Herb garden with gravel path and lavender.

Wisconsin Native Culinary Herbs

  Herbs have been grown and used for thousands of years for their culinary and medicinal qualities. Their ornamental and aromatic qualities lend aesthetic beauty and fragrance to any landscape. Once you’ve tasted the difference between fresh and dried herbs, you’ll never go back.

Foraging for Wild Foods Graphic The earliest human beings on this planet got their food in two ways: by hunting animals, and by gathering wild plants. All the food they ate was gathered with their own hands, including berries from bushes, wild greens from fields, and mushrooms from decaying trees. Through long practice, they learned to recognize which plants were edible, which were poisonous, and what could be found at different times of year.

Foraging for food is more than just a fun pastime – though it certainly can be that too. Gathering your own food offers a wide variety of benefits including free food, new flavors, good nutrition, sustainability and a deep connection to the natural world.

One caution! Although many wild plants are tasty and nutritious, some are poisonous – and many of these closely resemble edible plants. Foraging novices are particularly likely to mistake a poisonous plant for a safe one. Do your homework or find a foraging group or mentor to help you get started.

 Chives, Allium schoenoprasum

Chives, Allium schoenoprasum While many people are familiar with the garden variety of chives, imported from Europe many years ago and widely planted, few people realize that there is also a native North American variety. The purple or white pom-pom flowers of chives top aromatic stems in summer. The leaves are edible and have a mild onion flavor; the flowers can be used as garnishes. Chives can be harvested any time during the growing season after the leaves are about 6″ long, although the older leaves will be tougher than the new ones. The flavor will be more pungent in hotter weather. Plants can be cut back to about 3″ high after flowering to force the plant to produce new, tender leaves.
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 Canadian Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense

Canadian Wild Ginger,  Asarum canadense Canadian Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense, ginger is unrelated to commercially available ginger; however, it is named wild ginger because of the similar taste and smell of the roots. Early European settlers used to dry the rootstalk, grind it to a powder and use it as a spice. Nowadays, one of the best ways to enjoy wild ginger is as a candy or as a syrup. Wild ginger can be harvested from late-summer through fall. Because of the way wild ginger grows and spreads, harvesting the rootstalk of this plant is fairly easy. The rootstalk, or rhizome, grows along the surface of the ground and can be easily pulled up. You can discard the leaves and flower if it still remains; you will not be using these parts.
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 Field Mint, Mentha arvensis

Field Mint,  Mentha arvensis Field Mint, Mentha arvensis, has a reasonably strong minty flavor with a slight bitterness. The mint flavored leaves are used as herb in various cuisines. Sometimes raw leaves are added to salads and other preparations to add flavor to the food. Fresh or dried leaves are used to make herbal tea. The oil extracted from these plants is used as a flavoring agent for beverages and sweets. The leaves contain about 0.2% essential oil.
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 Meadow Garlic, Allium canadense

Field Mint,  Meadow Garlic,  Allium canadense Meadow Garlic, Allium canadense, is an ephemeral, meaning it dies back to the ground when temperatures start warming up for summer. Look for it in August and you will be out of luck. It is easy to identify because of the pungent odor of onion or garlic. During the cooler months from fall through spring, this is one wild edible you can count on. Both the leaves and the bulbs of meadow garlic plants can be used, most often in the springtime. Make sure to rinse the plants thoroughly. Common uses include its addition in soup recipes and meat-based dishes. Though small quantities of the plant are considered safe to eat, it does contain sulfides
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 Nodding Pink Onion, Allium cernuum

Nodding Pink Onion,  Allium cernuum Nodding Pink Onion, Allium cernuum, is edible, and its bulbs were widely eaten by native peoples and European settlers, either raw, cooked or dried for winter. Being strongly flavored, it is mainly used as a flavoring. Cooking removes the strong smell and flavor, converting the sugar inulin to the more digestible fructose, and the bulbs become very sweet. The leaves are edible, raw or cooked. They have a delicious, strong-onion flavor, and are said to be very nice in salads. The flowers can be eaten raw or cooked. They have a delicious strong onion flavor, somewhat stronger than the leaves especially if the seeds are starting to set. They make a very decorative and tasty addition to the salad bowl.
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 Northern Spicebush, Lindera benzoin

Northern Spicebush,  Lindera benzoin Northern Spicebush, Lindera benzoin: The leaves and berries of this plant can be eaten raw or cooked. A tea can be made from all parts of this plant, most commonly twigs and leaves, it has a refreshing flavor and texture. Also the berries that ripen in early fall have a taste similar to allspice, it is a warm spice that can be used in baking and pies. They are usually used fresh or frozen for later use. The leaves can also be eaten raw, usually as a condiment, and the young bark is said to be good to chew on.
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 Prairie Onion, Allium stellatum

Prairie Onion,  Allium stellatum Prairie Onion, Allium stellatum: The foliage and bulb of this onion are edible, if somewhat strongly flavored. The bulbs of wild onions have a strong flavor but can be eaten raw or parboiled. Early explorers ate them, and they were also used by settlers to treat colds, coughs, and asthma, and to repel insects. It can be used like any other onion – raw, cooked, or pickled.
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 Prairie Parsley, Polytaenia nuttallii

Prairie Parsley,  Polytaenia nuttallii Prairie Parsley, Polytaenia nuttallii, seeds can be used as a seasoning substitute for dill or carrot seeds and the leaves can be cooked, usually boiled. As a herb the flavor is not anything over which to get excited. In times of starvation supposedly the root was also boiled or roasted but honestly, it would have been during some pretty rough times. The flavor is not good.
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 Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare

Sweet Fennel,  Foeniculum vulgare Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare: Unlike commercially grown Fennel, Sweet Fennel does not produce a bulb but has flavorful greens and seeds. Very hardy, green fronds sprout in the spring from last-year roots. If you like the flavor of sweet licorice you will like fennel. Preparation is easy: To cook the young fronds bring a large pot of water to roiling, boil the fronds for 10 minutes or so, drain, use whole or minced. You can also save the cooking liquid for flavoring. The cooked fronds are used in several ways. Some folks eat the fronds mixed in with other greens. They are a bit overwhelming on their own. Seeds are commonly harvested for use as flavoring in a variety of foods such as bakery products or sausages.
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 Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare

Wild Basil,  Clinopodium vulgare Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare, leaves can be used fresh or dried as a flavoring in cooked foods or fresh as a flavoring in salads. A sweet and aromatic herb tea is made from the fresh leaves.
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 Wild Leek, Allium trioccum

Sweet Fennel,  Wild Leek,  Allium trioccum Wild Leek, Allium trioccum, has been consumed for thousands of years by Native Americans. The leaves, stems, bulbs, and flowers of this plant are all edible. Wild Leeks are famous for their strong garlic-like aroma and delicious onion-like flavor. It can be used and cooked as you would with regular leek and spring onions. It can be adapted into numerous recipes as a substitute for onion, garlic, or the common leek. You can also chop up ramps and sprinkle them over a salad. Use Wild Leeks sparingly when you’re using it as a seasoning as its strong flavor can easily overpower the taste of your dish.
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 Wild Licorice, Glycyrrhiza lepidota

Wild Licorice,  Glycyrrhiza lepidota Wild Licorice, Glycyrrhiza lepidota, root can be used raw as a flavoring. The source of licorice powder that is extracted and used in sweets, baked goods, ice cream, soft drinks etc, it is also used medicinally. A sweet and delicious flavor, but the root is very fibrous. The dried root is often used for chewing, as it is excellent for teething children and also as a tooth cleaner. A tea made from the roots is an excellent thirst quencher. The powdered root is also used as a sweetener in other herb teas.
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 Wild Mint, Mentha canadensis

Wild Mint,  Mentha  canadensis Wild Mint, Mentha canadensis, leaves have a distinct peppermint smell when pinched or crushed as the plant contains aromatic oils and are edible, raw or cooked. Pick leaves at any time during plant growth, and they may be dried. Having a quite strong minty flavor with a slight bitterness, they are used as a flavoring in salads or cooked foods. A herb tea can be made from the fresh or dried leaves. An essential oil from the plant is used as a flavoring in sweets and beverages. The leaves contain about 0.2% essential oil.

Mint jelly is a popular preparation. To make mint tea, pour boiling water over a scant teaspoon full of dried leaves, or over 1/3 cup fresh leaves. Iced tea is also a treat. Mint leaf candy can also be made. The First nations used mint tea to remedy bad breath, toothache, or to cure hiccups.
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 Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens

Wintergreen,  Gaultheria procumbens

Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens, has a variety of uses as a food. Wintergreens mint-flavored berries are edible and it has a very strong spicy taste. It is best to harvest the berries after a frost. The berries have been used to make pies or jams. The leaves of the plant were used to make oil of wintergreen to flavor candies, medicines, and chewing gum. Several sources caution that large doses of wintergreen oil can be toxic. A very agreeable tea is made from the fresh leaves. A stronger tea can be made by first fermenting the bright red leaves. Oil of wintergreen can be distilled from this plant. It can be used to flavor beer, sweets, chewing gum etc.
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Further Information:

 Foraging: Wisconsin's Edible Plants
 Native Fruit Trees
 Native Edible Berry Shrubs
 How Do Earthworms Help Your Garden?
 Wisconsin Native Ferns

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