What to Forage in Spring: 20 Edible and Medicinal Plants and Fungi
Spring is the season of new beginnings and new growth. As the temperature starts to warm up and everything begins to thaw from the winter, spring foraging options increase! This is the time of year for fresh salad greens, tasty spring flowers and shoots, medicinal plants, and a few edible mushrooms. This list of what to forage in spring will help you get started on your spring foraging adventure! Quick Access Guide: DANDELION Dandelions are the quintessential spring foraging plant, with edible and medicinal flowers, leaves, and roots! They are super easy to identify, and any look-a-likes are edible and medicinal as well, so no worries there. Make dandelion salve with the flowers, dandelion pesto with the leaves, and dandelion root coffee with the roots. If you’re worried about harvesting dandelion blossoms in the spring because they might be food for bees, it’s actually not as big of a problem as it’s been made out to be. In fact, there are enough dandelions to go around, and picking them only makes them produce more flowers! (Read this post on flowers to plant for the bees). Read more about foraging for dandelions and foraging for dandelion root here. And find over 50 ways to use dandelions here. CHICKWEED Chickweed is a tasty edible green that comes up in early spring. In some milder locations it will even grow throughout winter. Once it warms up chickweed will die back, so be sure to get it while you can so that you can add it to salads or make chickweed pesto! Read more about foraging for chickweed here. MINER’S LETTUCE Miner’s Lettuce looks a bit like chickweed and is sometimes confused with it, but it is a different plant. It is a delicious salad green that grows wild in western states, but can be cultivated in other areas. Like chickweed, it prefers cooler temperatures and will sometimes grow right through the winter. Read more about foraging for miner’s lettuce here. WILD VIOLET Wild violets and their leaves are both edible and medicinal. They come up in early spring and are often the first flowers of the season, making them a lovely sight! They love cooler temperatures and will grow in the winter in warmer locations. Make violet flower infused vinegar or violet leaf balm with your foraged violets! Read more about foraging for wild violets here. CLOVER Both red and white clover are beneficial to us in many ways. The blossoms are sweet and edible, perfect for adding to baked goods or infusing into honey. Red clover is especially high in vitamins and minerals and makes a wonderful tea. Make these red clover biscuits or these strawberry white clover cookies! Learn more about red clover and white clover and their benefits here. FIDDLEHEADS Fiddleheads are fern leaves before they’ve unraveled, and they are usually only available for a few weeks in the springtime. The fiddleheads of the Ostrich fern are the most popular for foraging, as they are the tastiest. They have a flavor that is similar to asparagus and are excellent sauteed with butter and garlic. Some other varieties of ferns are also edible as fiddleheads, such as western sword fern, bracken fern, and lady fern. These should all be cooked before consuming. Some varieties of ferns are toxic, so be sure that you consult a guidebook and have a positive identification before harvesting. Read more about foraging and identifying fiddlehead ferns here. RAMPS Ramps are also called wild leeks and are in the same family as onions and garlic (Allium). They have a strong onion flavor and can be used just like you would use onions or garlic. They grow wild in the eastern United States and Canada. Ramps require special harvesting practices as they are becoming threatened in many areas. Read more about foraging and sustainably harvesting ramps here. CATTAIL SHOOTS (AND POLLEN) Cattails are known as the ultimate survival plant, as every part of the plant can be used in some way. The young shoots that come up in the spring are the tastiest part, resembling the flavor of a cucumber, and can be eaten raw. The yellow pollen that covers the flower spike in late spring or early summer makes a delicious foraged flour substitute. Make fermented cattail shoots or cattail pollen pasta! Read more about foraging for cattails and cattail pollen here. WILD ASPARAGUS Wild asparagus is one that I’ve never found myself, but would absolutely love to one day! They are found in patchy areas throughout the United States and Canada and are notoriously difficult to spot. Wild asparagus is just like regular garden asparagus in flavor—which means delicious! You can bet I’d make Fermented Asparagus & Garlic with it if I did find it! Read more about foraging for wild asparagus here. STINGING NETTLE Stinging nettle is one of my favorite plants to forage for in the springtime. They are usually pretty easy to find, but don’t forget to bring a pair of gloves for harvesting! Stinging nettle is a superfood that is packed full of vitamins and minerals. Cooking the plant will dispel its sting. Make this stinging nettle-ade recipe or these nettle chips with your foraged nettles! Learn more about foraging for stinging nettle here. DEAD NETTLE Dead nettle got its name because of its supposed resemblance to stinging nettle (I don’t see it) but without the sting. Purple dead nettle, which is pictured above, is the most common variety and is often found in backyards or gardens. It is perfect to add to a wild greens salad or pesto! Learn more about foraging for purple dead nettle here. HENBIT Henbit is in the same family as purple dead nettle, and they are often confused with one another. If you compare the two photos above you can really see the difference between them. This is another tasty green that can be added to salads or made into a wild pesto. Chickens love henbit too, which is where it got its name! Learn more about foraging for henbit here. GARLIC MUSTARD Garlic mustard is a prolific plant that is sometimes considered to be invasive. This means that you can and should harvest as much as you want! It has a strong garlicky flavor that is tamed by blanching. Make this garlic mustard pesto with your foraged greens! Learn more about foraging for garlic mustard here. WILLOW Most everyone is familiar with soft and fuzzy pussywillows that emerge in the springtime. Not everyone knows that willow is a highly medicinal tree! White willow bark in particular is a powerful pain reliever—it actually has the same compounds in it as aspirin! Make willow bark tea to help ease your aches and pains. Learn more about foraging for willow here. YARROW Yarrow is another highly medicinal plant that comes up in the spring. Its frilly, frond like leaves make it easy to identify. It is also technically edible, but is quite bitter so is most often used for medicinal purposes. Use yarrow for treating fevers and coughs, or to help stop bleeding. I also have this recipe for wild rose and yarrow soap! Be aware that yarrow can sometimes be misidentified for poison hemlock! Read more about foraging for yarrow here. PLANTAIN Plantain is both edible and medicinal, and is a very important herb to know about. There are two main varieties, broadleaf or narrowleaf, and both are beneficial. Young and tender leaves can be eaten raw and are highly nutritious. Older leaves can be added to soups and stews. Using plantain medicinally is as simple as chewing up a leaf and putting it on a bug bite, bee sting, or minor wound. It stops itchiness and helps to heal wounds. Read more about foraging for plantain here. CLEAVERS Cleavers is a plant that often surprises people with its medicinal properties! It is most well known for its habit of being a pesky garden weed and sticking to everything. Turns out that it’s highly nutritious and is good for the lymphatic system. It is edible, but I recommend blanching first to dispel the sticky hairs. Here are some great recipe ideas for using cleavers. Read more about foraging for cleavers here. MOREL MUSHROOMS Everyone gets excited about the thought of finding morel mushrooms during spring foraging forays. Maybe it’s because they have a relatively short season, or that they can be a bit elusive to find. Regardless, morels are some of the best mushrooms to forage for in the springtime! Be sure to use a mushroom guidebook whenever you are out mushroom hunting. Morels should be cooked before eating and can be used like any other mushroom in recipes. Try them simply sauteed or even deep fried! Learn more about foraging for morel mushrooms here. OYSTER MUSHROOMS Oyster mushrooms will grow spring through fall in many locations, and they are easy to identify because they always grow on trees or stumps (if it’s not growing from a tree, fallen log, or stump, it’s not an oyster mushroom!). They are also some of the tastiest wild mushrooms around. Be sure to use a mushroom guidebook whenever you are out mushroom hunting. Learn more about foraging for oyster mushrooms here. KING BOLETE MUSHROOMS (PORCINI) King boletes, also known as porcini mushrooms, are considered a delicacy in many places for good reason: they’re delicious! They are often found growing in the forest duff underneath conifer trees, and they start to emerge in the springtime. Boletes can sometimes be tricky to identify, be sure to use a mushroom guidebook whenever you are out mushroom hunting. Learn more about foraging for king bolete (porcini) mushrooms here. I hope this list has helped you learn what to forage in spring. It really is a great time of year to get outside and collect some wild plants and mushrooms. Happy spring foraging!