So you want to forage, but you only have a small suburban yard and little time for gallivanting in the forest. Well, I guess you are just out of luck then, right? WRONG! You can forage anywhere there is dirt! As long as you haven’t turned your lawn into a “weed & feed” mono-culture, of course; but I’m guessing if you aren’t into weeds, you wouldn’t have wound up here in the first place.
I’m confident that no matter the size of your yard, you will find no less than five edibles at any given time (excluding winter). In fact, I bet I can find ten different wild edible plants in my yard in less than ten minutes. Let’s go for a quick jaunt around the yard and see what we can find. I’ll begin with the most common ‘weeds’.
Dandelions (Taraxacum) are practically the trifecta of wild plants. They are edible, medicinal, and you can find them anywhere. Seriously, if you are near a window right now, look outside…you’ve already spotted a dandelion, haven’t you? The leaves are edible raw or sauteed (they are tastier and less bitter earlier in spring before they bloom). You can eat the yellow flowers or use them to make syrup, jelly or wine. You can also cook and eat the roots, but they don’t taste very good. I prefer them dried and roasted to use as tea. The best time to harvest the roots is in late fall.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a lot like dandelions in that it is everywhere, and will take over any area of bare soil. It is one of, if not THE first edible to emerge in the spring and one of the last to go dormant in winter. It tastes best before it blooms in early spring and when it makes a brief return in late fall. I’ve seen lots of creative recipes for chickweed. You can simply eat it raw or sauteed, or you can make pesto or even bake it into bread. I’d go into more detail, but I don’t want to put Google out of business…
Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia). Ok, I’m pretty sure I mentioned these in my one and only post last spring, but I think they deserve another mention. Flowers and leaves are edible as salad, and flowers can also be used to make gorgeous purple jellies and syrups.
Maple tree samaras (Acer spp.). Yes, you can eat the helicopters! The seeds of all maple tree species are edible at all stages of development. You can eat them raw in salad when they are young and small like the ones pictured here (which are red maple, if you were wondering). You can also boil and season them to remove bitterness. I ate these raw and didn’t think they were all that bitter. When they are fully grown you can remove the seeds from the hulls and eat them raw or roast them like pumpkin seeds, I’m hoping that will be an experiment for a later post. The seeds are still edible when they are dry and brown, but not as palatable. They still contain protein and would make a good survival food. Take a moment to enjoy them before they begin to fall into your flower beds and gutters, and take over your lawn, your home, and your life.
Wild Onion/garlic (Allium spp.) are everywhere, and they are tasty. They do have some poisonous look alikes (like grape hyacinth, for one), but they don’t have any smell-alikes. If it looks like onion, and and it smells like onion, it’s onion (or allium, at least). Add the green tops to salads, and use the greens and bulbs in stir fry.The bulbs are edible raw, but it’s similar to eating a raw garlic clove.
Bittercress (Cardamine spp.) has a peppery flavor like horseradish. It’s another common edible that you are almost sure to find in your yard. All parts of the plant are edible. You can eat flowers, young leaves and seed pods raw, older leaves sauteed, and roots can be used like horseradish. There are over 100 different varieties of bittercress, all with equal edibility. When the seed pods are mature they will pop when touched.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will talk about henbit, ground ivy, winter cress, and more!
In the mean time, check us out on Instagram @kentuckyforager.