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Wild Things

Living on the Earth, April 18, 1997: Wild Things

We've been eating wild things from our yard for almost a month now.  Just as
last year's onions ran out, the wild onions showed up in profusion.   The tops
can be cut for use like chives.  With a little care or a trowel, a whole clump
of the plants can be pulled or dug up, including the bulbs.  Cleaned and finely
chopped, they provide that allium zip for stir fries and omelets.

Once the wild onions appear, dandelions quickly follow. We had dandelion greens
with wild onions in the salad with our Easter dinner.  Last week we had a salad
of just dandelion greens, with a bit of crumbled feta cheese and a balsamic
vinegar dressing.  Delicious! Dandelion greens taste best in the early spring,
before their flowers develop.  In addition to salads, they're great in
stir-fries. After the flowers appear, the greens are more bitter, but apparently
this flavor is much appreciated by southern Europeans and particularly people
from Portugal and Italy.

We welcome all the dandelions which grow around our place, but especially the
ones in our garden beds.  The plants do well with the extra fertility and lack
of competition there.  The leaves are at least as delicious as the other greens
we grow, and since they are perennial, dandelions appear ready to eat each
spring.  Later, they'll flower for beauty and for wonderful wine. It's hard to
imagine how the dandelion has become the enemy of chemical lawn care. It's such
a multipurpose plant.

Once the dandelions are up, other delicious wild things follow. Stinging nettles
are now several inches high.  Euell Gibbons, whose Stalking the Wild Asparagus
and Stalking the Healthful Herbs got me started eating wild things, calls
nettles "one of the finest and most nutritious foods in the whole plant
kingdom." Nettles are good eating until they get to be about a foot tall, but be
sure to wear gloves and handle them carefully.  Cooking or drying destroys their
stinging quality.

Another wild food, daylilies, those beautiful flowers that grace our roadsides
and gardens, provide nutritious food both under and above the ground.  This time
of year small tubers about the size and shape of large peanuts grow from the
roots, and are easy to dig up.  They're crisp and crunchy and quite delicious
raw.  I understand they are also good cooked. They can be dug up any time in the
spring or summer.  When the plant's roots are returned to the soil after the
tubers are removed, the daylilies continue to grow and will produce a new crop.

Young sprouting daylily stalks are also edible.  With the outer leaves removed,
the inner part of the stalk, cut just above the soil, can be eaten raw or cooked
like asparagus.  In the summer, daylily flower buds provide yet another kind of
food.  The buds are a standard ingredient in Chinese hot and sour soup, and they
or the flowers can be eaten raw or be battered and fried like tempura.

It needs to get a little warmer before our favorite wild green is ready to eat.
Lamb's Quarters are a common garden weed. Wherever they grow well, you know you
have good fertile soil.  Pick plants shorter than 12 inches anytime they appear
in the garden, and prepare just like spinach.  We are especially fond of young
Lamb's Quarters in salads and stir fries. This welcome weed has a pleasant
taste, milder than many wild things.

Eating these wild foods is one really good way to become more connected to our
local ecosystem.  Weeds in the garden are a lot less disturbing when we
recognize that they taste as good as some of the vegetables we work hard to
grow. Actually, many of these wild greens are more nutritious than the
cultivated ones.  

In his book, The Dandelion Celebration: A Guide to Unexpected Cuisine, Peter
Gail provides a list of the most nutritious green vegetables.  Three of the top
four are commonly thought of as troublesome weeds in this country, although
other cultures relish them.  Lamb's Quarters are the most nutritious, followed
by collards, amaranth and dandelions. The garden stalwarts - broccoli and
spinach - are listed after that.

Gather some wild foods soon and enjoy them with your next meal.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

(C)1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491

Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT certified
organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban agriculture
projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT). Their collection
of essays  Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful
Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid.  These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT.
New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since
November 1995 are available there.