Let the wild rumpus begin!

Last week, Melissa Poe offered five tips on urban foraging--small measures that incorporate wild foods into diets in ways that are realistic and sustainable. Her fifth tip, to plant your own wild foods, is a great one for so many reasons. Often, wild foods can be expensive. Growing your own is not only an economical alternative, but as Poe points out, it’s a way of obtaining foods that simply aren’t available in most markets. Growing wild foods may also offer a way for people to connect with the foods they consume. According to Poe's research, “Actively relating to plants through harvesting and tending them is one way through which strong connections between foragers and plants growing in various urban spaces are formed.”

As one Seattle forager described:

"It’s an intimate connection. ... You can go out and you can appreciate [urban nature] and say ‘oh my, isn’t it pretty,’… but when you interact on this level, when it becomes part of your pantry, when it’s part of what you eat, now you have a relationship. You’re not an outsider observer. It’s not this ‘other’ thing. It’s part of you and you are part of it."

With those benefits in mind, here’s a few recipes using wild foods that are easy to grow:

Stinging nettles are often found in soups, teas, or pestos that can be used on pasta, fish or chicken. Unfortunately, stinging nettles can also live up to their name. Wildman Steve Brill, who has been leading foraging tours in the tri-state area since 1982, recommends picking them with gloves and if you do happen to get stung, he suggests using crushed jewelweed on the affected area as an antidote.

Stinging Nettle Pesto

(From Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life by Louisa Shafia via Splendid Table)

Makes approximately 3 cups


Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 pound stinging nettles

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup firmly packed grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese


Fill a large pot halfway full with water. Add 1/4 cup salt and bring to a boil.

Fill the sink or a large bowl with cold water. Using gloves or tongs, submerge the nettles in the water and let them sit for 5 minutes. Remove the nettles and discard the water. Wearing rubber gloves, pull the leaves from the stems and discard the stems.Put the nettles in the boiling water and boil for 1 minute. Drain and spread the nettles on a baking sheet. Let cool completely. Squeeze out as much of the water as possible and coarsely chop.

Place the nettles in the bowl of a food processor with the mint, garlic, pine nuts, and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Process until the mixture has formed a paste. With the machine running, pour in the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

With leaves that are edible, flowers that can be stuffed, and pods that could be pickled, nasturtiums are a versatile plant. Ava Chin, author of wild edibles column for The New York Times and the new book Eating Wildly: Foraging for Love, Life, and the Perfect Meal, suggests adding them to a salad. “Nasturtium adds a zingy, peppery kick to any summer salad—plus, it's just plain gorgeous against leafy greens” she says. In addition to being delicious, they have an added nutritional benefit, too. According to Chin, “Incorporating wild foods into your diet is a great way of gaining the phytonutrients that have otherwise been bred out of our industrialized foods.”

A salad of wild field greens with nasturtiums goes well with this dressing, which is a wonderful way of using up some herbs, if you’re growing those, too.

Green Goddess Dressing

(via Bon Appetit)

Servings: Makes About Two Cups


1/2 ripe medium avocado (about 7 ounces)

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 oil-packed anchovy, very finely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1/4 teaspoon sugar

3/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1 small shallot, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)

Blend first 7 ingredients in processor until coarse puree forms. With machine running, gradually add oil through feed tube; blend well. Transfer mixture to bowl; whisk in cream.

Add parsley, tarragon, cilantro, basil, and shallot; whisk to combine. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Cover and chill at least 3 hours (dressing will separate if not chilled). Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes and rewhisk before serving.

DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

Are wild strawberries really wild? Will they scratch an adult, will they snap at a child? Should you pet them, or let them run free where they roam? from Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends

Fortunately, I haven’t heard of any injuries from wild strawberries. And while you could pet them or let them run free, eating them might be an even better option. Though it’s practically impossible to improve on an Alice Waters recipe, the only way it may happen is by using wild strawberries in her version of strawberry shortcake.

Alice Waters Strawberry Shortcake

(from The Art of Simple Food)

Six Servings

Hull and slice:

4 Cups (*wild) strawberries

Stir in:

1/4 Cup Sugar

Purée one quarter of the strawberry mixture. Stir the purée back into the sliced strawberries and let sit for 15 minutes.

Combine in a bowl:

1 Cup Heavy Cream

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste

Whip together, until the cream just holds a soft shape. Slice in half:

6 baked two inch cream biscuits

Place the biscuit bottoms on serving plates. Over each biscuit, spoon strawberries and a dollop of the flavored whipped cream. Top with the other biscuit half and dust with:

Powdered Sugar (optional)

Serve immediately.

According to the Drunken Botanist, all booze is botanically based. She suggests growing a cocktail garden--this idea could be used with many recipes, including this one with the addition of wild fennel.

Golden Bowl

(via the New York Times)


1 1-inch piece fresh ginger root

1 cup superfine sugar

Tiny pinch kosher salt

1 tablespoon finely chopped (*wild) fennel fronds, including stems, preferably bronze fennel, plus a sprig for garnish

2 ounces rye whiskey, preferably Old Overholt

3/4 ounce fresh orange juice

1/2 teaspoon absinthe, preferably Kubler

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice


Finely grate the ginger, wrap it in cheesecloth and squeeze out the juice.

Make simple syrup by combining the superfine sugar with 1 cup water in a jar; shake until sugar is dissolved. (This will keep in the refrigerator for weeks.)

In a mixing glass, muddle salt and fennel fronds. Add whiskey, orange juice, 1 teaspoon simple syrup, absinthe, lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of the ginger juice. Fill mixing glass 2/3 full of ice and shake vigorously. Taste and add more simple syrup if you like.

Using a fine mesh strainer, pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of fennel fronds.


Image Credits: All photos taken by author.