It has taken it’s sweet time to arrive, but I believe spring is finally here in Minnesota. The dandelions are in full bloom, the lawns of the chemical aristocrats are full and green, and the first harvests’ (both wild and domesticated) of the season are starting to come in. After waiting patiently for two years, we are finally able to harvest asparagus from our garden. Asparagus officinalis, has been a cultivated plant since at least the time of the Egyptians, and has always been considered a delicacy because of it’s short growing season. So far we have grilled it and used it in a quinoa salad, sautéed it in butter with onions, and have used it in a ham and cream sauce pasta. As our patch of asparagus matures and fills out, I hope to be able to harvest enough to pickle it.
Next up, Dandelions! By far, these beautiful flowers and greens are one of my favorite plants (I have one tattooed on my forearm), both for culinary, and philosophical reasons. Any plant that can grow in the cracks of concrete and society, and blaze the path for the return of wild(er)ness is a friend of mine! I have been eating dandelions for about eight years now. When I first moved into my house, my neighbor, who is of Lebanese decent, turned me onto eating dandelions. We use the greens in salads and pasta, they can be used like spinach in Spinakopeta (a Mediterranean spinach pie) and any other way you might use lettuce or spinach. Another aspect of dandelions that is overlooked is it’s contribution to healthy gardens. Most people think of it as a weed, but dandelions are far from that. Due to their huge taproot, they bring up nitrogen and other nutrients for other plants to use and they also attract beneficial insects for pollination. The day that America can end it’s war against the dandelion will be a good day for our food security, our soils health, and the survival of the honey bee.
Another sure sign of spring is mushrooms. Not just any mushroom, but the highly sought after and prized morchella esculenta, or also known as the Morel mushroom. My son and I just found some yesterday while visiting my in-laws out in the country. I have written about morels before so I won’t go into great detail, but for those of you who have never tried them, they are amazing. We ate ours with chives from the garden and scrambled eggs. Probably the best breakfast ever! Depending on the weather, here in the Twin Cities we may have anywhere from a week to two weeks to continue finding them. I have a new spot I am going to be hunting this year, and if I have any real success there may be another post about morels coming up!!
One last spring edible I would like to share with you is Garlic Mustard. Alliaria petiolata, is a new plant to me. I have heard about it, but never knew what it looked like. All that changed a week or two ago when I found it growing in the back of my yard. With the help of Wikipedia and a few wild crafting websites and books, I made a positive identification and mixed it in with a dandelion salad. It is really good (it actually does taste similar to garlic), but it has a few down sides. According to the Minnesota DNR website, garlic mustard is highly invasive and according to wikipedia, it also suppresses the growth of mushrooms in forests (maybe that is why it is getting harder to find morels in the spring)! Anyways, now that I know what it looks like, it is all over the forest floor. I will continue to use it as a salad green, but I will never feel bad about over harvesting garlic mustard, it is everywhere! Now these are just a few examples of what you can basically get for free in the spring, don’t forget about burdock root, nettles, herbs like lemon balm, mint, chives and many other plants. Keep your options and your palate open and you might find a new food that you can fall in love with! Cheers!