Sustainable Foraging in Spring

As the snow melts from the fields and woodlands, the early greens of spring poke through.
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Harvested violet leaves can be used in a salad or whole flowers can be candied for use in desserts.
Harvested violet leaves can be used in a salad or whole flowers can be candied for use in desserts.

As the snow melts from the fields and woodlands, the early greens of spring poke through. The forager’s palette — dulled from a winter of root vegetables and heavy sauces — awakes to the bright green tastes of spring.

It’s easy to be overeager, to overharvest spring edibles like wild leeks and morels, gathering all we see in the forest. But as foraging becomes more popular, we should be careful not to deplete the plants that bring us such joy.

My spring harvests consist largely of weedy, “invasive” plants — garlic mustard, dock, dandelion, chicory, nettles and so on. I feast on these fresh greens through early May; and as they grow larger and change in flavor and texture, they are choice for sautéed greens or incorporated into recipes for frittatas, pastas, risottos and other “one-pot” meals.

Garlic Mustard Flower
Garlic Mustard

There are many wild edibles that I love but rarely harvest because they are threatened by habitat loss. Those include plants like ostrich ferns, trout lilies and wild leeks. If I do gather them, it’s done sparingly to garnish a dish with a little foraging élégance.

When designing menus and meals around the foraged flavors of spring, consider using the abundant “invasive species” as the foundation of your cooking and using native wild edibles sparingly and in micro-quantities.

This small-plates menu will give you a flavor of how you can craft a dish to feature wild edibles while being sensitive to the availability of native plants:

Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads
Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads

Appetizer: Garlic-mustard pesto flatbreads with morels, sautéed garlic fiddleheads (in place of pepperoni) and seasoned with a sprinkle of chopped leek leaves (leaving the bulb in the ground in its entirety so it can regenerate in coming seasons). 

Salad: Foraged salad of dandelion and violet leaves, plated with trout-lily leaves for a crunchy flavor, seasoned with wild chives and mints and drizzled with a mustard vinaigrette made from seeds of the garlic mustard from the previous season.

Entrée: Asian carp fish cakes, served with native wild rice and a fresh, homemade aioli.

Dandelion Field
Dandelion

Dessert: A goat-cheese cheesecake drizzled with a local, star thistle honey and garnished with candied violet flowers. Served with foraged herbal chai of chicory root, dandelion root and spicebush with tea biscuits topped with violet flower jelly.

Wine: Serve with Michigan gewürztraminer or Michigan pinot noir, slightly chilled.

Each of these ingredients has its own unique harvesting and preparation methods. Learning these from an experienced wild foods forager and chef will ensure you are foraging the correct botanical in a manner that is both sustainable and delicious. Bon appétit!

Lisa Rose, Michigan BLUE Magazine.


*Photography courtesy Lisa Rose

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