Spring has arrived!!! While the high mountains are still covered in a thick layer of snow, the valley floor is slowly turning green. Every day I discover a new sign of spring: a hazel shrub in bloom, an early spring flower showing off its colourful petals and little birds like black redstarts that have just returned from their migration. But perhaps the most exciting thing about spring are the edible plants that start popping up everywhere.
For the inhabitants of the Alps, edible plants have traditionally been an important source of vitamins and minerals. Especially in early spring, after a long and cold winter, edible plants proved to be an important addition to the spring diet. These days our supermarkets provide fresh vegetable year-round, but the vegetables in the supermarket can’t beat the ones you can collect yourself in the wild!
Here are five of my absolute favourite edible plants which are very easy to recognize and wonderful to cook with:
(If you are in any doubt about the plant that you are picking, don’t eat it!)
STINGING NETTLE (Urtica)
Stinging nettles lose their “sting” when dried or heated. The fresh leaves are wonderful in a soup and dried leaves make a delicious tea. The fresh leaves can also be used in sauces, quiches or as a stir-fry vegetable. Anyone who starts cooking with stinging nettles will be surprised at what a versatile vegetable it is. And besides, stinging nettles are extremely nutritious, packed with protein and vitamins.
GOOD-KING-HENRY (Chenopodium bonus-henricus)
Good-king-Henry is, just like stinging nettle, a versatile wild vegetable that can often be found on acidic soil (for example in a cow pasture). The plant is easy to recognize by touch for the little grains that you feel underneath the leaves. The leaves can be used as spinach; think of a quiche, stir-fry dish or in a beignet (fritter).
MEADOW SALSIFY (Tragopogon pratensis)
Meadow salsify is a very common, but beautiful yellow flower found alongside hiking trails. The elegant flower buds can be prepared as asparagus and are delicious with salads or in a stir-fry. Mix the buds for example with garlic and cherry tomatoes in a wok for a tasty stir-fry.
WOOD SORREL (Oxalis acetosella)
Wood sorrel likes to grow in humid and shady forests. You can enjoy it raw or cooked. The white flowers, just like the fresh green leaves, serve as wonderful decorations in a salad. The sour, fresh taste of the fresh leaves is also delicious during a mountain hike. However, wood sorrel (just like rhubarb and some other well-known edible plants) contains oxalic acid so don’t eat it in large quantities.
DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion is often seen as a weed, but the young green leaves make a wonderful base for a salad. If you’ve never tried a dandelion salad before, I’d say you should really try a fresh dandelion salad this spring. Don’t wait too long to pick your own: soon the leaves will turn horribly bitter.
Enjoy your edible plants!