It's May - time for some Granite Staters to stalk the wild dandelion.They're lo-cal (35 per serving), lo-carb (7 grams), lo-fat (1 gram) and full of vitamins A and C. Iron, too.All that goodness and there are, at the moment, whole fields of them - ready to be picked and for free.We're talking about dandelion greens, a favorite of wild food foragers. Knives in hand, they harvest baskets full of the weed. The optimal time is now, while the leaves are still tender and not yet bitter."There's a bit of the old frontier in people who forage for edible greens," says Steve Turaj, UNH Cooperative Extension agricultural educator. "They like to prove they can live off the wild. And they like the fact that, if something is growing wild, there are fewer pesticides." Especially if they're picked well away from the road.Use them as a salad green, eat them boiled with a dash of lemon juice, make wine - and if you're more ambitious, make dandelion cheese squares, pancakes or any other number of dishes. There are whole books of recipes; you can find them online, too.Another favorite of foragers is the fiddlehead fern, aka ostrich fern. They have approximately the same nutritional value as the dandelion and just as many possible dishes - Shrimp/Fiddlehead Medley and Fiddlehead Dijon, to name just two from the Cooperative Extension at the University of Maine, a source Turaj points to for recipes.Plant experts like Steve Turaj warn that it's easy to make a mistake if you're foraging in the wild: "There are a lot of look-alikes. If you're not keyed into botanical structure, you can pick the wrong thing."That's especially so for mushrooms. Turaj says - even with his expertise - he doesn't pick them because the consequences of picking wrong are serious."Most of us are a generation or two removed from the country folk with long experience of wild food-gathering," he says. His recommendation for staying safe - plant a garden."If you think fiddleheads taste like asparagus, then plant asparagus."
This article appears in the May 2011 issue of New Hampshire Magazine