This Week’s Woodland Grocery Specials
Asparagus, Milkweed Shoots, Wood Nettle, Grape Leaves and Tendrils, and Pineapple Weed
After a slow start, the wild asparagus is suddenly shooting up everywhere. Asparagus likes moist, well drained soils and prefers to grow in relatively open areas among grasses and field weeds, often near scattered trees and shrubs. A favorite spot is that strip of land between a farm field and the road, which is why wild asparagus is fondly referred to as “ditch asparagus” by seasoned foragers. And you have to get a search image in order to find wild asparagus. Can you see all 5 stalks in this picture?
Milkweed shoots are a delicious veggie. Yes, monarch butterflies do require milkweed for their life cycle. Every plant that we harvest is a resource we share with others. The monarch-milkweed relationship just happens to have good PR. And, face it, we have to eat something. Responsibly harvested wild foods are usually the most environmentally friendly option. You should follow the same rules when harvesting milkweed shoots as with any other wild plant: learn about the plant so that you know how to harvest sustainably, only harvest where it is both common and abundant, and only take what you will use.
Wood nettle, ironically, has a worse sting than stinging nettle. It grows in moist woodlands, often accompanied by swarms of mosquitoes. So why would you bother harvesting it? Because you can collect large amounts quickly, it cooks up easily, it preserves well, and it’s delicious. Put on your long pants, hoodie, and gloves, and in 10 minutes you can fill a couple of paper grocery bags…enough to put a couple of gallon sized freezer bags of blanched greens away for use all year long.
Stuffed grape leaves are a classic dish in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine. To make stuffed grape leaves, you need to collect the leaves when they are large enough to roll, but still young enough to be tender. Try to choose lighter, shinier leaves. The darker and tougher they are, the longer they will need to be cooked. The small, young leaves are good for seasonings. Try minced baby grape leaf on baked fish. Grape tendrils also have a distinctly lemony flavor that is wonderful as a trail snack and makes a really interesting garnish.
Pineapple weed is a city plant. It is common in parks, lawns, driveways and sidewalks. Because it likes to grow in disturbed areas, things like herbicides and animal wastes are possible concerns. It is important to be mindful of the conditions where you harvest. It normally grows similarly to chamomile, but it is often mowed and stunted, as in this picture. The small, yellow, button flowers smell and taste somewhat tropical, giving the plant its name. Kids like this plant because they can easily pick and eat the buttons. The plant dries well, and the buttons and leaves make an excellent tea.
And in other news: Notes from the farm and the woods
The first strawberries of the season are in. Spring greens are done and summer greens are sprouting. The toads are still calling, as are the turkeys. The phoebes have moved back in and are busy making repairs to their home. And the painted turtles are beginning to nest.