It's urban vegetable foraging season!

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Foraging season is on! In Northern California, Miner's lettuce (left) and fennel (right) are perfect for the picking; as the snow thaws on the eastern seaboard and Appalachia, locals are on the lookout for signs of ramps, and Midwesterners are gearing up for morel mushroom festivals. Forest dwellers know there is only a limited window for harvesting fiddlehead ferns and it is near; New Yorkers can sign up for foraging tours in Central and Prospect Park and learn how to make "Five Borough Salad", and Los Angelenos are mapping the city streets for public domain fruit trees.

Miner's Lettuce
Miner's Lettuce (above, left) is a beautiful gem of a wild green. It's round, deep green and has a tiny white bloom in its center. It grows after rainy season in big bunches, so it's easy to harvest and it self sows, so you don't have to be too worried about over-picking.

Dandelion Greens
You should have no problem finding and identifying these, and people will gladly let you harvest them from your yard. While the entire plant -- flower, root and leaf is edible, this time of year, focus on the leaf. Harvest it before the flower comes so it's small and not too bitter. It has a bitter flavor and this can be balanced by cooking it with bacon or in a cream based soup, but that sort of negates some of the health benefits. If it tastes bitter to you, stir-fry it with sweeter vegetables or grate raw beets onto salads to sweeten them up. NYC Foraging Tours: "Wild Man" Steve Brill

Fiddlehead Ferns
Ferns are usually shade-loving plants, so they are often found in forests. In early spring, they start to rise from the ground, in small, tightly curled formations that resemble the shape of a snail shell -- or as it's name fiddlehead suggests, the spiral end of a fiddle. The early blooms of ostrich or lady ferns are edible and should be harvested when 1.5 to 2 inches big and bright green in color. Only take a few from each fern, as the fronds will not be able to come back if you take every fiddlehead and the fern will perish. Use them right away--wash, trim the stems and cut off any brown scales and then sauté or steam them. (Don't eat them raw). They are also delicious preserved in vinegar brine. Wild Food Adventures.

Since fennel (above, right) is often an invasive weed, don't mind helping yourself. In the spring, get the base or bulb of the fennel when it's young. These have a mild licorice taste and are great grilled. (The stalks can be very fibrous and bland if they are older). Young stalks are good diced into salads or sautéed for stuffing. Once the feathery tops of the plant starts to flower, use these golden blossoms for their slight anise flavor and beauty--in a white wine sauce for clams. Northern California: Learn foraging and cooking with wild foods at Relish Culinary.

Ramps: Wild Leeks
Ramps are a symbol of springtime, particularly in the southeast and ramp festivals abound in North Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia. But as spring progresses, they also are found in New England and the Great Lakes area.

Ramps favor the shade of forests, and are found along streams. The overall plant is the size of a scallion, but the leaves differ as they are flat and broad and the bright green is tinted with maroon. Crush a stem in your hand --- it should smell like onions; if it does not, don't eat it. Treat the leaves like spring onions--though some people get creative and make ramp kimchee, the wise cook them with bacon for breakfast biscuits. The bulbs are often treated like garlic cloves and used to flavor sauces.

Tip: When collecting ramps or other plants with bulbs, always replant the "baby" bulbs that cling to the main root. The Native Americans practiced wild managing in this way, and vastly increased yields of wild edibles over time. Ramps and Wild Leeks.

Do not start out mushroom foraging by yourself unless you have a generous kidney donor handy. Find experts or attend festivals and tours to learn about finding the popular fungi, morels. Morels are a springtime mushroom, often following the rains. These are often pinched and twist out of the ground and wipe off any excess dirt off with a small brush. Use them within a week. A popular way of preparing them is to dip them in flour and then fry them in butter. You can also grill morels, and eat them alongside a grilled steak or sauté them with spring asparagus in olive oil with a little garlic. Save them for the dry season by making Morel Duxelles. National Morel Mushroom Festival. Visit City Dirt for a recipe for Morel Duxelles)

Fruit Tree Neighborhood Mapping Projects
The three artists who make up the collective called Fallen Fruit -- Matias Viegener, David Burns, and Austin Young -- started by mapping fruit trees in their neighborhood of Silver Lake, Los Angeles for a project for the Journal of Aesthetic protest. They did some research and learned that it's not illegal to take fruit in public areas, and trees that overhang public property. They moved from mapping to fruit foraging parties that brought together about 40-90 strangers from all different ages. These outings were followed by jam making parties that all the foragers participated in. Fallen Fruit, Street Mapping Los Angeles.


  1. The wild onions still haven’t popped yet here in the high desert. For morels, east-facing slopes a few years after a forest fire are best, especially after the snow melts and there are no more hard freezes.

  2. Here in Bloomington Indiana, I know of at least four cherry trees around town. Most of the trees are on student rental properties, and the students don’t seem to want to eat anything not from a store. The field where I used to harvest my chicory has now been built over. I now wait for the service berries from the treelets around the library to produce.

  3. In my area (New England), we’ve got major invasions of garlic mustard (a colonial pot green, escaped to the wild) and japanese knotweed (imported as decorative, but also highly invasive and trying to take over damp ground). Both are edible; the trick with the knotweed is to get young shoots before they get woody.

    Eat the weeds!

  4. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for ramps. The first job I had out of culinary school was at the Washington Hotel on Washington Island, WI. I didn’t know a soul up there – hell, I’d never been to Wisconsin, and I didn’t even know there was an island up there – but in an uncharacteristic move, I threw caution to the wind, loaded my van and headed up. I did the obligatory handshakes and introductions, and I was almost done unloading my stuff into my room when I was told I had a job to do: walk into the woods about 300 yards behind the hotel and forage for ramps. I came back with a giant armload, and their smell ingrained itself into my mind. The positive association was only enforced throughout the rest of that summer; it was paradise for a kid new to food like myself.

    Now I’m back in my hometown, where most folks have never even heard of ramps – aside from the foodies who remember that Mario Batali cover of Gourmet from a while back. But, my mushroom purveyor (shiitakes and oysters mainly, not the magic kind) has a deal with a farm in Indiana to get some for us. One more week. Baited breath.

    Oh, and about the fennel: don’t forget that you can use the feathery tops like a fresh herb. It’s especially delicious with fish. I use it as a seasoning when curing gravlax, or folded into a smoked whitefish salad.

  5. Here in Bloomington Indiana, I know of at least four cherry trees around town. Most of the trees are on student rental properties, and the students don’t seem to want to eat anything not from a store. The field where I used to harvest my chicory has now been built over. I now wait for the service berries from the treelets around the library to produce.

  6. My son and I have been chomping on miner’s lettuce on our walk into his school in the middle of San Francisco for weeks now. Super yummy.

    Check out for some fun times.

  7. Wow, cool! I was walking down the street in Santa Cruz, CA just yesterday and was wondering what the heck a certain neat looking plant was… and apparently it was Miner’s Lettuce! Thanks!

  8. Nooooooooooo! Stop telling people the secrets! Next you’re going to start telling them where to find chantrelles and bolettes. We CAN’T HAVE THIS! Lol. I know where your true loyalties lie, because you suggested Morels. Ha! Just the sort of mushrooms that the newbs will never be able to find (except by luck or guide). Just as a warning to would-be backyard gourmands: you are more likely to find false morels than true morels. And all morels have at least a tiny bit of MMH (yes, as in rocket fuel) so while you’re cooking those bad boys, you’ll need to make sure you’re in a well ventilated place. Also if you dry them, they’ll be fine for _years_. That said, leave my fennel and miner’s lettuce alone! Because next thing you know, the yoga-moms are going to rebel and start wandering the sides of roads, gathering their own fennel (instead of paying $2.39/lbs at Whole Foods). It’s the tragedy of the commons, as it has always been. YOU might know how to gather responsibly, I might know; but was it worth the article-clip to have informed people (who wouldn’t have been bothered anyway to learn how to forage) how to save a few bux? Even at the expense of your foraging grounds? Feh. Now after the zombie/nuclear/biohazard/asteroid apocalypse, on TOP of everything else, I’ll need to worry about fighting for my once obscure food sources? Alas. Just remember newbs: there are no save-points irl.

    1. On one hand, wild ginseng has suffered from exactly the kind of over-harvesting you fear. On the other, part of that has to be because of value for export. The thing about miner’s lettuce and dandelion greens, is that there are grocery store and garden substitutes. Unless in the future they are found to have special medicinal properties, I don’t think such wild herbs will ever become popular as everyday foods. Check out
      “The Food of A Younger Land” by
      A portrait of American food when the nation’s food was seasonal, regional, and traditional–from WPA(Works Projects Administration)files.

  9. Miner’s lettuce is delicious; it’s got a better flavor than many salad greens. It’s the peak of miner’s lettuce season in northern California right now.

    Dandelion leaves, on the other hand, I find bitter and nasty. There are ways to deal with the bitterness, but why bother?

    And if you eat the wrong mushroom, you will need a liver donor, not a kidney donor, especially if you eat even a little of a death cap. Death caps look like an edible Chinese mushroom (the straw mushroom), so a number Chinese immigrants in the US have died that way.

  10. Though I’m not personally sure how the two can be confused, it should be noted that fennel can supposedly be confused for hemlock, so don’t eat any fennel that has purple blotches on the stem.

  11. Be very careful with fennel in Northern California (and possibly elsewhere)- it looks a lot like several other plants, including hemlock. Yes, hemlock, the stuff that killed Socrates. Nasty, nasty. Be careful, kids.

  12. I live in Detroit and have a favorite spot in a nearby alley to gather HUGE dandelion leaves, organically grown (who fertilizes an alley?), year after year. They grow surrounded by tall grass beneath some partial shade and are my ‘secret ingredient’ in some totally wonderful salads.

    Matter of fact, thanks for reminding me … ;-)

  13. Yep, the Cooking with Wild Foods class at Relish Culinary next week will feature wild fennel, mushrooms, fiddleheads (bringing them in from the east), stinging nettles (living dangerously!) and other goodies that are ready to pick. Please join us up in beautiful Healdsburg…

  14. My dad’s (likely arbitrary, but sensible) rule was to never harvest more than 10% of berries/herbs/flowers from any patch.

  15. Mmmmm love me some garlic mustard, I grab some everytime I’m at the park. :)

    Now morels are wonderful, but somewhat hard to find here in CT. What I am psyched for are the chicken mushrooms. They’re pretty common and ooh, ooh so good.

    I also love me some sheep sorrel, which can be found in just about any yard around here. Likewise with wild onions and sweet clover. Om nom nom.

  16. Morels are fun to find, less fun to eat. They are often infested with fungus gnat larvae, which you will need a loupe or hand lens to notice, especially the larger, older fruiting bodies. That may be the protein value, though, I dunno… :) Oldtimers wash them in salt water before culinary arts begin. Although that tends to be “fried in butter” most often.

    A better choice is the shaggy mane mushroom (, which is one of the inky caps. These dissolve into black “ink” when they mature, but the unopened young caps are excellent fare. Beware of imitations.

  17. Ugh, I hate shaggy manes. I find the flavor repulsive.

    Difficult to clean morels may be but for flavor they are unsurpassed.

  18. Yep, definitely ramp season here, and all the local restaurants are figuring them prominently.

    Good eats!

  19. Oh, and best use of ramp = cooked up with whole small potatoes (those golf ball sized ones) and a bit of cheese.


  20. I tried to harvest apples from a tree on our college campus a few years back. Even got permission from the facilities supervisor–as long as I didn’t climb the tree or do damage, picking was fine. I went on a Sunday morning to avoid crowds, got about a dozen apples, then was stopped by a campus police officer. It’s a shame that they’d prefer to let the fruit fall and rot than actually have it used.

  21. it’s kind of rude and illegal to pick food from central park, yo! on the park system specifically requesting NYC residents to refrain from picking and eating plants in the park. we do have grocery stores and produce and whatnot, please feel free to not eat the park dept’s hard work- leave it for everyone to enjoy.

    i’m a little surprised BB is pushing this & all the commenters are jumping on board… not the most eco-steampunk-friendly of moves…

    1. Yeah, we all know the parks department works hard to keep those dandelions growing. :p

      There are wild foods, even in central park, that don’t have a damn thing to do with the parks department.

      Also, Central Park is only vaguely referenced in the post. Brill leads walks in other parts of New York, and also in Connecticut. But I guess you didn’t bother reading the rest of the article, so busy are you in defending the imperiled dandelion greens and sweet clover of NYC.


      Incidentally, 99.9 percent of the wild foods mentioned here in the comments and elsewhere you won’t find at the vast majority of grocery stores or even specialty stores. So no, trekking like a good mindless sheep to the supermarket is not an option for some of these things.

      1. I would, however, like to say to the people who go carp fishing in the lakes in Golden Gate Park: GET OFF OUR LAWN!

  22. Chicago had to put up signs in the 60’s and 70’s in some parks because Vietnamese immigrants were picking the dandelion greens and then getting sick. Why? Dandelions are a weed in Chicago and sprayed with weed killer. So ya…make sure you aren’t eating public food that the public servants considers weeds.

  23. I could sure use some recipes that include garlic mustard! I weed out at least a hundred pounds of it every year to keep it from choking out more desirable flora.

    On my property, the dandelion flowers that have grown in full shade are sweet without a trace of bitterness. Those that are growing in full sun are very bitter.

  24. Be very careful with wild fennel and wild carrots. They are in the parsley family along with Water Hemlock…and early in the season, they are nearly identical (hemlock eventually gets purple blotches). They also share a very similar smell (and taste). I would want to be 100% certain before eating wild carrots or fennel….

  25. “the students don’t seem to want to eat anything not from a store”

    No kiddin! A few years ago, when I lived in Eugene, Oregon, near campus, they built some new student apartments. They landscaped with fresh wood chips, which here in Oregon are usually filled with fungal spores from the forest. These lovely chips sprung up morels by the pound that first Spring after the place was built!! I was so happy!!

    I went and collected them every morning on my dog walk, and the only notice I ever got from the frat boy types sitting on their porch was “hey, are those magic mushrooms?”

    I eventually collected about 6 lbs. from that spot, which is a lot, they are hollow & light. I like to cook them in a cream sauce and eat them on toast, traditional French style. The bigger ones are really good with bread stuffing in the big open hollow, and then baked until soft.

    Thanks for reminding me of my best urban forage score yet!

  26. one time me and my buddy ate some psilocybin mushrooms and at some point happened upon a field of miners lettuce.

    we proceeded to wander around on all fours, grazing freely and laughing, wishing we had some salad dressing we could just toss all over the field.

  27. This is great, thanks! My only comment would be to take care when harvesting from someone’s yard (with their permission, of course) because of the pesticides that they may have treated with. My grandfather used to make dandelion wine; it would take hours upon hours to collect enough for a 5 gallon batch. Was it worth it? I’m still not sure…

  28. A friend of mine made some dandelion wine one year, man that stuff will put you on your butt! Other than that I’ve had more experience with fruits and nuts. Just make sure you spray some insect repellent around your ankles, actually just bathe in the stuff and watch for copperhead snakes when you head into the woods.

    1. speaking of, Dandelion Wine is the title of my favorite Bradbury novel, and I’ve always wanted to try some. Nobody I know makes it. guess I should just google it…

  29. “five borough salad” – as a Brooklynite this terrifies me. On top of the decades-old industrial waste like lime, sulfur, lead, and worse mixed into nearly every patch of exposed dirt in Williamsberg, what exactly would this salad consist of?

    I’ll take a stab:

    weed, mold spores, cockroach eggs, cigarette butts, and crabgrass; topped with a delicate confit of mouse livers and a sprinkling of crack.

  30. My husband loves dandelion flowers. We bread them and pan fry them then I let him eat them. :D

  31. You can make my 5-boro Salad from herbs, greens, and roots (with fruits, berries, and mushrooms to follow as the season progesses)in parks throughout the greater NY area every weekend except in the winter. Check out

    Happy Foraging!

    “Wildman” Steve Brill
    America’s Best-known Forager

  32. Where I lie (Asheville NC), we have a lovely edible park with tons of fruit trees free for the picking. Also found a grove of service berry trees (yum) and just discovered that the flowering shrubs next door are probably flowering quince. Although I agree with the folks about eating urban greens. Greens in the mustard family especially are notorious for being used intentionally to depollute an area by prodigiously sucking up all the lead and other toxins.

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