by TImothy Page
Nature has always provided us with an abundance of resources, and one of its most intriguing gifts is the wide array of wild edible plants that can be found in various regions. Vermont, known for its picturesque landscapes and thriving ecosystems, is home to a diverse range of edible plants that have been enjoyed by foragers and nature enthusiasts for generations. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of wild edible plants found in Vermont, highlighting ten of the most common and delicious options available in the region.
Fiddleheads (Matteuccia struthiopteris):
As spring arrives in Vermont, so too do the fiddleheads – the tightly coiled shoots of the ostrich fern. Fiddleheads are a beloved delicacy and can be found in damp, shaded areas, particularly near streams and rivers. These young fern fronds are harvested just as they emerge from the ground, before they unfurl into large leafy structures. Fiddleheads have a distinct flavor reminiscent of asparagus and are often sautéed or used in soups and stir-fries.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale):
While many consider dandelions to be weeds, they are, in fact, highly versatile and nutritious plants. Found abundantly throughout Vermont, dandelions offer both their vibrant yellow flowers and nutrient-rich leaves for culinary exploration. The leaves can be harvested when young and tender, providing a slightly bitter taste that works well in salads or sautés. Dandelion flowers can be used to infuse oils or make deliciously sweet and aromatic dandelion jelly.
Ramps (Allium tricoccum):
Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are a sought-after delicacy in Vermont and other parts of the Northeast. These wild plants emerge in early spring, carpeting the forest floor with their lush green leaves and pungent aroma. Both the leaves and bulbs of ramps are edible and possess a unique flavor that combines the pungency of garlic with a subtle onion-like sweetness. Ramps can be enjoyed in a variety of dishes, from pesto and soups to savory tarts and pickles.
Wild Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana):
Vermont’s woodlands and meadows offer a delightful treat for foragers in the form of wild strawberries. These tiny, intensely flavored berries are bursting with sweetness and can be found in late spring and early summer. Often growing close to the ground and hidden among foliage, wild strawberries require keen observation and patience to gather. Enjoy them fresh as a snack, or incorporate them into desserts, jams, and preserves to capture their essence.
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis spp.):
Wood sorrel, a delicate little plant with heart-shaped leaves and yellow flowers, can be found in Vermont’s forests and shaded areas. Its leaves have a tangy, citrus-like taste due to their oxalic acid content, which lends a refreshing zing to salads and garnishes. Wood sorrel is a delightful addition to wild herb mixes and can also be brewed into a delightful tea.
Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis):
Elderberries are small, dark purple berries that grow in clusters on shrubs or small trees. They are abundant in Vermont and are known for their rich flavor and numerous health benefits. Elderberries can be used to make jams, jellies, syrups, wines, and even medicinal remedies like elderberry syrup, which is believed to boost the immune system.
Nettles (Urtica dioica):
Despite their stinging reputation, nettles are highly nutritious and have been used for centuries for their medicinal properties. With their serrated leaves and tiny stinging hairs, nettles can be found in damp areas and along stream banks. When cooked or dried, the stinging hairs disappear, and the leaves can be used to make teas, soups, or even added to pasta dishes as a nutritious green.
Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis):
Wild mint is a fragrant herb that grows in Vermont’s meadows, marshy areas, and along riverbanks. It is easily identifiable by its square stems and aromatic leaves. Wild mint leaves can be used to make refreshing teas, added to salads, or used as a flavoring in various dishes. Its cooling properties make it a natural choice for summer beverages and desserts.
Burdock (Arctium spp.):
Burdock is a biennial plant with large, heart-shaped leaves and prickly burrs that cling to clothing or animal fur. While the root is most commonly used in herbal medicine, the young leaves of the plant are edible and can be harvested in the spring. They have a mild, earthy flavor and can be used in stir-fries, soups, or even battered and fried as tempura.
Milkweed (Asclepias spp.):
Milkweed is not only important for monarch butterflies but also offers edible parts for human consumption. The young shoots and flower buds of milkweed plants can be harvested and prepared like asparagus. They have a slightly sweet flavor and pair well with butter or lemon. It’s important to note that milkweed must be prepared properly to remove any bitterness or toxins.
Venturing into the woods and meadows of Vermont is an opportunity to explore the culinary treasures hidden within nature’s grasp. From the enchanting fiddleheads and pungent ramps to the delicate wood sorrel and vibrant wild strawberries, the state offers a rich tapestry of wild edible plants waiting to be discovered. However, it is important to approach foraging with caution, as proper identification and knowledge of sustainable harvesting practices are essential. Whether you are an avid forager or a curious food enthusiast, discovering and incorporating these wild edibles into your culinary repertoire can be both a rewarding and delicious experience in the beautiful state of Vermont.
Author is Assistant Editor for the Vermont Daily Chronicle.