Category Archives: Wild Edibles

Medicinal Weeds: Gill-over-the-ground

Photo of Gill-over-the-ground flowers

Familiar to many people as a spreading plant of lawns and fields, Glechoma hederacea is another so-called weed worth having a relationship with. Commonly known as Ground-ivy or Gill-over-the-ground, this adaptive perennial has all the features we've come to expect from a member of the Mint (Lamiaceae) family:

  • irregular flowers (that are bilaterally symmetrical)
  • opposite, simple leaves
  • and square (4-sided) stems

Like many Mints, Gill-over-the-ground is strongly aromatic due to the presence of a volatile oil. According to David Hoffman, an infusion or tincture of the dried flowering stems of Glechoma hederacea "may be used to treat catarrhal conditions whether in the sinus region or in the chest."¹ Jenny brewed me several cups of Gill-over-the-ground tea this spring, as she thought it would help with some ear congestion I was having. It did seem to help unclog my ears, but even when my symptoms faded, I still requested the drink because I enjoyed the flavor. Though Hoffman specifies using dried plant material, we used freshly picked tops.

Though not native to North America, Gill-over-the-ground is now widely established, absent only from a few states in the southwest.² To view the following images in full-size, click here.

¹Holistic Herbal (1990), p. 205 [plant listed as Ground-ivy (Nepeta hederacea)]

²USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=GLHE2, 23 June 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA

Foraging Wild Greens: Wild Leek

Photo of Wild Leek patch

I recently located my first local population of Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum). I'd probably driven past the patch hundreds of times without seeing it, but for some reason (perhaps the Wild Leeks poked my subconscious) one day earlier this month, I pulled over to investigate a lush green carpet. Up close, I quickly recognized this broad-leaved, native perennial of the Onion (Alliaceae) family. After confirming that the plant smelled and tasted strongly like garlic, I harvested about a dozen leaves for Jenny and me to enjoy over the next few days.

Photo of Wild Leeks

It's been several years since my introduction to Wild Leeks, also known as Ramps, which came during a foraging outing in western Maine with Arthur Haines. We moved mindfully through a river floodplain forest (there was plenty of Poison-ivy around) to find an expanse of Wild Leeks. We gathered just a few to season our evening soup. That soup, coupled with clay-baked, pit-cooked chicken made for a memorable meal!

Photo of Wild Edibles Soup

Foraging Wild Leeks requires more than just finding and properly identifying the species. Care must also be taken to ensure that foraging will not adversely affect the long-term viability of the population (in fact, it should enhance it). Thankfully, Arthur has shared vital life-cycle information and harvesting best practices for Wild Leeks in one of his books, as well as in an article called Conscientious Collection of Wild Leeks. Here are some takeaways from the article, though I recommend you read the whole thing yourself:

  • In spring, gather at most one leaf per plant -- do not gather bulbs, which are small at this time.
  • Avoid purchasing Wild Leeks from supermarkets in spring, as commercial harvesters typically dig entire plants.
  • Bulbs may be gathered in fall, if found in safe soils, if the population of plants allows for this lethal collection, and if coupled with spreading the species' newly ripened seeds in the disturbed soil.

Photo of Ancestral Plants by Arthur HainesAn additional piece of advice mentioned in volume 1 of Ancestral Plants (available as an eBook for only $11) is to cut off the root crown (the bottom part of the bulb) and replant it. In some cases, a Wild Leek can re-grow from such a cutting.

When done with care and respect, foraging is not just nourishing to the forager, but also beneficial to the plant communities being foraged. Thanks, Arthur, for your teachings on how to honor the lovely Wild Leek.

Low Tide Life: Atlantic Dogwinkle

Photo of Atlantic Dogwinkles

In addition to Common Periwinkles, I've eaten another local saltwater snail this year, the Atlantic Dogwinkle (Nucella lapillus). Also known as Dogwhelks, these native, pointy-shelled mollusks live in rocky, intertidal zones, alongside the non-native and often more numerous Common Periwinkles. Atlantic Dogwinkles come in a variety of colors (often white), have pointed spires (unlike the blunt spires of Common Periwinkles), and have a groove at the base of the shell opening.

Photo of Common Periwinkle vs. Atlantic Dogwinkle

Scouting out a low-tide Biddeford location, I was able to find areas with more Dogwinkles than Periwinkles, enough for me to feel comfortable harvesting a dozen to eat. After boiling them for a minute or two in saltwater, extracting them with a pin, and removing each operculum (the thin cover on their shell-opening), I enjoyed them as an oceany appetizer.

The top photo shows both snails -- Atlantic Dogwinkles (with white, pink, yellow and black shells) and Common Periwinkles (a light-tan one on left and a smaller, darker one on right). To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Tiny Flowers: Hairy Bitter-cress

Photo of Hairy Bitter-cress

Hairy Bitter-cress (Cardamine hirsuta) is another early blooming, tiny member of the Mustard (Brassicaceae) family. Native to parts of Europe and Asia, this weedy annual now grows in much of the United States. At just a few inches tall, you'll benefit from the use of a magnifying glass when trying to observe the features of this plant.

Photo of Hairy Bitter-cress leaf

Early in the year, from a cluster of pinnately divided, basal leaves, this hairy plant pushes up a stalk with alternating leaves and terminal white flowers which bloom and then develop into slender seed pods. The leaves, tender young shoots, flowers, and seeds are all edible and packed with a spicy-bitter, peppery punch. Eating just a single inch-long leaf left an impression on my palette for over an hour. This strong flavor makes Hairy Bitter-cress a good candidate to be mixed with other flavors as a salad component or treated as a wild condiment.

Photo of Hairy Bitter-cress flowers

Low Tide Life: Blue Mussel

Photo of Blue Mussels

Blue Mussels (Mytilus edulis) live along the New England coast in intertidal and subtidal waters. They anchor themselves by attaching their byssus filaments to a substrate, and in turn sometimes serve as anchors for seaweed. These bivalves are preyed upon by fish, other shellfish, humans, and birds, including Herring Gulls and Common Eiders.

Two inedible mussel species also live in coastal New England waters. Ribbed Mussels (Geukensia demissa) prefer salt marshes and mud flats, and have radially ribbed shell surfaces, while Horse Mussels are typically larger than Blue Mussels, and have a double-bump at the narrow end of each shell.

Mainers can collect two bushels of Blue Mussels per day for personal consumption without a license, though, according to a 2015 article, these marine bivalves have become scarce in places where they were formerly abundant. Wild harvested or cultured Blue Mussels are available at fish markets and grocery stores near me for $2-3 per pound. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)