Wild Edible Leaves
And how to feed a Triceratops
Each year, I try to focus on something in our foraging adventures. In past years, it’s been wildflowers, wild fruit, or wild nuts & seeds, or wild roots, and last year it was wild lawn weeds. Keeping my eyes peeled on a particular part of the world, and learning as many new species as possible.
This year my focus is edible wild leaves, but that’s a hard sell for little ones. Luckily, this mama’s still got a few tricks up her sleeve.
When my kids were little, just about all our foraging adventures were about edible flowers and fruit. My daughter had a particular passion for edible flowers. I showed her a few very early on, like sweet pineapple weed flowers or jewelweed blossoms, and lemony wood sorrel, and she was hooked.
At about 18 months old, she’d run around the yard pointing to flowers and asking in her baby voice, “Eating flower, mama?”
Dandelions were an easy favorite, largely because they’re available for snaking just about everywhere in the spring, and because the flowers taste like honey…so they’re perfect for dandelion desserts.
Sure, these aren’t everyday foods, but a new wild foraged dessert each spring will have the littles itching for foraging time all winter long…and it’s the perfect way to kick off a summer outdoors.
My son was all about fruit, and he relished learning about all the different fruit around us in the fields and woods.
Leaves, on the other hand, take a bit more convincing.
As my kids are picking wild strawberries, I’ll just casually note, “You can eat the leaves too, you know.” Or when we’re picking wild raspberries, I’ll lean into my daughter and say, “The leaves make an amazing tea too. Do you want to have a tea party later?”
Just little hints, here and there, trying to break them out of their flower and fruit comfort zones. You never know how much sticks…but kids have a way of surprising you.
This morning, my son marched his toy Triceratops across the table, and then came in nose to nose with the tiny beast for a very serious one on one. When they’d finished their conversation, my son let me in on the secret.
Apparently, the triceratops was hungry, so incredibly hungry, but the triceratops only eats leaves. To make the situation worse, it was also the triceratop’s birthday, and the only thing that would do was a leaf cake!
At this point, I could help him make a leaf-filled mud pie for his tiny dinosaur, and that’d be fun in itself….but this seems like the perfect moment to get him to actually bite into a few edible leaves.
“Of course! Let’s go find all the tasty edible leaves in the yard for your Triceratops, and we’ll bake him a birthday cake!”
He looks down at his dinosaur and excitedly says, “We’re going to make you a leaf cake little guy! Our yard is like a grocery store, and we can get food from there for you!”
(He really did say that, believe it or not. Maybe all those foraging conversations really are sinking in!)
He grabbed his foraging basket, and we ran around the yard harvesting edible leaves. At each plant, I had him taste the leaves, because, of course, we had to make sure the triceratops would like them.
There are probably 100 plants, shrubs, and trees with edible leaves in our yard, and of course, we didn’t get to them all…but he decided on the very best ones for our leaf cake.
Linden Leaves (and leaf buds) taste like sweet spring peas
Strawberry leaves are pretty mild and neutral
Raspberry leaves have a flavor that’s hard to describe, a bit green and earthy, with kind of like brewed tea without the tannin.
Wild Violet leaves taste green and succulent, but they contain a lot of mucilage, so the mouthfeel isn’t for everyone. But he was sure the triceratops would love them.
We filled up his foraging basket with handfuls of the tastiest leaves for his little friend and headed into the house to bake a cake.
I already had a recipe in mind, as, believe it or not, the concept of a leaf cake isn’t new.
The Wondersmith made a truly magical nettle leaf cake a few years back. Here’s where you can see her full recipe for a magical moss cake made with wild nettle leaves and her Instagram post about it (shown below).
We pureed the leaves and then added them to the cake batter, cutting the recipe in half to make a double-layer micro-sized 6’’ cake. (If you’re going to have foraged treats all the time, you’ve gotta keep things manageable after all.)
The batter went in bright green, and the triceratops’ mouth was already watering.
Miss Wondersmith decorated her cake with cake crumbles to resemble moss, but my little one decided that the “Triceratops might think that’s weird; let’s stick with leaves.”
So a little frosting and decorative leaves later, and we had one happy birthday triceratops!
Cake or not, we spent the day with a bit of homeschool all about wild plants, and, honestly, a few practical lessons in eating your greens…even if it is in a leaf cake. Plenty of wild leaves were eaten in the process, so we could make sure we got just the right flavor in the cake.
And, most importantly, we broke through the barrier. Wild leaves are a thing now. We can eat them, and enjoy them, and they’re delicious!
I love it when a plan comes together =)
I’m slowly working on a catalog of edible wild leaves, and hopefully, it’ll be ready for the blog by next spring. In the meantime, I’m making lists, and taking pictures, and now as a family, we’re sampling all the green leaves that our “outside grocery store” has to offer.
As a result, there are dozens of new foraging guides up on the blog, mostly of wild weeds with edible leaves, and edible tree and shrub leaves will be coming next. Here are some of the new wild edible weeds guides:
Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album)
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)
Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)
Bugleweed (Ajuga sp.)
Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis sp.)
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
What are your favorite things to bring home from the outside grocery store?
Leave me a note in the comments!
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Until Next Time,
Ashley at Practical Self Reliance