Apologies for the sporadic nature of my posts lately, but it finally feels like spring, so I’ve been spending as much time as possible exploring our new yard—planting onions, getting our compost pile started, and especially acquainting myself with the wild edibles. I was able to dip my toe into foraging last summer with plantain, serviceberries, mulberries, and elderberries, but because I didn’t move to the area until June, I’m learning that I missed out on some of the best spring foraging: garlic mustard and nettles.
Garlic mustard (alliaria petiolata) is a seriously invasive biennial in the Mustard family, Brassicaceae. Now that I know what I’m looking for, I see garlic mustard everywhere, and we’ve been eating it for weeks in salads, chopped up on pizza, and sautéed and scrambled into eggs. Despite that, I’ve barely made a dent in the garlic mustard patch in my yard, and I noticed it was flowering this week so, in order to prevent my yard from turning into a giant garlic mustard patch, I pulled up as much as I could to cook with this week.
Last week I also went on an edible/medicinal plant identification hike with the local herb guild. While we were mostly identifying, we were able to take stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)—another plant I’ve probably walked past hundreds of times and never noticed.
If you’ve ever unwittingly grabbed or even brushed up against one with bare skin, you know why they’re called stinging nettles. Yet the stinging compounds (according to Wikipedia: acetylcholine, histamine, 5-HT [serotonin], moroidin, leukotrienes, and possibly formic acid) are neutralized when nettles are cooked or dried.
I was starving when we got back from our hike, so I immediately cooked some nettles in bacon fat and then scrambled them with some eggs. Maybe it’s because it was after 2 and I hadn’t eaten that day, but they were so, so good.
I then bundled several bouquets and hung them from the kitchen ceiling to dry (the above picture is what was left over), and then stripped most of the remaining leaves from the stems and boiled them in a big pot with water. I used the cooked nettles along with some garlic mustard to make a wonderful pesto that I’ve been eating on pizza and with eggs and chicken all week. I plan on sharing that recipe soon! I also saved the cooking liquid, storing it in a growler in the fridge to heat up for tea (like this wonderful nettle chai) throughout the week.
Have you found anything good while foraging lately? What are your favorite spring finds?
It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: forage respectfully and responsibly, and don’t eat anything you haven’t 100% identified.