When the marsh marigolds are in bloom, it is time to head to the woods with a pack basket to gather some wild foods. There are some delicious wild foods that pop almost as soon as the snow melts. I’ll describe four of my favorite spring wild foods below.
Ramps, or wild onions, are one of the most famous wild plants in Wisconsin’s woods. This plant, which looks a bit like a tulip without the flower, is a very tasty treat. The entire ramp plant can be dug up and eaten. To prep ramps for eating, just wash off the dirt and trim the roots. The flavor is a cross between onion and garlic. Ramps go great in omelets and with venison. Ramps can be picked and hung to dry for future use. Ramps can be found in hardwoods with a damp soil. Ramps are vulnerable to over harvest so the entire clump of ramps should never be taken. I always leave one or two ramps from every clump.
Watercress is another plant that is prime for harvesting in the spring. If you can find a cold clear spring in the spring, it may hold lots of watercress. It has a slight radish flavor that is great in salads and soups. I spray watercress with vinegar and rinse before eating to reduce the probability I am eating stuff like giardia.
Wild ginger is also in its prime in the spring. Ginger can be harvested from spring until late fall, but I think the flavor is best in the spring while it is flowering. Wild ginger is slung low to the ground and the roots are just under the surface of the soil. In the spring ginger has a small red flower. The root is the edible part of the plant. It can be used fresh, dried or ground up. It works great in pumpkin pie.
Late spring is the time to harvest the famous morel mushroom. This is probably the most commonly harvested mushroom and when it is in season, many people will be in the woods looking for dead elms and morels. Lesser known but equally delicious is the oyster mushroom, which also blooms in the late spring. These pearly white mushrooms prefer dead stumps and trees and grow in clumps. As always, when gathering wild mushrooms, make 200% certain you know what mushroom you are eating.
I’ll be publishing some ramp recipes under the Cook Shack page later.