Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)
This delicate, succulent member of the Montiaceae family grows in shady places, first appearing in late January or early February. Young plants have rounded triangular leaves (this is when they are at their tenderest); as they mature a flower grows up from the leaves. This delicate green is high in vitamin C (100 grams of it contains 30% of your recommended daily allowance), vitamin A and iron. Eat it fresh, as in a salad, to keep vitamin C concentration high, optimizing immune support and general health.
Blackberry Leaf (here, Rubus armeniacus or Himalayan blackberry)
This hardy, invasive plant can likely be found in a neighborhood near you. In the late summer it offers us delicious deep purple berries full of antioxidants anthocyanin, catechins and flavonols, in addition to vitamin C and K, and soluble fiber. However, the young blackberry leaves found in the spring have been found to have even higher amounts of antioxidants than the berries! Blackberry leaves are high in anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory anthocyanins, quercetin, and kaempherol, and can be made into a tea. Such a tea has also been found to lower blood sugar.
Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum)
A wild member of the Brassicaceae family, this entirely edible crucifer is full of nutrient. In the spring, the new leaves are tender enough to be eaten raw; as they mature, they toughen and are best sauteed or in soups. Their lovely four petaled flowers (in the shape of a "cross" from which the cruciferous family gets its name) are also edible, with a similar spicy flavor with a sweet undertone. The greens are full of Vitamin A and B, and the edible roots (take off the tough outer layer) is rich in vitamin B, C and minerals.
Nasturtium (Trapaeolum majus)
Nasturtium is a a beauty. Her leaves, saucer-like and veined, bead water drops into gemlike adornment. Her flowers, in shades of rich oranges, yellows and sometimes crimson, can draw you into the depths of appreciation of beautiful, extravagant detail. And every part of this beautiful, climbing, cascading plant is edible and nourishing, and spicy sweet. Both leaves and petals are rich in vitamin C; the flowers are rich in beta carotene. Its bitter spicy flavor stimulates the digestive system, supports detoxifcation pathways, and supports healthy blood sugar levels. Add either to a salad, or make a nourishing pesto or hummus and roll it up inside of the leaf.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettle is both nutritive and medicinal, high in vitamin A (a serving [how much is “a serving?”] contains 90-100% of the recommended daily amount) protein, calcium, iron, B vitamins, vitamin K, magnesium and potassium. It also contains anti-oxidative polyphenols like quercetin and flavonoids, along with beta-carotene and lutein. Gather this beneficial plant with respect, gratitude, and gloves. Its sting is inactivated by sauteeing, blanching, simmering in soup, blending into a pesto, or making into tea. Harvest in the spring when it is below the knee and before it has gone to seed, after which the chemical composition of the leaves shifts and may be a little hard on the kidneys.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow is known to many as a useful, and beautiful, medicinal herb. However, the young, tender spring leaves and new flowers are also edible. Like so many other beneficial wild plants, its flavor quality is bitter, and it is full of antioxidative flavonoids (kaempferol, luteolin and apigenin), and alkaloids. Add a little to your salad, nibble on the leaf or take it as a tea for digestive support.
People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not ingest yarrow; people on blood thinners or with bleeding disorders should also avoid yarrow as it may increase bleeding.
Yerba buena (Satureja douglasii)
This beautiful creeping, heavenly smelling mint family member can be found in dappled glades and under coyote bush in our coastal scrub ecology. It has been used medicinally by indigenous people in North America to support respiratory health, to decrease
inflammation and pain, and to support digestion and dispel gas. It is rich in antioxidants such as quercetin, limonene, and catechin, and has a relaxing effect on the mind and body. It can be added to salads, soups, stews, or simply taken as a refreshing tea.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Another beautiful, creeping plant, chickweed has beautiful white flowers that look like little stars. This sweet little plant can be identified by the teensy stripe of plant hair on one side of its stem. This plant is rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, omega 3 fatty acids, as well as vitamins A and B, calcium and iron. Add it fresh to your salads, or as a garnish to meals. It can have diuretic and bowel stimulating effects if taken in large quantities, so best to take in modest amounts.
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispis)
This potent, sturdy, bitter perennial plant is supportive of digestive health, detoxification pathways of the liver, blood sugar balance, and a strong immune system. The root is used to make medicine--in tincture, tea or syrup form--but its leaves can also be consumed, in their youngest and most tender state. However, the leaves contain oxalates, which bind calcium and magnesium and can thereby lead to mineral deficiencies; sauteing the leaves inactivates the oxalic acid, as does simmering it in a pot of water (then draining and rinsing with water).
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
This beautiful thistle is used both as a medicine (made from the seeds) and as a food. The potent phytochemical silymarin decreases free radical production, and has been shown to protect the liver and support detoxification. Its bitter flavor is a sign that it is supportive of digestion, as well.
The roots can be eaten raw or boiled and seasoned, or par-boiled and roasted. To eat the leaves, trim them of their spines, cut them into strips to add to salads, or sautè.
Nourishing Wild Greens
Spring brings such abundant nourishment up out of the earth. Here in and around the Garden, there are young and tender edible wild greens everywhere you look. As a general rule, wild edible plants have a higher density of nutrients than their cultivated cousins, who have often been selectively sweetened and had the bitter tamed out of them. Getting to know who your plant neighbors are, what they like, and how to engage with and harvest them (with gratitude and appreciation) allows for deeper connection with the natural world and cleansing, healing nourishment.
Spring is a wonderful time to eat in a cleansing, fresh and invigorating way. Doing so supports your immune and digestive function, as well as your longevity and vitality. Meet your neighbors!