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Five Faves – Spring delicacies to forage

Lilac (Syringa)
Spring delicacies to forage right where you live

There are plenty of delicious gourmet ingredients growing outside in your city, just waiting for you to take them home and eat them — for free! It’s a common misconception that you have to be an expert to find wild edible foods. In fact, you’ll probably already recognize a few of the spring favorites I’ve chosen here, even if you didn’t know you could eat them.

Whether you are a brand new or a more adventurous forager with some years under your belt, everyone can benefit from incorporating even just a little bit of wild food into their diets. You’ll save a little money, experience the thrill of the hunt and maybe even find yourself more appreciative of the bounty that thrives in the place where you live. Remember to always cross-reference your identifications using multiple sources, be mindful of the impact of your activities and leave the place where you forage a little nicer than you found it.

Here are five of my favorite unexpected, but easy-to-identify, Midwestern spring delicacies:

Lilac

(Syringa)

Lilacs are among my favorite spring edible flowers, and one of my favorites to introduce to people in an edible context. The color of a lilac will vary based on the pH of the soil, with different-colored flowers sometimes even appearing on the same bush. Lilacs are usually at their peak around Mother’s Day, and their heady perfume makes fantastic inspiration for a tea party. Try infusing them in honey and spreading it on a warm biscuit, blending them with sugar and dehydrating them, or blending them with the rest of your ingredients to make purple ice cream or cake.

Dandelion

(Taraxacum officinalis)

You might already know that dandelion is edible, but if you’ve ever had a curious nibble, you might also be under the impression that it tastes bad. You can combat dandelions’ bitterness by quickly blanching, then sauteing them, or by fermenting them in kraut or kimchi. Dandelion roots can be roasted and brewed into a coffee-like drink (minus the caffeine), the unopened flowers can be pickled like capers, and the flowers can be made into dandelion wine, which tastes a bit like a dry mead. Truly, it’s a plant that does it all.

Garlic mustard

(Allaria petiolata)

This plant is the bane of my existence and also one of the most delicious things I find in early spring. We have a complicated relationship. It’s horrifically invasive, swallowing up forest floors and releasing chemicals into the soil that make it difficult for anything else to grow near it. Let’s just say it’s not exactly a team player. You can eat the whole plant, from its horseradish-y root all the way to its white flowers, but the best time to gather it is in spring, when it is easy to yank up and hasn’t produced flowers or seed pods yet.

Redbud

(Cercis canadensis)

You’ve definitely seen this tree before. When its bare branches suddenly erupt in vibrant fuschia flowers, you know spring is here to stay. Those flowers are a highly anticipated treat for the eager forager and taste a bit like a snap pea had a brief dalliance with a lemon. You can use them to make pink “lemonade,” crazy-colored cordials and the prettiest jelly you’ve ever seen or just add a fancy bit of color to a tossed salad.

Stinging nettle

(Urtica dioica)

You’ll usually know when you’ve found stinging nettle before you look down, because of the intense pain and welts rising on your bare ankles. Stinging nettle gets its name from its tiny histamine-containing hairs, which cause an immediate reaction when they come in contact with human skin. Stinging nettle also happens to be an incredibly nutritious food, rich in vitamin A, and provides a much-needed boost of calcium and minerals after the long winter. You might think the stinging hairs would be a lot of trouble to remove, but it’s actually easier than you’d think: blanch the plant for two minutes or dehydrate it and it will be perfectly safe to touch. When dried and powdered, young nettle leaf is a near-perfect duplicate for matcha (a type of green tea), and it can be used in that form for a natural green dye in baked goods. Nettle can also be used in soups, pasta dishes and basically anywhere you would use greens.

Gabrielle Cerberville

Gabrielle Cerberville, known on the internet as Mushroom Auntie (@chaoticforager) is a wild food educator, mycologist, permaculturist and interdisciplinary artist who moved to Kalamazoo from Indianapolis in 2020. Her entertaining educational videos on social media, where she shares her knowledge of edible plants and fungi, have been viewed by millions worldwide. She has lectured extensively on the importance of ecological awareness and land knowledge and believes that ethics and hope are the keys to supporting a sustainable future. You can usually find her eating things off the ground.

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