A member of the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae), Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) is a widespread, resilient, and valuable herbaceous plant. In winter, the dead standing stalks of Curly Dock can help you notice where this plant likes to grow. Visit these places in spring and look for the plant's basal leaves, which feature crisped, or curly, margins, as the species name crispus describes.
Curly Dock has numerous edible and medicinal uses. I enjoy the young leaves as a cooked green. Other foragers report enjoying the tender leaves in their raw form, the seeds when ground and included in baked goods, and the young, peeled, boiled stalks. This plant is also known as Yellow Dock. This name refers to the yellow taproot, which can be tinctured (or otherwise prepared) and used for a variety of medicinal purposes. I've also made a quick poultice -- chewing up a leaf and applying it to the affected skin -- to relieve the sting of Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica).
American Trout-lily (Erythronium americanum) is an easily recognized native perennial plant who often grows in moist forest soils. Non-flowering plants produce a single leaf in spring, whereas flowering individuals have two -- one on either side of the flower stalk. American Trout-lily's water-resistant, mottled leaves are edible and make for a succulent raw snack or cooked vegetable. Also, the small bulbs can be unearthed, cleaned, boiled, and eaten.
If you find one plant, chances are you've found a hundred, as American Trout-lily tends to grow in dense clumps. As with any wild plant, only harvest when the impact of your gathering will not place undo stress on the local population. That said, your local stand may very well benefit from occasional, thoughtful thinning.
The young, heart-shaped leaves of American Linden (Tilia americana) -- also known as Basswood -- can be eaten like lettuce, straight from the tree. Indeed I sometimes call this species the Salad Tree. Lindens often send up shoots near the base of old trunks, making tender leaves easy to gather. Older leaves are not harmful, they simply develop a less desirable texture. By late June or early July (in New England), the tree's fragrant flowers can be gathered and used fresh or dried for a medicinal tea.
These are the leaves of Sheep Dock or Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella). The plant's pinky-sized leaves feature flared lobes and pack a sour punch (other names include Sour-weed and Sour Grass). They can be added to salads and soups, or dried and steeped for tea. For a thorough discussion of Sheep Dock, consult Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate by John Kallas. He devotes a dozen pages and more than a dozen vibrant photos to today's featured wild food. Among other tips, he recommends removing the stringy leaf stalks before chowing down.
Violets (Viola spp.) are familiar garden and lawn plants with edible leaves and flowers. Russ Cohen, a wild edible plant and mushroom forager who leads walks all over Massachusetts, writes in his book that all violets are edible, but my experience is limited to the common blue violet of lawns known as Viola sororia. Young leaves can be added to salads; older, tougher leaves can be lightly cooked and incorporated into meals.
I like to pinch the dark greens from their long petioles one by one and periodically pop a flower into my mouth. The flowers can be gathered in quantity for a decorative garnish or salad component, or can be used to flavor honey. For the latter, simply pack a jar with fresh blossoms, cover with raw honey, and let the combination meld for a few weeks.