Forager's Notebook: Root Foraging
Mud season is upon us. Storage crops have dwindled and greens are sparse. We are all waiting for the salad days of midsummer. But there is no need to wait; let me offer a solution: roots.
The loose soil of May makes for easy digging, and for now wild edible roots are tender - this will not last. The number of in-season wild plants that are met with disdain is curious. Wild roots offer so many virtues as food and medicine; to sum up my feelings, “We spend millions on herbicides to kill dandelions in our lawns, while we pay millions more for diet supplements to give ourselves the vitamins and minerals that dandelions could easily furnish.” - Euell Gibbons
Instead of herbicides, take your pent up winter energy, go out to your garden, and dig up roots. They will be considered a nuisance once your vegetables have been planted. There is a plethora to forage during this season, but I would like to introduce you to the power couple among foragable roots in our region: Dandelion and Burdock.
If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em. I implore you - learn to love the Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). It’s a classic spring green and cleansing tonic herb. It can be bitter, but that bite is in our taste buds’ repertoire for a reason. Bitter flavor is essential for digestion and detoxifying blood and vital organs. It stimulates the digestive juices. It’s true, whenever I think about Dandelion greens I immediately salivate. Bitter greens in springtime clear winter stagnation. You are due for an internal spring cleaning.
All parts of Dandelion are edible. Roots, as a cooked vegetable, in tea, coffee, beer, cordial, vinegar, even bathwater. Young greens are delicious in salads, sautées, soup, teas, pesto, juices, and smoothies. Enjoy blossoms in pickles, wine, beer, salads, honey, jams, and fritters. Crowns are delicious cooked and stems can be nibbled raw or as a boiled ‘noodle.’
Alongside Dandelion, Burdock (Arctium lappa or A.minus) is one of the safest and most trusted plants, used worldwide as a detoxifying herb and a staple food. The peeled leaf stalks taste like celery, while young leaves taste bitter, and the seeds yield edible sprouts. Native to Asia, called “Gobo” in Japan, burdock is cultivated for its roots. It’s featured in popular dishes like “Kinpira Gobo,” braised with carrots, soy, sugar, mirin, and sesame. It’s pickled for sushi, or fried like potato chips. There is a staple soft drink in the UK, “Dandelion & Burdock” (similar to our Moxie) that has remained largely unchanged since medieval times when it was likely used medicinally. Italians prize the young flower stalks, which they call “Carduni,” peeled, parboiled, breaded, and fried; they taste like artichoke heart.
When foraging, identification is ESSENTIAL. Please visit www.edibleseacoast.com for a list of trustworthy resources, and always be certain of what you are eating BEFORE you eat it. As with anything you’ve never tried, consume a small amount first and wait a day to make sure it agrees with you. Don’t be scared – just be diligent.
Best from the Field, Jenna Rozelle
P.S. Any place you can have fire, you can wrap your meal in a large Burdock leaf, like tin foil, and cook on coals. The more you know...