Part of Wild edible education is understanding the seasonal rollout of plants and fungi. What comes first and how to identify them, can significantly help beginners gain confidence in their natural foraged food.
The following Early Spring edibles are the first to appear. As the season rolls out I will add to the calendar under a date stamp. Please keep in mind that depending on where you live the start scale will slide accordingly. For example: my calendar is based off of my location in South Eastern Ontario. London/Chatham areas are actually 2 weeks ahead of my location. Where BC is actually 3 weeks ahead of my location.
Each Edible is listed with its Latin name in order for each individual to conduct further research into its taxonomy.
I simply request that you receive full confirmed identification with me before you harvest. Simply send photos of the plant by email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BitterCress – Cardamine Hirsuta
In the Brassicaceae family this early spring plant can be found just about anywhere. It is an invasive species introduced originally in the Midwest USA. Slowly fanning out its growth upwards into Canada. It can be found deep in rich soils of old growth forests, to persistently growing in gaps in the pavement. I recommend harvesting from gardens to forests ( damp and muddy foot paths) and leave the city growth to itself. They all have basal leaves radiating outwards, with vaguely disc shaped leaflets opposite to one another along the leaf stem with one large terminal leaf at the very top.
Tasting notes for Bittercress are distinctively nutty, followed with peppery on the after taste. Due to its invasive nature, I pull the entire plant. Roots and all. Only the above ground greens are edible but I will store the rooted plant in a shallow basin of water -countertop, to use when needed.
Use Bittercress wherever you would use any other salad greens. If I happen to come across a significant amount I will process it into a nut free pesto but my favorite is Spring Bittercress Soup. Recipe below
Spring BitterCress Soup
- 4 Cups of Bittercress
- 1 Cup of Horseradish greens ( Plant ID found below)
- 1 clove whole peeled Garlic (or Wild Ramp leaves)
- 2 Tbsp of Wild Ginger paste ( or standard ginger -grated)
- 1/4 tsp of Tumeric
- 1 cup of Broth ( Vegetable or Chicken)
- 1/2 Cup Oat Milk or Heavy cream
- To taste – splash of rice wine vinegar
- Pinch of Salt & Pepper
- Squeeze of Lemon
Puree all ingredients in a blender then heat to serve. It can also be served chilled. I like garnishing this soup with a dollop of sour cream and a drizzle of truffle oil. Alternately, a drizzle of Basil Oil & a dollop of creamed coconut is beautiful as well. Switch out the greens all summer long for what’s in season for a year round delicious Natural Foraged dish.
EnokiTaki – Flummulina Velutipes AKA Velvet Foot
These mushrooms can be found late Fall, sometimes through Winter and early Spring. They love the cooler weather and can be found in dense tiers on dying or rotting Ash trees. The spore print is white, the glistening top a little sticky and their velvety stems make them unmistakable.
Again, I request you have this specimen confirmed by me before harvesting. They can handle a few days on the tree while you retrieve the full Identification. There are a few mushrooms that can be confused for these but not this early in the season. The taste of this mushroom is very mild. The stickiness on the top of the mushroom disappears when fried. Interestingly, the enokitaki you buy from the grocery store are actually the exact same species but they are cultivated in the dark. So if you’ve had them you are familiar with their taste. I simply use these mushrooms in stir-frys or as a topping on pizza but they can be used in pretty much any recipe you add mushrooms too. A recipe for a warm mushroom salad will be found later on in this calendar.
Coltsfoot – Petasites Frigidus – Sweet Coltsfoot
The European botanical genus name is Tussilago – meaning ‘Cough Dispeller’. There are several subspecies of this family in North America. The herbal & culinary properties remain the same across all species. This particular plant offers its flower to early pollinators and but the stalks, leaves and roots can be consumed.
In early April these stalks start popping up. The leaves follow later after the plant has flowered. It’s habitat is in moist areas from lakeshores, streams, marshlands, woods to Alpine areas. You are most likely to find it close to moving water. It is the stalks I usually go after. Clipping a few from each plant where the bloom hasn’t opened yet. I quickly blanch then pan fry and it’s very like Asparagus. Which is lovely because Asparagus is at least a month behind Coltsfoot. The taste is actually very salty, so don’t add salt to this dish.
Using the leaves and stalks in a dried form is an excellent alternative for seasoning to what we use as standard salt. The leaves themselves can be used in a tea with the addition of honey to sweeten – It is also considered an excellent cough suppressant. Smoking the dried leaves can be used for respiratory problems giving antispasmodic and sedative affects. It is known to help block the nerve impulses that initiate a cough. Also used are the roots- Soaked in hot water it can be taken as a tea for tuberculosis, sore throat and stomach ulcers (as noted by Herbalist Robert Rogers).
Common Sorrel – Rumex Acetosella–Sheep Sorrel
Sheep Sorrel is a small perennial classified in the dock family. The Spring foliage can be used both cooked or fresh in salads. You can typically find Common Sorrel in disturbed soils. I find it everywhere at my current cottage located on a sheep farm. It is originally from Europe but it is now found all across Canada.
The description of the leaf should be noted for its identification. The basal leaves of sheep sorrel are succulent but not thick, borne on slightly grooved petioles and are usually 1.5 -3 inches in length. Widening towards the tip, they are typically lopsided with 2 lobes or flares at the base. The very young leaves do not have the flares yet and are more spoon shaped. The young leaves can also look sometimes rather sparkly due to their structures.
Given that dock is closely related to the buckwheat family it is interesting to note that the dried fruit can be processed into flour. After it has fruited and dried fully on the stem, you can collect these berries to use for baking. Further in the season I will detail how to execute this process from seed to flour. For now, you can include the young leaves in salads, sauces and soups. Also delicious pan fried with oil, garlic, salt & pepper with roasted nuts.
Wood Ear – Auricularia Auricula-Judae
Wood Ear is also known as Jelly Ear. It appears in early Spring but will flush several times throughout the Summer and Fall. You can collect each time. Mostly found in groups on conifers but can be found on hardwoods. Usually on dead and dying trees/logs.
Sometimes the logs can almost be obliterated and appear in what looks like ground litter – but rest assured… there is a log buried underneath there somewhere. Also note that the undersides of the mushroom can have some ribbing and can startlingly look like an Ear – Hence its name. The color ranges are from orange/brown to red/brown.
In the culinary world Wood Ear has many uses and it can easily be dehydrated as well as rehydrated. The Chinese have used it for centuries and call it black fungus. It has a very firm texture so I like to julienne before dehydrating. It keeps very long if stored correctly in a moist proof container. It is amazing addition to Stir-fry’s and Soups. Once dried I also mill it to use as a mushroom powder in Risotto, stocks and gravies.
However, One of my favorite ways to use it is in a Warm Mushroom Salad. This dish can also be served cold
- 3 cups rehydrated wood ears,
- 1 cup fresh enokitaki mushroom,
- 1 bunch of wild garlic greens, finely chopped,
- 1 Fresh red chili pepper, deseeded & finely chopped,
- 2 tablespoons Chinese Black Vinegar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
- finely chopped horseradish greens of scallion onions for garnish
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
Cooking Method – Pan fry both mushrooms with the wild garlic and red chilies in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil on medium high for 10 minutes. Then remove from heat to cool for a minimum of 30 minutes to room temperature.
In a bowl mix remaining ingredients. Let marinate in liquids, turning every few minutes to completely coat all the mushrooms. It can be served cold or heated up in a frying pan for 5 minutes and served warm. The textures are firm yet soft with the mixture of the two mild flavored mushrooms with a perfect zing on the finish. You can adjust the red chilies to taste
Horseradish – Cochlearia Armoracia
It is, by far, one of my most favorite perennials. It is a plant that offers all parts to be used starting in early Spring right through to Fall. It is a prolific grower and I wouldn’t recommend putting this in your garden. It will take over. It has a fleshy taproot (shown in photo). Large basal leaves that grow course with maturity, lanceolate with dentate margins and long petioles. They have tall erect flowering racemes with clusters of flowers.
In the Spring you want to look for either the protruding fleshy taproot or the young budding leaves. Both are delicious. The root when agitated through grating will produce the signature spicy aroma and taste. You will not get that aroma until you have agitated it. However, while out in the field you can snap one of the small pieces of the root to confirm its ID before digging up the whole taproot. The greens can be used as a spicy salad component. Mixed with the nutty greens of bittercress, mild Sorrel sweet chickweed the four greens make a beautifully balanced and interesting salad. As the greens mature, they become firm in texture similar to mature Kale. The processing and cooking are exact but with very different taste profile. The horseradish greens will always have that awesome spicy zing to them that I love so much.
I have serious mixed feelings when I process the taproot. grating each root creates the agitation required to make a nice a spicy condiment. Tears running down my face from the heat of the grated product wafting up, while the aroma makes me salivate profusely. I’m very stubborn otherwise I’d use googles, but the weird multilevel experience makes me not want to change a thing, in my old school hand processing. The horseradish is then preserved in vinegar for future use on sandwiches or salad dressings. I use rice wine vinegar but any could be used realistically. About half of what I grate, I will ferment in honey. It softens the heat and keeps it preserved longer as a cooking condiment.
It should be noted – That once you locate your horseradish spot, it will come up year after year in the same location. Even a tiny broken off taproot that was missed during harvest will create a new plant the next year – While a little smaller then the previous year. I only harvest what I need leaving enough to come back to year after year.
Also Found During Early April
- Dandelion – Taraxacum Officinale,
- Garlic Mustard – Alliara Petiolata
- Chickweed – Stellaria Media
- Scarlet Elf Cap – Sarcoscypha Austriaca
- Marsh Marigold – Caltha Palustris
- Hopniss – Apios Americana
- Spring Beauty – Claytonia Spp
- Wild Pursulane – Portulaca Oleracea
- Garlic Ramps
- AND more
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