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There are a wide variety of flowers, greens, herbs, leaves, mushrooms, and shoots that can be foraged in spring!

WHY FORAGE IN SPRING? Spring is the natural time to cleanse, detox, and refresh after a long winter season of extra hours inside, less movement, and heavier foods. Winter’s quiet hibernation time is a reflection of the cycle of the seasons and has many benefits of its own. However, as winter draws to a close, we may feel sluggish, stagnant, and congested.

Spring awakens the longing for new beginnings, refreshment, and the feeling of lightness and energy embodied in the budding flowers and blossoming trees. Many of the plants found while wildcrafting are natural species that are highly nutritious and contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.

FLOWERS TO FORAGE IN SPRING: flowers are the easiest wild food to see and can be used to add color to salads and other recipes.

Red Clover Flower (Trifolium pratense): is highly nutritive and rich in vitamins and minerals such as vitamins B and C, calcium, chromium, magnesium, thiamine, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, and iron. Red clover is an alterative herb that helps the body assimilate nutrients, remove metabolic waste, and ease skin conditions, chronic inflammatory conditions, and degenerative diseases.

Red clover blossoms are sweet and edible, and can be used as an infusion or tincture, or consumed as food in salads, soups, and stews, vinegar infusions, and herbal honeys. It is also an excellent topical preparation when made as a balm, salve, or massage oil.

Nasturtium: (Nasturtium officinale): one of the most delicious plants of mid-spring, nasturtium has brilliant red, yellow, and orange blossoms that blanket canyons and burst through fences alongside their distinctive and platter-shaped or peltate leaves.

To harvest nasturtiums, pinch the blossoms off at the stem. The petals are velvety soft and slightly peppery, and they add vibrant color to any dish.

Eastern Redbud Flowers (Cercis canadensis): the purple-pink flowers, some of the first to appear in early spring, emerge before the leaves of the redbud, and nearly cover the tree in an easy-to-spot showy display of spring color.

Redbud blossoms have a delightful flavor and incredible floral aroma. The flavor is a bright sweetness first with a touch of young vegetable flavor like sweet peas or new corn. Secondary notes of sourness/tartness come in next, and the flowers are excellent sprinkled into salads, added to baked goods, and as a key ingredient in smoothies, jellies, and jams.

NOTE: harvesting flowers doesn't hurt the tree, however, the nectar is important food for bees to get a jump-start on honey making when little else is blooming. It's important not to over-harvest, so take no more than 20% from a spot on the tree that is easily reached.

Wild Violet Flower & Leaf (Viola odorata): bloom in early spring and are often the first flowers of the season. They love cooler temperatures and may grow throughout the winter in warmer climates. Wild violets are a low growing plant that prefers a shady and wooded area with rich soil. They have a basal rosette of toothed, heart shaped leaves, and drooping flowers with five petals that do not produce seeds.

Wild violets are an excellent addition to nutrient-rich teas for daily drinking. The mucilage content of the leaves makes them useful for thickening soups. Violet leaves and flowers are also added to salads and make a lovely decoration or garnish for a variety of culinary delights.

Wild violets are alterative and lymphatic which makes them useful for chronic infections, detoxification, hives, eczema, and cradle cap. They are a welcome addition to facial steams and washes and are perfect for the spring months when the body is out of balance.

Wisteria Blossoms (Wisteria frutescens): can be seen draped on trees along the roadside for just a few weeks during spring. The lavender-colored flower clusters are easily spotted while driving but avoid harvesting them near busy roads where plants absorb toxins and heavy metals from exhaust.

Wisteria flowers are nectar-rich and taste like slightly sweet lettuce with hints of bitter grape and peas. The flowers can be eaten raw in a salad or used as a colorful garnish.

NOTE: See the recipe section of my website for foraged flowers spring rolls.

GREENS, LEAVES, & SHOOTS TO FORAGE IN SPRING: these wild greens can be substituted in almost any recipe calling for the more common garden greens and vegetables. Use dandelion leaves, lamb’s-quarters, or wild mustard in place of spinach, prepare day lily shoots like domestic greens, or substitute them for green beans or edible-podded peas.

The simplest method of preparing any of these wild greens is to steam them. Clean the leaves thoroughly and soak them in enough water to cover in order to bring any stowaways to the surface. Then place them in a steaming basket in a pan containing about an inch of water, cover, and heat until they reach the texture preferred. Be sure to prepare enough as wild greens cook down when steamed. Serve the vegetables with butter or hot pepper sauce.

Chickweed (Stellaria media): can be found growing wild in lawns and cool shady areas where the soil is moist.

The leaves can be eaten raw, but they taste better when they are cooked. Chickweed is great in salads and pestos but it is bland on its own. It can be added to smoothies along with other herbs to brighten the flavor for a nutrition boost. Chickweed has a crunchy and fresh green spinach-like taste.

Chickweed can easily be dehydrated for winter use, and it can be used in herbal remedies for itch.

Dandelion Greens (Taraxacum officinale): nutritious and flavorful, the liver cleansing constituents of this alterative herb are especially useful in the spring after the long winter months. Dandelion contains inulin, potassium, calcium, sodium, phosphorus, iron, and vitamins A and C. The leaves have a diuretic action and are frequently indicated for the kidneys.

The bitter taste of dandelion leaves makes them useful as an herbal bitter to stimulate digestive secretions and promote healthy digestion, including bile production, increased saliva, and gastric secretions, which all work together to aid the body in breaking down and assimilating nutrients. Dandelion has an affinity for the liver, stimulates the gallbladder, and is helpful for soothing inflammation and congestion of both organs.

Pick dandelion greens in the spring and early in the grow cycle as they get more bitter tasting with age. After thoroughly washing the leaves, they can be consumed as a salad green in place of arugula and pair well with creamy goat cheese, nuts, and lemon. Dandelion greens can also be eaten as sautéed greens, pesto, fritters, tea, jelly, and coffee with added milk and sugar to cut the bitterness.

Fiddleheads: Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris): are ostrich ferns that have not fully opened. They emerge from the ground in spring from wet and fertile soil. Fiddleheads are bright green and can easily be seen amidst the dark soil, twigs, and leaves from which they emerge. They grow in clumps of about six and are easy to recognize. A feathery brown papery material covers the sides of the coils, and there is a deep groove on the inside of the stem. Caution: Remember that ostrich fern fiddleheads are the edible kind, and some ferns are poisonous, so identification is crucial.

The furled-up fern portion of the plant is tender and edible and has a mild asparagus flavor mixed with a bit of broccoli and spinach taste. Harvest them before they unfurl when they are 4 inches tall by pinching and snapping the stem 1-inch from the coiled head. Always leave plenty of unpicked fiddleheads or the entre fern will die.

Rinse the fiddleheads and make sure they are cooked well but not overcooked. Boil them in water for 5-7 minutes or steam them for 10-12 minutes, then sauté’ lightly in butter or olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Fiddleheads can be eaten like any vegetable, and they pair beautifully with egg dishes like omelets and frittatas, go great with pasta dishes, soups, and stir-fries, and also work alone as a side dish to accompany meats and fish. Use fiddleheads soon after picking, place them in the fridge for a week, or freeze them for up to a year.

Wild Leek (Allium tricoccum): also known as ramps or ransoms, the leaves of this edible wild plant are delicious! In the spring, look for wild leeks in the moist soil under trees. They grow as 2 or 3 broad and smooth leaves out of a white bulb. Don’t harvest the bulb, because ramp populations are dwindling, and it takes five years or more for a ramp plant to mature. The bulbs and leaves are edible, but the bulb should be left in the ground to produce a new plant.

Caution: Lily of the Valley is a poisonous lookalike, so take care to identify the right plant.

Ramps taste like leeks and the leaves can be used in a variety of recipes. The leaves can be diced and used like onions, green onions, leeks, chives and garlic, but they are much more potent. They pair well with pasta, eggs, chanterelle and other wild mushrooms, potatoes, stir fried and raw greens, and pork.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica): grows from the early spring through summer and can grow to 3-7 feet tall with leaves from 1-6 inches long. The stems and leaves are very hairy and most subspecies of nettle have hairs that sting by break off the leaf when touched and injecting chemicals into the skin that burns. Stinging nettle thrives in areas with a good amount of rainfall and in moist soil. It’s commonly found in the countryside near forests and river banks. Look for the distinctive arrow-shaped leaves with teeth on the edges that have a bite. Stinging nettle is rich in vitamins A, C, D, K, and B complex vitamins, and it’s rich in iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, iodine, sulfur, silicon and silica.

Nettle has been used for centuries to detoxify the body, boost immunity, improve energy levels, increase circulation, improve metabolism, treat anemia, relieve arthritis, rheumatism, and muscular pain, man-age menstruation, minimize menopausal symptoms, regulate hormonal activity, promote lactation, stimulate hair growth, treat bladder infections, treat enlarged prostates, and regulate blood sugar in diabetics.

The leaves, stems, and roots are edible, and it tastes a lot like spinach. Wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting stinging nettle to avoid the sting. Harvest when the leaves are young by snipping off the top 4 inches of the plant.

Stinging nettles have a flavor similar to spinach and can be used as a spinach substitute. It can be eaten as a cooked green to get rid of the sting, steamed, steeped as a tea, as a pesto, and as a soup. The leaves can be stored fresh and unwashed in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator for 3 days, blanched and frozen, or dried in a dehydrator for use in tinctures, teas, or capsules.

NOTE: See the recipe section of my website for a foraged greens frittata.

HERBS TO FORGE IN SPRING: spring is the time that botanical wonders start to reveal themselves, and wild spring herbs begin to emerge. Their vital energy begins to arise after a long winter’s nap. Many herbs grow bitter as the seasons progress, so spring is the best time to forage them while they are young and sweet.

Hawthorn Flower & Leaf (Crataegus monogyna): are bursting with natural compounds, nutrients, minerals, and micronutrients that make it an incredibly valuable medicinal herb. It’s the oldest known medicinal herb and appears in records from around the world as early as the first century.

Hawthorn’s primary use is for heart conditions as it is cardioprotective. It is also used for digestive issues, an immunity boost, an anti-inflammatory, a general tonic, and for mental health conditions and skin issues.

Hawthorns have sharp thorns along the branches that can grow up to 3-inches long. The leaves are small, deeply lobed, and as broad as they are long. The leaves appear before the first blossoms that arrive in early to mid- spring, and in bloom, the tree exhibits a huge number of small white or pale pink flowers that appear in round-top clusters toward the ends of branches. Each flower has five calyx lobes, one carpel, and twenty stamens.

The leaves can be harvested from mid-spring to early autumn when they are at peak health and contain the most nutrients. Harvest flowers in clusters in mid to late spring when they are fully developed. For an extra early harvest, take the buds too before they open.

Mullein Flowers & Leaves (Verbascum thapsus): grow on roadsides, pastures, prairies, gullies, or in other disturbed areas where there is full sun. The most noticeable part of this plant is the tall yellow flower spike that blooms in late spring.

A small and fuzzy leaved rosette that is close to the ground is how mullein grows in its first year. It is a biennial plant, so it stays like this until the second year of growth when it shoots up the tall flower spike.

Harvest the tender and young fuzzy leaves in the spring before the flower stalk starts to shoot up and when the weather is warm. Cut the leaves and top off and leave the roots so that the plant can re-grow. Allow the harvest to dry out or place them in a dehydrator. Store in an air-tight container for up to 18 months.

The flower spike has a variety of medicinal uses including the treatment of ear infections, as an antiseptic, for pain relief, and to fight infection. The leaves are antispasmodic, expectorant, and decongestant making them an excellent choice for the respiratory system and in the treatment of asthma. They can also be used as a poultice for swollen glands, bruises, insect bites, and minor cuts and scrapes.

Spruce Tips (Picea pungens): commonly known as blue spruce, the tips are a multi-functional natural remedy for many ailments that are usually abundant in spring and safe to forage. Emerging spruce tips are easy to spot in coniferous forests, however, they are often confused with pine trees. The difference between pine and spruce is that pine trees have long needles, combined in sets of two, wrapped in a papery material that attaches the needles to the branch in clusters. Spruce tree needles are very short and attached individually. There are different types of spruce trees, and all spruce tips are edible. When identifying spruce trees for foraging, look for the bright green tips emerging from branches, then look at the needle formation and color to confirm identification.

Pluck off the bright green spruce tips with the fingertips. Only harvest the tips that grow in shadier parts of the tree or on the undersides of main branches. Never harvest tips from young trees because it will stunt their growth. Take only what is needed to encourage abundant and healthy re-growth.

Blue spruce tips have an intense and vibrant flavor that is lemony, astringent, and tart. Dried or fresh, spruce tips can be boiled make a tea that helps with congestion. Spring spruce tips are also a healthy addition to for spring salad recipes as they are loaded with vitamin C. Soak them in oil for a spruce-infused salad dressing that adds flavor and zing. Spruce tip jelly adds an unusual, tasty flair to venison, red meat, or poultry. Spruce tips can be substituted for Rosemary in any recipe.

Spring spruce tips are good for skin, can be added to a soothing salve or cream, and have antimicrobial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties.

NOTE: See the recipe section of my website for foraged spruce tips honey.

MUSHROOMS TO FORAGE IN SPRING: mushrooms are fungi that absorb nutrition from organic substances instead of sunlight to produce energy. The toadstool of a mushroom is similar to the fruit of a plant.

Mushrooms absorb a lot of vitamin D as they grow, and they have a high zinc and selenium content, are rich in copper which helps the body make red blood cells, have antioxidant properties that boost immunity, are rich in heart-healthy B vitamins that aid digestion and hormone production, and keep skin healthy, and are high in potassium which improves heart, muscle, and nerve function. Mushrooms are healthy to eat because they are low in sodium and calories, free of fat and cholesterol, and are a good source of protein.

Foraging for wild mushrooms, extensive research is recommended. If available, mushroom identification walks with an experienced mushroom forager is a great start. Wild mushrooms that grow on live or dead trees have specific shapes, textures, and colors, making them easier to identify.

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus): found almost exclusively on birch trees, chagas are easy to identify as they produce very hard textured and charcoal-black conks. The inner part of the mushroom ranges from dark to golden-brown.

Chagas are present year-round, but they are more potent during the late winter to early spring when the birch tree is dormant. When the sap begins to flow, the chagas retain more water which reduces the nutrient content. Harvest only chagas that are larger than a grapefruit from mature birch trees. Leave at least 1/3 to ½ intact and connected to the tree and take care not to overharvest. This marvelous mushroom takes years to reach maturity in the wild, so please forage responsibly.

The entire chaga is used as a medicine, but it is too hard to be eaten. Chagas can be steeped as a delicious-tasting tea, and some people make it with a combination of spices, honey, and almond milk.

Chagas have been used in folk medicine for centuries and are recognized for their healing properties. They are anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antilipidemic, antitumor, and hypoglycemic. Chagas have a high oxalate content and should not be taken by anyone prone to kidney stones or kidney disease.

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus): has a distinct appearance which makes it easy to identify and impossible to mistake for other potentially poisonous fungi. It grows on hardwood trees and dead logs and prefers lush forests in cooler climates.

The best way to identify lion's mane is the icicle-like teeth hanging from a central stalk. When in its prime, it looks like a white ball covered in shaggy spines which resemble the mane of a lion, are short while the fungus is young, and grow to 2-inches long when ready for consumption. As it ages, lion’s mane discolors and turns slightly yellow it is still safe to eat. Once it turns orange it is past its prime and should be left on the tree so it can produce spores as it decays.

Lion’s mane has nerve regenerating properties, aids in the production of nerve growth factor proteins, eases the symptoms of dementia, lessens oxidative stress, improves brain function and neuronal health, reduces symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, and depressive disorders, reduces inflammation and oxidation, improves overall brain health and cognitive functioning, reduces the risk of heart disease and blood clots, lowers blood sugar levels and aids in diabetes treatment, improves digestive health and prevents stomach ulcers, boosts the immune system and improves immune function, has neuroprotective properties, and reduces nerve damage in neurodegenerative autoimmune disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus): also known as a pearl oyster, oyster mushrooms are saprophytic or get their food from digesting dead organic matter. They can be found fruiting on dead or dying trees, fallen logs, or tree stumps. Oyster mushrooms are common in the spring, can also be foraged in the summer and fall, and can be found in low-lying areas, and beside ponds, creeks, or other naturally humid areas.

Oysters are a shelf mushroom with a broad fleshy cap with edges that are enrolled and flatten out as the it matures. The color of the cap is tan to brown, and oyster mushrooms do not have a traditional stem, but more of a “pseudostem” which can vary in length depending on where the mushroom is fruiting. Mushrooms fruiting right off the side of a tree may have no stem at all. The gills are broad and fairly spaced, and some of the gills run all the way down the pseudostem, while others only run partially down, known as lamellulae. Oysters can grow singly but more often will form clusters or “bouquets” or multiple fruiting bodies.

Harvest oysters by grasping the base where they emerge from the tree and gently twisting and pulling to remove the entire cluster.

Oysters contain antifungal and antitumor properties and can lower blood sugar, increase insulin levels, and decrease cholesterol levels. They have a mild and pleasant flavor and a soft texture when cooked. The flavor is subtle and earthy with a hint of anise and is not overpowering like some mushrooms. They can be added to any dish and are great alongside steak and onions.

NOTE: See the recipe section of my website for a foraged mushroom broth.

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