By Garret Geitner, Contributing Blogger
If you live in a part of the country where crippling winters can suck the life right out of you, then you must know that incredible feeling you get when you take your first camping trip as winter moves into spring.
Although temperatures are sure to drop pretty low at night, there is a comfortable and mild touch during the day that is perfect for hiking. Not too hot where you are left to bake beneath a hot afternoon sun, and not too cold where you are exposing yourself to windburn.
Early Spring is the ideal time to camp and hike in many places throughout North America.
As an added bonus, not only is early Spring an excellent time to camp and hike, but it is also the perfect time to forage for morel mushrooms and many other edible plants.
You will be surprised at all that mother nature has to offer in early Spring, even when it seems the season may be too early for anything to grow.
By simply being aware of what types of plants you should be on the lookout for, you may be able to load up on some delicious edible plants to bring back to your campsite after a hike.
Imagine coming back to base camp after a full day of hiking and cooking a delicious dinner over the fire with a cast iron skillet and all of the herbs, fungi, and plants you found along your hike.
Many of the plants found in early Spring can serve as herbal seasonings or be used to make a fresh wild salad.
Also, fungi like morel mushrooms are phenomenal sauteed with a little butter, salt, pepper, and a touch of field garlic (Allium vineale).
So, if you are sitting at home planning your first early spring camping and hiking trip of the year, you may want to be on the lookout for some of these delicious offerings as you explore the forests and hiking trails near your campsite.
- Morel Mushrooms (Morchella esculenta): The best way to cook morels is to sautee them in olive oil or butter and then lightly season them with salt, pepper, and your choice of herbs. The best place to look for morel mushrooms is at large burn sites in forested areas containing large numbers of jack, white, and red pines.
- Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus): Oyster mushrooms are great in salads either raw or sauteed. Look for oyster mushrooms growing on logs and dead oak and beech trees in shady areas.
- Field Garlic (Allium vineale): Field garlic is a common weed that can be found almost anywhere. Field garlic is a great herbal seasoning to bring a strong garlic flavor to your dishes.
- Chickweed (Stellaria media): Chickweed is one of the first plants to arrive in early spring. Chickweed can serve as a more nutritious lettuce acting as the base for any wild spring salad.
- Dandelion (Taraxacum): In early spring, you may only find the greens of the dandelion depending on how far north or south you live. Later in the spring or further south, you may find Dandelion already in bloom. The entire plant from the root to the stem, leaves, and flow is edible. Dandelion is ideal for making medicinal tea.
- Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum): Wild leeks, also known as ramps, are a type of wild onion with a distinctive and pungent garlicky-onion taste. The bulbs and leaves of wild leeks are great diced and added to pasta, omelets, and mashed potatoes or they can be sauteed and thrown in a salad. Look for Wild Leeks underneath dense canopy where the soil is rich and filled with organic matter.
As you are preparing for your first hiking and camping trip of spring, you may want to consider adding foraging to the list of activities you can incorporate into your hikes. Finding and harvesting your own plants, fungi, and herbs and using them to cook delicious meals with your family and friends can be an incredibly rewarding experience.