After what seems like such a long winter here in the northeast we are finally warming up and spring is upon us! This is one of my favorite times of the year as we eagerly await the early harvests provided by farmers and wild food foragers at the local markers. Striving to eat locally and seasonally as much as possible is ideal for us because this is when food is most fresh, nutritious, and flavorful! Although the markets aren’t usually bursting with a robust amount of local produce until later in the season, we can still find some very unique and delicious foods this early in the spring. They often grow in the wild and are sometimes cultivated so keep a lookout for the following superfoods at your local market and health food stores (or possibly even in your backyard!).
These lovely spiral-shaped greens are the young fronds of certain species of ferns that are completely edible and can be found growing in the wild in Maryland through April & May (although some species can be toxic so take caution if harvesting in the wild!). Fiddleheads are a fantastic source of antioxidants particularly Vitamin A & C and several minerals such as iron, potassium, copper, and manganese. They are also rich in Omega-3 faty acids which is important for lowering inflammation and they are and excellent source of fiber that helps nourish the gut by providing prebiotics to your friendly bacteria. They have a delicious and mild flavor that is similar to asparagus, but slightly more bitter. Fiddleheads should never be eaten raw and must be washed and cooked well before consuming. They are popular in Asian, Indian, and Canadian cuisine and are perfectly delicious in a stir-fry or cooked as a simple side dish to accompany chicken or beef.
The elusive morels are highly prized among mushroom hunters as a challenging find in the wild because of their well-camouflaged appearance and their relatively short growing seasons (typically late March to early May). Similar to fiddleheads, there are some toxic species that resemble true morels so only harvest in the wild with an experienced forager or purchase from the market. Morels are a great source of Vitamin D, iron, B vitamins and some protein. Morels also contain unique polysaccharides that can help boost the immune system. They have a flavor that is nutty and earthy that is usually more mild than other wild mushrooms. All mushrooms should be fully cooked to help break down their cell walls and allow for maximum nutrient absorption. Most mushroom fanatics simply enjoy them cooked in a bit of butter to fully appreciate their subtle flavors, but they also go well in sauces and soups.
This nutritious herb can be found growing abundantly in our region from March – May. It’s best to harvest stinging nettles with gloves as the tiny filaments that line the leaves can sting your fingers. Stinging nettle has a wide range of nutrients that have been known to help detoxify and cleanse the body. It also contains diuretic properties that can be beneficial to those prone to kidney stones or fluid retention. Nettle is part of the mint family, but has a taste similar to parsley. Stinging nettle pesto is always a popular way to use this fantastic herb or simply cooked in soups or stews.
Ramps are a type of wild leek that is usually in season from April-May. This delectable vegetable has a wonderful peppery and pungent flavor that is similar to onion and garlic. Ramps have unique sulfur compounds including one known as kaempferol which supports healthy cholesterol production in the liver and protects the lining of blood vessels. Ramps are also high in iron, folate, Vitamin A, C & E, and polyphenol antioxidant compounds that protect against cancer, heart disease and a wide range of other common conditions. The entire bulb and leaf of the ramp can be diced up and used in various dishes that you might also use leeks, onions, or garlic in such as pasta or stir fries. Ramps can also be eaten raw with salad and ramp butter can make a really tasty spread.
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About the Author
Sara Keough, MS, CNS, LDN is a licensed nutritionist in the state of Maryland and is a certified nutrition specialist with the national Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists.