Along the Grapevine

The First Greens of Spring

18 Comments

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The best part of foraging is that you can harvest without ever planting a thing, and harvest before you have even had a chance to plant. My seeds for my vegetable garden are just beginning to sprout now inside the house, and it will be some time before any of them are useable, and I face a lot of work before any reach maturity. Meanwhile, wild greens are quickly making their appearance, and I don’t have to walk more than a few feet from my back door to find something tasty, or at least nutritious and green. That’s a good thing, considering it’s snowing outside as I write this, and the ground is just plain muddy. Luckily I picked a few leaves yesterday to add to a vegetarian curry of sorts. I am not suggesting you make curry necessarily – just to be aware that these harbingers of the growing season are already there for the picking, to be used in soups, salads, stews, baking, or wherever you want them.

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L to R nettles, dandelion, creeping charlie

I picked only three varieties for this dish: nettles, creeping charlie or mallow and dandelions. The total amount was about two cups, but enough to green-up my dish.

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These are all common in this area, relatively easy to identify, and impossible to over harvest. However, it’s still worth remembering two of the basic rules of foraging: always make sure you have identified the plant correctly and be sure to pick only from clean, non-treated areas .

Dandelions.  These are the easiest to identify and are super abundant in spring. My very first post was on dandelions and the dandelion pesto in it lasted me all winter. I will no doubt be posting more dandelion recipes this spring, but so far the pickings are slim. The leaves are so young and tender that they do not yet have the strong bitter flavour that I am looking for, but they offer such a load of nutrients, I wanted include them even now.

Mallow or Malva. This is another mild flavoured green which I have only recently started to use. You can read more about its identification and uses here. Again, it is more for its nutritional value than flavour that I use it. The roots are edible too, and I hope to figure that part out soon. I have also pickled the seeds in the summer to make something resembling capers.

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Creeping charlie can be used instead of mallow. They are similar in appearance, easily confused and interchangeable as far as the leaves go. To identify this plant, this site will help.

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Stinging Nettles. I found two recipes calling for nettles this morning just going through my regular blog mail, including this one for pesto and this one for spring rolls. As long as you are careful to pick these with sturdy gloves to protect you and then immediately dry, grind or blanche them to remove all the sting, these are really very easy to pick. Dried for tea is a popular use for them, but I like them in place of spinach, cooked the same way, quickly and with little water. My nettle patch is just getting started, but it has spread considerably since last year, so I hope to be able to experiment liberally with it. I will also keep chopping at it as there seems to be one school of thought that once it flowers, the leaves become more toxic. Not sure if that is so, but better to be safe.

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My curry was made with chick peas, onion, a home-made curry mixture, carrots and freshly dug Jerusalem artichokes. I added the greens just before serving, giving them only enough time to wilt.

 

Author: Hilda

I am a backyard forager who likes to share recipes using the wild edibles of our area.

18 thoughts on “The First Greens of Spring

  1. What a great discovery to find that mallow is growing rampant near us. Of course, it’s under a blanket of snow at the moment but foraging for mallow gives me another reason to look forward to the eventual thaw. I love your posts – always such an inspiration!

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    • Thanks, Valerie. You are kind. Our snow has just disappeared, except for a wet lot today, but I was amazed at some of the plants which have been so well protected by snow over the winter and have resurfaced looking very much as they did last fall – the mallow is one example, but flax and lavender are as big and leafy as they were in the summer. I think it might be a good year for us in this zone (we are in 5 a).

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    • Thanks for visiting. I just updated my post because what I thought was mallow was creeping Charlie – I find them hard to distinguish. It makes no difference for cooking, leaves of either work just as well, and I linked them both to a very reliable site which offers better descriptions and photos than I can get. But I didn’t want to mislead you with my mix-up of names. I pick either one, and later in the season they are easier to tell apart. Hope that helps.

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  2. Mallow is new to me! Loved the idea of pickling them like capers.
    Chickpeas, what a humble bean. Used in variety in different cuisines and adds so much of character.

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  3. Lovely dish with fresh greens!

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  4. So interesting, Hilda! Thanks for sharing!

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  5. I’m so intrigued by your foraging, Hilda. I’ve had nettles (on pizza of all things) and dandelion greens before in salads, but never creeping charlie or mallow. Your chickpea curry looks delicious with the greens and Jerusalem artichokes. Thank you for the information about the greens!

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  6. Thanks Ngan. I am learning a lot as I go along about what I have growing in my garden that I never thought about much before. Glad to be able to share it with you.

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  7. I am intrigued by the ingredients that went into the pot. What a great way of foraging and consuming greens. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed reading the post!

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    • In this climate, it is the only way to get really fresh local greens at this time of year. And they are supposed to be good as cleansers of the system after a winter of rich food, so I figure it is worth using them.

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  8. Living in the center of a city foraging is something I have only ever done on holiday. Oh I cannot wait to collect a salad again!

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    • Afra – you could surely find some brandnettles – as Hilda says, they are a perfect substitute for spinach in all manner of things. If you like, I would be happy to take you on a forage some day🙂
      Hilda – I have always intended to have a go at the original marshmallow, from the plant from which it derives it’s name. I look forward to your mallow experiments.

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      • Thanks. I hope I can find and identify the other kinds of mallow. I am still learning.

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      • Inspired by your post I was talking to a friend about foraging a few days ago and suddenly I was hit with a childhood memory that I had completely forgotten about: my uncle tossing a foraged salad with dandelion leaves and Sauerampfer (whatever that is in English). Thank you for the gift of that memory🙂

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  9. I’m so glad my post resulted in a good memory of foraging. I believe Sauerampfer is ‘sorrel’ in English.

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  10. Pingback: Malva sylvestris | Find Me A Cure

  11. Pingback: Malva meschata | Find Me A Cure

  12. Pingback: Tandoori Pickerel and Curried Spring Vegetables | Along the Grapevine

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