Walnuts, field garlic, strawberry leaf, yarrow, plantain, and tree sap
The little animals, and the running water of the spring thaw, collect all the walnuts into nice little piles to be picked up. The sticky, messy husks that were so difficult to remove in the fall now come of quite easily- if they are not gone already. All it takes is a hammer and a flat rock and you can have plenty of walnut meat in no time. They rarely come out in large peices, so they are great for baking or adding to hot cereals. Shell a little jar to take them with you to put in your oatmeal when you go camping this summer.
The field garlic is already poking its head up through last years dead vegetation. Wild onions and leeks will be soon to follow. These plants, to me, are the flavor of the spring thaw. The taste means that winter is over and the world is about to come alive and I can never resist stuffing a handfull of the greenery in my mouth the minute I find them. I like to use these herbs in cooking all year long. They can be dehydrated, but keep better if frozen. The bulbs can still be dug up while the shoots are small. But I prefer to let them grow and then come back later in the season, once the plants go dormant.
Strawberry leaves remain semi-green all winter under the snow. So they are one of the first bright green plants to appear in the spring. Strawberry leaves are very high in vitamin C. Use them fresh or dried as part of a tea to help give your immune system a boost. On their own they have a very mild, slightly green flavor. If you find them a bit boring, try steep them with dried fruits, citrus, mint, or chamomile.
Yarrow and plantain are both healing herbs. They are just popping up, but you can find them if you look. Yarrow likes to grow at the edges of driveways, sidewalks, and gardens. It is both antibacterial and antiviral. Add it to your strawberry leaf tea if you already have a cold. (But, fair warning, it tastes horrible and it will make you sweat.) You can find plantain in most unprocessed lawns. Plantain is a good wound healing plant. It helps to close wounds and promotes regeneration of tissue. A combination of plantain and yarrow makes an excellent general salve for scrapes and cuts.
The trees are running in southern Michigan right now, so if you don’t have your taps in you better get going! Any species of maple can be tapped, not just sugar maples. The only real difference is how much boiling you will have to do. Other types of maples are more dilute than sugar maples. So you will need to reduce the volume more to get syrup. Walnuts, like the black walnuts shown above, can also be tapped. These trees produce quite a bit of sap, but you will need to boil it a lot. A whole lot more than maple. However, you are rewarded with a rich, almost creamy-vanilla syrup.