Perhaps you will purchase some new plants from Medieval Manor Gardens, or maybe you will begin wild harvesting some of your own in the area that you reside. Great! Now you might start to think, “So now what do I do with them?”. Though they have been around long before us, most people have gotten so used to their veggies coming from a market or garden of some kind or at least have some familiarity with commonly grown garden vegetables and how to prepare them, very few would know what to do with Fireweed or Stinging Nettle. The fact that they have so much to offer as far as nutritional value, hardiness and quite often a unique but appealing taste goes, makes it a no brainer though. Today I will introduce a few wild natives, some preparation techniques and some recipes to get you started and I’m sure in no time you will coming up with your own wonderful ideas. Please share your recipes and experiences with any wild edibles you have encountered and we will gladly post them for our followers!
- Fireweed – Harvest shoots when still reddish in colour and cut as low as you can to get as much of the blanched shoot as possible as that is the sweetest part. Leave the roots to regrow. Sometimes variable conditions like soil, time it’s picked etc. can make even the spring shoots somewhat bitter so blanching them in salted boiling water can take the bitterness out. They may be eaten like asparagus – raw if sweet and cooked in most recipes using asparagus or cooked greens interchangeably. The leaves can be fermented just like those from the tea plant to make a black tea. Bees make a wonderfully spiced honey from its flowers so if you have a patch invite a beekeeper to set up shop or grow some in your hive’s vicinity if possible. Keep in mind fireweed weed spreads like, well, wildfire and is also quite tall so smaller yards may not be suitable for growing your own and you may have to keep its spread in check. Here’s a great fireweed jelly recipe From Alaska Good Life: https://www.alaskagoodlife.com/the-food/fireweed-jelly
- Stinging Nettle – Harvest with protective gloves and either allow to wilt or cook to nullify the sting. Should you get stung by the hairs covering the plant do not rub the affected area as this will only break off hairs imbedded in the skin and spread the formic acid among other things that they contain which causes the irritation. Dock, which quite often grows in the same area, can be used to quickly soothe the skin if affected. Break off a large juicy leaf or piece of root and smear the gel on the stung skin. Ironically you can use the tea made from stinging nettle in the same way to take away the sting. That being said, stinging nettle is a very worthwhile herb as it is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Scientific research is also showing promise in regards to this plant helping treat inflammation, enlarged prostate, lower blood pressure and blood sugar (can be helpful to diabetics at certain points), arrest bleeding and quicken the healing process for burns and wounds. Here are a few recipes as per the Canadian Wildlife Federation site: http://cwf-fcf.org/en/resources/gardening/gardening101/edibles/edible-wild-and-not-so-wild-plants/stinging-nettles.html
- Wild Bergamot – This is a lovely wild native that can easily be grown in most yards or even a large pot (though it can handle a smaller sized pot, wild bergamot is a perennial meaning it can come back year after year and so needs a sufficient amount of soil around its roots to overwinter in our Alberta climate). It is both visually and aromatically appealing with its lavender flowers and bergamot orange scent – hence its name. Another great pollinator plant as well as a wonderful tea plant and the dried crushed leaves also make a nice seasoning for wild game like venison. Try these delicious recipes from the Path to Wild Foods: http://wildaboutsaskatoon.org/blog/2017/4/23/the-path-to-wild-foods-wild-bergamot-recipes
- Rough or Northern Bugleweed – If you are fortunate enough to have access to a clean wetland area, you may be able to harvest some of these wetland plants’ tuberous rhizomes. To be honest they look like fat grubs, but whether raw or stir fried, these sweet crunchy delectables will have you creating a little puddle garden in your yard or container just to have some fresh ones on hand! The best time to harvest is in the fall as water levels may be lower to make harvesting easier and the tubers will be the fattest and sweetest due to the plant storing food in its roots to get it through the winter. By only harvesting a few from each plant you can allow the Bugleweed to regenerate for sustainable harvesting year after year.
These are only a few wild edibles to get you started. There are so many more! Just remember to positively ID plants, selectively harvest or grow your own and have fun experimenting with recipes!