Homegrown Life: Spring’s boom of wild edibles
As we are busy here in West Missouri rushing to keep up with the early spring (getting plants in the field, staying on top of the “weeds,” etc.), time is our most finite resource. The growing length of day and the sun’s warm presence helps quite a bit. But still, we find ourselves letting dishes pile up, our boys “education” giving way to farm chores (we homeschool by the way) and our record-keeping intentions being thrown in a box to be sorted later just like every other year.
Want proof of this race to stay on track? Here I am two sentences in and I’ve already made lists with lots of commas and used et cetera.
If we don’t watch ourselves, we’ll fail to pause and experience one of the most beautiful and fulfilling times in this annual cycle of seasons we call a year: spring’s boom of wild edibles. At Yellabird Farm, we love our wild edibles. We love them so much we even harvest them for our customers at the Root Cellar and the Missouri Bounty Box. That’s right. We sell chickweed, henbit, dock, dandelion greens, wood sorrel and more right out of our fields and bottomland forests.
This makes us seem odd to the traditional rural folk we live around, elderly family members included. “You’re picking dandelions?” my eighty year-old Grandma said while shaking her head. She expressed even more amazement when I told her that we were both eating them and selling them. “Well,” she paused for a long time, “I guess if somebody will buy it that’s fine. My Mom and them old timers would all eat pounds of that stuff every spring.”
We eat the greens and other edibles because they’re tasty, but also because of the same reason our ancestors gorged on wild greens each year. It’s because after a long and cold winter of eating root crops and grains our bodies crave something green. We need the textures and nourishment of leafy greens. The jolt in nutrition we get from wild spring greens helps to fortify the blood and the body. As seasonal animals, it’s a deep-seeded fire we hope to stoke.
What’s so intriguing to me about the wild edibles is how abundant they are when you start to actually “see” them. They’re everywhere. And while most people, farmers included, see them as generic weeds, they each have a niche and serve a purpose. They tag along the roaming beasts of the farm, both domestic and wild, human and nonhuman. They spread. They grow. They colonize in the places we till or drive or step.
Just like the diverse tame edibles we’ve selected for our gardens, you’ve got to learn how to prepare the foods for delicious effect.
It’s best to keep in mind two things. First, mind your texture. Taste the greens and see what’s needed. Some stalkier greens require mincing and chopping. Second, taste for bitterness. More bitter greens might need the saute pan or dressing with sweeter flavors.
For a taste of what wild spring greens can become, try this delicious recipe for the ever-present and “ugly” leafed dock. I’ve borrowed the recipe from The Farmer John Cookbook. If you love Indian food, you’ll simply love this dish.
Hopefully I’ve piqued your interest in wild spring greens and edibles. Maybe you’ll read this and go out and try something new. Maybe you’ll put something else on your growing list of food adventures. Or maybe you’ll do the right thing and take a walk, gather greens and share a meal with someone while contemplating the difference between weed and crop.
Delicious Dock Curry
1/2 cup dried green lentils
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 bag wild dock leaves, chopped
2 small ripe bananas broken into chunks
1 cup canned coconut milk
1/3 cup yogurt
2 hard-boiled eggs
1 small red onion cut into wedges
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Put lentils in a medium skillet and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, add salt, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook at steady simmer until lentils are soft, about 45 minutes.
Combine cooked lentils with all remaining ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. You might have to work in batches if your processor has a small bowl.
Serve this high-protein, nutrient packed curry over rice. Also makes a delicious and healthy veggie dipping sauce, sandwich spread or cracker snack.
NOTE: Dock is a prolific spring green in Missouri pastures, and is edible raw in early spring. It has a tangy lemony flavor and has incredibly high levels of beta-keratine, zinc and vitamin C.
Bryce is a farmer, father, writer and rural economic development entrepreneur. He works with his family to raise organic vegetables, beef, lamb, chickens, goats and manage the bottomland forest woodlot in Western Missouri. He has helped to launch numerous social enterprises including a sustainable wood processing cooperative, a dairy goat cheese processing facility and a conservation-based land management company that incentivizes carbon sequestration in forests and grasslands. Bryce currently co-owns the Root Cellar Grocery in Downtown Columbia, Missouri, where the local food store operates a weekly produce subscription program, the Missouri Bounty Box (www.missouribountybox.com). Bryce, along with 135 other farmers, sells his produce through this program.