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Abby Quillen: How to Harvest and Prepare Wild Greens for your Table

Learning to harvest and prepare common edible wild plants is a delicious way to connect with nature, add nutrient-dense foods to your diet, save money at the grocery store, and contribute to a sustainable food system. After all, food doesn’t get more local than your very own yard. Once you discover the abundance of superfoods hiding in plain sight, getting dinner becomes a wild adventure.

If you’re harvesting a lot of greens, bring along scissors and a bucket filled with a few inches of water to keep the cuttings fresh. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Pick greens from your lawn if it is unsprayed, free of pet waste, and located away from roadways.
  • Taste only a small amount of a new wild food and only one new wild food at a time to rule out an allergic reaction.
  • For the most flavor and nutrition, pick young plants or harvest a plant’s tender new growth.

If you want the plant to flourish where it is, leave the roots. Otherwise, harvest the entire plant. Some plants’ roots can be eaten or used to make tea. Chicory and dandelion roots make a delicious, nutritious coffee substitute. Clean and chop them, roast at 250 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven, grind, and store in an airtight jar. To make the beverage, simmer a tablespoon of ground roots in a cup of boiling water for five minutes.

Prepare wild greens as you would spinach. Toss them in a salad, steam, or sauté, or add to recipes that call for spinach. Edible wild plants are generally very safe for healthy individuals when they’re eaten in normal quantities as part of a healthy, varied diet. However, as with any food, it’s best not to eat unusually large amounts. And that’s especially true for people with certain health conditions, such as thyroid, blood, kidney, or gallbladder disorders. When in doubt, ask your doctor.

Wild greens may take some getting used to because they tend to taste more bitter than cultivated vegetables. Bitterness is good for the liver, because it stimulates the production of bile. But if you’re not a fan of the bitter taste, dilute, leach, or mask the bitterness of wild greens by:

  • Boiling them for several minutes (after you’re done, let the leftover water cool, and then use it to water the garden or houseplants for an added dose of nutrients.)
  • Adding a salty ingredient such as table salt, sea salt, or tamari
  • Adding a sweet ingredient such as sugar, maple syrup, or honey
  • Adding fat such as olive, sesame, or coconut oil
  • Mixing bitter greens with a less bitter vegetable such as carrot, squash, or sweet potato

The following recipes are delicious with any of the wild greens listed above, or with a combination.

Wild Pesto


3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup walnuts or pine nuts
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped fresh wild greens
1/2 cup olive oil


If using garlic mustard, leave out the cloves of garlic. Add ingredients to a blender or food processor and puree. Enjoy on pasta, crusty bread, fish, or meat.


Wild Sauté


2 Tablespoons oil (olive, sesame, or other)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
8 cups fresh wild greens
1 Tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1 Tablespoon maple syrup (optional)
2 Tablespoons toasted nuts (optional)


Heat oil in a skillet at medium heat. Add the wild greens and garlic and sauté for a few minutes. Add the tamari or soy sauce, maple syrup, and toasted nuts. Blend well. Remove from heat and enjoy.


Wild Pizza (Non-Vegan)


8 cups fresh wild greens
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Pre-made pizza crust
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese


Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Coarsely chop the wild greens and boil until they are tender and wilted. Drain well, let cool, and squeeze out the excess liquid. Sauté the onions in oil or butter until soft and golden. Add the greens, and sauté about five minutes. Beat the egg and sour cream. Add the nutmeg, Parmesan cheese, sautéed onions, and greens. Spread evenly on the pizza crust. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese bubbles. Slice and enjoy.

Copyright 2016 Abby Quillen. 

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