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The Roving Sportsman… Springtime Foraging 2024

Snow geese and Canada geese have been flying north, and robins are more plentiful, and the intermittent snowfalls don’t take long to melt away. Even though we experienced a relatively mild winter, it’s nice to know that spring has finally sprung! As we welcome the warmer days and the emergence of daffodils and tulips, it is time to look to the nearby fields and forests to discover what Mother Nature has to offer for springtime foraging. Hopefully, you still have a good supply of canned or frozen venison and other game and fish to enjoy for months to come, so let’s look outside now for healthy plants to accompany your harvest.

Dandelions: As lawns begin to turn from winter brown to springtime green, dandelions with their bright yellow flower begin to appear. To some, it is time to get out the sprayer and eliminate these “unsightly” weeds! But to some who know better, it is a time to begin foraging some of nature’s bounty. The freshly emerging leaves of the dandelion are packed with vitamins A, C, E, K and Calcium. They make a very healthy salad and are very tasty when topped with vinaigrette, Italian dressing, or your chosen dressing. The flowers are edible and can be used to make jelly. The process is a bit tedious, but the results are well worth it. The jelly is packed full of vitamins and is very tasty, with a mild honey flavor.

Stinging Nettle: As the soil continues to warm up, stinging nettle will begin to appear, shooting up quickly to a height of about 3 to 6 feet. But the emerging plant and the leaves, in particular, can be used. The stems are slender and square, and the dark green leaves have toothed, tapered edges with distinctive veining and rough edges. It is found this time of year primarily in damp, fertile soil in a field setting. The nettle has sharp hairs on its leaves, and if brushed against the skin, it can cause a slight rash and will produce a stinging sensation in the area it touches. It imparts the painful sting through tiny hairs on the underside of its leaves and on its stems. This is a plant that is good to identify so that you can avoid casual contact. It does, however, have some medicinal uses. For centuries, common nettle has been a staple for ancient cultures and continues to be an important food source throughout the world. It is arguably one of the most nutritional wild edible plants available, but it needs to be cooked or dried to neutralize its sting.

Prepare nettle leaves as you would spinach leaves — sautéed, stir-fried, lightly steamed, or used in soups. Stinging nettle tea is perhaps the easiest way to yield the benefits of nettle. Cover a handful of leaves with boiling water, let steep for 10 minutes, and strain and drink. For a stronger brew, loosely fill a canning jar with nettle leaves, cover it with boiling water, place a lid on the jar, and allow the tea to steep overnight. Fresh mint will enhance the otherwise earthy flavor. Stinging nettle has medicinal uses as an anti-inflammatory and to alleviate allergy symptoms.

Ramps, Wild Leeks or Wild Garlic: For those folks who enjoy harvesting wild edible plants, it is the ramp that best signals that spring is upon us. This plant is known by all three names and is one of the most harvested and useable of the springtime wild edibles. It grows in abundance (I have seen “patches” of ramps that intermittently cover several acres), it is easy to identify, and the entire plant is edible when eaten either raw or cooked. The plant is 6 to 10 inches tall, has six broad petals on a thin stalk, and is ideal for making pesto, garlic butter, or used in marinades or soups. Their taste is stronger than that of a domestic leek, somewhat like a mild onion flavor, and they are more pungently garlicky than a scallion. The taste is mild at the beginning of their growing season but becomes much stronger as the season progresses.

They can be roasted, grilled, sautéed, and raw in dishes like salads. They can be added to rice dishes, pasta dishes, and omelets. You can use both the white bulb and the green leaves (the leaves are milder in flavor). For a really great springtime taste, try scrambling together a few ramps, wild mushrooms, and eggs – it is a delicious combination! Even Martha Stewart has recipes available for wild leeks. Or just use your own imagination and use them as a substitute where you would normally incorporate onions, garlic, or a combination thereof.