Spring is a foraging delight – plants that have been dormant all season start to grow, the greens are mild and tender, and early flowers offer interesting new flavours. With the long winter (hopefully!) behind us, it’s time to look forward to the imminent sprouts and buds about to make their way into our kitchens.
Break out a field guide and follow the links to start identifying early spring wild eats!
They demand a hefty price at the farmer’s market, but Squamish is teeming with free, gourmet, fiddleheads.
Fiddleheads are the young, tightly curled, fronds of ferns as they just start emerging from the ground. The ostrich fern fiddlehead is often the kind found in stores, but the edible lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) can be found abundantly in Squamish.
Harvesting and Preparing Lady Fern Fiddleheads
Lady ferns can be identified by the overall diamond shape of their fronds. However, the fiddleheads usually precede the fronds, which makes identification difficult.
Other types of ferns may be toxic. It is recommended to only harvest fiddleheads from plants identified last year, or with the guidance of an experienced forager.
Lady ferns grow in moist, shady areas, often near streams. Only harvest fiddleheads when they are less than four inches tall to avoid toxic compounds as the frond ages. Pick only one or two fiddleheads per plant so the fern doesn’t die.
The fiddleheads are covered with brown papery scales, which must be scrubbed off before eating. Fiddleheads must be cooked thoroughly before eating. Boil or steam for 10-12 minutes until tender. Sauté in butter and enjoy!
They taste like woodland asparagus and have a similar texture, so substitute for asparagus in other recipes.
The mighty stinging nettle is the bane of many hikers’ and mountain bikers’ existences. It stings to protect itself from being eaten, but for those who dare to get past the stings, it is a flavourful nutrition powerhouse.
High in iron and other vitamins, it’s a spring tonic all on its own. It grows in damp areas, often near water.
Harvesting and Preparing Stinging Nettle
Usually, once someone has been stung by stinging nettle, they never forget what it looks like… For the lucky folks who haven’t been stung yet, check out identification tips here. Wear gloves to harvest the whole top of the plant a few leaves down. If you harvest too much it will be tough and stringy.
Avoid harvesting the leaves when the plant is flowering or gone to seed.
Cooking or drying the leaves neutralizes the sting. Using gloves to handle them, steam or boil the leaves for a few minutes.
Use as you would spinach as they taste similar, but a bit stronger. Save the cooking water to drink as hot tea or chill and add lemon juice and sweetener for a nettle lemonade! Dry some leaves for tea later.
The flowers from bigleaf maple trees (Acer macrophyllum) are abundant and versatile. Because maple trees are large and numerous, over-harvesting is not really a worry. Maple flowers are an important early nectar source for bees, so take care when picking.
Harvesting and Preparing Maple Blossoms
Pick the buds from low branches while they are still closed and compact and they taste like broccoli. Wait until the flowers open into drooping cascades (they will remain green) and they are mild, fluffy, and crunchy.
Use in pesto, salads, or make sweet maple fritters. The fritters are delicious sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon! Or use to garnish nettle lemonade, like the photo above.
Foraging Other Leafy Greens
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a very mild and succulent green that grows wild in gardens and lawns. Enjoy its fresh taste and light crunch raw. It can also be infused into oil for skin issues and bug bites.
Miner’s lettuce (claytonia sibirica) is an abundant edible in Squamish’s forests. This insignificant plant can be found carpeting the forest floor in certain areas. The leaves are super juicy, and the little white flowers can be eaten as well. Enjoy raw.
Young oxeye daisy leaves (leucanthemum vulgare) can be eaten when they are just emerging in spring. They have a unique herbal taste, which goes well raw in a salad or cooked in spanakopita. They are an invasive plant in some areas, so eat as many leaves as you can!
As always, take care to identify the plants correctly. If identification is not 100% certain, don’t eat it.
Harvest only 10% of a plant to leave some for the next forager or animal, and to allow the plant to grow. Happy foraging!