Six Experts Share Why They Love Spring Foraging

Food & Drink

As warmer temperatures make their way across North America, the landscape slowly changes, from forests to lawns, showing signs of the new growth of spring. While landscapers, gardeners, and weekend warriors are ready with mowers and clippers in hand to banish the onslaught of weeds, there is a community of foragers, herbalists, chefs, and foodies who are clamoring to lace up their hiking boots and with guidebooks in hand, harvest tender shoots and greens to add to their tinctures, spirits, and meals.

We spoke with six chefs and foragers passionate about the season, all eager to share their tips and insights. From ethical and sustainable harvesting to proper storage and preparation of your finds, their perspectives offer a comprehensive guide to safely foraging and incorporating these seasonal ingredients into your spring dishes.

Chef William Dissen of The Market Place

Chef William Dissen, shares his passion and expertise in foraging, offering practical advice for anyone eager to explore the world of wild edibles this spring. “Wild food grows all around us. If we take the time to look, there’s an array of ingredients at our fingertips,” Dissen begins, emphasizing the abundance and accessibility of wild foods.

Dissen’s favorites, wild ramps, and morel mushrooms highlight the diverse flavors available in wild foods. With their “pungent, garlicky flavor,” ramps are a spring delicacy reminiscent of the Appalachian Mountains, where Dissen grew up. Morel mushrooms, known for their “deep, rich flavor,” can elevate a dish instantly, whether quickly sautéed or stuffed and baked.

As spring progresses, Dissen advises to “keep an eye out in your yard or at the edge of the forest” for wild greens such as dandelion greens, greenbrier tips, wood sorrel, lamb’s tongue, Sochan, and nettles.

Maria Finn of Forage. Gather. Feast.

Maria Finn author of the soon to be released Forage. Gather. Feast.: 100+ Recipes from West Coast Forests, Shores, and Urban Spaces, champions the diverse array of greens that spring ushers in. “Springtime is a prime season for wild greens,” states Finn, pointing to miner’s lettuce, chickweed, stinging nettles, lamb’s quarter, and various wild alliums as must-gathers. Beyond their use in salads, these greens can introduce vibrant flavors to various dishes.

Finn also encourages foragers to explore the season’s floral offerings. “Cherry blossoms and elderflowers, for instance, can be used to create unique preserved goods and cordials that enhance both sodas and cocktails,” she suggests. Not to be overlooked, the new growth of pine and Douglas fir tips brings a lemony freshness to dishes. “These tips can transform culinary creations, offering innovative flavors through infused salts, syrups, and more,” Finn adds.

Tim Branham, Naturalist of Primland Resort

As the warmth of spring reaches the Southern Appalachian Mountains, Tim Branham, naturalist for Primland Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, shares his excitement and anticipation, “Spring and summer are upon us, and many of our native plants, and flowers will be coming into season. I’m already starting to see a few ramps (wild leeks), violets, and coltsfoot,” Branham observes.

As Branham points out, the Southern Appalachian Mountains are a wellspring of biodiversity. “Most of the native plants in this area can be foraged for food or medicinal use,” he adds, emphasizing the practical applications of these natural resources.

Reconnecting with these traditional knowledge bases offers more than an opportunity to explore the gastronomic or therapeutic potential of the region’s flora. “I’m really excited and looking forward to providing this experience for our guests this season.” It’s an invitation to engage directly with nature, to learn and appreciate the sustainable use of wild plants—an experience that enriches both body and spirit. Drawing from the land’s history, Branham reminds us of the long-standing relationship between humans and their environment: “Many of our ancestors relied on things found in nature to supplement their food and medicine.”

Alan Bergo of Forager Chef

Alan Bergo, the James Beard Award–winning chef and author of The Forager Chef’s Book of Flora, offers a perspective that bridges foraging and gardening, highlighting the rewards of cultivating a space reflective of the wild. After moving to a new home, Bergo transformed his garden, planning to plant wild seeds from cherished wilderness areas. “I’m really excited to plant wild seeds I’ve gathered,” Bergo says, touching upon an important consideration for foragers and nature enthusiasts: the need to adhere to local regulations for collecting plants and seeds. “Since lots of parks have restrictions on harvesting plants, gathering seeds is a great way to bring the wild to you,” he explains.

His plans to grow plants like wild caraway and poke milkweed demonstrate an effort to recreate the biodiversity and beauty of the wild within a personal space. “There’s something incredibly rewarding about planting and nurturing the seeds of plants you’ve foraged,” Bergo shares.

James Gop of Heirloom Fire

Japanese knotweed, often regarded as a pervasive nuisance in gardens and natural landscapes, finds an unexpected champion in James Gop, chef and founder of Heirloom Fire. Gop’s approach to this invasive species is a compelling blend of culinary innovation and environmental stewardship, demonstrating how an often-maligned plant can be transformed into a desirable ingredient on the dining table.

“I am looking forward to the Japanese knotweed season,” Gop states, highlighting his eagerness to tackle the challenge presented by this rampant grower. His enthusiasm underscores a critical aspect of his culinary philosophy: the chef’s responsibility to create appealing dishes and promote awareness about the ingredients used, especially when they can contribute to ecological efforts.

Given its reputation for being incredibly invasive, Japanese knotweed can overshadow native plants and disrupt local ecosystems. However, Gop sees this as an opportunity rather than a setback. “It’s my job as a chef to promote awareness and make it delicious,” he remarks, pointing towards a creative solution to a common problem.

Chef Yia Vang of Union Hmong Kitchen

Foraging is an activity rooted in tradition for many cultures, including the Hmong people, as shared by Chef Yia Vang, founder of Union Hmong Kitchen and the podcast Hmongish. Vang’s parents would spontaneously stop to gather wild foods they spotted while driving. “My mother and father would be driving along the country road and see a patch of wild asparagus or some watercress in a small pond and stop the car and make us all get out and forage for it with garbage bags from the car,” he recalls. What once caused him youthful embarrassment now evokes a profound sense of identity and longing.

Vang’s experience underscores an essential lesson: foraging as a cultural practice and its importance in connecting us to our heritage and the land. “Every time I get to go out and forage, I am reminded of where I come from and who I am,”

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