Winter’s dreary days and slushy landscape doesn’t last forever, fortunately. When it finally lets up, Spring gives one of her best presents: tender green growth. These aren’t just pretty to look at; their vitamin-packed freshness makes them an excellent source of nutrients, as well.
Obviously, you don’t want to pick greens from an area that’s gotten pesticides, like the average lawn. (Yet another reason to convert to natural fertilizers and weedkillers.) Look for a clean spot with sun, and bring along a sharp knife and a basket. You’ll want to keep your eyes open for:
These ‘weeds’ have been used as ornamentals, but their specialty has been their edibility for generations. Every part of the dandelion is edible, from its bloom (for wine) to its roots (dried and used as a coffee substitute). My grandma served these cooked as a “tonic,” garnished with bacon and hard-boiled eggs. Their only drawback: the older leaves can be bitter. Solve this by cooking the leaves in water, then drain and add more water. Check for taste; drain and simmer again in fresh water, if needed. Young buds and blanched leaves are delicious raw in a salad.
Streamsides are the best place to look for this spicy green; it snaps the flavor of salads and sandwiches. Just make sure the stream area is clean and unpolluted. (While you’re at it, look around for the edible bright red berries and minty leaves of wintergreen; they’re often nearby.)
If you’re thinking about poke salad (or “sallet”), or even Poke Salad Annie (“gator got your granny“), you’re on the right track. But this green takes some care. As Wikipedia points out, “The leaves of young plants are sometimes collected as a spring green potherb and eaten after repeated blanchings. [The same treatment earlier mentioned for dandelion greens, by the way.] Shoots are also blanched with several changes of water and eaten as a substitute for asparagus.” However, the leaves become “cathartic” and cause severe stomach trouble as they get older. (The root is poisonous, and shouldn’t be eaten.) Many consider this the quintessential spring green.
This popular perennial grew wild in the drainage ditches, and by the side of the road, where I grew up in Michigan. Mom would send us out with baskets to snap off the shoots, taking care to leave the plant intact for more harvests. I buy my asparagus in the grocery store today, but it still grows wild – it’s known to flourish at the Boulder, Colorado cemetery, for example. (You might check your local cemetery, as well.) Try it stir-fried, boiled, or roasted – but make the cooking time brief, to maximize its nutrients. Serve with a cream sauce – Hollandaise is a favorite – or just a smooth pat of butter.
Enjoy. Welcome, Spring!