: Siuslaw National Forest, courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Beginner’s Guide to Foraging Spring Greens on the Oregon Coast

From nettles to sorrels, the coastal forests offer delicious things to eat.
April 1, 2022

Oregon’s public lands are loaded with wild edibles all year-round, but spring is a special time to wander into a world of vibrant, fresh shoots that erupt out of the soil and push out of branches to entice the culinarily curious. From as early as February to as late as May, you can turn that afternoon hike into a rewarding bowl of greens.

Foraging, to the experts, is more about the journey. “If I just tell you where to go and what to find, you’re just doing it for the Instagram,” says Scott Stimpson, a Portland-based forager and founder of Woodland Cravings, who discusses his finds regularly on social media. “You have to take the time to fall in love with the treasure hunt.”

By taking a cautious and slow approach, you will learn not only about particular plants but the landscapes in which they grow. Some edible wild greens like dandelions, pineapple weed and bittercress even grow in your own backyard. Apps that help identify plants or regional foraging books are essential for the beginner. And an app like OnX Hunt can help keep you from accidentally trespassing on private property.

Stimpson shares some of his favorite spring delectables along with habitat hints, and we suggest some general areas to start the hunt. 

leaves with white flowers
Miner's lettuce crop up in early spring on the Coast, and the leaves can be consumed raw or cooked in salads, stir-fries and soups. (Photo by Robert Henno / Alamy Stock Photo)

Mining for Vitamins With Miner’s Lettuce

One of the most forager-friendly greens you can find is the lovely miner’s lettuce — so named for its high vitamin C content, which reportedly protected miners on the Pacific Coast from succumbing to scurvy. Miner’s lettuce flourishes on the Coast, one species bearing unusual cup-shaped leaves and another with heart-shaped leaves. They crop up in early spring, and the leaves can be consumed raw or cooked in salads, stir-fries and soups. 

Stimpson says he’s found miner’s lettuce near clear-cuts where the plants also have access to water. Low canyons, shady and damp riparian areas, and drainages are also great places to hunt. Some suggest poking around Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park, south of Florence, where you’ll find forests and lakes, or Humbug Mountain State Park, north of Gold Beach, where you can scale the mountain and explore mountainside gullies and streams.  

greens on a branch and in a bowl
Nettles are a superfood that can also be enjoyed in tea. Just be careful not to get stung. (Photo by Alicja Neumiler / Alamy Stock Photo)

Taming the Sting of Nettles

Chances are you’ve run into stinging nettle at some point, and the experience probably wasn’t pleasant. The stalks and leaves come covered in tiny hairs or spines laced with formic acid that can turn your skin into an itchy mess if you brush against them. 

So why would you eat them? Because they’re delicious, filled with vitamins and minerals, and serve as a traditional superfood. Quickly blanching them before prepping them for a dish removes the sting. (Don’t toss the water! It makes for a nourishing tea.) The mild, spinach-like flavor when cooked makes them just as good served cold in a Japanese-style salad with ground sesame seeds as it does warmed in garlic butter. 

Look for nettles in areas disturbed by people or animals, such as along the sides of trails, and where water tends to flow at least seasonally. A great place to begin is the Tillamook State Forest in the northern part of the Coast Range, usually wet and lush in spring months.

Stimpson recommends wearing long-sleeve shirts, pants and gloves when harvesting nettles to avoid being stung. They are easy to identify by their heart-shaped leaves, slightly swampy scent, and of course the bristly hairs on their stalks and leaves. Look for young plants no more than a foot high in spring, he says, as those are the most delicious. Use snippers or a knife to cut the stalk at the top, and always leave the roots intact. 

green leaves and yellow flowers in a bowl
Salad with sour-tasting wood sorrel, miner's lettuce, and wood violets. (Courtesy of Jennifer Burns Bright)

Gathering Tart, Tasty Wood Sorrels

It’s pretty much a given you’ve seen this plant on a springtime hike in Oregon. Think of wood sorrel as an oversize, delicate three-leaf clover with heart-shape leaflets

Many foragers simply refer to this plant as Oxalis, the genus of plants with upwards of 900 different species around the world, but look for the purple underside and pinkish white flowers of Oregon oxalis. “You’ll see them almost anywhere that you go into the woods,” Stimpson says. 

Wood sorrel tends to be sour-tasting, almost like green apple skins, thanks to the presence of oxalic acid, which may cause stomach upset if you eat these in large quantities. Sample a few leaves along the trail for a tart pick-me-up, or boil them with other wild greens to cut down on some of the sourness. 

Though you’ll find them in many settings, the network of trails near Cape Perpetua often holds a mother lode, giving you good reason to venture beyond the overlooks. Stay on the designated trails and, as always, be cautious of trampling sensitive vegetation.


man picks greens from a tree
Spruce tips can make a simple dressing or infused tea. It's also found in some craft beers brewed by innovative Oregon brewmasters. (Courtesy of Jennifer Burns Bright)

Dressing Your Salad With Spruce Tips

So you’ve gathered some great greens for a salad. But what to dress it with? A Sitka spruce tip vinaigrette, of course! Come April or May, if you look closely at these coniferous trees that proliferate on the Coast, you’ll notice that the needles aren’t all the same color. You’ll want to gather the potent new growth at the end of the branches, which is much softer and brighter green. 

Alone, spruce tips can be too strong to eat in a salad. Instead, stuff just a few in a bottle of apple cider vinegar, wait a week, and voilà! You have a simple dressing. Stimpson says he’ll also pack tips into a jar with lots of sugar to make a infused syrup for tea. 

You’ll find Sitka spruce all over the Coast, but investigate the Siuslaw National Forest at elevations under 1,500 feet for plentiful stands.

If You Go:

  • Knowing how and where to forage — and what not to pick — are the keys to a responsible harvest. Don’t eat anything if you are unsure of the identification.
  • Limit your collecting to a small percentage of each patch and each plant. 
  • You need no license to forage for these plants, but be sure to check the policies of the specific site you plan to visit.
  • Sign up for guided foraging hike with an expert for more great tips.


About The

Tim Neville
Tim Neville is a writer based in Bend where he writes about the outdoors, travel and the business of both. His work has been included in Best American Travel Writing, Best American Sports Writing and Best Food Writing, and earned various awards from the Society of American Travel Writers and the Society of Professional Journalists. Tim has reported from all seven continents and spends his free time skiing, running and spending time with his family.

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