I’m learning how to forage and spring is the best time to practice because there’s really not that much growing, yet. The spring edibles practically jump right out at you, bright patches of green against a still-brownish background, which is useful when you’re not terribly observant.
So far, I’ve correctly identified and not died eating wild garlic, mugwort, dandelion leaves, violets (flowers and leaves), and garlic mustard, most of which I just found in my yard. I made pesto out of the garlic mustard tonight. Not bad. Not bad at all. But the weirdest thing I’ve foraged by far was the Japanese knotweed. It was pointed out to me on a nature walk with the Waltham Land Trust not as something edible but as an aggressive invasive species that Frederick Law Olmsted planted all around Boston’s green space on account of its beauty, but which has since out-competed many native species and is now generally despised by ecologists.
Back at home, I double-checked my Russ Cohen foraging book (remember his wild edibles walk?) and, upon confirming its possible deliciousness, returned the next day to harvest some of the young shoots since I didn’t think anyone would mind. Even though Japanese knotweed is a member of the buckwheat family, the shoots look like asparagus meets rhubarb meets bamboo. The stalks are actually hollow like bamboo, so you need to pick twice as much as you think you’ll need and not peel it too deeply.
Raw, it tastes crisp and tart. Cooked, I had read that it resembles rhubarb in character, so I threw together a quick crumble like this one with a few apples, three of four stalks of sliced knotweed, and maybe ¼ cup sugar. Then I cobbled together a mixture of flour, oatmeal, almonds, pine nuts, maple sugar, and cold butter, dumped it on top, and baked it in a 375°F oven for 45 minutes. It was very good. Even Husband approved, who has not necessarily been enthusiastic about the foraging concept. The only downside is that unlike rhubarb, which cooks down to a rose color, knotweed cooks to an unappetizing light green. Snotweed is more like it. But if you smother it in enough vanilla ice cream, you won’t notice. I have some stalks in the freezer I’m saving for strawberry season.