Wild Things

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, April 18, 1997

We've been eating wild things from our yard for almost a month now. Just as last year's onions ran out, the wild onions showed up in profusion. The tops can be cut for use like chives. With a little care or a trowel, a whole clump of the plants can be pulled or dug up, including the bulbs. Cleaned and finely chopped, they provide that allium zip for stir fries and omelets.

Once the wild onions appear, dandelions quickly follow. We had dandelion greens with wild onions in the salad with our Easter dinner. Last week we had a salad of just dandelion greens, with a bit of crumbled feta cheese and a balsamic vinegar dressing. Delicious! Dandelion greens taste best in the early spring, before their flowers develop. In addition to salads, they're great in stir-fries. After the flowers appear, the greens are more bitter, but apparently this flavor is much appreciated by southern Europeans and particularly people from Portugal and Italy.

We welcome all the dandelions which grow around our place, but especially the ones in our garden beds. The plants do well with the extra fertility and lack of competition there. The leaves are at least as delicious as the other greens we grow, and since they are perennial, dandelions appear ready to eat each spring. Later, they'll flower for beauty and for wonderful wine. It's hard to imagine how the dandelion has become the enemy of chemical lawn care. It's such a multipurpose plant.

Once the dandelions are up, other delicious wild things follow. Stinging nettles are now several inches high. Euell Gibbons, whose Stalking the Wild Asparagus and Stalking the Healthful Herbs got me started eating wild things, calls nettles "one of the finest and most nutritious foods in the whole plant kingdom." Nettles are good eating until they get to be about a foot tall, but be sure to wear gloves and handle them carefully. Cooking or drying destroys their stinging quality.

Another wild food, daylilies, those beautiful flowers that grace our roadsides and gardens, provide nutritious food both under and above the ground. This time of year small tubers about the size and shape of large peanuts grow from the roots, and are easy to dig up. They're crisp and crunchy and quite delicious raw. I understand they are also good cooked. They can be dug up any time in the spring or summer. When the plant's roots are returned to the soil after the tubers are removed, the daylilies continue to grow and will produce a new crop.

Young sprouting daylily stalks are also edible. With the outer leaves removed, the inner part of the stalk, cut just above the soil, can be eaten raw or cooked like asparagus. In the summer, daylily flower buds provide yet another kind of food. The buds are a standard ingredient in Chinese hot and sour soup, and they or the flowers can be eaten raw or be battered and fried like tempura.

It needs to get a little warmer before our favorite wild green is ready to eat. Lamb's Quarters are a common garden weed. Wherever they grow well, you know you have good fertile soil. Pick plants shorter than 12 inches anytime they appear in the garden, and prepare just like spinach. We are especially fond of young Lamb's Quarters in salads and stir fries. This welcome weed has a pleasant taste, milder than many wild things.

Eating these wild foods is one really good way to become more connected to our local ecosystem. Weeds in the garden are a lot less disturbing when we recognize that they taste as good as some of the vegetables we work hard to grow. Actually, many of these wild greens are more nutritious than the cultivated ones.

In his book, The Dandelion Celebration: A Guide to Unexpected Cuisine, Peter Gail provides a list of the most nutritious green vegetables. Three of the top four are commonly thought of as troublesome weeds in this country, although other cultures relish them. Lamb's Quarters are the most nutritious, followed by collards, amaranth and dandelions. The garden stalwarts - broccoli and spinach - are listed after that.

Gather some wild foods soon and enjoy them with your next meal.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 1997 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.