One of the questions we face when foraging is whether the food in question is “really” worth the effort required to find and fixing it. When you spend hours in the woods hunting morels, or hours in the kitchen boiling pokeweed (ok, it doesn’t actually take hours), you can’t help but wonder if the hassle is justified.
This is why I still haven’t made dandelion jelly or wine, by the way. I’m sure they are delicious, but there is no world in which I have the free time to pluck enough petals for either recipe!
Some of the best plants to forage are those which regrow after you harvest them. Most of these plants are perennials or biennials, because they store energy in their roots overwinter, which allows them to put out fresh growth in the spring.
If you have (or know someone who has) an asparagus patch, this is the same concept. As long as you don’t cut too many spears, the crowns will continue sending up new shoots and you harvest more asparagus. In gardening this is referred to as “cut and come again”.
Luckily, some wild edibles behave in a similar manner. Just remember if you overharvest the aerial (i.e., above-ground) parts, the roots will eventually lose the reserved energy to product new growth. Although maybe that is a good thing, with some of the more invasive species!
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) – Wasn’t I just talking about dandelions? An invasive species that came to the Americas so long ago, it might as well be native at this point, the dandelion is legendary for its death-defying ability return despite gardeners’ best efforts to remove it. Even the slightest piece of taproot can allegedly grow into a new plant. This offers us a steady supply of the nutritious dandelion leaves.
Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) – In my last blog post on daylily shoots, I speculated on whether the plants would send up new shoots if you simply cut them, rather than digging up the whole plant. For science, I experimented on my own small patch of daylily. You can see in this photo the shorter shoots in the center, compared to the longer leaves to the sides: yes, daylily can be harvested at least once and still grow back.
Unfortunately, daylily is invasive and displaces native species like ramps and spring beauties. On the other hand, they also produce edible parts later in the year – namely the flower buds and flowers – and that won’t happen if you harvest the shoots (or dig up the tubers) to the point where the plants die.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) – One of the weeds I most love to hate. If you harvest the first year leaves, it will probably look like the plant regrows afterwards. Most likely though, there are just SO many seeds that new plants are filling in the void. Because garlic mustard is a biennial, the second year plants do have a taproot and will send out a fresh round of second year leaves if harvested.
You could also pull garlic mustard up by the root, if you want to really make sure to end its little leafy life. Just make sure whichever approach you take, it happens before the plant sets seed and restarts the cycle.
Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) – In actuality, it may be impossible to overharvest Japanese knotweed. It’s certainly worth trying though! This highly invasive plant is also extremely destructive to, well, everything it can reach. Culverts, roads, sidewalks, concrete pipes, basement walls … nothing stops knotweed!
If I had my very own patch close by – thanks goodness I don’t! – I would experiment with eating it to death and report on the results. For now, I can only speculate that it may be possible… but you also might be REALLY sick of knotweed dishes before you were done!
Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) – Unlike the other plants discussed so far, common milkweed is actually native to North America. It plays a crucial role in the lifecycle of the monarch butterfly, which I have written about before (ad nauseum).
Like daylilies, milkweed continues to provide edible parts throughout the year, in addition to providing food for caterpillars. So definitely take care to harvest these shoots in a sustainable way.
Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) – Pokeweed, like milkweed, is a native plant although it still seems very invasive because it just. Won’t. Stop. Growing. Back. In this photo you can see the stalks in the center are much shorter, where I had harvested a few for my creamed poke post.
This year I am going to see just how many times pokeweed will grow back from being harvested. I have several plants in “inopportune” locations which will be the subjects of this experiment. I wish all experiments tasted this good!
What are your favorite “cut and come again” crops – wild or otherwise?