Many people forage for mushrooms or other foods but why not forage for wild spices? Here is a list of herbs and spices you can find outside and use at home.
We often talk about foraging for edibles, like mushrooms and greens, and herbs for medicine, but I’ve never seen an article about foraging for wild spices. Here are some herbal alternatives for herbs in your spice cabinet. Time to get creative!
Forage for Wild Spices!
I’ve used most all of the “spices” listed here and love them. When you find spices in the store, often they’ve sat on the shelf for a long time, may not be fresh, could have chemicals, or may just not taste good. That is why I like to hunt for my own spices!
Below is a list of wild spices you can forage for and find yourself.
Wild Garlic and Onion
You’ll see these mainly in the spring and fall. Dig the bulbs, chop and dry to use as you would dry minced onion and garlic. Chop the tops off, dry and use on top of baked potatoes or chicken salad.
The fuzzy red fruits of the sumac (don’t use white fruits, they can be toxic) are tart and astringent. Dry and use in Middle Eastern cuisine. You can also grind and use with salt and pepper on pork and chicken.
Wild Bergamot, Monarda, Bee Balm
These are all types of the same plant. It grows wild in many damp areas of the country. Dried, the leaves taste and smell like oregano. Use in Italian dishes and anywhere else you would use oregano. The flowers are milder and sweeter. Dried, they make a nice tea.
The needles from most pine trees (and Fir and Hemlock) are loaded with vitamin C and other nutrients. Dry and use in tea. Or grind and blend with other spices to make a rub for meat.
This lemony tart plant comes out in the spring. Dry and use in tea, instead of lemon in dishes like lemon pepper chicken and on fruit. One of my favorite street foods is a cup of cut fruit with Tajin, a spice used in Mexico for many dishes. It consists of dehydrated lime juice, cayenne, and salt. Substitute sorrel for the lime for a more local treat.
In the Eastern parts of the U.S., there is a plant that comes up in the spring called garlic mustard. Dried, it tastes just garlic. You can use it anywhere that you would normally use garlic.
Stinging nettles are regarded as one of the most nutrient dense plants there are. They contain a ton of iron and vitamins. Dry and use anywhere you normally would use parsley. I use it in soups, stews, really just about any dish.
These wild onions/garlic are just coming up now in Western North Carolina. You can dry the leaves and use like dry chives. I mix them in cream cheese for a great spread. You can dry the bulbs and use like garlic or onions. Beware that they are very pungent. A little goes a long way!
Another southern treat, sourwood trees also grow in many other parts of the country. You can also dry and crush the leaves and use as a seasoning. They are tart and lemony. I love using sourwood leaves on fish.
There are many types of wild mint. Here in the Appalachian mountains we have a variety of mountain mint. They have a strong mint flavor with hints of vanilla. Dry and use in tea or Asian cooking. Or mix in apple jelly for a lamb or pork glaze.
Found in damp woods in the Eastern US, wild ginger is spicy and sweet. Dry the roots to use in Asian cooking or tea.
Another Appalachian plant, spice bush is often found in damp woods. The twigs can be dried and used as a cinnamon/clove substitute. They are great steeped in hot water for tea. Another interesting application is to dry the twigs and store in a jar. Take one out, wet the end and rub it on your teeth like a tooth brush.
Dehydrate maple syrup to the point at which it becomes crystallized. Now you have a tasty sugar substitute.
This “weed” is found in a lot of the country. You’ll recognize the periwinkle blue flowers that close up up the evening. Wash and dry the roots, then grind them to use as a coffee substitute. or mix with other spices for a great meat rub.
Many flowers are edible. Some are even spicy. Try dandelion or honyesuckle flowers for a different flavor.
Dried, dandelion flowers make a great addition to rice instead of expensive saffron. I’ve added them to cream cheese along with other flowers for a colorful bagel condiment.
Some grasses, like sweetgrass, are great additions to tea. Try dried grasses as a tea or even coloring agent. I just used grass from my yard as a frosting color. Turned it bright green!
Most berries are tart when dried. Some have more sugar and some have different flavor profiles. Dried, they can be used as seasonings in sweet dishes and even some savory ones. Try dried blackberries mixed with sorrel and maple sugar for a chicken seasoning.
Sagebrush grows in the west and can be dried and used like you would sage. Great on poultry dishes.
Queen Anne’s Lace
This member of the carrot family has roots that taste like carrots. Dried, they are great in soups and make a good broth starter. Do not mistake water hemlock for carrot family plants. They are toxic!
A Few Notes about Wild Spices
Be sure that you are getting the right plant when foraging. If you’re not sure what it is, it’s best to leave it alone. Being able to identify plants in the wild is important as some plants have toxic look a likes, such as the hemlock mentioned above. Do not take plants from areas that have been sprayed fro pesticides. If something is in an area that does not belong to you, get permission first. Some areas are protected, like state and national parks, and picking of plants if prohibited. be aware of areas that are high in dangerous microbes, such as giardia. Wash plants thoroughly before using them. Do not pick endangered species. Ramps are protected around here, so I get mine from locals that harvest them sustainably.
Have you ever tried to forage for wild spices? What do you have round your area?