When the spring rains start and East Tennessee begins to green up again, the kids and I get a hankerin’ for wild greens and our Wild Frittata! We started this a few years ago as a homeschool experiment of sorts. I wanted to teach the kids about finding edible wild plants including the process of identifying and researching. And I hadn’t had time to plant any fall crops in the garden either so this gave us some really fresh greens as well!
The field guides we typically use are:
- National Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers for the Eastor West. This is often where we start as it has full color plates (a fancy word for “pictures”) listed by color. If we see a flowering plant, we can usually identify it with this.
- Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide. This one lists edible plants by season with full color photos, habitat where found, and how to prepare the plant. It also lists poisonous look alikes.
- Tom Brown’s Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants. Lots of info on plants and what to do with them. You need the photographic books above, however, to really identify the plants.
- Wild Roots. Great (and scary) stories about many edible and medicinal roots. It includes a story on some English children that ate what they thought were wild parsnips. Turned out they were Water Hemlock, a very poisonous and deadly plant. Demonstrates well how you should use caution and positively identify what you are harvesting or don’t bother with it!
We’ve also done a bit of reading and tried some recipes from Stalking the Healthful Herbsby Euell Gibbons. This was originally published in the 1960s and is a hilarious and informative read. Mr. Gibbons also wrote Stalking the Wild Asparaguswhich we don’t have yet but I am sure is equally informative and amusing.
Here are pictures of the wild plants we have identified and use ourselves:
These are (from left to right and top to bottom) Curly Dock, Dandelion (a bit past its prime here), Henbit, English Plantain, Violet, Wild Onion, Shepherd’s Purse. You may notice that most if not all of these grow in your garden, lawn or pasture. And there are many more edible wild plants out there to be had! And at a price much lower than spinach or lettuce at the grocery store that was shipped from Mexico or China!
Just follow these simple rules when harvesting:
- Don’t harvest where chemicals may have been sprayed.
- Don’t harvest along roadsides where exhaust and trash may cover the plants.
- Know what you are harvesting or leave it alone.
So go ahead and experiment!