By Nathaniel Whitmore
Springtime is very exciting for foragers. While we are rounding the corner into the summer season, we wanted to highlight some of our favorite springtime edibles while the season is still upon us. Starting with “sugar season” when we make Maple syrup, through the peak when it seems that something new is ready for harvest or popping out of the ground every time I look, to the later season when the spring growth matures and gives way to the garden that offers up edible weeds while being prepared for planting, there is variety of particularly fresh quality beyond any other time of the year. Certainly, it is the bitter, pungent, and sour greens of springtime along with the blooms, green growth, and warmer weather that has made spring known as the “season of renewal”.
So deep has been our appreciation of springtime, that even Chinese restaurants constantly use the theme with spring rolls and business names like “Spring Garden”. Such names are so familiar that we have become numb to the meaning, which originates with the appreciation in natural medicine for the rejuvenating energy of spring. Just as nature re-awakens in springtime with the increasing warmth and sunshine, health is revitalized by righteous eating of wholesome and appropriate foods.
Traditionally, spring follows a cold winter of eating storage foods high in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins (appropriate for the season), but low in the phytochemicals of fresh greens and the like. With the warmer weather, macronutrients are less required and we can begin to eat more lightly while boosting our intake of fresh vegetables. Even before garden greens begin to grow, Mother Nature offers Dandelions, Garlic Mustard, Winter Cress (a Mustard-family member used as a cooked green), Chives, Chickweed, and more. And to top it off springtime offers us the nation’s most celebrated mushroom: the Morel.
Morels are among the mushrooms that are distinctly seasonal. While some other favorites like Chicken-of-the-Woods and Oyster Mushrooms might be available throughout the growing seasons, Morels are available for a limited time. Their season is marked by, among other things, the blooming of Apple trees with which Morels like to grow. They also favor river banks near Sycamore and Elm, often growing near another celebrated wild edible of spring: Fiddlehead Ferns.
Along with Morels, the mushroom forager can often find Mica Inky Caps and Dryad’s Saddles this time of the year. Although some authors of mushroom field guides declare the Dryad’s Saddle uninteresting as an edible, I have relished it many times. One very memorable occasion was had while camping and not having much luck finding Morels. The Dryad’s Saddles sautéed over the fire and then combined with some roasted Cattail shoots (which can be placed in the coals with their outer leaves and cooked like Corn-on-the-cob) made for some very enjoyable mushroom tacos.
Our kitchen at the Lodge at Woodloch has delighted in the wild edibles I brought in for cooking. Chef Josh prepared a novelty for me by pickling Japanese Knotweed shoots. Japanese Knotweed is one of the area’s most despised invasive weeds, but is very interesting as an edible. Mostly it is used like Rhubarb (to which it is related) in the preparation of tart-flavored deserts.
We have also enjoyed making dishes with Stinging Nettle, Pokeweed, Purslane, and Milkweed. These foods are not only celebrated for their culinary delights, but also for their nutritional benefits. Especially in springtime, the chlorophyll-rich Nettle shoots are enjoyed by many as a nutritional supplement high in minerals and more. Purslane is honored as being exceptionally high in omega fatty acids for a green vegetable.
Bon appetite during this Spring Awakening!