With the arrival of warm weather comes the pleasure of spending time outdoors. Whether it be enjoying the fresh air, the abundance of new greens and herbs or the ability to spend entire days outside, we just can’t get enough. So what could be better than combining them all into one splendid activity which replaces the need to grocery shop or make a trip to the gym? Here at Inhabitat, foraging – finding wild edibles near our house – is one of our favorite pastimes. Foraging is available to anyone with access to nature – whether that is a nearby urban park, your backyard or nearby patch of weeds. We recently set off on a foraging adventure in the urban jungle of New York City to collect wild salad greens in Central Park with NYC’s beloved master forager, “Wildman” Steve Brill. Read on for our recipe to make a delicious, locally foraged salad using common wild greens and herbs that can be found right in your local park.
We love foraging here at Inhabitat – the idea that you can find food growing around your house is always exciting and inspiring, and sparks our inner sleuth / hunter-gatherer. When you go foraging you can substitute a trip to the grocery store and the gym, and instead get some fresh air, exercise and all of the food you need for dinner in one go with a lovely walk outside! Here’s how to make a delectable foraged spring salad that will impress all of your friends, with violet, garlic mustard, pennycress, cattails, and poor man’s pepper.
YOU WILL NEED:
– A park, backyard or wilderness area near you
– Some plastic bags
– A foraging guide or app
– A sleuthy eye
– A taste for adventure
2-4 large handfuls of violet leaves
2 cattail stalks, peeled and chopped
A few sprigs of garlic mustard
A few sprigs of yellow wood sorel
A small handful of common mallow
1 tsp poor man’s pepper (or field pennycress), finely chopped
Watermelon, diced (optional)
Pine nuts (optional)
Balsamic vinegar and olive oil
STEP 1: Walk around your park or backyard and collect your ingredients:
Violets may be known for their beauty, but their petals aren’t the only coveted part of the plant. It’s amazing that these beautiful plants are considered “weeds” and often deliberately ripped out of lawns and gardens, because they’re beautiful AND edible! The wild violet‘s heart-shaped, saw-toothed leaves serve as a fabulous substitute for lettuce or spinach in salads, and some even people claim they prevent cancer! (Research about that here). They are most delicious in the spring before they become tough in the summer months. They are pretty unmistakable once you learn to recognize the heart-shaped leaves.
You’re likely familiar with this iconic wetlands plant which looks like a corn dog atop a reed. Obviously you’ll need to find a pond or wetland to find them! Before cattails develop their bushy tails, they are ripe for the picking. Late spring is the ideal time to enjoy this marsh plant. At this time the cattail’s light green leaves reach nearly nine feet tall and their hearty white stalks resemble the flavor of a fresh cucumber. Cattails can be foraged for on the sides of a pond, lake or wetland. Give the stalk a good yank from the ground and peel it right before eating, as the stalk will stay freshest when left unpeeled.
Garlic mustard gets a bad rap as a ‘weed‘, removed from most public land in droves. But most people have no idea that this species of mustard plant (from which the yellow sauce gets its name) is quite delectable and smells and tastes just like the name suggests, adding a delightful savory flavor to salads. They are easily foraged and often plentiful in parks in the Northeast (before they are removed), as most insects naturally dislike the taste of garlic. Garlic mustard becomes more pungent and less bitter as it matures in the spring, even drawing overtones of sweetness. They are usually found in large, shady patches of the woods and are easily (and plentifully!) harvested by stripping the flowered tops off the plant. Park rangers and gardeners generally don’t mind if you take this plant as it is considered an invasive weed.
Yellow Wood Sorrel
The Yellow Wood Sorel might be the most delightful of spring’s wild greens. Believe it or not, this delicate shamrock-shaped plant which it tastes just like lemonade! Wood Sorel can be found along the sides of roads and trails, and in partially-sunny wooded areas. The five-petaled yellow flowers are about as wide as a pencil eraser and have the same vibrant tone as buttercups.
The green leaves of Oxalis plants are very distinctive in that they look exactly like the Irish shamrock you seen around Saint Patricks day, with heart-shaped folded leaves in sprigs of three. Some even say that Oxalis (and not clover) was the original “Irish Shamrock” that Saint Patrick used to explain the Holy Trinity.
Poor Man’s Pepper
Another spicy member of the mustard family, Poor Man’s Pepper, is readily found ground wild around the East Coast as a ‘weed’. It’ toothed leaves, white flowers, and flat, circular seedpods contain a strong, spicy hint of horseradish. It grows plentifully along roadsides, sandy soil and rocks. In the spring the young leaves provide a delightful peppery flavor. In summer this plant grows cute seedpods which look a lot like Pennycress (see below). All leafy parts of the plant are edible and delicious.
The flowery seedpods of Field Pennycress looks almost exactly like Poor Man’s Pepper, and that’s because this plant (also a member of the mustard family) is very closely related. Pennycress is a great alternative to Poor Man’s Pepper and has a similar spicy horseradish flavor, although the “pennies” are milder tasting than the spring leaves. It contains seeds that look like pennies and has flowers with four white petals shaped like a cross.
Image via Phyto Images
Common Mallow – aka Malva Neglecta is closely related to Hibiscus, with rounded, notched and pleated leaves and a long-leafed, tubular flower. It grows wild everywhere in the east – in fact these editors spot it growing all over the sidewalks of New York City (probably wise to refrain from picking those mallow leaves). Along with violet leaves, mild mallow is another great way to offset the other spicy greens in our salad, while adding a varied texture, since it is a bit “fuzzy”/
STEP 2: Rinse and dry the greens
STEP 3: Peel and chop the cattails
Peel the cattails’ greens off until the white stalk is completely exposed. Then chop into 1-inch cubes.
STEP 4: Assemble the salad
Make a bed of ‘lettuce’ with your violet leaves, then add the cattail cubes, garlic mustard, yellow wood sorel, common mallow, and a sprinkling of poor man’s pepper or field pennycress. Top with the watermelon and pine nuts (if desired) or any other fruits and nuts you prefer. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, or the dressing of your choice.
STEP 5: Enjoy your bounty
Images by Laura Mordas-Schenkein and Jill Fehrenbacher for Inhabitat unless otherwise noted