Spring Forest Salad
In mid-spring on Lake Umbagog (which straddles Maine in the northern tip of New Hampshire) I can count on three things:
1) Copious black flies, mosquitoes and now ticks (thanks to climate change!)
2) Weather fluctuations at the drop of a hat (winter parka, full-length rain slicker, windbreaker and flip-flops within easy reach)
3) and some of the best wild edibles for this gorgeous salad!
This post is not intended to be a wild foraging guide. I've spent several years learning about Northeastern edible wild plants and take a highly conservative approach. Anything I can't identify with 100% confidence, I leave alone.
For this salad, I've included some of the most common and easily identified wild plants, some of the earliest perennial garden herbs and flowers, re-seeding lettuces and pea shoots.
I started with these beautiful violets...
Violets have been used culinarily for hundreds of years. Both the leaves and flowers are lightly fragrant and make an attractive addition to salads, cold soups, beverages, cakes, puddings, jams, and the like. The petals are rich in vitamin C, the leaves are rich in vitamin A. Both contain several minerals.
Eastern hemlock tips...
Many mistakenly think all hemlock plants are poisonous, but Eastern hemlock [Tsuga canadensis (L.)] is in the pinaceae family of plants, along with most evergreens, and is perfectly safe. Poison hemlock [Conium maculatum (L.)] and Water hemlock [Cicuta maculate (L.)] are both in the apiaceae family (same as parsley and carrots) and look completely different.
Eastern hemlock branches grow longer each spring when new tips appear on the ends of existing branches. These start out as tightly closed buds that gradually open to reveal light green leaves. These leaves eventually lengthen and darken to match the rest of the branch. For use in a fresh salad, it is best to snip them young while still pale green. The leaves contain significant amounts of vitamin C. They add a pleasant sweet and sour flavor that is also slightly pungent and bitter. I find them surprisingly delicious.
The entire plant (root, leaves and flowers) are edible and are used widely in both culinary and medicinal applications. The leaves can have wide ranges of variegation, from more smooth leaves like this one...
to more deeply ridged leaves, like this one.
For raw salads, younger leaves are preferred. Young leaves do not require special preparation to eliminate the bitterness. The first time I tasted a dandelion salad it was prepared by my Jordanian neighbors. The leaves were from mature plants and had to be soaked in cold water, dried, chopped then massaged with a bit of salt and olive oil. Crispy, baked pita bread was broken up and added, along with a healthy dose of fresh lemon juice, garlic and thinly sliced onions. It was DELICIOUS!
I do not recommend collecting dandelion leaves from municipal areas or roadside as these are likely to be heavily sprayed with herbicides and pesticides or may contain other pollutants.
Here's what I collected for this salad: PRINT HERE
Eastern hemlock leaves
Early perennial herbs
chive stems and flowers
Edible perennial flowers
Re-seeded garden greens (from fall plants gone to seed)
From the spring gardens
Gently wash and dry each plant. Strip away any tough stems (dandelions, kale) and roughly chop. Add everything to a bowl, toss with your favorite vinaigrette (I used a lemony Dijon garnished with some additional lemon zest), arrange onto plates or a platter and add the flowers.
Have you tried any edible flowers or wild plants? Which were your favorites and how did you use them? Comment below, I'd love to hear your ideas.
If you don't have experience foraging wild edibles or lack a safe place from which to gather, you can still create a beautiful seasonal salad with these tips:
Visit your local farmer's market. Often you can find a grower selling wild and/or cultivated plants such as ramps, dandelion, purslane, cress, chicory, sorrel... and many more, as well as various herbs. Talk with the grower about their plants and how they harvest in the wild. It's important not to over-harvest any one area and to leave endangered plants alone to re-propagate.
Check out Breyer's list of edible flowers (link above). You may already be growing some of these!
Check your local library or cooperative extension office. There may be classes scheduled to learn more about foraging, native wild edibles or plant identification.
Find a botanical garden that includes native edible plants, shrubs and trees. You won't be able to take any home, but you can learn more about what's available in your own area.
Hire an expert (or barter for their services)! A registered professional herbalist, wildcrafter or botanist may offer foraging classes for groups or individuals.
DISCLOSURES: None. This post was not created in affiliation with any product or brand. The opinions expressed are my own. I will only write about products I use and trust.
NOTE: All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use my photos without prior written permission.