BY ROSANNA BAUMAN
After two weeks of 40 degree temperature drops or jumps nearly every day, we are finally getting some true spring weather. This spring fever has affected my appetite and sent me foraging for green growing edibles. When I go off through the pastures or in the woods, I am a gatherer. I’ll pick up and carry blossoms and unique rocks, and sample things that look edible. It is my philosophy that the poisonous fruits and plants have a certain look and taste about them that identifies them as an inedible. This philosophy has proven true in most cases, but there was one instance that I obviously wasn’t listening when my taste buds tried to tell me that a plant had an undesirable taste. My friend and I had noticed that the seed pods on the wild blue indigo looked similar to peas. We ate a couple of pods and found out they did have a bit of a pea taste. But they also had an unpleasant bitter aftertaste… Long story short my friend got sick, and we discovered that indigo is considered poisonous even for cattle! My friend later gifted me with a beautiful field guide to American wildflowers.
One thing that I have never taken under consideration is the fact that sometimes even edible plants may be rendered unsafe for eating by outside factors. While on a walk in a California orchard some years ago, we spied some ripe wild grapes hanging on the creek banks. Wild grapes! When I found out that my friend had never tasted one before, I eagerly plucked some and told my friend she was in for a treat. Wild grapes taste nothing like the cultivated seedless variety we are accustomed to purchasing in the grocery. “Is it safe?” my friend queried. “Of course it is!” I replied. “Wild grapes are just like domesticated grapes, only smaller. But definitely not poisonous!” But my friend wasn’t talking about the fruit itself. She was concerned that some of the sprays used in the nut orchard would still be on the fruit. She had a valid point, and we reluctantly left those luscious grapes hanging on the vines for the birds. Around home, I don’t have to worry about toxic sprays being on my wild edibles. We don’t use sprays in our lawn or garden and the woods at the lake are far removed from the fields that get sprayed with chemicals. Because of this, I forget that some folks don’t have this assurance of safety. If you are not familiar with the land and its maintenance practices, and cannot ascertain the safety of the plants,please don’t eat the edibles you find.
The wild asparagus isn’t ready yet, the strawberries are only just blooming, and those delicious morel mushrooms don’t grow well around our farm. So, the wild salad greens are the only edible available right now, and they aren’t very welcomed at our house. Although the boys like salads, they are suspicious of anything other than lettuce or spinach in the salad bowl. I am allowed to put in some chard and kale If I blend it in carefully with the lettuce. I know better than to try to put in any dandelion greens or watercress- the boys don’t go for “exotic” foods, even if you found them in your backyard. I think I could get the boys to eat more wild greens if we cooked them, as most wild edibles have a strong flavor that fades with cooking. But Mom came from northern indiana, not the South, and wilted greens just weren’t in her recipe book. As a result, we haven’t developed a taste for warm, soggy, salted greens.
To cure my hunger for fresh greens, I go searching for “Sheep-Sour”. This wild green looks like tiny light green clover and is properly called sheep sorrel. The sorrel greens are widely cultivated in gardens around the world, but I was introduced to this plant as a very young child. Somehow, every child learns that the little purple flowers on henbit can be plucked and small amounts of nectar sucked from the blossoms. It was on a blossom-sipping session that my cousin encouraged me to try the sheep sorrel. “Try this, it’s sour!” Having a fondness for sour things, I readily gave It a taste. I truly enjoy the tart taste of “Sheep-Sour”, especially the little seed pods- they’ll make you pucker! There’s not a spring that goes by without me sampling the nectar from the henbit and munching on the Sheep-Sour.
The one spring green that the boys do heartily consume is the fried dandelion blossoms. They can be a lot of work, picking, dipping, and frying, but it’s definitely worth it.The taste and texture reminds me somewhat of fried mushrooms. Since we are not privileged to have good mushroom woods, we have to content ourselves with dandelions. Not only that but we’ve found a delicious use for the prolific dandelions, and they suddenly don’t seem to be such a nuisance. Try them- you’ll have children plucking every dandelion in your yard!
- Pick a bowlful of dandelion blossoms. We prefer the medium to large blossoms. The little ones are too much pain to fry up and the giant ones sometimes have a slightly bitter taste. Take care that you only get the flower and none of the milky, bitter stem.
- Wash the dandelions to chase put any ants that may be hiding in the flower head. This can be a gentle rinse under cold water. Lay the blossom head-down on a towel to dry.
- Dip blossoms in beaten eggs in a small bowl, then
Dredge in a flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper.
- Fry in a skillet that has just enough oil to float the blossom. (approximately t.5- 2”) When lightly browned, remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Salt or season additionally if desired.
Other frying methods may be used, such as a milk wash and cracker crumbs, cornmeal, or even coated with pancake batter.