Foraging 7 highly nutritious wild greens

Foraging is a term used to refer to picking or gathering wild plants for food.   Foraging reminds me of going back to our roots of hunter-gathering times.  While thousands of years ago gathering wild food was the way of life, in modern times it is mostly done as a hobby.  In some parts of the world such as Africa and South America, there are some communities that rely on wild foods as their primary source of sustenance.

There are many edible plants growing in the wild, but there are also many toxic plants in the wild.  My advice is never to go for trial and error, pick what you know.  Make sure you are absolutely sure the plant is what you think it is.  Apart from foraging for blackberries, my other foraging escapades are for greens.

Why do I forage? I mostly forage in order to diversify my foods and have a varied diet.  Wild greens are nutrient-dense foods. They have some phytonutrients that are not found in cultivated plants such as iceberg lettuce for example.  You eat “organic” without spending a penny and plus you spend time outdoors foraging which is not only great for physical health, but also for mental well-being.

Always make sure you are allowed to forage, where you choose to forage.  Ensure the plants you forage haven’t been exposed to excessive pollution.  Excessive pollution can be, fumes from vehicles if foraging by the roadside or pesticide and herbicide spraying.  Also, do not forage near waste as the plants may be contaminated.  Below are 7 of my favourite wild greens to forage.

Foraging stinging nettle

Stinging nettle grows in most places with sufficient rainfall.  In the UK nettle is a common weed and grows abundantly in woodlands, bushy areas or unmaintained gardens.   As the name suggests, stinging nettle causes irritation on the skin from the sharp hairs found on the leaves and stems.  These stings are inactivated once the food is cooked.

Nettles are best picked in early to mid-spring when the leaves are young.  You need a pair of gloves to protect your hands from the stings. I use ordinary rubber gloves.  Snip off the top of the plant. You could use a small knife to cut the tips or even kitchen scissors. Wash the nettle well before cooking it.

Foraging stinging nettle
Wild greens for foraging – Stinging nettle

Like any other greens, nettles can be sauteed. Fry a little bit of chopped garlic with oil and then add the nettle.  I pick large quantities of nettle in spring.  After washing them, I wilt them in a pot, cool them down, portion them into sandwich bags and freeze them for use at a later date.  My main use of nettle is simply as a green or I chop them up and make nettle risotto.

 Nutrients in stinging nettle

Stinging nettle is loaded with nutrients.  It is high in protein, calcium and iron, vitamin C. Interestingly, nettle contains high nutritional content compared to commonly farmed greens.  Nettles have a high level of phytonutrients.  Phytonutrients support health and immunity. Some are also antioxidants – Antioxidants support healthy ageing.

This is one plant worth foraging.  Its nutritional content is unrivalled, it is abundant and it’s free.

Foraging dandelion

I have always been fascinated by the name.  whenever I think of the plant, I think of a dandy lion. Name aside, this plant is a perennial weed.  Perennial means, it regrows every spring.  Dandelion grow almost everywhere. They grow on pavements or on the road if they get a chance.  I have some dandelion growing between bricks in my yard.  The plant has bright yellow flowers which bees love.

Foraging dandelion
Dandelion – great for foraging

The leaves, flowers and roots are all edible.  I use the young leaves for salad and the flowers as an ingredient in salads or for herbal tea.  The leaves are slightly bitter, but manageable bitterness.  The flowers bring vibrancy to salads.  You can sauté the leaves similarly to spinach or collard greens if you want to go for cooked.   I make a dandelion leaf omelette.  The root is used as a coffee substitute or also for making herbal tea.

When foraging this particular plant, I start off with my yard.  I pick the leaves from the plants growing between bricks in my yard.  If large quantities of flowers are needed, e.g. to dry for tea, I gather them in open fields. You wouldn’t miss the bright yellow flowers.

How do you pick the plant? If going for the flowers, that is easy, just snip the flower with minimal stalk.  Pick young leaves as they will be tender and less bitter than the older leaves.  You may need to use a knife or any other sharp instrument to pull out the roots if going for roots.

Nutrients in dandelion

Dandelions are packed with vitamins K, C, A, E and B vitamins.  They also contain minerals such as iron, copper, calcium, manganese and other minerals.  Dandelions are also loaded with antioxidants which neutralize free radicals.  The flowers are loaded with polyphenols which are important for heart and brain health as well as healthy ageing.

Another reason to incorporate dandelion into your diet is the health benefits of the plant.  In herbal medicine, dandelion is known for detoxifying the liver, regulating blood sugar, reducing cholesterol, aiding digestion, and boosting the immune system, among other benefits.  These medicinal benefits are attributed to the active bio compounds (the chemicals) in the plants.  The root of the plant is prebiotic.  It has insoluble fibre inulin which supports gut bacteria. The leaves are also good for gut bacteria.

Foraging broadleaf plantain & plantago/ribwort

These are quite hardy plants.  The broadleaf plaintain and the plantago, psyllium or ribwort are of the same family.  The broadleaf as the name suggests has broader leaves compared to the plantago. You are likely to see them on footpaths or by the footpath. You may see it emerging from cracks in the pavement.    It may also be growing as a weed in your garden or yard.

The young leaves can be used in a salad while older leaves are more suited for cooking.  Like many other greens, cooking is quite simple – sauté like spinach or add to your stews.   The leaves are also used for preparing herbal tea.  The stalks can be sauteed too.  Pick the stalks while young, before they start to flower so that they are tender.  Seeds are edible, but I haven’t tried them yet.

Foraging-Broadleaf plantain
Foraging broad leaf plantain.
Foraging - plantago/ribwort
Foraging – plantago or Ribwort

Nutrients in Broadleaf Plantain & plantago

The greens are rich in vitamins A, C and K. Minerals in the plant include potassium ad zinc., iron, selenium and calcium.  The plant contains a good number of antioxidants.  Its bioactive compounds such as alkaloids, flavonoids and phenolic acids are what give the plant its healing properties.

I was first introduced to the use of this plant as a herbal medicine years ago.  My daughter was ill with a croupy cough. My friend’s mum recommended I make some herbal tea using this plant for my daughter.  The tea offered some relief.    A bit of a disclaimer, I am not offering medical advice here. My recommendation is to always do your own research.

Foraging wild garlic

Wild garlic usually grows in temperate climates.  It starts appearing in woodlands in early spring and sometimes late winter.  The leaves can be eaten raw in salads or blended into a pesto.  Sautée or add wild garlic to stews or soups.  You can chop the leaves finely and use them for basting meat or fish. One of my favourite methods of consuming wild garlic is putting it in my omelette or scrambled egg.  BBC Good Food has a collection of recipes from pesto, soup, and meat condiments among others.   The flavour of wild garlic is milder compared to cultivated garlic.

Foraging - wild garlic
Foraging – wild garlic

Nutritional benefits of wild garlic

This wild food plant contains a good amount of vitamins A and C.  It also contains calcium, copper, iron and phosphorus. Wild garlic is also rich in antioxidants.  It is another plant to be added to your ingredient list.

Foraging common Mallow

Common mallow can be found growing in previously disturbed land or in the fields.  You can also find them growing by the roadside or near hedges.  Common is easily identifiable from the leaves and the flowers.  If you rub a leave between your fingers, it releases a slimy substance similar to okra. Mallow and okra belong to the same family of plants.  The leaves are circular in shape with 5 lobes.  My favourite cooking method of this green is sautéing.  When cooked, the leaves are softer than cooked spinach.

Foraging - common mallow
Foraging – Common mallow

Nutritional benefits of common mallow

The leaves are high in vitamins C and E. They are also high in magnesium and iron and have a good amount of calcium, manganese, copper and potassium.  Common mallow leaves are also loaded with antioxidants.

Foraging lambs quarters

Lambs quarters are related to spinach.  The weed grows in both temperate and tropical regions.  It tends to grow in previously disturbed land but you can also find it growing in fields and in hedgerows.  Other common names for this weed are white goosefoot or fat hen.

Lambs quarters are easy to identify, the leaves have a whitish tinge to them and feel powdery to the touch.  This green should be cooked before consumption due to the high levels of oxalic acid.  Spinach also contains oxalic acid but probably not as much as is found in the lamb’s quarters.  Like many of the other wild greens, the leaves of lambs quarters can be sauteed, boiled, and added to stir-fries or soup.  Cooked lambs quarter flavour is mild and similar to that of spinach.

Foraging - Lambs quarters
Foraging lambs quarters

Nutritional benefits of lambs quarters

This weed is packed with vitamins A, C, K and B-complex.  It is also a good source of calcium, manganese, iron, potassium and phosphorus. It is also a good source of fibre.

Foraging amaranth/pigweed

From personal experience, I haven’t encountered much amaranth in the UK compared to the other weeds aforementioned. I have foraged for it in Kenya and also in Romania.  The cooking method is similar to that of spinach – sauté, stir-fried with other vegetables. You can add them to stews or soups.  When cooked, the texture is similar to that of cooked spinach or lambs quarters There are various species of this plant, but they all look quite similar with some having a tinge of pink while others are completely green. The raw leaves from all the different types have a distinctive smell when rubbed.

Foraging - Amaranth
Foraging – Amaranth/Pigweed

Nutritional benefits of Amaranth/Pigweed

Amaranth is packed with vitamins A, C, K and B vitamins.  It is also a good source of calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and copper.  The leaves are also full of antioxidants which are great for the heart, the brain and also for antiaging.

There are many edible plants out there.  This is barely scratching the surface.  I focussed on plants that I have personally foraged.  I am still exploring and discovering new edible wild greens.