Backyard Wilderness Blog
April 2013
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The ability ancient foragers to identify wild plants in early spring and discern whether they were edible or poisonous meant continued survival for early peoples all over the world. While most plants are easy to recognize when they flower, many are edible only as early spring sprouts, becoming too bitter and even developing poisonous toxins as they mature. Great care must be taken when foraging for early spring edibles, as there are a few deadly poisonous look-a-likes at this time of year! Knowing inherent characteristics of early edibles, such as their preferred habitat and location, time of emergence, color, leaf shape, vein patterns, and stem structure can aid identification.
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Stinging nettles, Urtica dioica, cherished because they are packed with vitamins and minerals, are easiest to harvest when first sprouting, because there are less "needles." However, they are much harder to identify at this time resembling a number of other plants. The photo above was taken at McCrae Farm Park on intervale land along the Winooski River in Colchester Vt, an area foraged by native peoples who returned here most every spring for thousands of years. Caution! At this stage these nettles resemble deadly poisonous Aconitum or Monkshood!
The photo above shows Virginia Waterleaf, Hydrophyllum virginianum, known as Shawnee salad. A water-loving plant it grows along rivers and large streams, and was eaten by first peoples throughout eastern North America.
A native plant of eastern North America, Waterleaf flower pollen attracts a large number of bumblebees and is important for maintaining species diversity.
There are few edible fungi available in early spring, as most appear mid-summer through autumn, but Polyporous squamosus, a bracket fungus popularly known as Dryad's Saddle or Pheasantback, is best when harvested early. They are usually found growing on dying maple trees or logs. The photo below shows one just "sprouting," on April 20. Observe utmost caution when foraging all fungi. Be sure to use a reliable field guide for accurate identity. Many fungi are deadly!
note: Click below on Home icon to see a photo of a mature Dryad's Saddle Polypore in the lower left corner of the page...
Would you recognize Marsh Marigolds, Caltha palustris, before they flower? Always found growing in or next to moving water, the leaves, called Cowslips by early colonists, are delicious, but edible ONLY when carefully prepared to remove toxins.
note: see photo of Marsh Marigolds flowering on our homepage...