Spring is a time of rebirth. An appeal to leave the darkness of winter behind and go out for the sun and longer days. The transition from winter to spring occurs quickly, providing the basic truth in the phrase “spring has arisen”. You could shovel the driveway one day and then see a skunk cabbage pushing up through the snow the next day. The world of plants is undergoing a transformation from winter storage and dormancy to spring growth and expansion. This makes spring a wonderful time to go out and look for fodder.
Before leaving for your forage trip there are some tips and tricks to protect you and the world of plants:
- Correctly identify the plant. Always ensure 100% identification of the plant before harvesting and consuming. Many plants have poisonous look-alike, so it is essential to identify them with certainty. Pay attention to the old adage “in case of doubt, throw it out”. There are numerous plant identity books on the market covering most geographic areas. You can also find foraging lessons in your area which can be a fun way to get to know local plants.
- Practice sustainable harvesting for all the plants you collect. Never take more than necessary and be sure to leave enough to make plants survive and thrive. Keep in mind that unless you are eradicating an invasive species, foraging should never have a negative impact on the survival of the plant population. Take some time to learn which plants are invasive in your area and which plants are endangered and should never be harvested.
- The forage in areas you know are clean and have not been treated with chemicals. Be wary of looking for food along the roadsides and under power lines.
- Collect underground storage organs; bulbs, tubers, rhizomes, etc. with further consideration since harvesting can kill the plant. Early spring and late autumn are the best times to collect underground storage organs since the plant’s energy is stored underground. In late spring and summer, the plant will redirect energy to above-ground growth and the production of flowers and seeds. Some examples of abundant roots to be foraged in the spring are chicory, dandelion and burdock.
- Look for green leafy vegetables as they are the stars of spring foraging. This fresh food is available long before our gardens start producing. In most areas, there are some green leafy vegetables to choose from. Dandelion, chickweed, lamb quarter, garlic mustard and violet are all commonly foraged. Do some research to find out which vegetables are best eaten raw and which are best steamed or sauteed.
Take your rubber boots and garden tools out and set off on a forage adventure. Foraging is free and can provide a fresh and delicious addition to your next meal. Take full advantage of spring foraging as summer is just around the corner!
by Sarah Bacon