The forest has awakened to Spring once again, invigorated by the chants of Peeper frogs summoning warmer days ahead. Buds have become tiny, tender leaves, but flowers haven’t yet opened, save the small purple blossoms of ground ivy, snaking its way across the fields and meadows. It has been quite gusty as of late, though it is nice to hear the wind rushing through the trees instead of the buzzing of mosquitoes and flies.
On earlier jaunts I had noticed the rise of young Stinging Nettles in the moist hedges of my local woodland. And now that other greens have popped up above the soil, I decided it was time to savour a Spring salad. Of course, always use an amount caution when foraging – be mindful of poisonous look-alikes. If you aren’t sure about the identity of a certain plant, leave it alone…whatever you do, don’t pick and eat it without making a positive ID that it is safe to consume/edible. Cross-check with more than one source/guide for confirmation.
So, off the find the nettles! I didn’t need to look far…
Here’s a small bed of Stinging Nettles with some Hedge Garlic (aka ‘Garlic Mustard’, or ‘Jack-by-the-Hedge’, as it is known in the UK). Hedge Garlic, Alliaria petiolata, is an invasive plant, so there’s no need to worry about over-harvesting – by mid May, it pretty much takes over the forest floor. The leaves have a wonderful mild flavour, but as the plant matures, it will become more and more bitter.
Notice how I am picking just above a leaf node with my hand positioned above the plant – gathering nettles in this manner promotes new growth and minimises the chance of you getting stung.
With a bit of each collected, I marched on, seeing what else I could find. Farther up the trail I came across some Ramps.
Wild Leek (Allium tricoccum var. burdickii), a very close relative of Ramps (Allium tricoccum var. tricoccum), has become quite popular with specialty, wild food-themed cooking, and is now a rare sight in the Northeast. Because the two appear almost exactly alike, be sure you aren’t harvesting Wild Leek by looking at the base of the leaves – if you see a layer of dark reddish-purple, you’ve found Ramps…if it is white or a light green, it’s Wild Leek, and should be left alone.
The reddish layer at the base of Ramps.
Now I needed something to add a little zest to my salad, and so my search took me to the wetlands. I noticed a lot of Skunk Cabbage and some Indian Poke (False Hellebore) on the edges of this rocky stream along the way.
There were also a few Trilliums nestled among the roots of trees and around the stones, but I thought it best to leave them as they should only be gathered where they grow in abundance. Instead I dug up the rhizomes of a Toothwort, which are crisp and have a horseradish-like taste.
Happy with all that I had gathered, it was time to head home. But before I could dig in, I needed to prepare the nettles so that they could be consumed raw. The method I use is to brush back the stinging hairs using the fingers, and then to rub the plant in between the palms to ensure all the hairs are flattened. I cannot say whether this technique will work with older nettles, so do so at your own risk.
Though it was a quick munch, it was certainly healthy (and delicious ). The nettles themselves are rich in magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, calcium, and iron.