I used to be a huge fan of Euell Gibbons. Actually, I still am. Not sure how many remember him (he lived 1911 – 1975), but back in the early 70s when I was living in a one-room log cabin in the Alaskan wilderness (I kid you not), I took great pride in identifying wild edible plants. Mr. Gibbons was a great inspiration to me. In my time, I have been known to consume vast quantities of fuzzy fiddleheads, brazenly pick stinging nettles with my bare hands, and fearlessly stalk the wild asparagus in remote abandoned orchards haunted by ghosts from eras past. I also found that a lot of things are edible, but it doesn’t mean you necessarily want to eat them, unless you’re on the verge of a scurvy attack or something.
In any event, it’s good to review that knowledge every now and then, because you just never know when it might come in handy. The best time to have “wild parties” is right now – and if you are reading this 6 months from now, that statement still holds true.
But face it – it’s early March, and as much as we love all those earthy roots that filled us with a feeling of abundance throughout the winter (you’re probably thinking I must have fallen off the turnip truck with that statement), what we’re craving right now is a fresh green salad and maybe a little chocolate (now we’re being honest).
Course, had I planned ahead, I would have lettuce, spinach, and radishes ready by now. I confess, I’m not the most efficient gardener. BUT a quick inventory revealed several things growing in my back yard in spite of myself:
First, the intentional plants: those things I purposefully planted and counted on to provide something fresh in late February/early March:
The chard, admittedly, took a beating by the cold and rain, the rhubarb is not quite there yet, but the kale and collards are growing strong, along with a few volunteer purple mustards. Leeks could be pulled now, as could some of the elephant garlic scallions that seeded themselves (oops – not intentional – still good). Course, to many out there, these are no-brainers. The beets, though, I worried about, because I did not cover them with any kind of cloche, which I knew would just be eaten by the wind. The wind loves plastic about like I love chocolate, in case you didn’t know.
Herbs are looking good – particularly the Simon & Garfunkel quad: parsley, sage, rosemary, & thyme – as well as the big bay tree and the mints. Chives are sprouting, which excites me greatly, since we still have leftover potatoes. And my cat, Guy Noir, has found new batches of catnip. Useless kitty.
Then there are those things that add that element of surprise to the pre-spring table, which is everything listed so far PLUS lovage, cardoon, and French sorrel.
Not everyone grows these, but they should, if for no other reason than because they are so bold. Lovage smells strongly of celery and, I am told, was used by early European royalty in the bath as a natural deodorant; cardoon resembles its artichoke cousins (only you eat the stems, not the bulbs – and most certainly not the bitter leaves – although they won’t kill you, as I am currently testifying); and I imagine that sorrel, with its lemony tang, has undoubtedly saved many a wanton sailor from scurvy. Yes, I have quite the imagination, and I’m kind of unreasonably paranoid about this whole scurvy thing, obviously.
And then there are those things that grow of their own free will – no, no, not my entire garden – WILD things! Wild Greens. That’s what this post was supposed to be about until we got sidetracked by other things that are showing up through sheer tenacity and perseverance, qualities we should all embrace and consume!
A walk on the wild side à la Gibbons provides a plethora of savage plants that are not only true survivors, but also nutritional powerhouses: dandelions, mustards, purslane, chickweed, and nettles. I am sure there are more out there – but a little backyard grazing and my basket is already full! These add a lot of zing to soups & salads before the rest of the garden gets going. Embrace! Consume! Yes! Wild parties are the best! Now – ANY time! Eat Wild Greens!
Next post: some recipes with these early greens!