Wild Greens on My Mind

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Richard Tullis

Richard Tullis › Richard Tullis is an artist/photographer living with his wife Karen in Portland, Oregon. An amateur ...


The mild winter has us excited about early spring foraging opportunities in our yard and around Portland, Oregon.

Spring’s longer days and warmer temperatures have Stinging Nettles appearing along the seasonal creek and wet areas that line the back of our yard. I’d forgotten about those little rascals until my ankles started itching. They’re an excellent nutritious culinary green, but you’ll want to take special care collecting them: gloves and clippers help, and the sting is annoying but not fatal – in fact, it’s rendered harmless after drying or cooking. We enjoy them steamed and in soup with potatoes.

Our Osoberry has also started to flower. Though the berries are reportedly sour, they’re edible, and Native Americans have used the bark to make a mild tea. My wife Karen suggests that I harvest and experiment with the bark as I’ve only read about its uses.

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis) and Hairy Bittercress are pushing out tender spring leaves and will soon give our salads a tart bite. We enjoy Miners Lettuce in salads, too; I can’t wait to see ours making an appearance since it’s an indication that spring is on its way and Morels will surely follow.

Fiddle Head Ferns are a delectable find, but be careful: some are toxic. We only eat these in moderation, usually steamed then sautéed in a bit of butter which brings out their unique vegetal flavor.

A common, highly versatile weed in our garden is the ubiquitous Dandelion. It’s delicious as a bitter component in salads; my personal favorite pairs it with a lemony vinaigrette. Dandelion greens lend an interesting twist as a braised vegetable or added to soup, but remember: they’re bitter – a little goes a long way. The flowers can be collected, a tedious process, to make wine, and the root used as a coffee substitute. A good friend introduced us to his Dandelion wine; I’m not sure it was worth the effort. While all these greens are fine and tasty, I can hardly wait to get out and look for mushrooms and smell them cooking in the kitchen. Last year’s garlic and shallots are waiting for the heat of my pan and a few good friends to enjoy the season’s first fungi.

But for the next few weeks I’ll stick close to home collecting edible “weeds” from our yard, as well as a few naturalized introduced species Ramps, Arugula and assorted Alliums that went to seed and are sprouting all over the garden.

Note: Collecting any wild plants should be done in safe areas, free of pesticides, industrial pollutants, etc… Make sure you have correctly identified the plant you’re going to eat, try a little first and save a sample of what you are eating in case you misidentified it and need to contact your local Poison Control Center. Check local laws regarding collecting plants and fungi in public parks and forests; there are often required permits and limits. Be conscious not to trespass or collect on private property, that’s stealing.

Photo Credit: Richard Tullis