Wednesday, May 14, 2008

May Blog Party: Spring Greens - Native Wildflowers

This month's Blog Party is being hosted by Darcey with the theme of spring greens.

We arrived in the Methow Valley last September, so this is our first experience of spring and the scrumptious, beautiful, bountiful greens it brings. The Methow Valley is in the Northeastern Cascades of Washington state. The ecology ranges from sage brush shrub step to alpine pine forests with several rivers and many lakes running through it all.

We've been feasting on a lot of weedy greens like dandelion and dock. It was great to get these nutritious greens long before the salad greens started showing up at the farmer's market. And although I love my weeds, lately I've been fascinated with the native wildflowers that offer a cornucopia of food (above and beneath the ground).

Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata)
We've been enjoying lots of salads with spring beauties. They have a crisp distinctive taste that is completely reminiscent of spring. The aerial portions are high in vitamins A and C, and look absolutely beautiful in a salad. The corms found below ground taste like sweet potatoes. They can be baked, boiled, and eaten or dried into cakes for later use.

Blue Bells (Mertensia spp.)
Another great spring green. You can eat the leaves and flowers of this dainty plant that surely must be home to the fairy folk. Because it's in the borage family I limit my intake due to the potential alkaloids- adding a few to salads for decorum.

Desert Parsley (Lomatium triternatum)
This abundant plant in the carrot (umbelliferaceae) family has a spicy taste reminiscent of celery. Imagine celery with a kick, and that's Lomatium triternatum. Besides eating it in salads we are drying a bunch for use as a spice.

Wild Onion (Allium spp.)
Wild onions abound in the Methow. They can be used much like their less wild cousins you find in the grocery store, although they have much smaller bulbs. Tonight we had liver and onions eating both the bulbs and greens. Yuuummmy!

Mariposa Lily (Calochortus macrocarpus)
This might be cheating a bit on the theme since you don't actually eat the greens of this eye catching flower, only the bulbs. Still a great treat in the spring. I've only eaten these raw, but they have a pleasant nutty taste that I really enjoy.

Bitterroot (Lewisa rediviva)
Again, cheating a bit since we eat the below ground portions of this incredibly important food source, but I just had to include it because it is so beautiful and plentiful in the spring. We harvest the roots, cleaning off the outer papery portion and picking out its red heart in the center of the root. We then steam them for hours in a steam pit. I've also pickled them with beats before - they turned this brilliant fuschia color, but still tasted very bitter - making this a very well named plant.

For those of you in the valley (or elsewhere) wanting to try these plants, I urge a lot of caution. There are some very dangerous look alikes (death camas for example - another very well named plant you would not want to harvest for dinner), as well as a delicate ecology that needs to be tended with care.