Field Search, Simpson Park – What’s growing in January?

Simpson Park Trail – Albany, Oregon.
Hardiness Zone 8a
Elevation: 180ft
Date of photos: January 25, 2018

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), sometimes known as lemon mint is an aromatic herb with a refreshing minty/lemon scent. The young new growth is very tender and can be added sparingly to a salad. They also make a great garnish for your favorite dish and many have enjoyed the dried leaves as a tea. An idea recently presented to me by a friend is a hand sanitizer in the form of a tincture made from rubbing alcohol and essential oils. It’s applied using a small spray bottle. It would be fun to try it using this plant. Reference material – Herbs by Lesley Bremness
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). I was happy to find this plant up and early. As you may have read from my article featuring it they are a powerhouse of nutrition. It is a great source of Vitamins A, B6, K, Riboflavin, Folate, Calcium, Manganese, Magnesium, Iron, Phosphorus, and Potassium! The long mature stems had been used by many indigenous ethnic groups for its fibers to make a strong rope or twine. When beaten flat strands can be peeled off from the stems which where then twisted and braided into the final product. As both a food and an interesting plant Stinging Nettle is well worth taking note of! Reference material – Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon
Hazelnut (Corylus americana) farms exist in just a handful of places around the world with the Pacific Northwest being in the top 5 producers. I was surprised to learn that these trees (also known as filberts) bloom this early in the year, well before the onset of any leaves. I once read that each tree produces both male and female flowers and yet still requires another tree for pollination. Fun fact! Reference material – Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer
Broadleaf Dock (Rumex obtusifolius) is a fairly hardy green in the Willamette valley. Though they mostly die back during winter, here you’re still likely to find a few leaves somewhere. They are highly nutritious, rich in Vitamin A, C, Iron, Calcium, Phosphorus and Potassium. If you’ve never tried them they have a pleasant sour/tangy flavor. Great for stir fries but still mellow enough for salads. I keep reading conflicting reports on these in regards to their oxalic acid content. Some guides recommend that they be eaten in moderation to avoid kidney problems (such as stones) while other foragers insist that they’re no more harmful than eating spinach (which also contains oxalic acid). It all comes down to user discernment. At any rate boiling both Dock and Spinach helps break down the oxalic acid. Reference material – Northwest Foraging by Doug Benoliel.
Siberian Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia sibirica) is a treat when it comes to making a wild salad. Its flavor is fairly mild, not bitter or sour. I’d compare it to a mix between lettuce and spinach in both flavor and texture. The leaves are supple yet crisp and very moist inside. When making a wild salad its good to know which plants you can use as a base and others to add sparingly for flavor. This plant along with others makes for a great base. Also when looking in the right locations (primarily forest settings) they have been found growing in abundance. Reference material – Northwest Foraging by Doug Benoliel
Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) is not often sought for its leaves but rather admired for its flowers. However the young tender leaves have a truly unique flavor that will have you trying it over and over again. The tender flower stalks and flowers are also edible. Because of its unique flavor its hard to describe a familiar comparison but I would best describe it as herby, slightly floral and sweet (not like sugar sweet), rather like the sweetness associated with licorice. Definitely something to be eaten in small doses either as a flavoring agent to soups or an addition to a salad. Perhaps one could even experiment using with cooking different types of meats… Of course the flowers always make for a beautiful garnish. Reference material – Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer
Some may not realize this but Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is in the same family (Asteraceae) as the Artichoke. When carefully harvested there is a number of ways to enjoy this plant. During this time of the year the leaf ribs and heart of the plants make a great treat. Use a knife to carefully slice down the length of the leaf next to the midrib, doing so on each side to remove the thorny leafy parts. The midrib is crunchy and juicy like celery but more watery in flavor. The heart of the plant can be removed by cutting a 2 inch circle around the center of the plant. Then maneuver your cutting utensil about 2 inches into the soil to sever the tap root. This will allow you to remove the “heart”. After a 5 minute boil these can be pan fried for a delicious vegetable reminiscent of artichoke flavor. Reference material – Northwest Foraging by Doug Benoliel
Wintercress (Barberea vulgaris). In the brassica family aka mustard. The whole plant is edible. Leaves and flowers are zesty while the roots are peppery/spicy much like a radish. May become bitter the older it gets yet this time of the year it may be perfect for adding to salads or spicing up a soup. Reference material – Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas
Bittercress (Cardamine hirsute) is yet another in the Brassica family. These little guys can become a gardeners nightmare with their exploding seed pods and relentless persistence. Like wintercress, the whole plant is edible. The leaves and flower stalks are zesty in flavor much like mustard. Their spice is also a great addition to salads and soups, or thrown on a sandwich. Flower stalks should be eaten before maturity otherwise they become too woody to be palatable. Reference material – Northwest Foraging by Doug Benoliel
Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) is one of the earliest fruits to mature. Here in January the leaves are already emerging. There is usually a very short window in mid-late spring where the berries are ripe. Harvest season is short because the birds are quick to eat them up. I’ve read reports the berries can be bitter however in my experience they have always been sweet like a miniature plum. Just be careful eating since they have a pit inside the fruit. Reference material by Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is probably one of the most familiar wild edibles. Unfortunately most people don’t know how to prepare them properly and thus loose interest quickly after trying them. The whole plant is edible but can be very bitter. Early in the season is the best time to harvest, ideally before they bloom. However you can slice down the length of the leaves and roots and give them a water soak overnight. This helps leech out some of the bitterness. I’ve found that the roots fry up very well after doing the soak tasting much like the bull thistle root. The leaves also fry well especially if you squeeze some fresh lime juice in the pan and allow it to steam for a minute or two. Reference material – Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas

Wild carrot aka Queen Anne’s Lace, has an edible taproot that can be enjoyed even in the winter months! However one should be careful not to mistake it with the poison hemlock which can be even more difficult to distinguish this time of the year.
The slideshow below shows a side by side comparison between the edible wild carrot (top) and the deadly poison hemlock (bottom). Note the difference in leaves (wild carrot – fuzzy, poison hemlock – smooth) the stalk (wild carrot – fuzzy/rich dark color, poison hemlock – smooth/pale and spotty) the flower remnants (wild carrot – dense prominent birds nest shape, poison hemlock – thin and sparse seeds).

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References available on Amazon!

Northwest Foraging by Doug Benoliel

Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer

Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas

Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon

Herbs by Lesley Bremness

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