When Foraging For Wild Edibles, Always Identify Before You Try

May 2, 2021

If you forage for wild leeks, ramps and other wild edibles growing right now, it is imperative that you heed caution and know proper wild edible identification.

This helps ensure you stay safe and the wild edibles can continue to thrive. It's best to adopt some best practices when out looking for these delicious bits of nature in the springtime. 

Before you begin, consider whether you have permission to be on someone else's land when you are out foraging! Be mindful of signage and property lines and if there is any doubt, ask first.

Once you are out in the forests and fields, always properly identify the plant you're foraging. If you've harvested a new wild edible that you haven't yet tried, only consume a small amount. This way, you can check your body's reaction as you may have an allergy that you’re unaware of!

Lastly, harvest sustainably. Whether it’s wintercress, ramps or other wild edibles, pick only what you’ll consume and leave plenty so the plant can flourish again next spring.

When it comes to identifying these wild greens, some, like dandelion greens, are immediately recognizable because they are so common. But ramps or wild leeks have toxic look-alikes called false hellebore. Consuming these can make you very sick and even land you in the hospital.

Wintercress is one wild edible that is ready to harvest right now. This plant has dark green, spoon-shaped leaves and a bitter taste. Its flavor is somewhat similar to some Asian bitter greens. Wintercress will go to flower soon, so forage for them now.

Dandelion greens taste best when they are tender, so try to harvest these before they flower. Try looking for these greens under a shrub or forage for plants growing in part shade as they may be more tender.

Q: I find myself trying to second-guess the instructions to plant seeds directly into the ground when all danger of frost is past, which is when? Then there’s the taking of the houseplants outside. Is that Memorial Day, Bastille Day or Independence Day? And when is it too late to drop in that second batch of seeds for late peas and radishes? — Anita, in Wardsboro

Knowing which crops to plant and when to plant them can be a bit confusing. Based on your location in Wardsboro, your "after the last frost" timeline is somewhere in between Mother's Day and Memorial Day. Use this timing window to plant most vegetables in your garden or raised beds.

However, you can plant cold-season plants now. The veggies in that group are things like peas and kale, and brassicas like cauliflower, broccoli and cabbages. You can also put root crops like carrots and beets in your gardens and raised beds now, too. 

Warmer season crops should be planted in June. Those crops include plants like tomatoes, peppers, squashes and cucumbers.

As for crops that you'll harvest in fall, like another round of peas, plan for the end of July and early August and they’ll be ready to harvest in September.

There are lots of great online resources to help make sense of timing, too.

And recently, All Things Gardening listener Rose in Lyndonville called in with a reminder and a warning. She wanted to alert folks who have pets and companion animals to keep them far away from any backyard compost.

Rose had quite a scare when their dog got into the garden compost pile and then ended up very sick from the mold toxicity. If you have pets or animals visit your home, do make sure to cover your compost pile or do your best to keep pets away.

Next week is Mother's Day so please share some of your favorite Mother's Day flowers and plants!

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Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

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