Looking Over Spring Pantry

February full moon was called the Hunger or Starvation Moon. People put up food for the winter, but the pantry was close to empty by then.

Root crops and canned food is fine. Fresh food has an appeal that grows the longer it can’t be obtained.

Many years ago I spoke with a woman, Ruby Woods, about her years growing up back when the general store was a day’s wagon ride away. For her March meant time to raid nature’s pantry for fresh greens.

wild onions
Wild onions are perennials and send up their first leaves in late winter as soon as there is a warm spell. They are easy to spot as they tower over the short grass. The root bulb is edible, but the tops make good eating in eggs and stir fries.

Most of the greens she talked about are considered weeds today. For those who want to try a few, fair warning: Most of these are bitter or sour.

Plants are determined to grow and produce seeds. Getting eaten before that prevents the plant from reaching its goal. So plants often produce substances to deter insects and others from eating them.

dandelion greens
Dandelions were the bane of the garden for my father. They have deep taproots and can be challenging to dig out. The roots are edible. The flower is a mass of little flowers filled with nectar and attract lots of insects including native bees.

Domesticated plants have most of these substances bred out as these are the bitter and sour tastes we’ve learned to not like. Some of these are rich in nutrition.

As “Wicked Plants” by Amy Stewart warns: Don’t eat anything you don’t recognize. My advice is to try a few that are easy to recognize.

chicory greens from nature's pantry
In late spring chicory lines the road with light blue flowers. It’s roots were dug, dried, ground and used with or instead of coffee. The early spring greens are good eating, but become bitter once the flowering stalk appears.

Probably the easiest one is wild onion. There are several kinds and my preference is the one that sends up a clump of onion leaves. These are small, but powerful. Chewing on a leaf will heat up your mouth quickly.

Chickweed is a garden pest. It is a mild green and prolific in a cool, moist area. It’s great in stir fries. Cut or break the stems off and use the tops. You can harvest these plants many, many times.

chickweed greens from nature's pantry
Chickweed comes in several kinds. This is a good kind for eating. It comes up in the fall, overwinters and takes off in the spring. It grows in gardens, flower pots, sidewalk cracks. It puts out quarter inch across white flowers with four double petals.

Dandelions are good too. Use the younger, smaller leaves and the flowers. These leaves are a bit bitter and add a zest to salads or do well cooked down as a potherb alone or with others.

Yellow rocket is another good potherb. The leaves are easy to recognize once you know what to look for. If you are new to this one and to the chicory, watch the plants this year and know them by their flowers. Harvest the leaves next spring to add them to your pantry.

winter cress greens from nature's pantry
Yellow Rocket gets its name from the yellow flower umbels. Over the winter the plants survive as low growing units called winter cress.

Chicory or blue sailor is a perennial. Mark where a few plants bloom. That makes it easy to pick the greens the next spring. Chicory leaves are similar to several wild lettuces and wild dandelion relatives. These too are edible, but not always tasty.

Nature’s pantry is a busy place. Dock, plantains, water cress, lamb’s quarter and more are also edible. Add a bit of variety to your salads this year with some wild greens.

See more of the Ozark’s seasons in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.