Foraging is a great way to connect with nature and learn more about edible plants. It’s something that children can easily help with, and could make an captivating homeschool lesson (think sketching, rubbings, researching plants, learning about soil types, etc).
Spring is a perfect time to start foraging — not a lot of other plants are up yet, it’s warm but not too hot, and the bugs aren’t ravenous yet, either. Make learning about spring wild edibles a part of your homeschool, and you will knock out learning and food prep in one step!
How do I Involve Foraging in My Homeschool?
The best way to learn more about plant anatomy is to get outside! You will find lots of plants in your back yard, and if you don’t have a large or any yard, find a local forest preserve (or make friends with a local farm) that you can frequent. Choose one day a week where all of your schooling will revolve around foraging lessons (or the entire week, I won’t judge…). Grab a identification book, and get outside 🙂
Give each child their own notebook — blank and lined for older children, blank for younger children and artists — and have each child sit with the plant and write or draw what they see. Be sure to encourage them to investigate the color, feel, smell, taste (if you know what it is), and its surroundings. Pick the plant (but don’t over harvest), and bring it home to learn more or do plant rubbings. Learn about the historical uses of the plant, as well as its baking, cooking, and medicinal uses of the plants you found.
Spring Wild Edibles
Below are some of the most prevalent, easiest to identify, and tastiest wild edibles you can forage in the spring.
Garlic mustard is one of my favorite plants to forage in the woods. It looks to me a bit like a spiky ground ivy with its heart-shaped leaves, but you can always identify it by its distinct garlicky smell (and taste)! The roots, leaves, stems and flowers can all be eaten.
You will find these in shady woods, along roads, trails, or roadways, or other areas of less desirable soils. They only grow up to 7 inches, and have small, white flowers in early spring. The flowers are also edible. These are great raw, but also can be added to soups, stews, and salads, as well as sauteed like spinach. Garlic mustard is high in vitamins A and C.
Chances are if you garden you have come into contact with chickweed many, many times. But did you know this bothersome weed is edible? Chickweed has tiny, white flowers and hairy or hairless leaves depending on the type in your area that grow in an intertwined manner. Chickweed has been used as a pain and inflammation reliever, general tonic, and astringent for many years, and has vitamins A, B an C.
Two types of plantain are found in the United States,and both are edible. Plantain is well-known for its natural treatment of digestive disorders. But, plantain is also edible. Use plantain in fresh salads. The stalk grains can be used like a grain. In a pinch, chewing on the leaves and applying to the affected area of stings or burns can relieve pain and swelling.
Most backyards have the sweet, little dark purple dots of violets. But, did you know that these flowers are edible, and so are their leaves? The flowers are great (and pretty) on fresh salads, and can also make lovely salves, jellies, and cookies.
Wild Leeks or Ramps
Ramps (also called wild leeks) grow in late winter/early spring mostly in woods before the tree foliage comes in. They look like thick onion foliage, or tulip leaves (in my opinion), but harbor a tasty onion-like root and edible leaves. Eat these as you would onions, leeks, or chives. It is easy to over-harvest ramps as they reproduce only every 7 years, so be very meager in your harvest. You could cultivate your own ramp patch if you love them and want to be sure that you are harvest responsibly. Ramps contain vitamins A, C and selenium.
Hosta shoots, the thick, spire-like beginnings of a hosta plant are eaten like asparagus. Yes, the hosta plants in front of your house — that’s what I am talking about! Be sure to pluck them before their leaves open. Of course, you may ruin your landscaping so harvest responsibly here, too.
Dandelion Greens (and Flowers)
I know you know what dandelion flowers look like — the bright yellow harbingers of spring (or maybe the bane of your pesticide-using neighbor’s existence). But, did you know that the flowers, leaves, and even stems are edible?
The flowers can make a beautiful jelly or cookies, the leaves are great in salads or sauteed like spinach, and the roots are a strong medicinal that is a miracle tonic for he liver and digestive systems. Dandelions are loaded with nearly every vitamin and mineral you could want, including vitamins A and K, and iron.
There are literally thousands of plants that are edible and likely in your own backyard or neighborhood. The best thing you can do to learn more about them is to go out, find them, enjoy them, and bring them back home to learn more about their properties and how to use them as food and medicine.