There is an abundance of healthy and delicious food just outside your door. It’s hiding in your lawn, lurking in the woods or watching you from the side of the road. Here are some of my foraging favorites and tips to utilize them.
Violets are delicious! Besides adding them raw to salad to add some color, they’re an excellent infusion into olive oil, honey or vinegar. Violets have a subtle berry flavor. Pairing them with lilac blossoms is a great way to make a memorable jelly. Mildly sedative, they also make a fine addition to a bedtime tea.
Dandelion greens are also tasty served raw in a salad, or steamed with butter. The roots, which improve liver health, can be sautéed, or dried and ground for tea, and the blossoms can be added to salad, fried, or made into a jelly or wine.
Though fiddleheads have a short season, they’re easy to find along river banks and streams. There are many ways to prepare fiddleheads. They’re superb with a white sauce or in a chowder. I recently breaded and deep fried some, but my favorite use of the young ferns is in a white-sauce pasta with toasted pine nuts.
Ramps, a wild leek, have a delicate flavor that pairs well with steak and mushrooms. They’re also spectacular in soups. For the steak dish, I usually sauté the white parts with the mushrooms and steam the green parts over the top of the steak as it cooks. Add a splash of red wine vinegar and soy sauce and enjoy!
The young shoots of cattails can be eaten raw or boiled, and the young flowers can be roasted. Often appearing as a “weed” in the lawn or garden, purslane has wonderful flavor raw or cooked. It also makes an excellent ground cover, inhibiting other weeds and keeping moisture in the soil.
Another common landscape “weed” is plantain. The young leaves are delicious but become bitter when the plant flowers. A nice side benefit is plantain’s ability to relieve insect bites and stings. Chew a leaf and stick it on a mosquito bite for instant itch relief!
Clover makes a great addition to salads and teas. I like to pick the blossoms and eat them right out of the yard. I also eat checkerberries as I come across them in the grass. Their minty flavor makes them a great snack or addition to tea. You can make jelly or tea from lilac blossoms, or an infused honey to bring that fragrance to your baking.
Dewberries look like a small raspberry. They’re even more delicious but harder to pick — watch out for the little thorns! And, of course, wild raspberries can be found throughout Maine. The leaves can be made into a tea — the concentration of flavor is actually greater in the leaves than the fruit.
Then there’s the iconic Maine pine tree. Pine needle tea is delicious and loaded with Vitamin C. The inner bark of the pine tree is also fantastic fried. The young roots of burdock are used in many Asian dishes. Daylily is delicious raw, steamed or pickled. And chickweed, another good raw addition to salads, can also be steamed or sautéed.
Many varieties of mushrooms can be foraged in Maine — including lion’s mane, shiitake, morel and chaga — but I recommend taking a class or finding a guide before attempting this. As the old saying goes, “Every mushroom is edible … once.”
Wild grape can be found throughout Maine, climbing up small trees. No need to wait for the fruits — the leaves are edible too. After blanching them, fill with feta, rice, capers, ham or anything else you’d like and roll them up! Once blanched, you can also pat them dry and freeze them for use throughout the year.
Sweet fern leaves make a fine tea — similar to chamomile but with a bolder, nuttier flavor. In native medicine, sweet fern tea was used to treat stomach ulcers.
There are hundreds of edible plants in Maine. Adding foraged foods to your meals stretches your budget and adds unique flavors (as well as medicinal benefits) to your diet while encouraging a deeper appreciation for the nature all around us.