Wild Vegetables

Two weeks ago we spent a four-day holiday at the cottage. How nice it is to be in the countryside in May, when the Finnish nature slowly wakes up! There were a lot of edible plants in the vicinity of the cottage that I picked every day to be used in salads and eaten as side dishes. I really like the taste of wild veggies: they have this rough edge in their aroma which none of the garden vegetables have, and I think they taste like spring. Here are some photos of the plants we used, and some brief comments on how we used them.


Dandelion, pictured above, is a wild veggie classic, but sadly not held in very high esteem in Finland. I think it tastes a lot like arugula. We ate the leaves almost every day in salads with a vinaigrette sauce.


Greater plantain is widely know in Finland to be a plant with medicinal properties. I remember my parents making a plantain poultice to treat a cut I got at the cottage when I was a child. The leaves are also a great, milder tasting addition to salads.


Fireweed is a delicious wild vegetable that can be used like asparagus or water spinach. It’s best used when the stalks are between 10 and 20 centimeters. We ate it on two separate occasions. The first time we steamed them and ate with olive oil and salt, and the second time I fried them in a pan and added garlic and soy sauce.


Lady’s mantle is a family of plants of which all the species are edible. The umbrella-like leaves were quite mild tasting, and we used them in salads with a vinaigrette sauce. Supposedly they go well in soups too.


Winter cress (Barbarea vulgaris) is an excellent but little known wild veggie. It’s name probably comes from the fact that its rosette stays green all through the winter. Its buds and uppermost leaves are used like broccoli. We fried them in oil together with some fireweed. This is what the buds looked like when I picked them:


Most of the wild veggies are best eaten in early spring, because their taste gets more bitter into the summer. It’s a short, very special season, which makes me think about the time before greenhouses and imported vegetables. Last spring we made a nettle casserole and a goutweed soup, this spring it was mostly salads. Also, check out the pesto Goddess of Cake made from goutweed.

Before gathering wild veggies, you’ll need a guide or a guidebook. For use in the Nordic countries, I recommend the book by Pelle Holmberg, Marie-Louise Eklöf and Anders Pedersen called Mauste- ja terveyskasvit luonnossa (2009), or Vanliga vilda växter till mat, krydda, hälso- och kroppsvård (2007) in Swedish. It has great photos of the plants, making it easy to identify them, and also  information about their medicinal properties.