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.
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.
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.
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.
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.