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Free for the picking

With the growing interest in eating local foods our attention has turned to wild produce. A cooking show on television was what actually caught my attention. Imagine a chef tromping through the bush in search of blueberries for his compote. That was exactly what this particular chef does and I was fascinated at the items he was putting in his basket to take home and serve to paying customers.

Last year was our first attempt at consuming stinging nettles. The nutritional content of this “weed” is quite impressive. A one-cup serving of raw nettles provides 54 calories, zero g of fat and no protein. One serving also has 14 g of carbohydrates and two g of fibre. Nettles serve up huge amounts of vitamin A — 1,790 IU, which account for almost three times the daily-recommended intake. The vitamin K per serving of nettles is 369 to 493 per cent of the amount you need daily.

Nettles, I am told by neighbours, are great for tea etc. and as long as you pick them with gloves on you won’t get a rash. We found a large patch behind our chicken house and with gloved hands and long sleeves we picked our first food of the spring. To prepare them they need to be rinsed then sautéed in butter and garlic. They then can be a side dish or served over mashed potatoes. The part that greatly interests my children is that they were put here for us — we didn’t plant them. Our nettle adventures prompted my husband to tell us stories about how when he was a child the babas used to scour St. John’s Park in Winnipeg, searching for dandelions. Apparently, they made wine but there are many other purposes for dandelions. This year after hearing his stories we decided to delve into the world of dandelions.

We have tried picking the odd leaf and adding it to salad but found them quite strong in flavour. We were tempted to give up and just leave the dandelions for the goats to enjoy but then I started reading. Researchers are finding that dandelions are nature’s richest green vegetable source of beta carotene, from which vitamin A is created, and the third richest source of vitamin A of all foods, after cod-liver oil and beef liver. They also are particularly rich in fibre, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and the B vitamins, thiamine and riboflavin, and are a good source of protein. So, I am now on a mission to make some palatable culinary delights for our family so we can enjoy these healthy weeds.

Some warnings on wild crafting edibles:

  •  If you’re not picking on your own property, get permission before you pick.
  •  Make sure there have been no chemicals sprayed before picking.
  •  It is not recommended to pick edibles from ditches because the plants absorb toxins from the vehicle emissions.
  •  Do your own due diligence and verify that the plants you’re picking are what they are supposed to be. For example, nettles are very similar to mint. Mint isn’t poisonous but there are many plants that are. A very good field guide is available through Manitoba Foods and Rural Initiatives. Many are also available through the library and online.
  • If it is not feasible to pick the wild herbs many can be grown in gardens. has a wide variety of herbs available including dandelions.

These cookies require picking of just the flowers thereby stimulating the dandelion to produce larger leaves and roots for other uses.

Dandelion Flower Cookies

1/2 c. oil

1/2 c. honey

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 c. unbleached flour (whole wheat is fine)

1 c. dry oatmeal

1/2 c. dandelion heads

To prepare dandelion flowers for use in recipe:

Wash them thoroughly. Measure the required quantity of intact flowers into a measuring cup. Hold flowers by the tip with the fingers of one hand and pinch the green flower base very hard with the other. Give a little twist and that should do it, releasing the yellow florets from their attachment. Shake the yellow flowers into a bowl. Flowers are now ready to be incorporated into recipes such as dandelion cookies and dandelion jelly.


Preheat oven to 375 F. Blend oil and honey and beat in the two eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour, oatmeal and dandelion flowers. Drop the batter by teaspoonfuls onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. Let cool and eat.

Dandelion Jelly

4 c. dandelion petals only (from approximately 10 c. of dandelion blossoms)

4-1/2 c. sugar

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 box pectin


Large saucepan or soup pot

Long spoon for stirring

Canning jars

Pour boiling water over petals. Steep until room temperature or overnight if possible. Strain through coffee filter to remove spent petals. Add additional water until tea measures 3 c. Combine tea, lemon juice, box of pectin and sugar into large saucepan. Boil until jelly sheets on the back of a spoon. Pour into hot jelly jars, leaving one-quarter-inch headspace. Secure lid and ring to seal.


  •  Keep petals in freezer to store until you have the proper amount.
  •  If your jelly does not set up properly, open and boil again to thicken. You must use new lids to reseal.
  •  Process in water bath canner for five minutes.
  •  Only pick flowers from a fresh, unsprayed area.

We are thoroughly enjoying learning how to use the abundant food that has been provided for us naturally. Over the summer we hope to learn about more and more of these foods and how to use them. The hardest part of this journey is finding people to learn from. †

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