

1/3 cup milk

1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan


Cook bacon until crisp; drain. Add mushrooms, ramps and greens. Cook until greens are wilted.

Beat eggs with milk and Parmesan, and pour over greens. Cook on low until done — you may have to put under broiler to cook the top. Sprinkle top with additional cheese. Serve with bacon and toast. Serves 2.

Wild Greens Greek Salad


1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

1/2 pound fresh, mixed wild greens

1/2 pound fresh lettuce

1 bunch scallions

1 cup sliced black olives

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese


Crush garlic with salt. In a large salad bowl, mix garlic paste with oil, lemon juice, and mustard; whisk with a fork. Wash greens and lettuce, and add. Remove root ends and dead leaves from scallions’ chop and add. Mix all to coat with dressing. Add olives and feta and mix again.

Serves 4.

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Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: Writing and cooking. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on X: @yvonawrites.


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