Spring Showers Bring Edible Flowers, Mushrooms, and Mugwort

Who knew a radar image could elicit such joy?

A warm February brought fields of wildflowers throughout California. It was really pretty spectacular in some places, including Death Valley where they called it a once-in-a-decade "super bloom."

Now a series of March storms is keeping the greens sprouting, flowers blooming, and mushrooms fruiting. Wild onion, radish and mustard, miner's lettuce and chickweed, cattail shoots and asparagus abound.

Mallow puts forward its mild edible flower.

Mallow puts forward its mild edible flower.

Sorrel flowers are tart - some species more than others. I've found these white flowers are a bit milder than the ubiquitous yellow "sour grass" flowers. 

Sorrel flowers are tart - some species more than others. I've found these white flowers are a bit milder than the ubiquitous yellow "sour grass" flowers. 

Radish (purple or white flowers) and mustard (yellow) are relatives in the family brassicaceae, members of which are informally known as cruciferous vegetables, a reference to the four-petaled leaves of the flowers which resemble a cross. Both are spicy but the flavor varies considerably by species and maturity. Eat them as you pick to choose your spice level - older and more stressed plants tend to be hotter. I prefer the young, mild flowers in my salads.

Radish (purple or white flowers) and mustard (yellow) are relatives in the family brassicaceae, members of which are informally known as cruciferous vegetables, a reference to the four-petaled leaves of the flowers which resemble a cross. Both are spicy but the flavor varies considerably by species and maturity. Eat them as you pick to choose your spice level - older and more stressed plants tend to be hotter. I prefer the young, mild flowers in my salads.

Brightly colored nasturtium flowers are beautiful and peppery.

Brightly colored nasturtium flowers are beautiful and peppery.

A forager's lunch on the go: miner's lettuce, chickweed, and mustard flowers.

A forager's lunch on the go: miner's lettuce, chickweed, and mustard flowers.

Next up, wild onion, specifically the three-cornered leek (allium triquetrum). It's an invasive weed, but it's welcome by me! In flavor, I'd describe it as a green onion but juicier and more garlicky. The drooping flower clusters are also garlicky and delicious.

Over-harvest can be a concern if you only find a small patch. When I pick them I leave the bulbs in the ground unless I need them, and I always replant the roots. The rule of thumb I've adopted is to take no more than 10-20% of a given patch each year. On the other hand, many people pay to have the stuff removed from their yards.

Wild onion

Wild onion

On the mushroom front, golden chanterelles are finally giving a late-season flush. Agaricus and amanita genus mushrooms are also doing well right now. Morels have started in small numbers in the central valley orchards and foothills, but it will likely be early April before they really come forth en masse.

One of the better mushroom fruitings recently was amanita velosa under live oak. This is one reserved for the experts as it can grow side-by-side with amanita ocreata, the destroying angel, one of the infamous deadly amanitas. Hank Shaw has a great post on edible spring amanitas which includes a checklist of features that must be present to absolutely rule out any toxic species. In my opinion, this mushroom is tasty enough to warrant the up-front effort of learning to ID it, with a sweetness often likened to shellfish. But they are also terribly delicate and perishable - a mushroom best eaten the day it is picked.

A young velosa hatching out of its fluffy white shell. Italians refer to certain edible amanitas as "ovoli," or eggs.

A young velosa hatching out of its fluffy white shell. Italians refer to certain edible amanitas as "ovoli," or eggs.

A fully mature specimen.

A fully mature specimen.

A good patch, picked at just the right time.

A good patch, picked at just the right time.

A pan full of a. velosa and a. novinupta (bruising red), very special spring mushrooms!

A pan full of a. velosa and a. novinupta (bruising red), very special spring mushrooms!

Finally, California mugwort has started sprouting in the Bay Area, a spice and medicinal herb. Europeans used mugwort to brew beer back before they discovered hops. These days it is known best for its medicinal properties, especially those related to dreaming. Dried mugwort is either smoked or brewed in a tea before bed to induce vivid, sometimes even lucid dreams. It is also said that drinking mugwort before bed helps one to recall their dreams more readily in the morning. I tend to be skeptical of the claims of herbal medicine, but there sure is a lot of buzz online about mugwort and dreaming. Time to do some self-experimentation.

California mugwort

California mugwort

Thanks for reading. Sweet dreams...