Early spring brings a bounty of unusual ingredients. Parsnips, ramps, and fiddlehead ferns are a few of the first vegetables to become available to seasonal vegetable lovers.
Ramps and fiddlehead ferns grow wild and are harvested and sold by both farmers and foragers. Ramps are particularly well suited to the chillier growing conditions in the Adirondacks where they grow wild in large fields.
A close cousin to ramps, wild chives are the smallest member of the onion family and grow everywhere in New York state – from upscale herb farms to the cracks in the sidewalks of inner city neighborhoods. Chives are an essential ingredient in the French herb blend known as “fines herbes” which also includes tarragon, chervil and parsley. Add chives to a pot with some fish and potatoes for a simple and delicious stew.
Chives are hearty and need little attention when grown in herb gardens. They are perennial, multiply quickly and easily, and will migrate to other areas that are not in their immediate growing area. Try freezing large quantities of surplus chives to enjoy in the winter months – their flavor degrades very little through the freezing process.
Some greens that can be foraged relatively easily include stinging nettles and dandelions. Both are regarded as annoying weeds in lawns and gardens but are in fact edible and delicious. Stinging nettles are at their best in the early spring when other cooking greens still haven’t hit the markets. The tender shoots have a deep rich flavor, much like spinach (some nettle enthusiasts swear that nettles actually have the hint of lobster in their aroma). Cooking, crushing, chopping and drying completely neutralizes the stinging toxins in the plant. Nettles should not be eaten after they flower because the leaves develop gritty particles that can be rough on the digestive system.
For a hearty broth, simmer nettles in water with potatoes and chives. Dried nettle leaves and flowers can be brewed as an herbal tea.
Dandelion greens have a pleasantly bitter taste and can be eaten raw or quickly sauteed like spinach. Smaller younger leaves are enjoyable in salads, while older leaves are better suited to braising. Recipes for Dandelion flowers include dandelion wine and dandelion flower jam. Ground and roasted dandelion root can be brewed as a drink that is similar to coffee.
Other ingredients that are growing wild in New York state and can be found with a little exploring include Morel mushrooms, black cap berries, currants, and rhubarb.
Dried nettle leaves are available from:
The Healing Plant Camphill Village USA, Inc.
84 Camphill Road
Copake NY 12516
For commercially grown dandelion greens try:
Jean-Paul Courtens and Jody Bolluyt
2501 Route 9H
For fresh chives and other herbs, try:
Ruth and Vic Ambrose, Peter and Virginia Ambrose
Old Barrington Road
518-851-9898 or 518-851-7515
Open daily 9am-5pm
Wellington’s Herbs and Spices
649 Rickard Hill Road
Schoharie, NY 12157
Open: Wed.-Sat. 10am-4pm, Sunday 11:30am-4pm