Northeast Wild Food

Exploring the way our appetite links us to our environment

Ground elder Aegopodium podagraria 

Fall Foraging for Leafy Greens

Here in Greenfield, MA, nearly all the leaves are down on the ground. Only a few oaks still hold their russet foliage in today's bright sunlight. We are well past our first hard frost of the year, and many delicate leafy plants have finally given up their fight for the season. 

And yet, there is so much still to be foraged. 

There are those plants that are able to withstand the cold weather and still provide leafy greens for the plate. Two that capture my passion are curly dock Rumex crispus and ground elder Aegopodium podagraria. 

Curly dock was one of my first foraging loves. Easy to identify, edible raw and cooked, and posessing a slightly lemony tang, I relish every bit I can get. The plant is widespread; I ate it for with meals while traveling through Iceland in the fall of 2021. It grows quite prolifically there. In the fall, curly dock makes a relative comeback as a leafy green - many of the curly dock plants that began growing in spring have sent their stalks up, and produced those dark rust colored seedheads you'd likely recognise, as they populate many an unmowed lot or yardside. But new productive rosettes will often be hiding (or standing out) in the grass later in the year. I search for these plants, and hope they will grace my breakfast and dinner plates as the weather gets colder, as they did in Iceland one memorable night when I slept under the stars and the aurora borealis after a meal of curly dock.

I try not to let ground elder suffer its alternate common-name, goutweed, too frequently, despite its honorable use, in the form of a root/bud poultice, to provide relief from said affliction. It's been known for such use at least since 1814, when John Hill published The Family Herbal in Great Britain. Instead, I call it ground elder, and I am put in mind of some sacred wisdom as I pluck the lightest colored stem and its green leaves and experience its bold-yet-fresh herbal flavor. Its membership in the carrot/celery family means one must exercise caution that this is indeed the correct plant. As far as escaped ornamentals from Eurasia go, this one is an all-time favorite of mine. A favorite use is flavoring meats with it for stir-fry. 

Though the bulk of my time foraging in late fall is spent with fruit and nuts, I do not stop searching for green stuff to snack on, add to meals, and appreciate for its contrasting atmosphere of growth in a time of nestling-in. My body craves these small additions to daily life in colder weather. 

Burdock - harvested by Northeast Wild Food

Now available at Green Fields Market in Greenfield, MA!

Common burdock, Arctium minus, is a non-native plant, originally from Eurasia, which is traditionally cultivated for its root in China and Japan, where it is known as gobo. 

Here in the Connecticut River Valley, burdock has escaped into the wild. It does quite well for itself, and it often displaces native species. When I harvest roots, I make room for native species to populate the soil. This is a win-win; restoring the balance of our local ecology while providing a unique and healthy food for you.