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The First Wild Salad of the Season

February 25th, 2012

When sugaring season rolls around I start keeping my eyes peeled on the ground as I walk around and gather sap. The same weather that is good for sugaring is good for the earliest of the wild greens like bittercress and garlic mustard. When I was out planting lettuce seeds on Monday, I noticed that the bittercress on the front hillside was ready to harvest. Since this is a south facing slope with rock walls, it’s usually a zone ahead of the rest of the garden. While the ground in the raised beds in the back is still frozen, the earth here has already softened.

I’m not quite sure why bittercress has it’s name, it’s not bitter at all, at least not this early in spring. Typically I like to mix it with more tender lettuces and spinach, but I chose to grow cover crops this past winter instead of overwintered lettuce. Thus our salad was all bittercress.

Bittercress ‘cardamine hirsute’ also known as Pennsylvania Bittercress, Jumping Jesus, Flickweed, Popping Cress, and Common Bittercress. It’s a member of the mustard family, which is evident when it blooms. The reason it’s called flick weed, popping cress and jumping Jesus (my favorite name which I’ll call it from now on) is because the seed pods explode when they’re ripe. I have, on many occasions, had seeds flicked right into my eyes when I unknowingly brushed up against them while weeding

Bittercress is considered a weed, as many edible plants are. You could try to spray it out as many people recommend, but why not just eat it. It’s not as spicy as arugula and has a bit more flavor than lettuce, it does get spicier and tougher as the weather warms. It also has a lot of texture and thus is better when mixed with a variety of greens. The smaller the rosettes are when you pick them the more tender they are. The best way to harvest them is to slice the main root right above the soil line with a knife. Then you can cut the small branches from the main root.

Since bittercress is a member of the mustard family it’s highly nutritious. I couldn’t find nutritionally information for is specifically, but it would be similar to mustard with highly levels of Vitamin K, A, C, B1, B2, B3, B6, E, Folate, Manganese, Calcium and so many more wonderful things. For the health benefits of mustard see this article at World’s Healthiest Foods.

I love foraging for food, you certainly can’t beat filling your plate with food you harvested but didn’t have sow or tend.

Have you ever foraged for food? What’s your favorite wild food?

A few of my favorite books about foraging:

The Art Weeds and Salad

April 24th, 2010

This time of year salads are the vegetable of choice from the garden. Lettuce is particularly delicious since it loves the coolness of spring. Many of the wild spring greens are still tender and sweet and they can be added for more taste and texture. We’ve been eating our share of salads from the garden, although many of the greens that make them up I didn’t plant. Our salads include wild garlic mustard, and invasive weed that has is great in salads. We’ve also been adding some dandelion greens, some cardamine and a few wild violet leaves. I also love to add herbs to our salads, they not only add a wonderful flavor, but they add even more nutrition.

Wild flowers have been added as well, they add beauty and extra vitamins & minerals. Who wouldn’t want to eat a salad so lovely? These wild violets add extra vitamin C (for more info on the nutritional benefits of wild violets read this)

This salad included: mache (corn salad), garlic mustard, overwintered lettuce, lemon balm, blue stocking bergamot. The dressing was made with fresh chives from the garden, some white balsamic, a spoonful of dijon mustard, a spoonful of honey, olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper. We topped the salad with wild violet blooms, which are very plentiful in our front lawn.

Dandelion greens can also be eaten, I’ve seen them for sale at Whole Foods for around $4/pound. Pricey considering most of us have them growing in our gardens. The blossoms can also be harvested and used for many things; muffins, jelly, wine and of course eaten raw on salads (make sure to remove green stem and bits, they can be bitter). For more info on the health benefits of dandelions check out this article.

With all these lovely healthy weeds thrown in, who wouldn’t want to eat these lovely salads? There are also many other edible flowers that you can add to salads, we like the starry white arugula blooms, nasturtiums add a slight peppery tang, pansies can be eaten as can many other flowering herbs. Any of these would be a perfect addition to cupcakes or tiny shortbreads as well. I’m thinking for my next tea party with my nieces I’ll have to make some wild violet cookies.

Do you ever harvest flowers and wild plants for your salad plate?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.