Spring is finally here and wild edibles are springing to life! Now is the time to get out in the woods—before the mosquitos (or tourists) show up—and witness the coming bounty as the forest awakens. Two of my favorites this time of year are fiddleheads and nettles. They begin to appear around the same time and it just so happens they are delicious served together.
A simple sauté in a little coconut oil or ghee with salt and pepper is really all you need to enjoy these tasty specimens, but why not make a simple gluten- and dairy-free tart and make a meal out of it? If you don’t have access to wild edibles, you can simply replace them with other spring delights such as asparagus and spinach (which have a similar flavor to fiddleheads and nettle, respectively).
Fiddleheads are the young cozier (or frond) most commonly harvested from the Ostrich and Lady Ferns. When they first emerge they will be covered in a brown papery scale which should be rubbed off before cooking. Both Ostrich and Lady Fern fiddleheads have a u-shaped groove down the inside of the stem, so they can be hard to tell apart. Both are edible and should be fully cooked before consuming.
Not all fiddleheads are edible though. Specifically, there is some controversy over whether the Braken fern is safe to consume as it is known to contain carcinogenic compounds. As with anything harvested in the wild, if in doubt, keep it out.
Fiddleheads are excellent sources of carotenes, which are converted to vitamin A in the body. They also have good amounts of vitamin C, although since they must be cooked before consuming and vitamin C is very sensitive to heat, it’s hard to know just how much of this antioxidant remains intact after cooking.
Sting Me No More
Nettles grow all over the world. The common stinging nettle used in this recipe has little stinging hairs on the stems and leaves that contain formic acid which can cause a mild burning and stinging sensation where they pierce the skin. Care should be taken when harvesting to avoid the stingers: wear leather gloves and clothing that covers your arms, legs and feet. Once the leaves are cooked they can be handled and eaten without pause. If you do get stung, a little baking soda mixed with water will relieve any irritation.
Nettles have been used for many years to treat allergy (specifically hay fever) and asthma symptoms without the side effects common of most over the counter medications. More recently nettle has shown promise in treating such illnesses as Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, bladder infections, kidney stones, prostate enlargement and even used topically as a dandruff remedy.
Not only does it have a wide variety of medicinal uses, supporting the digestive, respiratory, urinary and glandular systems, but it also tastes very similar to spinach. Even better, stinging nettle can be found at farmers markets and harvested from forests all over North America and Europe. It is inexpensive, delicious and supports the whole body.
It can be exciting to find a good patch of wild edibles, but it’s important to respect the land and not over-harvest. Never harvest more than you can consume and always leave plenty so that the plant will come back next year. That way we can all enjoy Nature’s bounty year after year. This may go without saying, but avoid harvesting near the road or public areas where herbicides and pesticides may have been sprayed.
I love foraging and each year I learn something new. Abundance is all around us! What wild edibles are you foraging this spring?