The idea of wild foraging can either generate excitement from those open to adventure or conjure anxiety for those who immediately think about mushroom hunts gone wrong. No matter what level of enthusiasm or fear abounds, the number of possibilities for cooking with foraged wild foods is endless.
One of my favorite reasons to forage is that it doesn’t require any cash. (I hesitate to say it is “free” because there are certainly environmental costs to consider before gathering.) Wild foods are invaluable. Unlike many of the foods you’ll find at the grocery store, they foods you’ll find on a foraging excursion will always be in season. While we must wait until nature is ready to release these amazing foods, the incredible new flavors you’ll find are a food enthusiast’s dream.
Below are a few of my favorite recipes using wild foraged foods, along with some tips to make sure your gathering experience is safe.
Before embarking on a hunt for wild edibles, here are basic tips to keep in mind.
It’s wise to thoroughly comb through a basic field guide to and get in touch with a local foraging expert. An experienced guide can help with plant identification, educate you on what parts of the plant to gather and clue you into prime foraging season. Some good beginner wild edibles to know include purslane (Portulaca oleracea), crabapples or wild apples (Malus rosaceae), stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina)and wild onions (Alliumcanadense).
Once you gain confidence in identification and are ready to hit the trail, it’s important to know the foraging area in relation to any synthetic chemical application. Foods that are harvested downstream from a factory or along a polluted roadside can be dangerous to eat, so it’s best to stick to foods located in the woods or a meadow.
It is also prudent to be respectful of the amount you and others harvest. Overharvesting may affect the plants’ abilities to regenerate. It’s also key to get permission before gathering from any private or preserved land. Overall, reverence for nature is a good rule of thumb when harvesting. A turning point in my foraging experiences was when I set out to pick black raspberries along a path on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. As I approached my favorite harvesting spot, I saw a few other people with little buckets also gathering the coveted sweets and immediately thought—while gasping—”but those are my berries!” Then it occurred to me that these fresh fruits belonged more to the animals inhabiting that hillside more than they belonged to any of us greedy humans.
With these things in mind, you’re ready to forage—and cook up some delicious wild goodies.
Recipe: Lavender-Infused Dandelion Preserves
This jelly is as rich as honey. For clearer preserves, simply infuse the sugar with lavender by adding a sprig or two of fresh lavender to a pint jar of granulated sugar and letting it sit for a month. Remove the lavender and use the scented sugar.
Yield: 3½ pints
- 3 cups dandelion blossoms, separated from leaves and bracts
- 3 cups purified water
- 2 tsp. calcium water (comes with Pomona pectin)
- 1 T. lemon juice
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 T. dried lavender
- 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
- 3 tsp. Pomona’s Universal Pectin
Boil flowers in purified water on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Strain the liquid and return it to the pot. Add calcium water and lemon juice, and bring to a boil.
Add sugar, lavender and vanilla to a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and process until lavender is dust and well-mixed into sugar. Add pectin, and stir to completely combine. When the dandelion juice is boiling, add the sugar mixture and stir constantly for 2 minutes to completely dissolve the sugar. Return to boil then remove the pot from the heat. Filter through a small colander placed over a bowl.
Fill warm, sterilized 1/2-pint jars, leaving 1/4-inch of headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe jar rims, and cap with treated, sterilized lids. Adjust screw bands until fingertip tight, and load into a hot waterbath canner. Once the water is boiling, process the jelly for 10 minutes. Remove carefully and let cool at room temperature until completely cool. Check seals. Label and store in a cool, dry place.
Note: In the case that your preserves don’t highly gel, they can be used more as a syrup: warmed and drizzled over ice cream, added to hot tea, or mixed into a craft cocktail.
Recipe: Garlic Mustard Pesto
Enjoy this pesto on pasta, bruschetta or pizza.
Yield: 12 2-ounce portions
- 2 cups tender garlic mustard leaves (no stems), washed
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper, to taste
Place garlic mustard, garlic and almonds in a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and process to a rough or fine consistency, depending on preference. With the machine running, add half the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Turn off the processor and add Parmesan; process until absorbed. With the machine on, slowly add the remaining olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
To freeze, transfer the pesto to a mini-muffin pan or ice cube trays and freeze until solid. Transfer individual portions to a freezer bag or container, label and seal. If refrigerating, cover pesto with a thin layer of olive oil and store in a tightly closed container.
Recipe: Ramp and Sorrel Pesto
Use this bright springtime pesto with pasta or on bruschetta, in soups and casseroles, or in a homemade salad dressing.
Yield: Makes 3 4-ounce portions
- 1/2 cup ramp greens, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup sorrel, coarsely chopped
- 1 T. lemon zest or 1/2 tsp. dehydrated lemon peel
- 1/4 cups pine nuts or almonds, toasted
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup Parmesan or part-skim mozzarella cheese
Combine all ingredients in a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and process until desired consistency. Season with additional salt and pepper, as desired. For freezing, portion into an ice cube tray or a mini muffin pan. Once frozen, transfer the cubes to a freezer-quality bag, label, date and freeze.
Recipe: Olive and Ramp Tapenade
Use in soups or casseroles, on bruschetta or meatloaf, or as part of a cheese plate.
Yield: 2 cups
- 6-7 fresh ramps, washed well and minced
- 1 cup black olives, drained and minced
- 2 lemons, zested and juiced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 T. olive oil, plus more for brushing and tossing
- salt and pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Alternatively, the tapenade can be made in a food processor. Process until well minced, but not a paste. For freezing, portion into an ice cube tray or a mini muffin pan. Once frozen, transfer the cubes to a freezer-quality bag, label, date and freeze.
Recipe: Queen Anne’s Lace Jelly
This recipe makes a beautiful jelly. You can add food coloring if desired, but I’ve found that Pomona Universal Pectin naturally gives it an antiquated pink color.
*Important Note: Be sure to correctly identify Queen Anne’s lace; its cousin wild hemlock is very poisonous.
Yield: 6 half-pint jars
- 4 cups water
- 18-20 large Queen Anne’s lace flower heads (about 2 packed cups)
- 3½ cups granulated sugar
- 4 tsp. Pomona’s Universal Pectin
- 1/4 cups bottled lemon juice
- 4 tsp. calcium water (comes with Pomona pectin)
Bring water to boil. Remove from heat. Add flower heads, pushing them down into the water. Cover and steep for 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the desired strength of flavor.
While the flowers are steeping, add the pectin to the sugar and set aside.
Strain liquid from flowers (about 3 cups) and pour into a 4- to 6-quart pot. Add lemon juice, calcium water and sugar/pectin mixture stirring immediately. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil one minute longer, then remove from heat. Skim.
Fill warm, sterilized half-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe jar rims, and cap with treated, sterilized lids. Adjust screw bands until fingertip tight and load into a hot water bath canner. Once the water is boiling, process the jelly for 10 minutes. Remove carefully and let cool at room temperature until completely cool. Check seals. Label and store in a cool, dry place.