Harvest local Wild Spring greens for nutrients and connection
~ Written by Trish Weatherhall
While you are isolating at home and supporting your local businesses for food supply, you can supplement your weekly shopping trip with free, local nutrient-packed greens available in your own backyard says Denman Island paramedic, Registered Clinical Herbalist and Natural Health Practitioner Philippa Joly. She uses locally foraged wild plants for food and medicine all year long and suggests now is a great time to take advantage of what grows naturally around us.
Stinging nettle, dandelion greens, chickweed, and Maple blossoms are four wild edible greens you can find locally in early Spring and are loaded with Vitamin C and other valuable nutrients to help boost the immune system. Philippa shares how to find and identify them, nutrient content, and what to do with these gifts from nature.
“Stinging nettle is an undervalued super-food,” says Philippa. “It’s my number one recommended wild plant to harvest in the Spring. It has a 10% protein content, Vitamins C, A and K and minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium.”
Throw it raw into a smoothie or soup, steam it like spinach (and use in any spinach recipe), or stir fry it in a little olive oil and garlic.
The raw or dried leaves also make a vitamin-rich tea – add 1 cup of nettle leaves to 2 cups of boiling water and steep for 5-10 minutes.
Find Stinging Nettle in grassy areas near deciduous trees like Alder and Maple, along the edges of ditches, lakes, fields and old logging roads and village sites. Walk lightly – this is also habitat for local newts! Look for hairy, pointed, heart-shaped leaves (sometimes with purple tops). Stinging nettle defends itself with small hairs that penetrate the skin and produce a burning sensation – cooking or blending removes the sting!
Wear garden gloves and use scissors to snip the top and first 2 sets of leaves (this allows the plan to keep growing and producing) into a bag or basket. Use tongs to add them to your pot or blender.
Dandelion greens are excellent snipped into salads, in fact, Philippa says they were originally introduced to North America from Europe as a salad green. They can also be added to smoothies, soups and stir fries.
“Right now is the perfect time to harvest dandelion leaves, while they are young and tender,” says Philippa. “They are super-high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and Vitamin C. They also are a strong diuretic to help kidney function and have immune-boosting qualities.”
Find them almost anywhere in grassy spots… but choose areas away from road and foot traffic.
“Chickweed is at its most juicy and tender in the Spring,” says Philippa. “Use them raw like sprouts in salads, sandwiches and smoothies for added Vitamin C, B and A. It’s also good for inflammatory skin issues like eczema.”
Find common chickweed in moist soil in sun to partial shade. It looks like ground cover, with opposite-growing pointed oval smooth-edged leaves attach to the stem, in bloom it will have small white flowers
Big Leaf Maples are just starting to produce yellow-green buds which can be eaten like broccoli, steamed, added to soup or quiche, or used raw in salads or for a crunchy snack. Huge nectar producers, maple blossoms are a favourite of bees, so make sure not to over-pick.
“The maple blossoms are just coming out now,” says Philippa. “They are high in Vitamin C and can actually help develop antibodies to pollen allergies.”
Look for Big Leaf Maples fresh-water marshes, creeks and lakes.
As well as providing nutrition, Philippa points out emotional benefits of wild food foraging. “Gathering wild foods helps us remember that we are at home on this earth and if we learn how, we can get what we need from the earth, including connection and community among plants. Our nervous systems are soothed and regulated when we connect with nature.”