In spring, a plethora of greens come bursting through the earth like tiny fists. ‘Weeds’ are often some of the first seeds to germinate, resilient little fellows that they are.
After a long winter, fresh greens are a true delight and nothing beats harvesting them yourself. Many of the greens that are lurking around are edible, and some have medicinal values as well, but be sure to check with someone who knows before you ingest anything you forage, especially if you are not sure you have the right species.
Here are a few plants to keep an eye out for:
Day Lilly – There are tens of thousands of cultivars of Day Lillies and not all are edible, so definitely check this out with an expert if you’re not positive – and be sure to ask permission if you didn’t grow them yourself! The shoots are delicious, though you may be sacrificing the future tasty flowers to come if you pick too many. These flowers tend to grow in patches, so this is a good way to thin them if need be. You can trim or rip them off at ground level, and they can be eaten raw in salads, lightly sauteed or added to soups or stir-fries.
Stinging Nettle – Don’t be scared off by the name. Nettles are a valued medicinal and nutritive plant. Most people wear gloves while harvesting them because they really can sting. Trim the first few inches off the top with scissors – about a handful will make a wondrous brew of spring tonic tea, full of amino acids, chlorophyll, vitamins C, B2, K, Calcium (and so on, and so on). Nettles are high in iron and good for those prone to anemia. Also they’re delicious steamed like spinach or sauteed in butter. Look up nettle soup recipes if you’re craving a hot mug of soup.
Yarrow – The tiny young leaves of yarrow can be added into salads, though our modern tastebuds (which favor sweet and salty tastes) may find them a tad bitter to eat on their own. However, yarrow has anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties and has been used medicinally for centuries to treat cough, cold, flu, sinusitis, and even heavy menstruation. It has traditionally been used as a field dressing to stop bleeding as well. Be sure not to over-indulge.
Dandelion – Often considered a garden pest, dandelions are actually a highly esteemed medicinal plant. The greens are delicious while they are still small and not bitter. Add to salads, stir-fries, or anything really – they are one the richest green sources of vitamin A, as well as high amounts of potassium, calcium, iron, B-vitamins, protein, zinc, vitamin D, and more. Dandelions can also help cleanse the liver and contain anti-inflammatory properties. The roots, although generally small this time of year, can be washed, cut up, roasted on low heat and used as a coffee substitute.
Coltsfoot – The flowers of coltsfoot are some of the first to show up in the spring, resembling dandelions until you look closely at the stalk, which appears to be scaled, while dandelion stalks are smooth. Coltsfoot flowers can be added to salads, but have been revered for many years for their effectiveness in getting rid of coughs; brew up a tea for this purpose.
Purslane is another common edible weed, and there are likely countless others. As plant names often vary region by region, be sure you have the right species (double-check against the botanical name) before you start cooking. Here’s a handy reference guide:
Common name: Daylily
Botanical name: Hemerocallis spp.
Common name: Stinging nettle
Botanical name: Urtica dioecia
Common name: Yarrow; Soldiers’ woundwort
Botanical name: Achillea taygetea
Common name: Dandelion
Botanical name: Taraxacum officinale
Common name: Coltsfoot; Coughwort
Botanical name: Tussilago farafara
Once you’ve done your research, feel free to experiment with cooking and incorporating these items into your life. You’ll soon find there is a pharmacopeia of natural remedies in your backyard, or at the very least, a nourishing green snack.
Lisa Burgschmidt is a drifter, photographer, writer and cooking enthusiast with an interest in wildcrafting and herbalism. She currently resides on the north mountain in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, growing medicinal herbs and vegetables.