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Going Wild: Cooking with Foraged Foods
2006 Copyright by Terese Allen

Dandelions and nettles, and ramps--oh my! Wild foods grow around us during every season of the year, but it’s in May, after months of heavy “indoor” fare, that fresh-flavored, nutrient-packed wild-gathered foods are at their most appealing.

Spring greens and shoots wake up the taste buds and get the blood pumping again. What’s more, the pursuit of wild foods can be an exhilarating hobby with a host of benefits. Hunting wild food is good exercise. It connects you to nature--to the original organic way of life. It dresses up menus with seasonal specialties. It can even help keep the grocery bills down.

And what a thrill it is to come across a patch of lemony sorrel in the woods, or a feathery, field-side stand of asparagus…to kneel low, smell the earth and harvest a meal.

Sometimes wild edibles are right under our noses, in backyards and vacant lots. More and more often these days, they’re available at farmers’ markets, natural foods cooperatives and grocery stores, too. Wherever you find wild ingredients, be sure you know what you’ve got and make certain they grew where no chemical sprays or pesticides have been used.

 
beef stew

If you’re planning a hunt, check with the appropriate authority before setting out. Foraging restrictions vary on public lands, and on private property you must get the owner’s permission. Reference a reputable field guide book, preferably one that’s specific to your region, or apprentice with an experienced hunter. Never eat a wild plant you can’t positively identify. And please, don’t get greedy: pick only a portion of what you find, to allow the plants to replenish themselves for next year.

When you get home, take care to thoroughly clean you cache. Tender greens, especially, should be rinsed well under or in cold water and often require several washings. Dry them in cotton or paper towels and keep them chilled in plastic bags. This will help prevent loss of moisture and vitamins, but not for long--most wild greens decline after a couple of days.

If you’re new to a particular wild edible, make your first serving a small one. As with any food, allergic reactions are rare, but possible.

Read more about:
Nettles…and a recipe for Potato, Leek and Nettles Soup
Sorrel…and a recipe for Spring Tabbouleh with Sorrel and Mint
Ramps…and a recipe for Ramps-Stuffed Artichokes
Dandelion Greens…and a recipe for Spicy Stir-fried Dandelion Greens with Spinach and Ham