Wild Spring: Fiddleheads, Stinging Nettles, and Ramps

April 1, 2017

Even before the strawberries and asparagus emerge, among the trees and roots and rocks there are stirrings of warmer things to come!  Growing wild up and down the coasts of North America, slowly unfurling fiddlehead ferns, exuberant stinging nettles, and elusive ramps are the telltale signs that spring is coming.  Gathered by intrepid foragers, these wild plants have enormous flavor - much more than any cultivated fruit or vegetable.  And with their show-stopping flavor comes game-changing nutrition.  Fiddleheads, ramps, and nettles are bursting at the seams with powerful phytochemicals, vitamins, and nutrients.  Humans have gathered and eaten these wild plants for thousands of years, and throughout history they have served as essential tools for cleansing and purifying - getting the body ready for spring and summer after the long, stagnant winter.


While you certainly could venture out on your own to find these delicacies, we suggest leaving it to the experts and taking your hand at them in the kitchen instead.  These wild plants grow when they want, not when they're told, so be sure to enjoy them whenever you can.  If you see them at the store: buy them.  On a menu?  Order it.  March and April pass WAY too quickly to go around passing them up.  Happy spring, y'all!



Fiddlehead Ferns

Fiddlehead ferns are just what you're thinking: the tiny tender tip of a fern before it unfurls into the beautiful lacy plant common to temperate forests around the world.  Picked close to the ground and tightly curled, both resemble (bet you can guess) the ornate carved head of a fiddle.  But don't go picking just any common fern and calling it a fiddlehead, though, because only certain varieties are edible (hence the whole "leaving it to the experts" thing)!  The best varieties for eating are the Western Sword Fern (more common on the West Coast) and the Lady Fern (the primary variety found on the East Coast).


What does a fern taste like?  Think fresh, grassy, herbaceous asparagus with a crisp but meltingly tender texture.  Yeah.  They're good.  Clean them well in cold water, quickly par-boil to take the edge off, and saute in butter for a luxurious side dish to a spring headliner like cod or lamb.


And as promised, fiddleheads are a nutritional powerhouse rich in antioxidants, high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and chock full of fiber.



Stinging Nettles

Handle with care!  Stinging nettles live up to their name: when handled raw they can give you a nasty sting!  But don't be alarmed and certainly don't run off - they're so worth wearing gloves.  Their flavor is indescribably spring-like. A little like spinach but with a distinct pepperiness and hint of cucumber - but a certain je ne sais quoi that turns heads and keeps attention.  They can be used as spinach or basil would for a fancy twist on pesto or pasta fillings, and they make a gorgeous spring soup.


These wild leaves have 5x the nutrients of spinach (yes, really).  Nettles are wildly (get it?!) rich in minerals, and can even be used as a multivitamin and cleansing aid for people trying to avoid chemically synthesized medications and vitamins!  They're hugely important to the diet of long-lived Mediterranean populations, where they are celebrated in the spring when tender, and brewed as a tea year-round.




The queen of spring and doll of Appalachia.  Native to the Eastern seaboard of North America, ramps are the darling of the best chefs across the country.  Also known as wild leeks, these delicate, tender alliums are so full of incredible grassy oniony garlicy leeky flavor they are show-stoppers in their own right.  Like leeks on steroids if steroids were sunlight and dirt and all the other good things one finds in the forest.


Once cleaned and trimmed the whole of the ramp from bulb to leaf tip can be used in pesto, sauce, fillings, and soups or grilled and served whole for an impressive presentation.  They pair especially well with delicate egg dishes (think chives and eggs are good? just you wait!), and other spring flavors that can stand up to the bold flavor of these wild beauties.  Try the simple combination of asparagus, ramps, peas, butter, and lemon for a to-die-for spring saute that will have foodies swooning.


Ramps have been used by Native American populations as a "tonic" to bring the body back to health after a long, nutrient-deficient winter for hundreds of years.  They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that help cleanse the body and strengthen the immune system - the perfect way to shake off winter and start spring fresh as a daisy.




Lemon Rosemary Risotto with Fiddleheads and Spot Prawns

Risotto is the perfect main course to combine bold flavors in a simple yet delicious dish. A pairing with fiddlehead ferns and succulent prawns create one gorgeous plate. Seriously - those colors!!  Get the recipe here. 



Stinging nettles are very much at home in Greek cuisine, and this playful twist on classic spanakopita couldn't make us happier about spring having finally arrived.  Nothing like the peppery, herbaceous bite of nettles enveloped by flaky puff pastry.  Get the recipe here. 


Caramelized Ramps with Browned Butter

Don't even know what to say here.  This is the ultimate in seasonal decadence and one of the best ways to pay homage to the beautiful products growing wild in our own backyard.  Sigh, swoon, melt.  Get the recipe here. 



Posted by:
Emily Kohlhas

foraged, spring, wild, fiddleheads, nettles, stinging nettles, ramps

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