Updated: Jun 28, 2020
Plants are awake and foraging season is here, regardless of the coronavirus shutdown. Since Oregonians have been asked to abstain from one of our greatest pleasures, outdoor recreation, some of us have turned this time into an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the microcosm of our homes, yards, and neighborhoods.
A few years ago we discovered that there are choice edibles already growing on our property! They are ornamental plantings but like wild edibles their uses are forgotten and misunderstood. The two crops that we pick in the spring are hosta spears and bamboo shoots. Both of these can be harvested from your ornamental garden without hurting the plant or changing the intended aesthetic.
Hostas are a staple in shady Pacific Northwest gardens and grow into wide masses of interesting foliage and flower stalks. Their flavor is mild and fresh, think "spinach meets asparagus", and some varieties are tastier than others. You don’t need to know your exact variety to safely harvest it, all hostas are edible! To harvest, wait for the spears emerging from the central mass to show some greenery. I pick them when they’ve just started to unfurl. I only harvest about 1/3 of the emerging spikes from around the mound so the plant fills in nicely. Slice the spears off at the base. To cook them, a quick saute in oil, salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon or soy sauce and chives will be a fresh and tasty addition to your springtime cooking.
Bamboo is a little bit trickier. Bamboo is toxic and some varieties are not edible. If you have clumping bamboo it is off the table, literally. If you have a running bamboo, further research is needed. I found this article helpful as I was learning about growing and eating bamboo: https://modernfarmer.com/2018/07/how-to-grow-edible-bamboo-shoots/ . The flavor is similar to artichoke but milder.
To harvest bamboo shoots, watch for stout sharp spikes emerging from the duff around the bamboo. When they are about six inches tall, grasp the shoot firmly at the base and snap it off. I harvest heavily at the beginning of the season then leave several shoots to grow to canes. The outer layers of the shoots are removed to reveal the supple flesh beneath. At this point they are not ready to eat since they contain a toxin which needs to be cooked out before use.
Prepare the shoots by slicing them in 1/4 inch rings and boiling them for ten minutes. Drain and rinse then your shoots are ready to use in stir fries, soups, egg dishes, salads, and anywhere else you’d like to use them!
I do miss our family forest treks right now. But a true forager always has their eyes open for tasty opportunities whether you're in the woods or just in your backyard.