Easily recognized by their trios of heart-shaped leaflets, the Wood Sorrels (Oxalis spp.) pack a sour punch enjoyed by just about everyone to whom I introduce these plants. According to Go Botany, of the seven species of Oxalis who grow in New England, four have yellow flowers (O. corniculata, O. dillenii, O. florida, and O. stricta) and three have white, pink, or purple flowers (O. intermedia, O. montana, and O. violacea). The species I usually see growing as weeds in flower beds and gardens have yellow flowers.
Unlike Clovers (Trifolium spp.) who often have round or oval leaflets-of-three, the leaves of the Wood Sorrels are uniquely divided into three heart-shaped leaflets. Notice how each leaflet is creased like a paper heart and may fold in half during the heat of the day. The leaves, flowers, and young fruits are all edible, with the latter having a pleasant sour crunch. The leaves are thin, so be sure to sample a few at once to be sure you get enough to detect their flavor.
In many foraging books, Wood Sorrel accounts are brief, but experienced forager John Kallas allocated 14 pages of his book Edible Wild Plants (2010) to this wild food and included numerous full-color photographs, handy preparation tips, and recipes for Wood Sorrel soup, sauce, and dessert topping. Angelyn Whitmeyer (Identify that Plant) recently published a post and video showcasing Oxalis stricta, the Common Yellow Wood Sorrel. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)
By late summer, Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) can lie under the radar. Having flowered and fruited en masse in the early part of spring, most plants you'll find in August will be all leaves. I've recently located plants with lush basal rosettes growing on the edges of cultivated fields.
Practiced foragers generally recommend that those new to consuming dandelion greens aim for the early, young leaves that are available prior to the plants flowering in spring -- as they tend to be less strongly bitter. But so long as I mix the leaves with milder components, I find the strong flavor of even late summer leaves to be a welcome treat. Dandelion greens have extremely high levels of vitamins and minerals, and in the right places they are large and abundant. Plus, they look delicious!
You may recognize Common Stitchwort (Stellaria media) by another of its names: Common Chickweed. When I was just learning about wild edibles many years ago, chickweed was a plant that everyone seemed to rave about. It took me some time to find my first patch growing wild, and have since had the pleasure of eating this plant many times.
Most of the patches of Common Stitchwort at the farm I frequent are small, but in the other places I've found it growing in terrific abundance. In the past, I've used it in place of sprouts on sandwiches, but these days I usually incorporate the plant into salads or simply snack on it plain. I gather the growing tips of this plant -- stems, leaves, flowers and all. I can't pass a patch without enjoying at least a nibble.
Check out my related Edible Farm Weeds posts covering Common Purslane, White Goosefoot, and Red-rooted Amaranth.
If you haven't met this plant while weeding a garden or helping out at a local farm, you'll want to take some time to get to know this weed. Red-rooted Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) is a delicious member of the same plant family as White Goosefoot and the cultivated spinach.
It has red pigment on its root and often grows in large groups. It is an annual that doesn't show up in quantity until the soil warms sufficiently. I started to gather Red-rooted Amaranth in mid-June this year.
I look for fast growing plants that have yet to produce flowers. In a good row at a local organic farm, I can gather a pound of this plant in just a few minutes – enough to last me several days.
Before consuming any wild food, I take care to positively identify the species by consulting trusted wild food resources – a crucial step that should not be dismissed. While some garden weeds are edible, others are most certainly not, and even edible plants have particularities (i.e., specific parts to be collected at specific times and prepared in specific ways) that need to be learned. If independent research doesn't give you total confidence, I recommend spending time with an experienced forager. Some things are best learned in the field.
Check out my related Edible Farm Weeds posts: Common Purslane and White Goosefoot.
White Goosefoot (Chenopodium album) -- known by many as Lamb's Quarters -- volunteers readily in garden beds and farm fields. While its aggressive growth may frustrate some farmers trying to foster domestic crops, I love harvesting these wild weeds that require no careful tending.
White Goosefoot has a distinctive, harmless white powder covering the growing tips, and the leaves remind some of a goose's foot, which together probably explain its common name.
After locating some healthy plants, I'll snap off the tender tops and side shoots. Once the flowers appear, leaves can still be picked from along the stems, but if younger plants are available, I find the growing tips to be more efficient to gather in quantity. If necessary, I'll wash my harvest and spin it dry, before bagging it up for the refrigerator. I find the greens stay in excellent shape for nearly a week, though I usually eat them within three days and simply gather more.
The leaves are fine to eat raw, but I like to cook them as a wild spinach. So long as the proper parts are gathered, White Goosefoot is just plain delicious.
Check out my related Edible Farm Weeds post: Common Purslane.