Spring is a great time to get outdoors and collect a number of edible wild plants with nutritional and medicinal benefits. These plants are great additions to soups, salads and teas, and the best part is that they are free!
Note: Be sure to only pick plants from pesticide and herbicide-free areas and always thoroughly wash plants prior to eating!
Dandelion. One of my favorite childhood activities was weeding the dandelions from my mother’s flower and herb garden. Carefully prying the fork-tipped dandelion weeder around the plant and pulling up the long roots without breaking was a great source of satisfaction for me. However, as an adult, I realize how foolhardy the effort was, not only because the plant has numerous nutritional and medicinal properties but also because the perennial dandelion easily reproduces from both seed and root and is capable of re-growing from even a small part of the root left in the ground (Source).
All of this under-appreciated plant (flowers, leaves and roots) are edible and can be used in a variety of ways. Raw dandelion greens added to a salad or sandwich, or cooked leaves added to a soup, are a great source of Vitamin A, B-6, C and K, protein, calcium, iron, copper, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. Dandelion roots may be chopped, roasted and ground and used as a coffee substitute. Dandelion also helps support the liver and kidneys detoxify and clear out toxins in the body.
Wild Violets. Violet leaves and flowers are high in vitamins A and C and make a beautiful addition to salads as well as decorative toppings for cakes and pastries. Throughout history, violets have been revered for a number of different medicinal uses including as a sleep aid, pain reliever, antiseptic and expectorant (Source). I will be drying the leaves and flowers to make violet tea, which turns a beautiful pink to blue color based on the acidity of the soil. Violet tea is a delicious tea at all times, but especially valuable during a cold to help ease headaches, congestion, and inflammation and encourage sleep!
Violets are a mild laxative and contain saponins, which may cause digestive issues, so do not eat more than a handful at a time (Source).
Mullein. The large furry leaves of mullein are easily spotted in the spring and the tall yellow flower stocks of this plant grow up to 8 feet in the summer! Mullein has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Collect leaves and flowers to make tea that soothes the throat and calms coughing by combining on cup of boiling water with 2 tsps. of dried and crumbled leaves and flowers (Source). Mullein oil is easily made by infusing dried leaves and flowers in olive oil in a glass jar placed in a sunny location for 3-5 days, then strained and kept in a cool dark spot. Mullein oil can be rubbed on swollen or rheumatic joints or gently inserted into the ear using a dropper to soothe an earache. In addition to a good flea collar from somewhere like DewelPro.com, your four-legged friend can benefit from mullein oil combined with garlic oil to treat ear mites and help control fleas and itching (Source).
Plantain. Related to spinach, common plantain is rich in iron and vitamins A & C. The small tender spring leaves can be added to salad and as the plant grows larger the leaves can be de-vined and blanched or sautéed in oil and a dash of vinegar.
Lambs Quarters. This plant always appears in my garden and is easily mistaken for its cultivated relative spinach in the seedling stage. Packed with beta-carotene, calcium, potassium and iron, it is also a good source of trace minerals, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C and fiber. Raw leaves can be added to salads or steamed or sautéed like spinach.
Garlic Mustard. This invasive species can easily take over your backyard, but a good way to slow its progression is to eat it! High in vitamin C, carotenoids, minerals and fiber, garlic mustard should be cooked prior to eating. A quick and easy recipe is to sauté it in a tablespoon of coconut oil with chopped garlic and a dash of balsamic vinegar (Source). Pull the plant firmly from the ground to remove as much of the root as possible to prevent re-growth, then wash and grate the root in vinegar and use in place of horseradish!
Purslane. I haven’t found this plant in my yard yet this spring, but I am patiently awaiting the arrival of purslane. The leaves, stems and flowers of this succulent are edible and provides omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin A, B, C and E, beta carotene, magnesium, calcium, folate, lithium, iron and protein (Source). Add to soup, salad, sandwiches, stir-fries for a delicious lemon tang with pepper kick!
Blair, Katrina (2014) The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival (pp.150). White River Junction, VT: Vhelsea Green Publishing. For Sale Here:http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/the_wild_wisdom_of_weeds/
Mother Earth News Editors (March/April 1984) Sweet Violets: Edible Flowers, Medicinal Plants.http://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-health/sweet-violets-edible-flowe….
Wild Foods & Medicines (June 2, 2013) Violet. http://wildfoodsandmedicines.com/violet/.
Every Green Herb. Mullein in Herbal Medicine. http://www.everygreenherb.com/mullein.html.
Annie’s Remedy. Mullein Verbascum spp. http://www.anniesremedy.com/herb_detail136.php.
Clark, Patterson (April 16, 2013) Garlic Mustard: Salad days for an invasive plant. Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/metro/urban-jungle/pages/13….