In mid-to-late winter and early spring on the 38 acres Elaine and I live on, I perform many of the typical tasks NDA members do: look for sheds of the never-seen buck that made all those huge rubs, conduct various timber stand improvement (TSI) tasks, cut firewood, and do something atypical – gather two wild vegetables: watercress and dandelions.
Yes, watercress and dandelions are sometimes considered wild vegetables. Deer consume both of them, and we humans might want to consider doing the same. On our Virginia land, watercress thrives in two headwater springs of the James River. A member of the brassica family, this semi-aquatic plant features one-inch or less, dark green oval leaves with smooth or wavy borders. In our springs, they form dense mats, usually in several inches of water, although some plants have spread onto rocks.
Watercress grows year-round, lives in 48 states, and is rated 100 on the Superfood Scale. It’s easy to understand why. The plant contains over 50 vitamins and minerals, especially flaunting high concentrations of calcium, potassium, and Vitamins A. C, and E. The leaves are rich in folates and antioxidants (cancer fighters) as well. Also, goodly amounts of Vitamins K and B6 and potassium and iodine exist, and this brassica family member is low in calories.
One thing hunter-gatherers should not do concerning wild watercress is consume it raw even from seemingly pristine springs such as ours. That’s because creatures such as giardia can live in water, and they can cause all kinds of intestinal disturbances and other problems. Elaine always cooks watercress before serving it. Usually when people consume uncooked cress in salads, for example, it’s because it has been grown inside greenhouses. Again, do not consume wild watercress from streams without first cooking it.
Dandelions are another incredibly healthy plant to eat, despite its reputation as a vile lawn weed fit only to be sprayed and scorned. The leaves are superb sources of Vitamins A, C, and K and also offer Vitamin E as well as iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, plus folates.
Several caveats do exist about gathering dandelions. From our experience, the leaves become too bitter to eat by early May or even late April if spring has arrived early and the weather has been warm. Also, do not gather this plant anywhere that has been fertilized or sprayed or if you are unsure of what might have been added to the soil.
Late winter and early spring are also when our chickens resume egg-laying duties, so at this time of year Elaine likes to pair fresh eggs with venison dishes. One of the most interesting ways to do so is with the venison burger recipe below. Watercress and potatoes are a natural pairing, such as in any kind of soup, but the duo is superb as a simple mashed potatoes side. Dandelions are most often used in salads where I would describe them as having a pleasingly nutty flavor.
Egg and Cheese Deer Burger
Ingredients for each burger:
- Venison burger patty
- Sliced cheddar cheese
- 1 fresh egg
- Mild sweet onion slices or fresh green onions from a garden
- Bun or sliced bread
- Condiments of your choice
Directions: Cook burgers according to your desired method. We mix raw ground venison with 1 to 2 tablespoons of A-1 and the same amount of prepared mustard. Then form into patties and bake on a parchment covered baking sheet at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
At end of cooking time, heat skillet and fry egg. Cook until white edges are done and yolk has gelled somewhat. Assemble burger with condiments of choice, and top burger, cheese, and cooked egg with onion.
Note: This is a gooey way to eat a burger, but the taste will likely make you not care about that.
Mashed Potatoes with Watercress
- 4 potatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3-4 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups fresh watercress
- Slice potatoes with peels on for a more nutritional “mash.”
- Cover with water, add 1 teaspoon salt and bring to boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until fork tender, about 15 minutes.
- Drain, add butter, and mash.
- While potatoes are cooking, submerse watercress in clean water and drain 2-3 times.
- Examine cress and remove any discolored leaves, debris, and the hairy roots. Pinch off roots to eliminate any crunchy bits.
- Submerse cleaned watercress in pot of boiling water; reduce to medium and cook for 2-3 minutes. Cress will shrink a great deal. Drain and stir into prepared potatoes and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Fresh pea pods
- Broccoli florets
- Sliced green onions
- Sliced carrots
- Grated Monterey Jack cheese
- Dandelion greens
- Wash dandelion greens in bowl of water and spread out to examine.
- Remove any discolored leaves as well as any debris.
- In bowl assemble salad with fresh vegetables and dandelion leaves, adding walnuts and cheese. We prefer honey-mustard dressing with this salad.
About the Authors: Bruce and Elaine Ingram co-wrote Living the Locavore Lifestyle about hunting, fishing, and gathering for food. Contact them directly to purchase a copy. Their Hunt & Gather series for NDA shares recipes that combine venison with other wild foods gathered from the woods.