Over winter, I eat a lot of foods that I put up over the previous warm season. Smoothies are made of frozen berries foraged in the neighborhood. Work snacks are crabapple candy, delicious sweet-sour treats of dehydrated "waste" fruit. Soups are made of a handful of this dehydrated goody and that bag of frozen greens and that ham bone that's been waiting in the freezer for a chance to shine. By the time June comes along, the pantry is a little more bare, the selection a bit more paltry. So out I go to restock the larder and prepare again for the cold days that will come.
Anyone who follows this page knows that I have two primary ways to cut my grocery spending: gardening and salvage grocery shopping. Both are fantastic ways to trim back the budget. Gardening requires little money, but lots and lots of time. Salvage grocery shopping takes little more time than regular grocery shopping, but still takes a fair amount of money. So while foraging doesn't make up a large percentage of the yearly calories, it is a worthwhile pursuit. It takes little time, compared to a full season of gardening, and it takes absolutely no money. It also adds lots of variety to the diet that would otherwise be impossible. Wild foods are very nutritious and can be delicious.
Starting out in early spring, but still viable in early summer, is foraging for wild greens. They are best early, and by this time of year (June) are a bit bitter. However, even now, they're worthwhile, especially if the bitter greens are going into a robust dish with lots of garlic and cream. Dandelion greens are the best green to get started with simply because everyone knows what dandelion looks like. You don't have to worry about accidentally poisoning your family (provided you pick from a yard you know is unsprayed). Harvest those dandelion leaves when they are tiny and haven't flowered yet for the tastiest treat. Once they flower, they are tougher and more bitter, so you'll want to use them in cooked dishes, rather than fresh salads.
|Creasy greens with a baby bud in the center.|
I also harvest creasy greens. These are a southern favorite that should be a northern favorite too. I love them steamed or tossed into a stir fry. Once they send up a flower stalk, stop harvesting the leaves, but then, oh then, you get the stalks. They look like mini broccoli stalks and taste like a wilder broccoli. Trucker loves broccoli, but I've never been able to grow it in my garden. This year I only harvested enough for us to eat fresh, but next year I plan to freezer in meal-sized portions for winter.
Research the wild greens that grow in your area, sample them and harvest bucketloads of the ones you like. To preserve them, simply steam them until they wilt, then cool and pack into freezer bags. Depending on family size, you can pack 1, 2 or 4 cups into each bag. Freeze flat for maximum storage in the freezer. Pull out a bag at a time to reheat as a steamed vegetable, add to omelets/frittata/quiche/souffle, or mix into a dip, similar to spinach dip but with free greens. Creasy green flower buds can be steamed or boiled a couple minutes, then dunked into an ice bath before packing in freezer bags.
Dandelion flowers can be fried for perfect fritters or the petals added to fresh salads. If you want to fill your larder with them, think of dandelion wine, dandelion jelly or dandelion syrup.
|Edible flowers (Violets, Grape Hyacinths) add pretty color|
to salads. Candied violets are great for cake decorating.
Violets are edible and prolific, at least in my garden beds. You can eat the flowers or leaves in salads, or you could steam and freeze the greens. The flowers can be added to tea blends, mixed into sugar for a floral note for teas, or candied for decorating desserts.
Then it's berry season. For me, that means mulberries. When I was a kid, my grandma used to take me out mulberry picking. We'd pick bushes of them. After a long day of picking, Grandpa would come home and we'd all sit down to bowls of mulberries with milk. It's still my favorite way to eat them, but I do preserve some for winter. There are two main types of mulberries: red (which ripen to almost black) and white (which start lime green and fade to white when ripe). Then there are hybrids which can be pink or white with purple frosting. I prefer red berries to all other kinds due to the taste, but the other kinds don't stain the hands as badly. To harvest, you can pick them by hand, but it is labor intensive and wasteful. When mulberries are fully ripe, they fall off the tree at the drop of a hat, so if you pick one berry, five more fall to the ground. Instead, lay down a sheet or a blanket you don't care about. Gently shake the branches over the sheet. The perfectly ripe berries will fall onto the sheet. just grab the corners to pile the berries together, then bag up. This makes harvesting a breeze and you can get a whole tree harvested in twenty minutes. You can also harvest wild blackberries or raspberries if they grow in your area. These taste fantastic and you'll love them more than anything sold in stores. I freeze them on cookie sheets; one frozen solid, they are packed into freezer bags to dump a little at a time into smoothies or to eat as a chilly snack later on in summer.
|Plantain seeds air drying on a cookie sheet.|
Any and all surplus greens from the garden, and some wild greens are preserved into green powder. This bitter-as-heck powder has nothing going for it, flavor-wise, but is a healthy addition to the diet. I use greens with bad texture, like the full-sized greens on a radish bulb, carrot greens or tough dandelion greens. I dehydrate them until they are bone dry, then crumble them by hand or in the blender until they are a course powder. This powder is a nutritional powerhouse, and is an easy addition to meatloaf, casseroles, green smoothies, even brownies, anything that could use a little more veg. I try to limit its use to dishes with strong flavors to mask the bitterness. In winter, even that bitterness is welcome when there is such a limit to veg.
|Crabapples waiting to be processed.|
|Crabapple candy ready to go into the dehydrators.|
Many herbal teas can be put up from foraged weeds. Use a dehydrator for quick drying to minimize flavor loss. If you don't have a dehydrator, use a low oven or hang in a cool dry place. Pineapple weed (related to Chamomile) is my favorite wild tea. It has a lovely exotic tropical floral taste and scent. You can also dry violets, dandelion leaves, mints, dead nettles, clover blossoms, strawberry leaves, or many more. Dandelion roots can make a mock coffee that's to die for.