May is such a rich, sweet season. It rivals my love for October/November when the decadence of foliage colors beings to cascade and the smell of summer toasted grass, leaves and wildflowers takes over. Right now everything is quickening and taking shape. So much is brightening and showing up for us. Everything at the precipice of new life and possibility. This is a very exciting time and I felt myself inspired at every corner (quite literally-often I am pulling over to the side of the road to jump into meadows to collect cleavers, violet flowers, garlic mustard, dandelion leaf and flowers, and japanese knotweed). I pluck violets from the yard and cover them with honey. Fill a jar with their leaf and flowers and make a tincture. Fill another quart jar with dandelion, violet, burdock root and red clover-cover with apple cider vinegar and wait a few weeks to extract a mineral rich, nutritive tonic that offers gentle support to the lymphatic system and liver, both of which are working hard to bring us into this new season.
Spring wild edibles keep a kitchen witch busy, as you can see. My favorite application for all the spring wild greens is pesto. Take 2 cups of any green you like and blend it up with a ratio of nuts/seed, nutritional yeast or parmesan, some sea salt, fresh lemon and lots of olive oil. My general recipe is 2 cups greens (ramps, garlic mustard, parsley, basil, dandelion) which could be a combination or all one, 1/2 cup nutritional yeast, juice of half a lemon, 1/2 tsp pink salt, 1 cup cashews (or 1/2 cup each sunflower and pumpkin seeds, you can toast for extra depth), and about 1/2 cup olive oil. I add the olive oil as the rest of the mix is blending until I like the consistency-you can eyeball this and add the oil (and everything else, for that matter) to your liking. Below is a nice bouquet of garlic mustard, a delightful green whose entire parts are edible-some use its roots to make a horseradish like condiment.
Every year I like to experiment with Japanese knotweed. It’s a fascinating invasive; when its shoots are young and tender they have a rhubarb consistency and flavor. They can be prepared similarly, but beware as their bright green/mottled pink color goes muted green/brown when cooked. I’ve enjoyed it chopped up and stewed with apple, grated ginger, and maple syrup, and had like a compote on top of oatmeal or yogurt.
Last night, I added chopped knotweed to sliced red onion, a clove of garlic, and proceeded with cumin, fennel, and coriander seed as well as a few crushed black peppercorns and chili peppers. As it softened with a little water, 1/3 cup dark brown sugar went in as well as about 1/2 cup red wine vinegar. I let this all reduce and thicken into a chutney-which then inspired me to toss in a few tablespoons of chopped prunes. This became a savory jam to enjoy on top of cheese and crackers, as the base of a salad dressing, or as a sauce for a protein. Wild foods inspire the desire to get outside and appreciate the landscape in a new way. They encourage play and experimentation, as not much is lost in the creative process should it go south-there’s plenty garlic mustard and knotweed out for the taking to try again! Not all wild foods are so generous, so be mindful with plants like ramps whose existence is threatened by locavore restaurants. and wild food hungry markets/businesses. Wild foods are tenacious, and parallel this in their nutrient profile. They are much more rich in phytonutrients than conventional vegetables because of the conditions they grow in. My hope is to rival this energy via their consumption!