Weeks before the soil warms enough to plant most garden favorites but those vegetables agreeable to cool weather, there are many delicious, healthy, and useful wild edibles available – if one knows where to look.
One of the earliest to appear is the dandelion, taraxacum officinale. As soon as the ground is friable, look for the early signs of emerging dandelions. Dig up the roots, remove the crowns, wash with a vegetable brush to remove soil. If the root has been harvested while the soil is still very cool, they may be lightly peeled, and prepared as most root vegetables by adding to soups or steaming until tender.
The most favored use for the root harvested in early spring is to chop the washed roots and slow roast them on parchment paper in 250- degree oven. Roots are done when they become darkened, brittle and smell wonderfully reminiscent of brownies baking or freshly ground coffee. Roasted dandelion roots may be ground and used as a nutritious, caffeine free coffee substitute. The root beverage/tea is also touted as having many historical, medicinal benefits.
Dandelion greens have an unfair reputation for being horribly bitter when cooked. The greens of the early spring plant picked before buds appear in the center of the basal rosette are much milder. Once the bud and flowers appear, the greens become bitter exponentially as they mature. In the autumn, after a couple of killing frosts, dandelion greens again become quite palatable. Dandelion flowers make wonderful jams and jellies, may be dried and ground into a golden flour, made into kid approved fritters and dried to make teas. Don’t forget that they are the bees first nectar source in the spring.
Dandelions have several look-alikes which all are edible. Chicory leaves look very similar when young and the root is still grown as a coffee substitute and additive that is enjoyed around the world.
Always pick any wild edible where there has been no spraying of herbicides, pesticides or within 50 feet of any roadway.
On May 26, 2018, Cornell Cooperative Extension will be offering a “Wild Edibles and Medicinal History” workshop at 4H Camp Overlook in Mountain View, NY. The workshop will include hands-on identification, harvest and preservation techniques, a full wild lunch and the preparation of tinctures and ointments of numerous plants available in the Northeast. For more information about the workshop, click here or contact Pat Banker, Cornell Cooperative Extension, (518) 483-7403
Photo of a recently harvested early spring dandelion.