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       Cornelian cherry blossoms (Cornus mas) by wide eyed lib
When people who don't forage think about foraging, they have a mental image of some grizzled adventurer trekking into a pristine, remote forest and carting away bags of goodness-knows-what. So it surprises such people to learn that foraging can happen just about anywhere-- in a local park, an abandoned field, overgrown farm or even their own yards and gardens.

There are many advantages to foraging on your own land. You already know what, if anything, has been sprayed there, and you never have to worry about whether or not what you're doing is legal. Rather than throwing them on the compost heap, the weeds in your lawn and garden can be harvested to add nutrients and variety to your diet.

Join me on the other side of the doodle while I present a few common lawn and garden edibles.

Pictured: common mallow, common evening primrose, mullein, winter cress & common plantain

(As always, if you're new to foraging and want to give it a try, please read the first diary in the series as well as the linked diary for the full discussion of each plant. For a complete list of all plants covered in the series, click here.)

Common mallow

                         Common mallow by wide eyed lib
Not nearly as famous as its salty wetlands cousin marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), common mallow (Malva neglecta) is a common lawn pest all across North America. Although many people recognize it, few know that every part (leaves, stems, flowers, roots and fruits) is edible. The young greens make a nice addition to salads, and if added to soups, they have a slight thickening quality. If you can find the roots in any quantity, you might be able to use them to make a dessert similar to traditional marshmallows.

If you have children (or can borrow some), it's great fun to show them the fruits of common mallow in late Spring. Referred to as cheeses, they are flat discs about 1/4 inch across that greatly resemble miniature wheels of green cheese. They have a texture a bit like gummy bears, though they're not at all sweet. Kids love the size and chewy texture of mallow cheeses.

Learn more about how to identify and harvest common mallow here.

Common evening primrose

                    Common evening primrose by wide eyed lib
Even before I knew what it was, I admired common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis). Its precise, magenta-tinged and white ribbed leaves form some of the prettiest basal rosettes around during their first year. Then in their second year, they spring up to 6' tall before bursting with gorgeous, delicious-smelling yellow flowers. Then I learned that the young leaves and roots taste like radish, the flowers have a wonderfully sweet flavor, and the seeds contain large amounts of gamma-linolenic acid, a rare and very healthy fatty acid. All from a plant that people routinely dig up from their gardens as an unwanted pest.

Much more on how to identify, harvest and prepare common evening primrose (and related plants in the Oenothera genus) can be found here.


                         Mullein by wide eyed lib
Not so much edible as medicinal, mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is perhaps the most useful medicinal plant for the casual forager to know. Its soft leaves make wonderful sock inserts that soothe tired and sore feet, and pounded leaves make a great external poultice that relieves pain and helps prevent bruising and swelling. (In a pinch, the leaves also make great natural toilet paper.) A colorfast yellow dye can be made from the flowers, and tea made from the root quiets coughs and relieves sore throats.

Mullein loves disturbed ground (like your garden) but is also happy growing in very little soil. It's main requirements seem to be lots of sun and not too much water. I frequently see it sprouting from stone walls. Although it's non-native and extremely widespread, it rarely creates large colonies and generally isn't considered invasive.

Learn more about how to identify and use mullein here.

Winter cress

                           Winter cress by wide eyed lib
You don't have to know much about the mustard family to recognize that these highly shiny, pinnately compound leaves belong to a member. This is winter cress (Barbarea vulgaris), one of the most hardy mustards and generally the first to appear in Spring (with shepherd's purse [Capsella bursa-pastoris] not far behind).

Like all mustards (a family that includes agriculturally important crops like broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, and horseradish), all parts of winter cress are edible. The best part, though, is the young leaves. Winter cress leaves tastes like cabbage on steroids and its buds taste like strong broccoli. It's not a plant for the faint of heart. I personally prefer it blanched (sometimes twice) and then blended with milder veggies. However, I've met many people who really love the intense flavor of this plant and crave it every Spring.

Winter cress likes full sun and low-lying areas with plenty of water. Learn more about how to recognize and use it here.

Common plantain

                    Common plantain by wide eyed lib
Today's final plant is common plantain (Plantago major).  This super common lawn visitor features simple round leaves with parellel veins. Next to the various clovers, it's probably the most recognized non-grass found growing in lawns. Few people, though, seem to realize that it has edible and medicinal properties. The young leaves are a very nice addition to salads-- just rinse and toss them with other lettuces to enjoy their green flavor. As Spring proceeds, the veins get too stringy and make eating the leaves less pleasant, but crushed they make one of the best soothers out there for various bug bites. Finally, in Summer and Fall scrape the green seeds off the tall spikes and enjoy them raw or gently cooked. They taste a bit nutty and also have a gentle laxative action.

Learn more about common plantain here.

These plants are not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lawn and garden edibles. Others include various clovers, chickweed, dandelion, chicory, burdock, mugwort, wood sorrel, cleavers, various mints, violets, field garlic, lady's thumb and lamb's quarters-- all of which have been covered previously in this series. You can find out more about each from the complete index of plants.

Helpful foraging resources

If you'd like to learn more about foraging but missed the earlier diaries in the series, you can click here for the previous 49 installments, and here for RonV's 4 part mini-series on medicinal plants and how to use them. As always, please feel free to post photos in the comments and I'll do my best to help identify what you've found. (And if you find any errors, let me know.)

"Wildman" Steve Brill's site covers many edibles and includes nice drawings.

"Green" Deane Jordan's site is quite comprehensive and has color photos and stories about many plants.

Green Deane's foraging how-to clips on youtube each cover a single plant in reassuring detail.

Linda Runyon's site features only a few plants but has great deals on her dvd, wild cards and books (check out the package deals in particular).

Steve Brill's book, Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places is my primary foraging guide. (Read reviews here, but if you're feeling generous, please buy from Steve's website.)

Linda Runyon's book The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide contains especially detailed information about nutritional content and how to store and preserve wild foods.

Samuel Thayer’s book The Forager's Harvest is perhaps the finest resource out there for the 32 plants covered. The color photos and detailed harvest and preparation information are top-notch. His second book, Nature's Garden, is just as good. For an autographed copy of either book, order from Sam's website.

Steve Brill also offers guided foraging tours in NYC-area parks. Details and contact info are on his website.

Don Wiss’s website is a treasure trove featuring hundreds of photos of common northeastern edibles.

For well-sourced info on the medicinal uses of plants, Plants for a Future is a site I turn to time and time again.

Finally, the USDA plants database is a great place to look up info on all sorts of plants.

Originally posted to wide-eyed wanderings on Sun Apr 10, 2011 at 02:34 PM PDT.

Also republished by Environmental Foodies, Foraging, Living Simply, and Team DFH.

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