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?
- 1/2 cup almond flour
- 1/3 cup raw buckwheat flour
- 2 Tbsp. arrowroot starch
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 3 Tbsp. coconut oil or ghee
- 1-3 Tbsp. ice water
- 4 cups young nettle leaves
- 1 cup fiddleheads
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 eggs
- 1-14 oz. can full fat coconut milk
- 4 pieces of cooked bacon, crumbled into small pieces (optional)
- Begin by making the crust. Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl. Using a fork, mash the coconut oil or ghee into the flour mixture until the dough resembles course crumbs.
- Mix in the cold water one tablespoon at a time (I used 2) until the dough comes together and you can form a ball.
- Transfer the dough to a 9” round metal tart pan (you can use a rectangular one like the one pictured, but you will have extra filling). Using your fingers, evenly press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan. Transfer to the fridge while you make the filling.
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- Rub off any brown papery scale from the fiddleheads using a vegetable brush, a cloth or your fingers. Rinse well and transfer to a steamer basket. Steam until cooked through, about 2-3 minutes.
- Meanwhile rinse the nettle leaves. Add them to the steamer after the fiddleheads are ready and steam until completely wilted - a minute or two.
- Transfer the nettles to a colander to drain and press the moisture our with the back of a spoon or a towel. Toss the fiddleheads and wilted nettles in a little coconut oil or ghee and season with salt and pepper.
- Cook and crumble the bacon if using.
- Meanwhile beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Add the coconut milk and whisk until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
- Remove the crust from the fridge. Evenly spread the cooked nettles, fiddleheads and bacon, if using, over the crust and pour the egg mixture over. Pour any extra filling into ramekins and cook alongside the tart.
- Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown and firm. Let cool for a few minutes before slicing. Store leftovers in the fridge, reheat in the oven and enjoy within a few days.
If you don't have fiddleheads or nettle, substitute other spring vegetables such as asparagus and spinach (which have a similar flavor to fiddleheads and nettle, respectively).
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This looks amazing! I think I know what we’re doing this afternoon.