Over the next few months as things start to wake up and grow here in Southern Ontario we’ll see a few very special, local and truly seasonal spring greens popping up. They’re tasty, extra healthy and make for a great way to celebrate the upcoming garden season … it’s that first taste of fresh, seasonal, local food!
What are the popular early spring greens found here in Southern Ontario? Well they’re often considered weeds. Yes we encourage you to eat your weeds! Others are true delicacies that are native plants to our area.
Collecting these in the city can be a bit difficult and in many parks and conservation areas they are protected. It is also important that these plants are properly identified before you pick them. For this reason we always suggest purchasing these greens from your local farmers’ market. If you would like to learn more, a quick search of the web will find you a number of courses in proper foraging techniques and plant identification.
The native plants need to be collected responsibly so they continue to grow each year and the weeds often need to be collected carefully so as not to cause skin sensitivity …
Native Plants include:
- Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum) – also known as Ramps, a pungent leek/onion flavour great in salads, soups or steamed lightly, you can eat the leaf and bulb. This one is becoming more rare, best to get it at the farmers’ market from folks that are foraging responsibly!
- Fiddleheads (Matteuccia struthiopteris) – the baby fronds of the Ostrich Fern are a local delicacy much like Maple Syrup! It’s very important to be careful when collecting fiddleheads that you don’t strip the plant bare. Each plant only produces so many fronds each year. This is a spring green best picked up at the farmers market! Simple steaming with a little garlic and olive oil or butter, lightly stir-frying or popping them in soup are some of the best ways to cook them. They do need to be thoroughly cooked before you eat them or they could cause a few internal issues! One of the best things to remember … many wild foods can act as a laxative (tasting maple sap is fine … drinking a cup will keep you in the washroom for a while … it won’t harm you as much as be rather uncomfortable)!One last fun fact about Ostrich Ferns … these tiny toonie–sized fiddleheads grow into 1 – 2 metre long fronds!
- Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) – an invasive species brought to North America as a source of food. Unfortunately it’s gone nuts and spreads incredibly fast. Whatever you do … do not plant this in your garden! You’ll never get rid of it! But one of the best and environmentally friendly ways to stop the spread is … to eat it! The young leaves are good in salad, soups, wilted like spinach and make a pretty decent pesto. As the name suggests there’s a spicy, garlicky flavour to the leaves. If you find this in your own yard make sure to clear it out before the seeds form!
- Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) – yes that plant that makes your skin feel all prickly. While touching it with bare skin is not fun … eating it is a very smart move. This is a plant that is packed with vitamins and minerals and makes a great addition to soups and stews or a wonderful tea when dried. This is certainly one to pick up at the farmers market. You’ll often find them at the start of the market season. For more information about nettles check out Treehugger and You Grow Girl.
Edible wild foods are an interesting way to interact with your environment and get really seasonal and local with your food. Eating your weeds is also one of the best ways to keep them under control without using unhealthy (and illegal here in Ontario) pesticides.
Garlic Mustard Pesto Party anyone?