3 Edible Wild Plants to Forage in Alaska This Spring
Spring is arriving all across Alaska, and we are itching to stretch our sleepy winter bodies toward the sun and take to Alaska’s wild, beautiful, and bountiful forests, meadows, and coastline to witness the magic of the changing season for ourselves.
Early spring brings fresh new green growth, and a perfect opportunity to forage wild spring greens and edible plants as they emerge from their winter slumber.
Here are 3 easy to spot, easy to harvest, delicious to eat wild plants to harvest in Alaska this spring!
Before you go: Foraging tips & sustainable harvesting practices
Set yourself up for a successful harvest and an enjoyable time exploring the outdoors with a few quick tips:
- Be bear aware: Bears are starting to wake up for the season too. Bring bear spray in your foraging pack, make noise, and keep aware of your surroundings as you tromp through the forest.
- Gather your gear: Make yourself a foraging kit at the beginning of the season that’s ready to grab anytime you head out the door. Some things you might include: snips or scissors, garden gloves, a pocket knife, a basket, bag, or pillowcase, and your favorite foraging field book! Always be 100% sure you’ve correctly identified a plant species before you consume it.
- Be a good steward: Help wild plant communities continue to thrive by harvesting respectfully. Never take more than you need, and always leave enough behind for the plant to continue growing. Pack out what you pack in, and think of ways to leave a site better than you found it. And if you find yourself with a bountiful harvest, pay it forward by sharing that bounty with elders or folks in your community who may not have access to forage wild plants.
If you’ve encountered nettle before, you’ve likely not forgotten it’s hot lingering sting on your skin. The fine hairs on nettle’s leaves and stems are the stinging culprit, but nettle’s bite can be avoided if you simply wear gloves while harvesting this super nutritious wild green.
You’ll find nettle near sources of fresh water – streams, rivers, lakes – in rich damp or disturbed soils. Nettle looks very similar to mint with toothy leaves branching opposite of each other.
Harvest wild nettles carefully to ensure the plant continues to grow and thrive by taking no more than half the height of the plant. Find a spot on the stem just above two leaf nodes to snip. From here the plant will branch as it continues to grow throughout the season. Nettles are best harvested in the spring and early summer, before they begin to flower.
Enjoy your nettles sautéed with garlic and butter, chopped and added to soups, blended into a green smoothie, or my favorite, whipped up with garlic and oil into a delicious spring greens pesto. Steaming, blanching, boiling, drying, or pureeing nettles renders their sting inert, so you can enjoy their earthy green flavor and rich nutrients without fear of a stinging belly. If you prefer to drink your nettles, dry them in a food dehydrator or on cookie sheets in the sun and crumble into a jar to use as a loose leaf tea through the winter.
From root to flower, all parts of the fireweed plant can be used as a food source. Early shoots can be harvested and eaten in the spring – sautéed in butter and garlic with a texture similar to asparagus.
Pinch off fresh shoots just emerging from the soil - but be sure to leave some plant material behind, and always leave several plants untouched within a patch of fireweed to ensure the community continues to thrive!
Look for fireweed around meadows or open areas where the soil had been previously disturbed. As its name would imply, fireweed takes hold and thrives among disturbed and often inhospitable soils. Its seeds and roots are among the first plant life to re-colonize burnt tracts of land after wildfires, as well as roadsides, gravel bars, meadows, and river banks.
Avoid harvesting edible shoots alongside roadways or high traffic areas where the plant could be contaminated by pollution, pesticides, or herbicides.
Coastal Alaskans will recognize the delightful crunch and pop of bladderwrack seaweed - or popweed - from spring and summer walks on the beach!
Look for the fresh, brighter yellow new growth of spring popweed attached to rocky substrate in the mid-tidal zone. This early growth stage of the seaweed is tender, succulent, and tasty when sauteed up and added to stir fried vegetables. You could also dry the seaweed and grind it up to use as a savory umami-rich flavoring.
Harvest spring popweed by snipping bunches of it off above the seaweed’s holdfast - that “root” which attaches the seaweed to a rock. Be sure to leave enough plant material behind for the seaweed to continue growing.
Spring foraging offers us the opportunity to connect with nature on a deep - and delicious - level. Wild spring edibles are nutrient-rich and can help to restore our bodies after the long, dark, and cold winter months. Grab your gear and take a walk through your wild backyard to see which wild edibles are popping up around your neighborhood. Happy foraging!