Check Your Sites: Spring Ephemerals

Emergeing trout lilyI am forever scoping out my sites; my little special spots; seeing how the seasonal flora is progressing. This April I found a new spot while scouting for a wild edibles program. It’s a rich, moist, upland site and I was overjoyed to find signs of trout lily – a spring ephemeral.

Trout lilysWhen I returned a week later, what was just a few tiny furled shoots was an explosion of greenery carpeting the forest floor. And bonus, there was also spring beauty, another spring ephemeral that frequents moist, rich uplands. Now if I could just find the ramps, it would make for a perfect trinity beneath the maples and birches.

An ephemeral plant has a short growing season and in fact, may not be thriving much past the middle of May. There is only a brief window to enjoy these delicate herbaceous delicacies such as Ramp, Spring Beauty, Toothwort, and Trout Lily before summer vegetation shades these dainty woodland beings.

Trout lilyYellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) of the Lily family (Liliaceae) has purple-brown speckled green leaves and is fondly named after the Brown Trout which has speckles along its sides. The flowers are brown-streaked yellow with three recurved petals and three sepals. The leaves emerge in mid to late April and the flowers within the following week. The mottled leaves are a tender green and can be eaten raw in a salad. As with any new food that you are experimenting with, nibble on a small amount to be sure your body is happy with the addition, then if all is well, add a few leaves to your salad.

Spring BeautySpring Beauty (Claytonia spp.) shares its heritage with Purslane, a wonderful succulent that graces our gardens all summer long. The slender, paired opposite leaves are low to the slowly warming ground. Then up pops delicate white to pinkish-white five-petaled flowers with darker pink veins. The entire above-ground parts can be eaten raw – yes, leaves, stems and flowers. Throw them in your salad with the trout lily. You can also eat the roots BUT the roots are best eaten BEFORE the plant flowers when it’s tenderer and less starchy. Which means you have to check your sites and know where this plant grows so that you can get to these “fairy spuds” (as they are known) before the leaves come up. Mark the area clearly in your mind and then come earlier in the spring with a trowel. Spring Beauty fairy spuds can be eaten raw due to their tenderness or treated like a potato.

Spring Ephemerals Walk 07 RampsEveryone know Ramps (Allium tricoccum), yes? Why there are whole spring festivals dedicated to Rampson, “son of the ram.” Eaten raw or sautéed, this pungent member of the Lily family packs in the health benefits. The phytochemical, lipid allicin in Ramp is attributed to lowering blood pressure, promoting cardiac health, and reducing the severity of allergic reactions. Ramp bulbs are an antimicrobial and antiviral and the long dark parallel-veined leaves are rich in vitamin C. When preparing, treat Ramp as you would an onion or scallion; chopping green leaf, reddish stem, and white bulb. Its other common name is Wild Leek. Ramp makes an intensely flavorful pesto.

Spring ephemerals, particularly Ramps run the risk of overharvesting. Though they grow in clumps, some quite large, please exercise restraint and conservation practices. When digging for bulbs, do not remove the root crown which is actually the base of the root as this will kill the plant. Cut the plant above the root crown. If you want more of this slow-growing plant the following year, you need to protect your resources.

When identifying any plant you hope to be food, it is recommended to always bring along three wild edible trail guides and be sure that at least two confirm edibility and under what conditions. Or, bring along an experienced naturalist and watch them eat the plant first – just to be on the safe side. So, check your sites regularly and happy foraging!

Two spectacular resources I recommend on the subject of wild edibles are: Arthur Haines and Samuel Thayer – their books, blogs, and videos – be a voracious reader and eat them up!

AriannaArianna Alexsandra Collins, naturalist, poet, writer, and wild edible enthusiast lives in Ashfield, MA.

Into the Outside by AriannaInto the Outside is a bi-monthly feature in the Ashfield News and Shelburne Falls & West County Independent. This article appears in the May 2017 edition of the Ashfield News. 

Like Hearken to Avalon on Facebook and learn more about the magical world and natural history of plants and the Faie, and human interactions with them.

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3 thoughts on “Check Your Sites: Spring Ephemerals

  1. I was tickled to read this article-length testimonial of my wild edibles walk in The Ashfield News.

    Sunday Morning Surprise
    May 6, 2018

    Do I really want to get up and walk around the rain to look at plants? I yawn and think,” Well, she said rain or shine, so I’d better get up and go.” I put on my Wellies and rain gear and attempt to arrive on time. Out Baptist Corner Road, passed the Pieropan Christmas Tree Farm, oh where is this place? Am I late? I see the red barn and another car and I park on the side of the road. My mood brightens when I see Arianna. She without rain gear standing in the misty drizzle, smiling at us in a flowered dress. She is friendly and positive and introduces us to the other group members. I am soon to learn that her knowledge of wild edible plants is equal to (or perhaps cousin to) her enthusiasm about these plants. I brought neither camera nor notebook and in this lazy mode, I looked, tasted, and listened to facts about the plants we often quite literally stumbled upon. It seemed like almost everywhere there was something to eat. But the trick was to learn what part of the plant to eat and when, and what plants to avoid. Some plants can be dangerously toxic. And if you think all ferns produce edible fiddleheads, think again.
    We visited an exposed hillside and the swamp area, where yellow marsh marigolds brightened up the gray day. But beware, this is a plant not to be eaten raw. I am no expert so you need to research how to safely prepare this plant, or better yet, ask Arianna.
    With unnecessary apologies for the small space, our little group was invited inside Arianna’s home for a meal which she had prepared earlier. All dishes were tasty!! I loved the pear-apple non-alcoholic cider and others enjoyed the apple-pear-crabapple hard cider. The feast included sautéed fiddle heads, marsh marigold mush. nettle soup with moose meat, an amazing nettle pesto dish with venison meatballs, and a delicious cheese and egg soufflé with toothwort, dandelion, and ramps.
    I intend to purchase at least two of the books which Arianna suggested. They are Samuel Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest: Incredible Wild Edibles and Blanche Derby’s Favorite Edibles Plants, a wild edibles cookbook.
    I will definitely attend another “wild edibles walk and sampling”, this time with camera and notebook.
    Thank you, Arianna!

    G. Abbott

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  2. So excited to receive the following testimonial for my wild edible walks and feasts:

    “I have had the supreme and sublime honor of accompanying Arianna on several educational walks during which she identified wild edible and medicinal plants — known to most of us uninitiated folk as “weeds.” Arianna’s knowledge, warmth and generosity are without bounds. When I joined other wild food enthusiasts for rambles at her home, I was thrilled to attend feasts comprised almost exclusively of cooked and raw wild plants. The meals were beautiful representations of Arianna’s skill, passion and hard work — it’s real labor to gather all the berries, leaves and flowers required to feed ten or more people! The soup, salads, quiches, stirfrys, pestos, wine and teas were amazing. Because of Arianna’s teaching, just yesterday, I gathered the delicious purslane (formerly known to me as an ugly, and unwanted gnarly weed) growing on my property and then added it to lettuce for a lovely mixed wild and cultivated salad. The feeling of eating food that is clean, ancient, fresh and wild is indescribably moving in a deeply embodied and soulful way. I feel connected to my ancestors and the earth in a manner that was completely unfamiliar and at the same time profoundly familiar. I am grateful to Arianna for these great and important experiences and I look forward to learning much more from her.”
    ~ Valerie, participant, July 2018

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