Spring Foraging

Enjoy a taste of the wild!

Amaze your taste buds with these native plant recipes from our horticulturist, Jake Pool.

Urtica dioica_Stinging nettle 2Stinging Nettle Pesto

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  • 1 cup boiled, roughly chopped nettles (about 6 cups raw nettles packed tight)
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts or pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan/Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (or vegan option below)*
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Sea salt to taste
*Vegan option: Substitute cheese by replacing with ½ package extra firm tofu, drained and ¼ cup nutritional yeast flakes. Exclude olive oil.

Instructions: Nettles need to be handled with care before they are cooked. Use gloves or tongs. Avoid touching them with your bare hands. Collect the new emerging tips (3-4”) in the spring, up to when they flower in late spring. Rinse your fresh nettles. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Young nettle tops can go into the boiling water, stem and all. If using older nettle tops, use only the leaves. Add the nettles and boil for 1-3 minutes. Push them down into the boiling water to submerge completely. Remove the nettles from the water. (They will no longer sting, so you don’t need to wear gloves at this point.) Squeeze the leaves and stems to remove as much of the remaining water as possible.

Let them cool enough to handle and roughly chop the nettles.

In a food processor, blend the nuts, garlic and cheese (or tofu and yeast nutrient) until finely chopped. Next, add the nettles in half batches, half of the olive oil and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Blend thoroughly. Then, add rest of the nettles and olive oil. Add salt to taste.

Blend until the consistency is to your liking, adding water if needed to thin it out. Enjoy on bread, crackers, pasta or anywhere else you would use pesto.

Finding nettles: While you can forage for nettles, you can also find them at some farmers’ markets, grocery stores and health food stores.

Nutritional Info: Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) are high in iron, calcium, potassium and manganese. They have one of the highest amounts of protein of any leafy green vegetable at 25% content, dry weight. High in vitamins A, D and K. Nettles are widely used in Europe and starting to be appreciated in the United States. Some people say benefits of consumption include: helping to expel toxins when used as a spring tonic and seasonal allergy relief.

Warning: According to some literature, consuming nettles after they start to flower might cause urinary tract irritation. Other literature says they are fine to consume at all times. I would suggest to err on the safe side and not consume nettles after they start to flower.

More detailed nutritional info

Foragers’ Delight Sorbet/Spring Cooler

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Pick the bright green new tips of Douglas-fir in the spring, before they have hardened and lost their vivid color. Older needles can be used, but they can produces a stronger tannin/resin flavor. Spruce and pine tips may be used, where available.

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 quart fresh or frozen Douglas-fir tips (reserve a couple for garnish)
  • 3 cups redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregona) leaves or substitute with 2 cups chopped rhubarb stems
  • Additional water for making an optional Spring Cooler**

Instructions: Combine the water and sugar in a medium-sized saucepan. Heat it to a rolling boil; drop in the fir tips and redwood sorrel (or rhubarb stems). Make sure to completely submerge ingredients, then cover and remove from the heat source. Let the syrup steep for 30 minutes. You can go longer to impart a stronger flavor, but be careful.

Take the syrup and run through a fine strainer. Take your beautiful emerald elixir and pour into ice cube trays and place in freezer (overnight).

After it has fully frozen, mix the ice cubes in a blender and serve as a sorbet.

Garnish with reserved evergreen tips.

** For a Spring Cooler: Add water and continue to blend until it is a slushy, drinkable consistency. Pour into glasses and garnish with reserved evergreen tips. Enjoy a unique flavor from the woods!

Nutritional Info: Used to ward off scurvy in the past, Douglas fir is high in vitamin C. It also has a good amount of vitamin A. Contains volatile oils, flavonoids and anthocyanins. Some people find them beneficial for respiratory conditions caused by colds and flus and cite anti-inflammatory properties, among other benefits.

Warning: Do NOT consume Pine tree parts if pregnant as they contain compounds that could potentially cause complications.

Redwood Sorrel contains large amount of oxalic acid, so avoid eating large amounts in multiple recipes. Other familiar plants that contain oxalic acid; include, beets, Brussels sprouts, chives, parsley, rhubarb, spinach, among others.


Know what you’re eating. Gathering and eating wild plants can be great fun, as well as tasty and nutritious. But do your homework, and MAKE SURE YOU KNOW HOW TO IDENTIFY A PLANT AND THAT IT’S SAFE BEFORE YOU TASTE IT OR COOK WITH IT. Do your research and read recipes fully. Even if you’re certain of the plant you’re using and its safety for human consumption, be aware that some plants may not agree with all people the same way. Sample smaller amounts before eating larger portions. The benefits listed of the wild food is not meant as medical advice. Happy foraging and enjoy a taste of the wild!

More to Explore

Foraging Resources:

PNW native plant guides:

Pollinator information:The Xerces Society

Rain garden Information:
Puget Sound Rain Gardens