By Deanne Converse This article my not be copied or transferred in any way in whole or in part without the permission of the author.
Spring 2016 is upon us in all its blooming glory. What better way to usher in the season of new growth, than to feature some of the first wild edibles? Featuring Maple Blossoms, all species of which are edible. Each has a different taste. On our place, the Big Leaf Maple Tree ( Acer macrophyllum) are the first to awaken in the Spring. I picked and had fun eating some of these beautiful delicate flowers. They can be used in making syrups, or many other ways. I currently have some pickling in my refrigerator. Here is what else did with them on our farm:
Fall 2015 we are featuring Vine Maple Leaves! This is the time of the year they begin to decorate the landscape with a fiery display of reds, oranges and shades of yellow! Still, it is a great time of year to pick the smallest of the leaves which are still green. Yes, they are edible! Actually, maple leaves are a street vendor snack popular in some areas of Japan, and currently specialty faire at a restaurant in Canada. Fresh-picked, and then sometimes soaked for months in salt brine or pickled , they are then always battered and fried….I opt for skipping the brine or pickling. Fresh Picked vine maple leaves and immediately battered and fried them. The small leaves (1-3 inches across) are fully cooked so that even the delicate stem is a delight to eat. There is not a lot of flavor, but they lend themselves well to decorate a plate, or be used with dip or with salsas or pestos. The photo shows my leaves (before and after cooking) along with my own recipe of blueberry-rosemary pesto. Please do your own research before using any leaves for your food. I have a dendrology background and can easily identify maple leaves.
Summer 2014 we are featuring Purslane, a plant most people tend to grumble about and yank out of flowerbeds with gusto. To some it is a weed. To those who know its value, it is a natural nutrient-packed, flavorful powerhouse! Great in salad, on sandwiches. It is excellent in smoothies, and can make them thickened, the same if added to soups/stews. It is a succulent, and can grow in the worst of soils, and is even found in cities growing in the cracks in sidewalks. Due to its interesting photosynthesis process, if it is picked in the A.M. it tends to be sour. If it is picked later in the day it is sweeter.
Of all the leafy plants, it is the highest in Omega-3’s and contains lots of vitamin A and B, C and E. It grows wild, but to be sure we have plenty on hand when we want it, we are growing it in pots and in our aquaponics system. I like to snack on the leaves, but my favorite is to use it to make thickened low-calorie smoothies!
We also feature purslane in our pasta salad made with our own Peashoot pesto, fresh peashoots, lemon cucumber, purslane, tomato, and kale grown on our farm, and harvested from our aquaponics system.
Spring 2014 we are featuring our Spruce and Douglas-fir tips. A decidedly true Pacific Northwest fare. What do you do with this? Eat it raw for a tangy vitamin C boost. But for fun we make syrup, jelly and pickles. Harvest season is just a brief window in Spring when the tender tips of new growth on the spruce and Douglas fir are just showing up. We manage the harvest of this crops from our trees with care for their health. My Special Uses Silviculture course work at the U of W comes in handy here. Spruce tips have been eaten for centuries by many cultures. What do they taste like? …citrusy? …hum… bursting with a tart, fruity flavor and fresh essence that is quite unlike anything else… you’ll just have to try some!
Spring 2012 and 2013 we were able to harvest a huge crop of edible Fern Fiddleheads. There is a brief window for harvesting, completely dependent on environmental factors. A watchful eye on the forest floor yields a delicious reward! Fern fiddleheads are delicious prepared many ways. Pickeling allows us to be able to enjoy the harvest all year. A word of warning: do not pick fern fiddleheads unless you know what you are doing. Buy them from us, or another reliable source, if you are not familiar with harvesting fern fiddleheads. Proper kitchen preparation is also a must. Our photo shows an example from our 2012 harvest, including native salal bushes (lower right, in photo) that promise a later harvest of bountiful berries! We are careful in our harvesting methods to protect our naturally occurring future fern crop.