Ready for another seldom-discovered edible treat from Mother Nature? Another edible treasure you should look for in the woods is the creamy white blossom of the honey locust tree.

I love this tree. It’s useful for firewood, for fencing, and (though not many people know it), for wild dining. The mature tree produces white flowers that form a sort of drooping cluster, much like wisteria, that will cover the tree in the mid-to-late summer, depending on your location.

The best way, I was taught years ago, to enjoy these delectable flowers, is to snip off the cluster at the stem and immediately dip it into a bowl of ice cold water. Then simply, and gracefully, eat the cold, sweet blossoms. Heaven!

Another delicious wild edible is jewelweed, a member of the Impatiens family. In early spring, jewelweed sprouts alongside skunk cabbage in all those wet and swampy places we love to look but fear to trod. The soft, murky, marshy areas underneath the trees is usually too unstable to hold our footsteps, but just perfect for jewelweed, a member of the Impatiens family, to grow. These are the plants that have the yellow or orange flowers in the summer, and the same plants that boast the pods in the fall that pop out their spiraling mass of entrails (seeds), which is why they’re nick-named touch-me-not.

At the beginning of spring, look for little, light green sprouts popping through, similar to basil sprouts in that they have one large lobe on each side of the stalk—and that’s it. Each lobe has a little notch in the end, and they are very flat, round and pale green. This is a baby jewelweed, and at this stage it’s edible.

Simply snip off the top part of the sprout with your finger and thumb and collect in a basket; add these snips to your green salad for a delightful crunch and sweetness. Once the sprouts grow to about 4 inches tall, they’re getting too tough to be enjoyed as an edible. A true spring delicacy!

Every gardener is familiar with the next on my list, lamb’s quarters. Properly called Chenopodium album, lamb’s quarters begin in early spring as ¼ inch high bluish-green bi-lobed sprigs. These tiny seedlings often carpet a rich area such as a garden or cultivated field, and they can be eaten beginning now all the way through their maturity, which is in late fall. At their height, lamb’s quarters grow 7 or 8 feet tall with branches that reach out several feet and leaves the size of your hand. They are annuals and will rapidly self-sow, but don’t worry—they’re entirely welcome. (Of course, remove those that will shade your vegetables.)

Lamb’s quarters offer two distinct types of food to the discriminating forager: the leaves throughout the summer, and the seeds in the fall. The leaves are green on top and pale silver underneath, like a raspberry’s leaves, and are deeply serrated and soft, with a dusty quality about them. These can be plucked and eaten raw, or they can be gathered en masse and steamed much the way you would steam turnip or spinach greens. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and vinegar, and you have a side dish par excellence.

These greens are incredibly high in minerals, in fact they are as nutritious as spinach and should be consumed in the same ways. I’ve read that lamb’s quarters were cultivated by the American colonists and traded, but since they readily grow wild they were not a viable commodity.

So to the seeds: In the late fall, the large plant will virtually be falling over with the weight off its small, brown seeds. They hang in slender little bunches and can easily be stripped off by hand and collected in a bag. Do this, because you will be rewarded with nutty-flavored seeds that, when lightly roasted, add a delicious (and highly nutritious) crunch to oatmeal, granola, and even salads. Try baking them in your breads and muffins; they are hearty and grounding. Many “hippies” soak them and use them like TVP, textured vegetable protein, as a meat substitute. Imagine: all this for simply enjoying the sideline “waste” areas of your garden!

Wood sorrel (Oxalis) is that tiny little clover-like plant you see growing on the sides of trails, with almost invisible yellow flowers and infinitesimal Hindenberg-shaped seed pods. To convince yourself of the worthiness of this divine little snack, snip off a few leaves (and even better, a seed-pod) and pop them into your mouth. Taste that tingling, tangy citrus flavor? It’s lemony and delicious and sharp, and that mouth-watering tanginess is the result of this plant’s high concentration of oxalic acid.

Use the leaves and seed pods frequently as little highlights in your salads, or quick nibbles on your herb walks, but don’t indulge in a whole plate—oxalic acid in great quantities can turn into calcium oxalate in the body, possibly forming kidney stones. (By the way, spinach is also high in oxalic acid.)

Enjoy this “wild dining” and remember that collecting and eating these foods help provide our bodies with the nourishment we need to be strong, self-empowered, and authentic.

Author's Bio: 

Holly Bellebuono is speaker and an award-winning herbalist with www.vineyardherbs.com, an author with Shambhala Publishers, and creator of Healing Across 6 Continents--a fascinating documentary exploring the heritage of medicinal plants and the women who use them. She will open her educational training school for medicinal plants in the spring 2012, "Heritage & Healing Herbal Studies Program." To learn more or to schedule her to speak at your event, email her at holly@vineyardherbs.com