There are useful plants to be harvested year round, if you pay attention to the land, the weather, and generally what’s happening outdoors around you. Here is the first installment of a series I’m going to try and maintain about what useful medicinal and edible plants are popping up throughout the year. Please note, this is based on the weather in Northwest Arkansas, so these plants may be delayed depending upon where you live.
**All medical suggestions are offered for educational purposes only and a trained medical professional should always be consulted before adding any herbs to your self-care routine.**
Wild Onions / Wild Garlic:
Sometimes also called “onion grass” this is a weed that everyone likely has in their yard (if you’ve ever mowed and thought, “Hmmm, I smell onions” you have it), but few know it’s completely edible.
Parts Used: Bulb, foliage
When to Harvest: Wild onions are harvested throughout the year, but are best in late winter or early spring, just as they start to pop up.
How to Harvest: You can harvest the entire plant by digging around the cluster of bulbs and loosening off the soil. If you want to get rid of them, harvest the entire bulb cluster, and if you want some more later, leave a few bulbs behind in the soil.
Use: Wild onions are great pickled or you can clean them off and add them to your stir-fry dishes. I usually only cook the bulbs (cut where the white begins) as the greens get twiggy when cooked. These, however, you can chop and use raw like chives, or blend into sauces and salad dressings. The bulbs can also be eaten raw, but they tend to have a strong flavor, especially when harvested later in the year. Like garlic and onions, these little Alliums contain natural antibiotic and antiviral properties and have been linked to lowering blood pressure.
Henbit/Dead Nettle: Lamium amplexicaule and Lamium purpureum
Theses are another common weed that pops up this time of the year (or earlier depending on how warm your climate stays). When I was a kid we used to go out and pluck the individual purple flowers out and eat them because they tasted sweet. Little did I know you can eat the whole plant!
Parts Used: Foliage
When to Harvest: Throughout the growing season. If your winters are warm they might even pop up for a spell. Perfect for winter foraging.
How to Harvest: Pluck off the above ground foliage.
Uses: Henbit can be eaten raw in salads, but Dead Nettle tends to be a little tough so cooking with other greens like spinach or collards is preferred.
Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)
Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)
Violets: Viola sororia
Violet flowers add a nice color to a yard transitioning from winter into spring. There are a couple common varieties, one has a perfumed smell, the other does not. Both can be used in the same way.
Parts Used: Foliage, flower
When to Harvest: Early spring when leaves are small and tender. Flowers can be harvested throughout their season.
How to Harvest: Pick off leaves and flowers. Avoid the root.
Uses: The perfumed variety of flowers can be mixed with sugar to make a floral, purple syrup. Both varieties of flowers can also be candied. The young, tender leaves can be eaten raw (but tend to be tough, in my experience) or cooked with other greens. Be aware! The violet, like many of our other greens, have natural laxative qualities, most concentrated in the root (so avoid eating) but also present in the leaves. If eaten with other greens, and not as a main source of food, you will be fine. Alternately, if you’re in need of a good “cleaning out” you can eat them with every meal.
Spring Beauty: Claytonia virginica
This is one of our native edible plants here in the Ozarks. Most known for their small, white flowers that pop up just after the winter chill has subsided.
Parts Used: Tuberous root
When to Harvest: As soon as the flower blooms in the late winter or early spring. The tubers are best harvested at this time, but if you can remember where they are later in the year (as the flowers die back quickly) you can use them until the hottest part of the summer.
How to Harvest: Dig up the clusters of tubers. Remember, this is a native plant, so please leave some behind! These are an important part of the local floral tapestry and can easily be killed out with over harvesting.
Uses: The bulbs can be washed and cooked like potatoes. They have a starchy flavor.
Plants Blooming (but that aren’t yet useful):
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis, Hamamelis virginiana)
Plants to Be on the Look For (will be mentioned in a later post):
These plants aren’t quite out yet, but you should keep a keen eye out for them: Redbud, Pokeweed, Chickweed, Mustard Greens, Yellow Dock, Yellow Sorrel