Foraging Wild Edibles in the Early Spring
I took a morning hike up to the ridge top today. I spent some time sitting and listening to and observing Nature.
I got hungry!
So I started looking around to see what I could find to eat up there! Breakfast on the ridge! I could find wild edibles out there!
This is what I found.
Before I tell you what these wild edibles are, give yourself a little quiz.
- How many of these wild edibles do you recognize?
- Which wild edibles have you tasted?
- Which ones would you count on to fill you up while out in the forest?
- Do you trust your foraging skills to locate wild edibles on your own?
These are definitely points to ponder.
We recently read/listened to a book called In the Presence of My Enemies, where a missionary couple got kidnapped and was forced to wander through the Philippine jungle for over a year. Many times they had no food, and resorted to eating anything they could find alive in the jungle.
It’s a sobering thought that most people nowadays would not survive for very long out in the wild.
While I would not trust my own foraging skills for long-term survival, I do like to learn about what I can eat out there, should the need arise.
Today, it was something fun and different. Tomorrow our knowledge of wild edibles may mean survival.
How did you do on the Wild Edibles Quiz?
Here are the answers:
Wild Edibles–Early Spring
- Red Bud blossoms
- Wood Sorrel
- Milk Vetch
- Sassafras shoots
- Green Briar new growth
- Fiddleheads *see note below*
So, if you look around, and educate yourself, you can find some things to eat out in the forest.
Let’s learn a bit about each one of these wild edibles.
- Red Bud Blossoms. The Eastern Red Buds are in bloom all around us in East Tennessee right now! These blossoms are plentiful and available through most of the Eastern United States in early Spring. Red Bud blossoms are tasty with a flavor reminiscent of snow peas. I like to collect these and sprinkle them on salad or entrees. I also like them just off the tree, by the handfuls. They are slightly sweet. They just add a nice pop of color to any dish!
- Wood Sorrel. You may know Wood Sorrel as Sour Grass. It’s the plant that forms the cute little green banana-shaped fruit in the summer. It’s edible, and pretty tasty! It tastes sour and is high in Vitamin C! In fact, it used to be used to treat scurvy! Wood Sorrel really adds some flavor to a salad or on its own. Here’s a great informative article about how to use Wood Sorrel as a tea, fresh, and identification of this cute little heart-shaped wild Edibles plant!
- Wood Vetch. At first I remembered incorrectly that the Vetch I found in our woods and while hiking recently was Milk Vetch. Upon doing a little digging, I discovered that it is actually Wood Vetch. That should be easy enough to remember, because I always see it growing alongside the woods. This little early-bloomer also has a sweet-pea-like flavor. Compared to the RedBud flowers, I actually prefer the Wood Vetch. Somehow it tastes smoother. This wild edible is abundant in our area, alongside the roadways and on forest floors. Apparently this plant is a medicinal herb used by the Cherokee for various muscle complaints. I only learned this week that this plant was edible! I see it all over the place! So glad to have learned this tidbit!
- Sassafras Leaf Shoots. Sassafras is well-known for its roots, which are the primary flavoring in root beer. However, the leaves, especially the young leaves, can be chewed for a mild root beer-like flavor as well. The leaves will give you a mucilaginous blob is your mouth, so don’t cram it too full. But the leaves are the thickener in gumbo, a staple in Creole cooking. You can also make tea out of the leaves or the roots, although the root bark will give you a better flavor. I enjoyed this short article from Mother Earth News on the use of Sassafras.
- Green Briar–New Growth, not old woody stems. The Green Briar is an annoying vine to run into when you’re hiking. Those thorns can really scrape up your arms and face when you get entangled with them. However…fresh new shoots in the Spring are very tender and quite tasty! Just snap off the flexible new growth–stems and leaves, and even the thorns are soft and edible, and eat them raw or cooked. I’ve not tried them cooked, but I do enjoy them raw. They have a slightly tangy flavor like mild sour grass. In this picture they are above the fiddleheads.
- Fiddleheads (new ferns)–the fiddleheads on the newly sprouting ferns are edible, but must be cooked. Either boiled or sautéed thoroughly, and they are reportedly delicious! I have to admit that this morning, although I knew they were edible, didn’t know about the cooking part. So I tried one raw. 🤮. Not too good. I spit it out. Then a friend shared how she cooks hers–with olive oil, garlic and onion. I will give these a chance, but first impressions are hard to change! This article shares some good tips and tricks for harvesting and preparing the fiddleheads. Also–I wasn’t exactly sure which ferns I picked. I learned that the Ostrich fern is the one associated with fiddleheads, but many fern fiddleheads are also edible when cooked well.
Wild Edible/Foraging Books
(Learn Hands-On, if possible)
Virtually everything I’ve learned so far about foraging wild edibles has been via nature walks with veteran wild edibles experts or forest rangers, hands-on classes (where you taste the goods), and just by listening to wise people talk. I’ve honestly lost count of how many wild edibles classes/walks I’ve been a part of. These are the best way to learn, and I highly recommend attending as many as possible! Or just take a walk with someone who knows, and you’ll learn pretty much everything these wonderful folks know! Our family has been so blessed with friends who have taught us so much just while we walk along!
Doug Elliot, Naturalist
Doug Eliot is a wonderful source for knowledge of native plants and how they can be found and used. I love his enthusiasm. We’ve attended many of his humor-filled lectures at Wilderness Wildlife Week. I highly recommend anything by him. He has a book on foraging many common roots, Wild Roots.
This is his website, where he has videos on nature walks where he shows you many wild edibles and other uses for the plants all around!
On to the Books!
That said, sometimes you do need a book to refer to while hiking or foraging.
What to Look for!
- It’s best to have a book that illustrates the plants in many of their stages of growth, not just one.
- Also, a book that shows the edible parts of the plant, not just the mature plant, is helpful.
- Color photos are a must for me. Drawings can be misleading when it comes to lookalike plants, some of which may be poisonous.
We need to realize that with foraging for wild edibles, there simply cannot be one book that suits every need. You need to choose a few, and learn what you can out in the field. Armchair foraging may be a nice way to pass the time, but smelling, feeling, tasting, and noticing the habitat is how you will learn best about these wild edibles.
That said, here are my top picks currently.
- Wild Edibles: A Practical Guide to Foraging, with Easy Identification of 60 Edible Plants and 67 Recipes by Sergei Boutenko
- This book comes highly recommended by a local lady here whose wild edibles class our whole family attended. We learned so much and ate very well that day! The author of this book is personable and has videos on YouTube on foraging! He covers 60 common plants, so this book is quite broad in spectrum! Strengths of this book are detailed photos, and many instructions for both how to find and identify the plants, but also how to use them in cooking! This book isn’t a field guide, per se, but it is very informative and beautiful!
- Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
- This book is one of a series of three on foraging by Samuel Thayer. Most consider this three-book set as the best books on foraging out there! They all cover different plants, so you’d eventually want to invest in all three. The best features of these books are the highly descriptive photos and explanations of the edibles. They show the plants in many stages of growth, and at different times of the year. The author has decades of experience, and has a great way of sharing the information to make it fun to read and easy to understand. This book is more of a reading book too, not an all-inclusive field guide covering hundreds of wild edibles. However, it goes into great detail on a few plants, which is actually very practical of you want to learn about how to use the plants around you.
- The next two books are the other two in the series.
- Finally, a field guide! Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods
- This field guide is the best I have found. It covers a lot (200) of wild edibles and has good pictures. You’ll want to try to find a book that covers wild edibles in your area. It’s just nice to own a compact book that you can flip through while out in the woods. I like the apps on my phone, but a lot of the time when I’m hiking, I don’t have good service, so a book never fails! No batteries to go dead either!
My wild edible breakfast with roasted garbanzos
Become a wild edibles forager!
If you don’t know much about wild edibles, take heart!
Dandelion and clovers