What comes to mind when you hear the words, Antrim County and food? Perhaps you immediately think of your favorite restaurant or watering hole serving delicious locally-sourced meals and beverages? But, did you know you have a cornucopia of delicious food right in your backyard? That’s right, and all served up by that queen of culinary delights herself, Mother Nature. If you don’t mind Michigan’s variable weather and a hike in the woods, you can find tasty treats to satisfy any fancy.
As Spring slowly makes her way into 2018, you’ll start to notice wild edibles begin to emerge.
As always, be sure you correctly identify wild edibles before consumption.
Now, let’s dive into a few of the many wild edibles Mother Nature has to offer!
Ramps aka “Wild Leeks”
What to look for: Groups of long green leaves on the forest floor with a distinct onion smell.
Sustainability: Avoid pulling an entire bunch out at once, instead pick half or less of the ramps in a single cluster. The greens are just as useful as the bulbs, so consider picking some greens only.
How to use: Pickled ramps (both the greens and the bulbs, or just the greens) are a great way to go. Use fresh ramp bulbs in place of onion or garlic; they can also be dehydrated and used in soups year-round.
What to look for: Any kind of spruce tree works. The best time to harvest is when the new, bright green and tender shoots are visible on the ends of branches.
Sustainability: Avoid picking too many tips from one section of the tree. Pick randomly while moving around the tree. Try to harvest from tall, mature spruce.
How to use: Steeped fresh in maple syrup or apple cider vinegar (about 50:50 ratio of spruce tips to liquid). Dried and used as a tea or spice. Sometimes used in brewing beer.
What to look for: In early spring, look for nettle stalks up-to and around a foot tall. It’s recommended to wear gloves when picking stinging nettles.
Sustainability: The best and most sustainable way to harvest nettles is to pick the top few inches of the plant.
How to use: Stinging Nettle must be cooked to remove its stinging properties. Stinging nettle is great for making full-bodied teas and nutritious broths, and can be steamed/sauteed like any other leafy green vegetable.
What to look for: In damp or swampy locations, look for patches of ostrich ferns. A single fern will have several grooved stalks growing out from the soil.
Sustainability: Only pick fiddleheads when the ends are still coiled tightly. Always pick less than half the fiddleheads from single fern. Snap the stalk a few inches below the coil; the stalks are just as useful as the fiddleheads.
How to use: Use in the same way you would use asparagus; coated with olive oil and grilled, sauteed as part of a stir fry, chopped up and baked in a quiche.
There are many great resources out there, but here a couple books our staff enjoys that cover identifying, harvesting, and preparing edible wild plants:
The Forager's Harevst by Samuel Thayer
Nature's Garden by Samuel Thayer
Now, get outside and harvest sustainably!
All photos are provided by Antrim Conservation District Board Chairman, Joe Pomerville.