Monday, March 21, 2016

Growing wild foods at home

In the brown March garden, there are small and exciting signs of wild botanical life. In Harlem last summer I was thrilled to discover a nettle plant growing in a blueberry bush's pot. I don't know how it got there; perhaps the seed was in the soil when the blueberry was field dug by its growers, in New Jersey. Perhaps nettles I collected shed seed, but don't think so. But there it was, and I allowed it to grow fat in the pot.

When we moved to Carroll Gardens I planted it at the back of our new garden, near a stand of existing Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum 'Variegatum' - such a mouthful). And now it is up. I used to shun nettles. I think because I killed rather old ones from a farmers market, by over-cooking. But ever since tasting my friend Laura Silverman's* delicious, vividly green soup at other-friend Steve Schwartz's house in the Stockport, Pennsylvania woods two springs ago, I was converted. They are delicious, and full of flavour.  Also hard to find, locally. I only know one one nettle patch in Manhattan. Now two.

Ha! Also hard to find (if you are a city forager): indigenous sweet fern, Comptonia peregrina. Not a fern at all. It has a very strong scent which I love, and I cook with it as often as I can. I have two shrubs, now, both developing catkins, having made it through winter as well.

* Laura will soon be opening a new restaurant in Narrowsburg, NY, on the Delaware River: Fish & Bicycle. If her cocktails and cooking are anything to go by, it will be good.



  1. Nettle pesto, yum! I let some of mine go to seed and when the soil is rich usually get a second crop before winter.

  2. I am sure it has to do with my upbringing, but you missed part of the common name, "stinging" nettles... Here in central WI, there are nothing other than a hard to control weed with running roots and leaves that with the merest touch cause severe contact dermatitis. While the tender shoots may make a good soup and the sap a vegan substitute for rennet; I would not choose to grow them because of their invasive properties. The smallest root cutting will form a new plant.

    1. Yes, I have lots of stinging experience having collected them in several springs. Ouch. To me "nettle" implies stinging but I suppose dead nettle is another. Let's stick to Urtica :-)

      Interesting to hear that they are so aggressive in WI, with your very cold winters.

      I do love them, though - to me this is a sought-after crop. But I will bear the warnings in mind. Thank you.

    2. I think they prefer the cold as they are the last to go dormant and one of the first to emerge.

  3. Sweet fern grows on practically every roadside in Maine! The little green seeds inside the burs are a tasty treat too.


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