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Jessica’s Garden: Common Weed or Wild Edible?

Wild-Violet-Jelly
Wild Violet Jelly

Every year I learn a little more about greens and flowers I once considered weeds that are actually wild edibles.  As I am far from an expert, I tend to stick to wild edibles that are easily recognized with no look-alikes with unpleasant side effects. Before consuming anything from nature, be positive of its identification.

[A note from the Grumpy Old Editor: the other thing to be sure of is that the area you are harvesting from has not been treated with herbicides. Of course, Jessica is harvesting from her own land, which is an extension of her garden, so she knows she has Clean Greens.]

As a child, I remember picking gigantic bouquets of dandelions from our front field, which greatly resembled an untamed meadow. My mother always graciously provided a vase and I proudly displayed them until they were lifeless and clinging to the sides of the glass. And what child can’t resist them once they become white fluff-balls just asking to be blown into the wind?

However, in recent years I have learned there is much more to the dandelion than just a common and resilient weed. Both the blossoms and leaves are edible. During this time of year, the leaves are available for purchase in most health food markets. They can be cooked or eaten raw in salads. While I have admittedly never tried the leaves, I have however used the dandelion petals to make dandelion jelly. Once snipped from the green part of the blossom, the petals are steeped in hot water to extract the flavor.  After the extract is sweetened, the final jelly resembles honey in flavor and color.

I spent a few moments collecting about 8-10 cups of blossoms from the front yard, which is currently one large dandelion patch. And luckily only one neighbor caught me. As I do with most canning projects, I try to cut each project in half by prepping one day and canning another. It helps make canning less of an affair. With the dandelion jelly, I make the ‘tea’ from the petals one day, add lemon per recipe to preserve color from oxidizing and then freeze until I am ready to can it into jars. In regards to this particular jelly, the majority of the project is invested in prep time.

fresh-dandelion-flowers
Fresh Dandelion Flowers

I also harvested a basketful of dandelion leaves for the first time to try out a recipe I found for a dandelion tea blend. Among a few other ingredients, it combines dried dandelion leaves with dried mint leaves. After I dried them in an oven set on 215 degrees, they have been stored in an airtight container until I have enough homegrown mint to make the blend.

Grayson-helping-to-wash-the-dandelion-blossoms
Grayson Helping to Wash the Dandelion Blossoms

My son Grayson helped me pick several cups of wild violets from the back hillside. He was much more interested in snacking on the tasty little flowers than actually contributing his pickings towards the basket. But he still enjoyed the whole activity. The flowers and young leaves are edible and can be added to salads. Sometimes, I garnish desserts or cakes with the delicate and beautiful, tiny purple flowers.

fresh-wild-violets
Fresh Wild Violets

The flowers can be prepared very similarly to the dandelion petals to make wild violet jelly. Once steeped for about 20 minutes in hot water, the wild violet extract is a deep indigo blue. After the required lemon juice is added, it immediately turns a fierce and shocking shade of magenta; like a small kitchen science experiment. The resulting jelly is light and delicate and slightly floral. It is tasty on a warm biscuit or as a dollop on pound cake with fresh whipped cream.

morel-mushrooms
Wild Morel Mushrooms

My parents have an extensive patch of wild morel mushrooms we discovered several years ago. Last Spring’s harvest was incredible. They can be found in stores but are very expensive. My understanding is that they are not commercially grown and still only foraged.  They are absolutely delicious if you can acquire them. They are slightly nutty and tender. We usually prepare them by simply slicing in half to clean and dredging in cornmeal, then sauté in butter. This week, the first of the morels appeared and we are anxiously awaiting the rest of the patch to emerge.

As always, do not consume wild plants, particularly fungi or mushrooms, unless you are 100% certain in their identification. One tasty meal is not worth making it your last. However, I will say once all three of these wild edibles are positively identified or purchased from a market, they are worth trying.

Recipes for both jellies available on www.prairielandherbs.com

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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