April is an awesome month for foraging! Tender shoots of wild asparagus are starting to nudge their chubby green heads up through the grass along the roadside, morel mushrooms begin popping up left and right, day lily shoots begin to peek out. Whatever your foraging preference is, April is a month to celebrate.
Here are my top five April Foraging Favorites
Asparagus – If you are fan of tame or hybrid asparagus you will definitely love the richer flavor that you find in the wild varieties. While sometimes difficult to see when the spears first emerge, keep your eyes peeled along roadsides, near abandoned home sites, and in meadows for the first early feathery leaves to appear. Once you sight these look closely all around for the new spears that coming up alongside those that have always shot up.
Make a note of every patch you find; in years to come you will soon have enough patch’s locations stored away to keep you in plenty of asparagus for the season. Patches that initially may have only netted me a handful of spears when I first found them, have grown and spread so that now they produce armloads. Watch for the little pointed heads to begin poking out so that you can harvest asparagus at its freshest and most tender stage. A nice spring drive can likely reward you a basketful from old and abandoned roadside patches. Remember though – when harvesting any wild plant from the roadside, to insure that it hasn’t been contaminated with any chemicals or heavy exhaust residue.
Morels – Who doesn’t know about morels? The trick is finding these well camouflaged delicacies. Rule of thumb, find the tree, find the shroom. Morels are often found near and around wooded areas with high elm, wild cherry and silver maple concentrations. I’ve also had good luck in stands of paw paw trees. Whether you hunt in a woodland setting, a river bottom, or a rocky bluff, April is the month known for producing morels. In fact April and May are about the only time of the year will have luck finding the mythical mushrooms. While some early hunters routinely find them in March and sometimes into Early June, April is THE month for morels!
Day Lily Shoots - Day lilies rate delish factor of about 11 — crisp, green and tender, a little like young snap peas, with a bit of an onion/scallion flavor. A word of caution, day lily shoots closely resemble some very poisonous plants such as iris; it’s imperative that you make a correct id before consuming them. - The quickest way to tell edible day lilies from poisonous look-alikes such as irises, daffodils and lilies — aside from waiting until mid-summer for the showy blossom — is to check the roots. The day lily propagates from an underground network of tubers that resemble tiny potatoes, while poisonous impostors arise from bulbs, or a long single tuber with few to no hair like projections or small tubers attached. A few folks experience a mild stomachache after eating day lilies; nosh wisely! Day lily shoots tend to be very dirty at the base, so they must be rinsed thoroughly.
Spring Greens - Dandelions, garlic mustard, lambs quarters, wild onions, chicory and nettles are all at their most tasty and least bitter stage in early spring, making them a stand by on our April tables. A quick walk around your yard or open fields can easily lend a bounty of greens that be served as fresh green salad or sautéed into a wilted style salad. The nutritional benefits of the spring greens are an outstanding and great way to help clear out all the winter gunk form your system.
Sweet Violets – Who can resist the thousands of tiny purple violets that litter yards and the forest floors every April? Sweet violet flowers are as beautiful as they are edible. Whether you use the blossoms to make a delicate hued jelly, or candy them and use them as an edible decoration on spring time sweets; blue (sweet) violets definitely lend a spring touch to any meal.
Sweet violets (Viola odorata) can be candied or used in violet tea, violet cake, and violet syrup. While commonly added to salads, you can also use violet flowers to make vinegars, butters, spreads, and jellies. Their white, pink, blue, or lavender blooms have a sweeter, more perfumed taste than the more colorful blooms of hybrid annual violas and pansies. Sweet violet leaves are slightly tart, and make a nice addition to any “spring greens” salad. Harvest freshly opened flowers in the morning when the oils are most concentrated and blooms look their best. The more you harvest, the more blooms will form. Harvest the sepals (base of the flowers) with the petals for added flavor.
April is the time to dust off that walking stick, break out the bags and baskets and fill your table with all manner of delicious spring treats. While out and about, don’t forget your fishing pole – there is no better spring meal than a plateful of freshly caught crappie or bluegill, with morels, spring greens and candied violets on the side!