I’ve been foraging since I was a kid—wild raspberries, wood sorrel, highly-coveted morels—and it’s been one of the most gratifying things I’ve been able to do. There is something satisfyingly primal about going into the wilderness (even if the wilderness is just your front yard) and finding good things to eat underfoot. Not to mention that it’s completely free!
Fortunately, foraging for your own greens couldn’t be easier, but do keep some common sense guidelines in mind. Most importantly: Never taste anything that you cannot positively identify! Luckily, the five easiest weeds to look for don’t have any dangerous dopplegangers, so they’re relatively low risk. All the same, invest in a good guidebook and if you’re not sure what it is, leave it alone. Peterson Guides and the Audobon Society both publish reputable field guides with full color photos that will be indispensable to you while foraging. With a good guide in hand, try scouring your lawn for these tasty greens and mix up a tangy spring salad to enjoy!
I’m pretty sure everyone is familiar with dandelion, but did you know that the entire plant is edible? You can make wine out of the blossoms, tea out of the root, and easiest of all—salad out of the leaves. Young leaves are the best since older leaves tend to be tougher. Dandelions grow all over the place, but be sure that you harvest them from an area that hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Use caution at parks or other public spaces for this reason. The season for dandelion greens is April to early June, and they will be tasty until the plant flowers. Learn more about this useful weed in The Benefits of Dandelions: From Cultivation to Cooking.
Also known by the less appealing name of “pig’s weed” you’ll recognize this one for popping up, uninvited, on the edges of your garden bed, along your fence line, behind your garage—basically everywhere. Lamb’s quarters are another green that can be swapped in with spinach, it works in both fresh salads and steamed or wilted. Spring to early summer, March through June, are the best times for harvesting.
Commonly called shamrocks by kids everywhere, wood sorrel is more than just a pretty curiosity that kids enjoy around St. Patrick’s Day. With small green leaves and yellow flowers, it often grows in a veritable carpet in shady areas, but is also adaptable to sunny locations. It has a tangy lemon flavor that’s a welcome addition to a fresh salad (if you cook it, it will disintegrate into nothing). You can find tasty wood sorrel all summer long.
With the same “natural habitat” as dandelion, plantain is often found side-by-side in yards and vacant lots. For fresh eating, the young leaves of early spring are the best. Once the plant begins to mature, it can be cooked in much the same way as spinach. April and early May are the best months for the tender new leaves, but it can be harvested all summer long.
Chickweed is the champion of spring—it’s one of the first edible weeds to green up after the thaw because it actually germinates in the autumn and overwinters. Despite being hardy enough to withstand the cold and snow, it’s a delicate green to eat. It’s best used fresh, just lightly wilted over low heat, or added to a dish at the very end of cooking—very nice in an omelet or warm salad with a vinaigrette dressing. It can be harvested first thing in spring, from late March to April, but has long season and can be picked well into the fall.
Photos by (top to bottom): Fotolia/Elenathewise; Jim Pisarowicz/Wikimedia Commons; Fotolia/Lars Johansson; Fotolia/urza; Paige Filler/Flickr.