Eat your weeds: making wild salad with edible wild plants
Wild salads are what inspired my interest in herbal medicine and nutrition in the first place. I wanted to be able to look around my yard and know what to eat.
I find that this practice reinforces my connection to the land on which I dwell and, over the years, wild edibles have added to my relationship to the divine as well. I find that the sacred and our bodies are one and the same; the experience of harvesting and eating these gifts of the Earth is deeply nourishing—physically, and spiritually.
How to make a wild salad
Making these salads is easy once you get the hang of it. Of course, it's imperative to positively identify any wild edibles before eating them. And when in doubt, consult one who knows.
When I gather the leaves, I collect only the vibrant leaves near the top of the plant. This way they are free of dirt, washed by the rain, and can be added directly to my salad bowl without the need to be sorted or cleaned.
Your wild salad can be constructed entirely outdoors, with no washing or pruning required. Bring your bowl or basket with you to gather your edible weeds; harvest the clean, vibrant green leaves and break them into bite-sized pieces.
Back inside, feel free to top with any nuts, sweet onion slices, or cheese crumbles that you enjoy. Since almost all store-bought salad dressings are made with low-quality oils, I like to dress mine with a simple homemade mixture of olive oil, with a favorite vinegar, garlic (powder or minced), and a pinch of salt.
Out looking for weeds to eat
To make an simple wild salad, I usually pick one mild-tasting, wild edible herb for the foundation -- like chickweed, violet, or lambsquarters. Of course, it's fine to mix in some fresh, local spinach or lettuce leaves to get you started.
Then throw in smaller quantities of dandelion leaves, ox-eye daisy leaves, red clover blossoms and/or other strong-flavored wild edibles that you’re familiar with. If you have violet or dandelion blossoms blooming nearby, by all means, garnish your salad with those beautiful blossoms!
For example, each spring as I begin to clearing a space for my garden. I'm always delighted to see that the edible weeds are already up, ready to harvest for the salad bowl.
Like mine, your yard may blossom purple in March, with some combination of two common wild weedy edibles: violet and ground ivy.
I love making salad with the violet leaves and flowers, adding small bits of leaves from the aromatic ground ivy, daughter of the mint family.
I also pick dandelion leaves for my stir fries and wild salads, breaking up the young leaves to distribute their strong flavor. Keep an eye out for the dandelion flowers which are just beginning to bloom, to top off dishes with her sweet flower heads.
As we pay attention to the seasons of the plants, the natural cycles remind us . . . we are following a long tradition of our grandmothers’ grandmothers who watched these cycles of moon and sun through the generations. Including incorporating many of these spring wild plants into their soups and salads. What are the top herbs I turn to for my springtime salads?
Chickweed as a foundation for wild salads
Chickweed lays the foundation of my wild spring salads. Her tender leaves are mildly flavored and full of nutrients, containing an abundance of vitamin C and chlorophyll. If you're lucky, chickweed (known to botanists as Stellaria media) will have already made herself at home in your garden beds and planters, as she has in mine.
If you're not sure that what you have is chickweed, look for a line of hairs running along just one side of the stem. (The star lady's hairs are tiny, so you may need a magnifying glass for this.) Chickweed is my favorite salad green. It tastes just the way it looks: mild, gentle and bright green. The easiest way to harvest chickweed is with scissors, as if you were giving it a haircut (leave the lower portion of the plant so it can continue producing).
Chickweed loves cool, wet weather, so she becomes lush in spring and fall. Later in the spring, chickweed's "star in the middle" shows white and bright. In summer, chickweed dies down to a brown, stringy mat, her seeds packed into beak-shaped pods. That's the time to gather the whole plants, which contains the seeds, and lay them over any of your own garden beds where you want to cultivate this wonderful weed.
Peppercress to top it off
In the early cool days of spring, my heart flutters at my first glimpses of peppercress, poking between the cracks in the pavement or peeking out at the edge of my gardens. You've probably seen peppercress, an edible wild mustard green that's related to broccoli, with its four tiny white petals on each flower.
Peppercress is one of the first of the wild edibles to reveal herself to us after the dormant season. She’s a member of a very large and distinguished family—brassicas, also known by the Latin name Brassicaceae—that includes distant relatives such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, collards and cauliflower, as well as closer kin such as mustard greens.
As we learn the family connections of wild plants, their lineage will often give us clues to their nutritional and medicinal properties. Brassicas are almost universally edible and once you become familiar with their traits, you can safely try them to see if you like the flavor.
The flowers of the Brassicaceae family set them apart. They have 4 petals and, inside the flower, if you look closely, you will find six stamens: 4 tall and 2 short—a distinctive characteristic of the family. The seed pods occur in a radial pattern around the stalk. In the case of peppercress, they are very long, thin and green, like a mustard seed.
Peppercress is a weedy, social plant; it grows in borders and yards, so you don’t have go foraging in the woods to find it. I love to enjoy its peppery bite, as a snack by itself or in the first wild-crafted salads of the year, mixed with some chickweed—also an early arrival.
Wild plants, wild women!
Wild salads—full of shades of green leaves, and colorful flowers—indeed nourish me physically, but they also nourish me with their earthy beauty. I’m joyful when I see them on my table and the tables in my community, knowing that both body and spirit are being fed.
Enjoy your fresh, delicious, nutritious bounty . . . and remember: wild plants make wild women!
Corinna Wood, seasoned teacher and mentor along the wise woman path–from herbs to self love
"I was initiated into the Wise Woman Tradition at the tender age of 22, by Susun Weed and a beloved patch of nettles. Today, I support women with inner growth and healing tools to ground you in your own innate wisdom, needs and desires. My teachings on heart and soul healing draw on earth wisdom of our foremothers––the shoulders on which we stand––to navigate the challenges we face as women in the world today."