April Foraging Guide
by Nai'a LeDain
Spring is the best time for getting out to forage. Hikes become a little scavenger hunt for herbal goodies to bring home and cook up - yum! All of the blossoms begin to wake up as the sun gives us more light each day. The bees are foraging on cherry and apple blossoms, skunk cabbage, dandelions, crocuses, and maple blossoms to come! Below is a quick list of some of my favorite foraging plants this time of year as well as some recipes and products that utilize these plants. If you harvest this spring, be sure to use ethical foraging practices, leaving plenty of plants and harvesting for regrowth whenever possible. If you're a newbie, make time to go with a seasoned forager to help learn correct identification of native plants.
Stinging nettle is a staple of the Pacific Northwest. Its notable sting is something I learned about long before I learned about its medicinal properties. Running through boggy trails and coming away with little painful bumps on my shins and wrists. To avoid the sting, be sure to harvest with gloves and note that a little sting won't hurt for long and a little honey can really help reduce the pain of this rash. Nettle is an iron-rich plant and is packed with many vitamins and minerals. It is very helpful for spring allergies and to fight off seasonal colds. Harvest as young as you can and cut near to the ground, leaving a few leaves on the base of the plant to encourage regrowth. Every year I make at least two recipes with nettle, a tincture for friends and family to stave off their allergies, and a pistachio nettle pesto.
Pistachio Nettle Pesto
Lightly blanch nettles in a pot of boiling water then allow to lightly dry off excess water. In a food processor pulse salt, pepper, pistachios, & garlic. Then, add your nettles, olive oil, and parmesan. Add water a Tbsp at a time as needed. Enjoy!
1 large bunch of cleaned nettles
⅓ cup raw pistachios
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
1oz. Parmesan, finely grated, plus more for serving
The bright yellow burst of the dandelion flowers is some of the first specs of color after the dark winter. Known commonly as a plant pest to some and an essential yearly harvest to others. It's an herb perfect for beginners because it's pretty early to identify and you can process and use the whole plant to reap many benefits. Dandelion is highly nutritious and full of antioxidants. Dandelion root is great for digestive health and the roots can be roasted to make a rich coffee-like tea. Once the blossoms are in full bloom, dandelion petals make bright cupcakes, muffins, or other bakes. I love this recipe from Grow Forage Cook Ferment.
In this area of the Pacific Northwest, you can find two varieties of horsetail, Giant horsetail & field horsetail. These curious-looking plants grow tall with spindly leaves. They add excitement to trails along creek beds or in marshlands. Horsetail contains silicon which can help strengthen bone and hair. It stir-fries very well or adds some spunk to a salad.
Wild mint is such a treat to find. On my semi-annual Oregon Country Fair adventure with my partner, the wild mint that grows in the fields of Oregon is a glorious memory. Its smell wafts through the air with the smell of fresh-cut hay and grass. If you find a wild-growing patch of mint, harvest it carefully, leaving plenty of plants for regrowth. You can find many varieties of mint growing wildly. I've found peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, & lemon balm while hiking the trails here in Washington. There are so many things to do with wild mint from drinks to deserts or even in a skincare infusion. I use local and *sometimes* wild foraged mint in my Rose Mint Balm.
These are juicy fairy portals that litter the forest floor here in Washington every spring. After a quick blanch, they are a favorite green to add to a stir fry or lemony pasta. Fiddlehead ferns are rich in iron, potassium, & omega-3. It's important to cook them for at least 5 minutes before eating to get rid of trace toxins and to reduce their bitterness. Some pasta, fiddlehead ferns, horsetail, nettle pesto, and parmesan make a delicious, wild-foraged pasta.