Betcha didn’t know everyone’s favorite vine to hate is also delicious. Yes, kudzu. Yes, that kudzu.
When foraging, of course, avoid any plants that have been sprayed or that are growing near toxic soil (e.g., a dump). And if you’re a newbie, be sure to take an experienced forager with you until you get the hang of not poisoning yourself.
Here, we take a look (and taste) at a handful of leafy greens that grow in our neck of the woods.
CREASY SALAD Appearance: Spoon-shaped leaves on plants that grow to about six inches. Location: Creek or river bottoms in March and April. The smaller the plant, the more tender it will be. Flavor: “Wild creasy is what we grew up on—it’s very Virginia,” says Russ Simpson of the Apple Shed in Lovingston. “It’s got a spicier kick than spinach, but it’s really good when it’s cooked right—boiled for 15 or 20 minutes, then doused with salt and vinegar.”
GARLIC MUSTARD Appearance: Deeply-veined heart-shaped leaves on low-growing plants. The best way to confirm is to crush it and sniff. As its name implies, it should smell like garlic. “It’s a great ‘gateway’ foraging plant,” says Dawn Story of Farmstead Ferments. Location: An invasive weed, it’s especially prevalent at the woods’ edge. Flavor: Garlicky. Look for the weed in a couple of springtime kraut flavors from Farmstead Ferments (garlic mustard with turnip, and “spring tonic” kraut).
CHICKWEED Appearance: When it gets leggy, it all tends to mat together. Location: Along the roadside and anywhere else with disturbed soil. Flavor: “It’s very ‘green,’ kind of like lettuce, but earthier,” says Story, who likes to throw it into salads or the juicer.
KUDZU Appearance: Three leaves on each node, three lobes on each leaf. Leaves—along with vine tips, flowers, and roots—are edible (not the vines). Location: Pretty much everywhere it’s sunny; especially prevalent along roadsides (not in winter). Flavor: Young kudzu shoots are the best, with a taste reminiscent of snow peas. The leaves can be used as you would spinach. The flowers, which have a grape-y flavor, can be steeped for a killer syrup.
REDBUD Appearance: Light- to dark-pink buds that grow in clusters. Location: “We find them in our driveway,” says Story, but they also pop up in mixed forests and hedgerows. They’re usually in bloom in April and May. Flavor: Delicate and sweet, sort of like a honeysuckle blossom.