Hey everyone! We got a bit of a late start to our foraging season this year. We are currently in the middle of a move, and for the last few weeks everything else has been put on the back burner.
I find that May is the best time for foraging. There is a bevy of edibles and it’s not yet too hot, nor too overgrown to access them. So without further adieu, here are just a few of those lush May edibles.
The flowers aren’t the only edible part of the violet, the leaves are also a nice salad green.
While the thorny smilax plant seems an unlikely edible, the tender new growth is crisp and delicious. You can eat it raw or cooked. I’ve only eaten it raw, but I imagine it would be a great addition to a stir fry. Almost like bean sprouts, but with a more distinct flavor.
The root of the smilax plant can also be cooked and eaten, or used to make sarsaparilla. (Smilax is the original source of sarsaparilla, although modern day sarsaparilla is made from artificial flavors.)
It also produces tiny black berries that won’t be edible until mid winter.
Milkweed is somewhat controversial as an edible for a couple of reasons. As I mentioned last summer in my post about milkweed, it is the primary food source for the monarch caterpillar, and due to mass die-offs in the monarch butterfly population, some people are hesitant to pick it. I just say stick to the 10% rule. The field I pick from is going to be mowed anyway so it’s not much of a moral dilemma for me. The other concern is that the sap can cause skin irritation and stomach upset in some people. To avoid this, never eat milkweed raw, always parboil it to remove the sap before eating. They may need to be boiled in 2-3 changes of water to remove bitterness. The tender shoots can then be steamed or roasted and eaten like asparagus, the buds, flowers and young pods can also be eaten, but it wont be to that stage for a few more weeks.
Be careful not to confuse milkweed with it’s toxic lookalike, dogbane. Not only are they difficult to tell apart, but they often grow in the same places at the same time. The underside of milkweeds leaves are fuzzier, and it has a hollow, green stem. Dogbane will have a solid stem that is white on the inside.
Wild Grape Leaves
When young, grape leaves are tender and edible. You can steam or sauté them, or use them for making dolmas just as you would with domestic grape leaves. If you aren’t a fan of bitter greens, you may want to pass on the grape leaves and just wait for the fruit. Mature grape leaves can be used when fermenting pickles to keep them crisp.