Finding Free Food in a Pandemic Age (or Eat Weeds!)

It doesn’t take long to gather a hundred or so dandelion flowers.

There’s a fair bit of talk these days about coming food shortages—or at least challenges finding what you’re looking for. It has convinced lots of people to try gardening for the first time. So many, in fact, that a number of seed companies have more work than they can handle and have put a temporary halt on orders.

But there’s another way to become more food self-sufficient. Eat what’s right under your nose. Or toes. And what better time to start foraging for your own food than these early days of spring. There is so much deliciousness out there just waiting for you. The flowers of early spring, both wild and domesticated, are plentiful, easy to identify, a simple and fun introduction to food foraging, and they add a much-needed touch of elegance to mealtime in these stay-at-home days.

Bonus: If you have school-aged children at home right now, a little foraging in your yard or neighborhood is not only a great diversion, but also a perfect opportunity for interdisciplinary and experiential learning: a walk on the wild side (physical education), plant identification (science); food preparation (math; home economics). It won’t even feel like learning. They’ll appreciate the adventure.

In my neck of the woods, violets and forsythia are in full flower right now. Dandelions, too—and they will be with us all the way through fall. If you think dandelions are just weeds, think again. Every part of the dandelion—except the sappy stem—is edible (petals for jelly, syrup, tea, fritters, and more; tender young leaves for salad or steamed greens; roots for vegetable side dish, tea, or wine). And who can’t find dandelions?!

Dandelion syrup is my favorite, and it tastes almost exactly like honey. Here’s a simple recipe: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/264167/dandelion-syrup/ You can find a bunch of other recipes for the pervasive dandelion here: https://www.growforagecookferment.com/dandelion-recipes/

Years ago, the Gnome and I gathered lots of pretty little violet flowers from our back yard and turned them into the most exquisite, lavender-colored jelly. https://afarmgirlinthemaking.com/lilac-flower-jelly-a-delightful-floral-taste/ If your jelly doesn’t jell, no worries. You’ll have a delicate syrup to pour over vanilla ice cream or a simple cake. Yum!

Both the flowers and leaves of wild violets are edible.

Violet flowers can also dress up a salad; leaves can be added raw to a salad, as well—or steamed like spinach. By the way, the flowers of pansy and viola (Johnny Jump-Up) can add a colorful zing to your dinner salad, too—all edible, of course.

Then there are lilacs—try lilac sugar, lilac cake, a fizzy lilac mocktail: https://www.brit.co/lilac-recipes/

For other scrumptious ways to use lilacs, check out this site: https://practicalselfreliance.com/edible-lilacs/ (It’s not all about food, either.)

Did you know forsythia flowers are edible? Neither did I until just recently. It’s another way to create your own flavored syrup or homemade jelly. https://www.ediblewildfood.com/forsythia-syrup.aspx ;

https://homesteadlady.com/edible-flowers-forsythia-jelly/#wprm-recipe-container-12748

Magnolias are edible, too—both the creamy white flowers you see on Southern lawns and the delicate pinkish Japanese variety so prevalent in springtime. Try them in a cake. https://www.backyardforager.com/magnolia-blossom-cream-cake-recipe/ (By the way, this site is an excellent one to follow for all sorts of seasonal, easy-to-forage foods. Her book on backyard foraging is excellent, too.)

Magnolia blossoms taste slightly of citrus and spice. Use sparingly to adorn a salad. Or pickle them.

For a different take on magnolia blossoms, try pickling them. https://medium.com/invironment/pickled-magnolia-flowers-7c2aad06edf9

And yes, it’s another choice for syrup. https://www.eatweeds.co.uk/magnolia-syrup-recipe

Hosta shoots make a good asparagus alternative. Wild mustard and lamb’s quarters can cover the spring landscape and make excellent salad ingredients or steamed side dishes.

Clover flowers, purslane, chickweed, watercress, sorrel, nettle leaf, and plantain (all those weeds that are the bane of gardeners everywhere)  can be added to those violet and dandelion leaves for a perky spring salad with no trip to the grocery store needed.

Try the flowers of redbud trees, black locust (raw, fritters, stir-fry), and wisteria (flowers only—the rest of the plant is poisonous). Here’s a recipe with results too pretty to pass up https://www.wildedible.com/blog/wildflower-spring-rolls ,

In the electronic age, it’s never been so easy to find recipes for eating wild. But before you go on a hunt, be sure you know your stuff. Dandelions are easy. Some other plants are a bit more tricky; many have not-so-tasty (or healthy) lookalikes. A good field guide is essential if you’re unsure what’s what.

Four more caveats: (1) Be sure the plants you select are free from toxic chemicals, including car fumes (the shoulder of a road is no place to look for food). (2) Unless you have a permit, its’ a federal crime to pick plant parts from national parks, forests, and monuments. You’d hate to end up in a federal prison for picking flowers! (3) Harvest ethically—never take more than 1/3 of what you find. Leave some for the next forager. And most importantly, leave some for Nature. Bees need it. Birds need it. The plant needs it to continue to thrive. (4) Some of these links refer to home canning. If you try that, be sure to follow basic safety instructions from the US Department of Agriculture or your local or state extension service. (But you can always store your product in the refrigerator if you plan to eat it within a few days or weeks.)

Happy foraging. And happy eating.

4 thoughts on “Finding Free Food in a Pandemic Age (or Eat Weeds!)

  1. Excellent post! I remind myself that chickweed is edible every time I find one that’s gone to seed and the seeds boing out everywhere. Haven’t tried it yet though. I didn’t know that forsythia was edible either. Not that I’m super partial to eating flowers but I’ll keep an open mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Amanda. We loved finding star chickweed in our woods when we first moved here. Then, after an early June flood one year, several varieties began the speedy process of taking over our large garden, where they became the bane of my existence. The supply has far outweighed our demand!

      Liked by 1 person

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