Next round of wild foods available now

By Tom Seymour | Apr 15, 2020
Photo by: Tom Seymour Partridgeberry blossoms

As mentioned last time, each edible, wild plant has its own timetable. As one species fades, another ripens.

Once the cycle begins, it lasts until a hard frost kills all tender vegetation. That may not happen until late September. Now, in April, we stand at the beginning and as weather warms, which in spite of recent cold and snow, it will, more and more tasty and nutritious wild edibles offer themselves for our use.

This week’s offerings include orpine, blunt-leaved dock, partridge berries and dame’s rocket. We’ll begin with orpine.


Ever grow Autumn Joy sedum in your rock garden? Orpine, Sedum purpureum is its wild cousin and it is ready for harvest now. Orpine is best at its youngest stage, when the plant bears a striking resemblance to a cabbage.

The best way to eat this wild treat is just to pick and eat, no cooking or further processing required. Orpine has a rich, filling taste that everyone I have ever introduced it to, likes.

Look for orpine in overgrown fields, field and lawn edges and gravel banks. The little “cabbages” are about one inch tall now, prime for picking.

Appetite assuaged with a good serving of orpine, it’s time to look for the next available plant, blunt-leaved dock.

Blunt-Leaved Dock

Blunt-leaved dock, a member of the Rumex tribe, makes itself available well ahead of fiddleheads and other spring wildlings.

Maine hosts various species of dock and they all have similar properties. Docks are potherbs, meaning the leaves are steamed or simmered in a little water, drained and served. Dock contains a number of needed vitamins.

Docks grow along streams, especially freestone (rock-lined, with a rocky bottom) streams. They can stand flooding and are sometimes harvested while partially submerged.

Blunt-leaved dock has wavy, egg-shaped leaves, with a red midrib. The leaves never stand straight up, as with some other docks, but rather, either lie nearly flat or only partially raised.

Pick the leaves, rinse and gently simmer in a slight amount of water. Cook for only a minute or so, since overcooking will ruin the dock, turning it olive-drab and rendering it soft and mushy. Only cook until completely wilted.

I like my cooked dock served with salt, pepper and butter substitute (Olivio, Smart Balance).

Partridge Berries

Another wild treat best consumed raw, partridge berry, Mitchella repens, has red berries that persist through the winter. A vining plant, partridge berry has roundish leaves that grow opposite each other. The leaves have a cream-colored midrib. The white and pink flowers appear in pairs at the end of each vine. These combine to produce one, red berry. Because of this, the berries have twinned ovaries, evidenced by two, side-by-side dimples on the surface.

The berries contain small seeds, not a problem for most people. The flavor is mild rather than sweet.

Dame’s Rocket

Dame’s rocket, Hesperis matronalis, when in bloom, quite closely resembles garden phlox, with one, small exception. Phlox flowers have five petals and rocket has four petals, marking it as a crucifer, a member of the mustard family.

Right now, though, it is the leaves that we use. These are elliptical, wider at the base, somewhat fuzzy and with widely spaced, coarse teeth.

Look for dame’s rocket in fields, lawn edges and rough places such as railroad embankments. Also, dame’s rocket grows near old garden sites, where it was once cherished as a fragrant perennial.

Pick the leaves, rinse and gently boil for about five minutes, or until tender. Drain and serve with condiments of your choice. Dame’s rocket has a rich taste, reminiscent of lamb’s quarters, with a hint of a mustardy flavor, such as is found in turnip and radish tops.

So with this week’s selection of edible, wild plants, the forager now has a far wider range of plants to choose from. Enjoy the plants, stay healthy and best wishes until next time.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Lucinda Lang | Apr 16, 2020 10:36

The WILD SEED PROJECT is a treasure of a resource and they are located in Maine.  Please consider joining this organization which offers  the expertise of it's founder Heather McCargo.

Posted by: Lucinda Lang | Apr 16, 2020 10:34

Here is an on line site with  some MAINE straight NATIVE plants which are edible


Posted by: Lucinda Lang | Apr 16, 2020 10:32

Isn't DAME's ROCKET an INVASIVE plant?  UMe site says VERY INVASIVE  Please ..our broken biodiversity cannot sustain invasive plants any longer .Thank you.  and also

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