Foraging can be an easy and super-fun way to get local, organic produce—for free! And as spring is springing across the country, wild greens are popping up all around, too, offering a veritable salad bar for the picking. One of the easiest and tastiest greens to find is wild dock.
Wild dock is the Rumex species, and various plants within that group grow all around the world. The leaves of most dock plants are long and narrow, and the plants are most easily identified by the rust-colored seed stalks that may remain from the previous season. The seed stalks start out green (as in the photo above) but quickly turn to maroon and then rust-brown and can be spotted from a great distance. The leaves grow up out of a papery sheath, and start out tightly rolled, like a cigar, before unfurling as they grow. Looking for the rolled leaves at the center of the plant is another good way to identify the dock.
Dock leaves are a delicious wild green that can be used in any recipe where you'd traditionally use spinach, collards or other dark, leafy greens. The youngest leaves are the best, when they are still tender. Look for leaves without a lot of damage from bugs, and check the undersides of leaves when washing for bug eggs.
Dock leaves can be bitter, but if you harvest the leaves when they are young and tender, they wil be much less so. Try a taste of a leaf in the field; it should have a slightly lemony taste. If the leaf is bitter when you pick it, it will be bitter when you cook it. Some chefs suggest cooking the leaves in several changes of water to remove the bitter flavor, but young, tender leaves shouldn't require the extra step.
Be sure to wash dock leaves well before cooking. Then you can use them in dishes like dock au gratin, dock enchiladas and even a dock cream cheese spread for your morning bagel! Wild greens are an easy and delicious first wild food for beginners to incorporate into their kitchen.
The safest way to learn to forage is to go out with an experienced forager. Wild foods consultant Wendy Petty suggests that you use three different sources to identify any new plant before eating it. And make sure you can tell the difference between any toxic lookalikes.
Make sure you have permission to forage on public or private land, and watch out for areas that might be sprayed with pesticides or pick up toxins from a nearby road. You can check out more of Petty's best foraging tips for beginners.