Vancouver's Wild Foods in April

Greetings Plant Lovers!The Sun has been out consistently, or fairly consistently, over the past couple of weeks.'s delicious to feel the warmth of the Sun on my skin.  Sometimes it stops me in my tracks.I'm not the only one enjoying this Earthly move closer to the Sun, of course.  The streets and the parks are filled more and more with people, birds, animals and the Green Bloods (thanks for that term, Raine!).  I mean, of course, the Plants!So, before I get too far into this post, I'd like say that this is designed to support other urban foragers (and help folks wanting to take part in the Monthly Wild Foods Potluck being hosted by the Urban Herb School).Here's an outline of what's to come...

  • Wild foods, the Season of Wood and the 5 Elements
  • Why I LOVE wild foods
  • 5 Abundant Wild Edibles easily foraged Right NOW
    • includes: Pics, Tips to ID, Nutrition, Recipe & Links

According to the Law of the 5 Elements (aka. the Chinese 5 Element theory), this is the season of WOOD.  If you needed to place a starting point in an ever-renewing Circle of Life, this is where you'd put it.And many of the edible plants we see popping up around us have the function of supporting our WOOD element.  By that I mean that the herbs nourish and tone our Gall Bladder Official (VII) & Liver Official (VIII) [note: "official" ="meridians" in Traditional Chinese Medicine - it references a function rather than an organ).Without diving too deeply into theory, I'll sum up by saying that...Spring herbs are the best things to eat in Spring! We've co-evolved with these plants as food and medicine for many thousands of years.  It's very important to remember and return to Local, Season Eating.I have 3 primary motivators that get me personally foraging and eating wild edibles...

  1. It's FREE!  or it can be.  Nobody will charge you to eat Chickweed, Dandelion leaves, Bittercress or Stinging Nettles!  (unless you're buying it from a local forager at a farmer's market or etc.  My friend, Mykl was selling blanched Nettle tops at at Wild Foods market in Nanaimo yesterday.  My point is, though, that ...
  2. You can Do It Yourself!  I know it takes time and energy to find and gather these foods, but I want to encourage everyone who can do it, to do it.  It's incredibly Empowering!  It's super satisfying and ranks quite high on (my imaginary) Food Security Scale.
  3. They are incredibly Nutritious!  Non-cultivated plants have an energetic tenacity that translates into high nutrition.  They're experts at surviving in difficult (for garden plants) conditions and are incredibly dense with vitamins and minerals.

So, here are my 5 favourite Spring Wild Edibles that can be found around the Vancouver and the Lower Mainland (it's a growing list, a month ago it was only 2)...I'm going to try to break this down into 3 categories... identification, nutrition and recipes. 

1.  Chickweed - Stellaria media

- Caryophyllaceae (Pink Family)ID - It's a ground cover plant that loves moist and shaded areas.  It has opposite leaves, a thin slender stem and small, 5 parted (can look like 10 pedals), white flowers.  It usually grows in patches.  I've never seen a single plant growing on it's own.  It's quite moist, almost succulent when eaten.Why eat? Chickweed is an excellent source of vitamins A, D, B complex, C, and rutin (an accompanying flavonoid).  Surprising to me, it's up there with Nettles in terms of it's iron content.  It also has calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, sodium, copper, and silica.Recipe - I have 2 favourite ways to eat this delightful little Star Flower... first is RAW!  I'm constantly nibbling it whenever I find it around.  I also like it in salads, on sandwiches, and pretty much anywhere I can fit it in.  2nd is in a Pesto with Basil and, a recent addition, Nettles.  Click here to read my first every blog post, Wild Chickweed Pesto.

2. Bittercress - Cardamine oligosperma, C. occidentalis

- Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)ID - This pic should help lots.  This is exactly what it looks like when you find it in gardens and 'cracks' around town.It has these classic mustard and radish-looking leaves: mostly basal, always pinnately divided and usually with 7 leaflets.  The smell and taste really give it away though.  It has that distinct peppery, mustard scent and bite.Stems are thin with tiny, if any, leaves &/or bracts.  Holding up pretty tiny why flowers that are 4-parted, but you'd need a loupe or magnifying glass to get a sense of that.Why eat? They're really yummy!  As i just said, they've got a nice peppery-ness.  The roots can have quite a strong, radish-like 'bite' to them, but the leaves, flower and stem are quite mild.I've spent a while looking for nutrient content and come up with nothing specific.  But being a wild mustard, we can make some good guesses... it's nourishing and cleansing to the liver.  I recently read (and wish i could reference for you now) that mustards cleanse the liver by initiating peristalsis that sort of 'rings out' the liver, releasing stored minerals such as iron as well as any stored toxins.  (one reason that some spring herb also aid lymph drainage)Recipe - Eat it RAW!  it's great in salads.  Or add it to any stir fry, soup, dressing, etc that you'd like to give a little kick.  Basically anywhere you'd add any other greens.

3. Sour Dock - aka Yellow, Curly, Western Dock

- Rumex occidentalis, R. crispus - Poylygonaceae (Buckwheat Family) ID - Right now, look for basal leaves.  I took these pics today because I wasn't satisfied with any that I found online.  Above is a single leaf- notice the red colouring running up the central stem of the leaf.  This is what was missing from the google-based options for pics of this plant.  It makes it easy to ID.Aside from that, the margin of the leaf is super rippled, even curly (notice the name above).Why eat? It's true that most of the nutrients and medicine are in the root.  BUT the root is generally too woody and hard to eat.  It's also super bitter.  yuck! (and i love bitters!)The above ground parts are quite tasty when gathered early in the the season (read: NOW).  They have a slight tartness to them from the oxalic acid (don't worry nowhere near toxic levels).  The leaf "stems" (petioles) taste sorta like rhubarb (petioles).

"Curled dock is high in fiber and has more vitamin A in its leaves than an equal amount of carrots: 12, 900 IU of  vit. A / 100 grams.  This portion contains 2 g of protein, 119 mg of vit. C and 28 calories (Plantworks, pg 79)  When compared to spinach, curly dock has "...more than doubel the vit. C (Steve Brill book, pg.238)"  The roots provide potassium, manganese, and a lot of iron."  (Person Wildflower guide)"   taken with respect from here

Recipe - last summer, a student of mine, shared his recipe for Sour Dock pesto (notice I love pesto!)... 1.  gather sour dock; 2. blend; 3. serve.  It's true.  He did nothing else too it.Some books say that you can bruise it, cut it up and use it in salads in place of salad dressing.  I find that REALLY hard to believe.  As a salad ingredient, sure, even yummy.  as the whole dressing.  i don't think so.  So, again... RAW!  or cooked as any other green (noticing a trend about how I use greens!?)

4. Dandelion - Taraxicum officinalis

- Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)ID - Ok, so obviously this pic is not of a wild plant in the outdoors.  I think it gives a really good view of the leaves, though.   And that's important cuz it's not quite yet the time of blossom.  Note that all these leaves are basal, meaning growing from the base.And notice the sharp, triangular margins of the leaf.  This is where the name comes from ... teeth of the lion "dent des lions".The flower, if you don't know already, is a beautiful tuft of yellow on a stem with NO leaves  (and the flower is actually many, many flowers or a "florette") that will quickly turn into the most identifiable round ball of Wishing Seeds (this is proof of it being multiple flowers, look at all the seeds it produces!)Why eat? Because it's abundant!  The whole plant is edible and quite nutritious...

"As if improving digestion is not enough, ingesting Dandelion helps support the body in many other ways. Dandelion is high in carotenes, vitamin C, potassium, calcium. Iron, B vitamins, and protein. Dandelion increases circulation and fluid waste elimination in the body, without depleting the body of important nutrients. The flowers have pain-relieving qualities and the sap is a folk remedy for vanishing warts."

from Susun Weed's website written by Linda Conroy 

Recipe - Ok, this one's tough to refine.  There are many recipes for dandelion.  The leaves and flowers can be eaten RAW in salads or the leaves added to soups, stir fries, or steamed.One of my favourites is Dandelion a video  

5. Nettles - aka Stinging Nettles

- Urtica dioica, U. urens, U. glacilis - Urticaceae (Nettle Family)ID - It may look like a mint, but it's not!  With its opposite, triangular and blunt-toothed leaves, you might think it's the meanest Catnip or Lemonbalm you've ever met!  It does NOT have a square stem (mint indicator), but it is covered with small white hairs.  This is where the "ouchie" comes from.It grows in patches in wet places.  If there's no water, it's probably not nettles.Right now, it ranges from fairly small (4-6") to 2' tall (larger toward UBC and smaller in Burnaby).  It doesn't have any flowers yet, so the pic can be quite helpful.The leaves are a very dark, rich green.  The upper leaves tend to have a red or purple colour to them.Why eat? Stinging Nettles are by far the Most Nutritious Vegetable we can eat!!  All the things that are said about the "super food" spirulina are much more accurate for Nettles.  This is because Nettles' nutritional content is accessible to human digestion (whereas there's significant question about how available the nutrients in spirulina are to us.  it seems we've evolved beyond eating pond scum as a food sources).

"builds energy, strengthens the adrenals, and is said to restore youthful flexibility to blood vessels. A cup of nettle infusion contains 500 milligrams of calcium plus generous amounts of bone-building magnesium, potassium, silicon, boron, and zinc. It is also an excellent source of vitamins A, D, E, and K. For flexible bones, a healthy heart, thick hair, beautiful skin, and lots of energy, make friends with sister stinging nettle. It may make you feel so good you'll jump up and exercise."

borrowed from Susun Weed and the Wise Woman Tradition

Recipe - Ok, here's a Garliq original... Tamari Ginger Nettles

  1. Simmer covered for 5 minutes: 3-4 Tbsp Tamari, Braggs or Soy Sc with 2-3 Tbsp minced ginger + maybe 1/4 cup of water
  2. When it's nice and hot, add a whole whack of Nettles (4-5" long) and replace cover
  3. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, Stir, Turn off heat and replace cover to allow for a couple more minutes of steaming
  4. Serve hot

Note:  Cooking, pickling, steaming or drying Nettles will disable the hairs that provide the sting.  It's not at all similar to Poison Ivy (which is oil-based) and will not spread.  The hairs contain formic (&/or lactic -depending on your source) acid and these hairs are no longer "active" when cooked or dried.Don't worry about eating them or drinking tea with them.  It's OK.