Wild Edible Greens to Grow or Gather

| February/March 2008

  • This heirloom recipe for Chickweed Pie, a Pennsylvania Dutch country version of quiche, makes a delicious lunch or light supper dish.
    Photo courtesy W.W. Weaver
  • Chickweed
  • Dandelion
  • Wild edible greens, once gathered and used as spring tonics, can add flavor and nutrition to salads and soups.
    Photo courtesy North Wind Pictures
  • Wild edible greens, once gathered and used as spring tonics, can add flavor and nutrition to salads and soups.
    Photo courtesy iStockphoto.com/PhotoGartner
  • Although this dish features cowpeas and French dandelion greens, you could use most any wild spring greens you have. French dandelion greens feature extra-large, succulent leaves; seeds of this and other cultivated dandelion varieties can be purchased to grow in the garden.
    Photo courtesy of Rob Cardillo
  • Bladder campion
  • Bladder campion (Silene vulgaris) Also known as: Maiden’s–tears Description: Short-lived perennial; 8 to 50 inches tall; 1-inch white flowers June to October Range: Most of U.S. (except Gulf Coast states and desert areas) in gravelly soils, abandoned fields
    Photo copyright 2007 Steven Foster
  • DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale) Description: Perennial; 2 to 12 inches tall; 1- to 2-inch yellow flowers April to November; long, lobed leaves Range: Throughout U.S. in fields, lawns, disturbed sites
  • PURSLANE (Portulaca oleracea) Description: Annual; prostrate plants with stems up to 36 inches long and succulent leaves; small yellow flowers late spring to early fall; edible leaves have a tart, lemony flavor Range: Throughout U.S. in fields, gardens, walkways and other areas Note: This aggressive weed is an excellent source of healthful omega-3 fatty acids
  • CHICKWEED (Stellaria media)Description: Annual; 2 to 26 inches tall with upright or trailing stems; tiny, starlike white blooms with notched petals in February to September, depending on climate Range: Throughout U.S. in meadows, woods and cultivated ground
    Photo copyright 2007 Steven Foster
  • The 14th-century health guide Tacuinum Sanitatis shows a woman gathering wild lettuce (above), which would have been cooked in a pot with legumes to make a healthful meal.
    Photo courtesy W.W.Weaver
  • STINGING NETTLE (Urtica dioica) Description: Perennial; upright, usually unbranched plants grow to 6 feet; stems have long stinging hairs; inconspicuous yellow-green flowers May to September Range: Throughout U.S. in rich, moist soil Note: Wear gloves to harvest and handle uncooked leaves and stems (hairs are highly irritating); cooked young shoot and tender top leaves are tasty, very nutritious and non-stinging
    Photo copyright 2007 Steven Foster

While reading a 17th-century book on gardening, I was struck by the way modern gardeners and cooks have lost touch with the world of wild edible greens all around us.

Spring Green Recipes:

Chickweed Pie
Dandelion Greens with Cowpeas 

In former times, wild greens were not looked down upon as weeds, but instead were gathered up as potherbs for good eating and health. In the Old World and in early America, wild greens gathered from woodlots, pasturelands and meadows were an important part of the daily diet. But when 19th-century industrialization shifted eating habits toward beef, white bread and processed foods, attitudes toward plants like chickweed and dandelion changed. These wild potherbs, once relished even by the wealthy, became branded as poverty food.

The truth is, edible wild plants still are treasure troves of good flavor and health. You simply need to know when to gather them and how to prepare them to bring out their best qualities.

Flavor Factors

Throughout much of Europe, particularly parts of the eastern Mediterranean, farm markets still sell wild plants during their brief season of availability. Plants like bladder campion and white mustard are appreciated as much as new wine or freshly pressed olive oil.

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