The population of edible plants growing from our driveway down to the creek and up the hillside is astounding and exciting– beyond the salad greens we eat almost daily to include vegetables for roasting and stir-frying, fermenting and pickling.
I have been topping our daily wild salads with dandelion buds for months, split in half to reveal their bright petal heart. Munched just atop the green leafy halo, they are sweet and palatable straight from the plant.
But as dandelion season wanes and now with an overabundance of cat’s ear shooting skyward, I knew I wanted to utilize them in a way that would aptly tame their bitterness. So I pickled a jarful. Among them I added the last of the dandelion buds as well as clusters of sow thistle and spiny sow thistle buds, all significantly less bitter than cat’s ear.
When gathering, keep in mind that all secrete a staining white sap, but cat’s ear is worst of all and will leave skin and clothing marked brown indefinitely.
Cat’s ear is widely mistaken for dandelion because their leaf rosettes are rather similarly shaped and their bright-yellow blossoms are indistinguishable from a distance (to the unfamiliar). Dandelion flowers tend not to stand as tall, nor are its leaves markedly furry as are cat’s ear. Both, however, vary greatly in their leaf-shape and size. Cat’s ear buds lack dandelion’s ring of small leaves just above the top of the stem.
Cat’s ear leaves on the left; dandelion leaves on the right for comparison.
The good news is that both are edible and highly nutritious. Cat’s ear buds along with the top several inches of stem are fantastically delicious cooked as asparagus– we roast them briefly with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Sow thistle and spiny sow thistle plants, for their due mention, are edible but unappetizing by appearance: one is armored with long spikes; the other is limp and milky. Their tiny drum-shaped buds, though, show the signs of palatability. They may be picked individually or in clusters.
Another important note for gathering edible wild buds: All of the above flowers open and then close into a bud form. Only the pre-flowering stage is worth eating as the latter is turning to seed. Pick only tightly closed, blunt buds with no tip of yellow or browned petal clusters emerging at the end.
Pickled Wild Buds
This pickle yields a rainbow of flavors, from tangy to sweet to bitter at the end. The bitterness wanes over time, so if they are too bitter for your taste, let them brine for longer in the fridge. They are a nutritious snack and zippy addition to salads and sandwiches.
1-1/2 cups wild buds
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 T sugar or honey
1 T salt
10 whole black peppercorns
10 coriander seeds
1 dried hot chili, such as Thai chili — or — 1 t red chili flakes
3 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1 bay leaf
Rinse the buds in a colander to remove brown sap stain and any bugs. Drain. Then place in a clean canning jar.
Combine all other ingredients in a small saucepan and heat to a low simmer. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Turn off immediately and cool to just-warm. Pour the contents over the buds and cool to room temperature. Seal with a lid (canning is not necessary). Place in the refrigerator for at least one week.
More wild food recipes for the weeds in your yard: