It seems like everything is more expensive these days, including produce. But what if you didn’t have to pay for delicious, nutritious green edible plants?
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Edible abundance grows wild all around us, but you have to know what to look for and when and where to look. Here are four of our favorite foods that grow wild in urban, suburban, and rural environments.
The young, coiled shoots of several species of fern are a prized early spring foraged food. They can be found in either your local woods or your local supermarket in the spring and summer. No matter the source, they are delicate and highly perishable. Fiddleheads have a “grassy, nutty” flavor similar to asparagus and green beans. Wash them carefully before blanching them in boiling water, shocking them in an ice bath, and briefly sautéing them in butter.
This pungent member of the onion genus is also known as wild leek or ramson, and it's a favorite ingredient in Appalachia, but foragers—and chefs—in temperate climates in all parts of the United States have taken notice of it as well. Both the leaves and the bulb can be eaten raw or cooked; ramps taste like a cross between a scallion and a yellow onion, with a strong, garlicky bite. We like to sauté them for soups, add them to egg dishes or stir-fries, or pickle them.
The yellow flowers of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) can pepper an otherwise pristine lawn, but this plant’s flowers, stems, and serrated leaves are delicious (just take care not to harvest them from chemically treated lawns). The leaves, which are slightly bitter, can be cooked like other sturdy leafy greens, such as kale, or can be added to a salad as you would endive. Dandelion greens are traditionally tossed with hot bacon dressing, which softens their peppery, bitter edge.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) grows all over the world but is native to Asia and is therefore a common ingredient in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines; it is commonly known as pigweed in Australia and verdolaga in Mexico. Its leaves and stems are juicy and sweet with a slightly sour tang. Like those of sassafras, purslane’s leaves have a slightly mucilaginous quality, so it is used to thicken soups and stews. You can find this persistent plant growing in sidewalk cracks in most parts of the United States.