By Cory Blair, Gardener at Ashevillage
Just after the first thaw and all the way until the first freeze, there brings an ample fresh assortment of perennial greens. There is such excitement in the atmosphere when the first green sprouts magically break through the awakened soil. We often overlook the edible capacity of these close-to-earth plants.
Since my second year in college in Western Massachusetts, I have been aware of the free and wild perennial herbs and greens that cover the east coast. I started learning from the simple and easy to identify plants such as dandelion, red and white clover, and lemony wood sorrel. Some plants I had even eaten during my childhood on the coast of New Jersey. This blog will function as a simple guide to easily identify a few staple nutrient-dense and some medicinally-beneficial plants that you can find in your garden, lawn, or nearby park. We may need to re-evaluate the way we view weeds. If we look at a particular plant and feel a deep frustration for its existence, it might be beneficial to see the plant as an offering or as a salad green instead of a nuisance that grows near our precious flowers or vegetable plants.
As a general rule of thumb, wild greens are at their most tender when they are still small or harvested from the tops of the plant. For example, Dandelions are some of the most abundant edibles from spring to fall. To identify, look for the bright yellow flower or white seeded head and find the smaller sharp toothed leaves towards the center of the plant. You can harvest all parts of the plant and the leaves are great for adding to a salad. The bitterness of the leaves aid with digestion, and the centers of the flowers are a sweet addition that serve as a quick day-time snack or fried in a batter as Dandelion Fritters.
Another great edible is the wild Violet green and flower. Easily identifiable by the edible purple flower floating atop a bed of heart shaped leaves in spring, and larger heart shaped leaves throughout the summer, they add a tasty texture and deep green color to any salad.
We can also add the lemony and crispy Wood Sorrell to the mix. With many common names, like sour clover, lemon sorrel etc. it is identifiable by light green clusters of 3 small heart-shaped leaves with a fold in the middle of each leaf and small yellow flowers. There are many more edibles that we can introduce into salads and complementary dishes to make full meals. The key is to focus on what is available in close proximity while maintaining a distance from roads, harvesting seasonally in abundance to promote the natural cycle of the plant’s life, and positively identifying the plants we choose to consume.
Since starting my Residential Garden and Site Internship at the Ashevillage Sanctuary, I have harvested pounds of ample wild greens for lunches and dinners. Especially when combined with kale, tomatoes, and a homemade dressing, these salads knock the socks off of anybody.
Disclaimer: Never eat an herb or edible that you have not 100% positively identified. For more information visit these sites and be sure to register for the Wild Foods and Fermentation Workshop with Sandor Katz and the Food as Medicine Workshop.
Cory Blair is an artist and gardener living and working at the Ashevillage Sanctuary based in Asheville, NC. She is currently working on illustrating an herbal reference leaflet.
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