This is the season for hostas, those leafy green, almost generic plants that sprout up every spring, whether we want them to or not.
Surprisingly, this common plant is edible. I learned you can eat hostas – and a whole lot of other local plants – during an urban foraging expedition run by Nancy Klehm that I organized in 2015 through Wednesday Journal.
Every year around this time, we look at our sprawling, untended hosta patch and say, “We should really eat some hostas this year.” But we never did; until the pandemic hit. Now, we have more time to harvest and cook – not to mention contemplate nature – so, coming back from our daily walk, Carolyn picked a bunch of hosta and sautéed the tender shoots with some wild garlic (also growing in our yard) and olive oil.
At this time of year, hostas are fresh young shoots. This is likely the best time to eat them (they get thicker and less appetizing as the summer goes on). Trimmed, washed and dried, the shoots are cooked whole or chopped.
So, how do they taste?
The crisp, green leaves of this indigenous Asian plant are a bite of springtime, somewhat similar to asparagus, water chestnuts or bok choy. They would be very good in a stir fry.
Hostas contain a range of minerals, and they are a good source of roughage, but we were eager to try hostas mostly because they’re everywhere this time of year and few ever eat them.
We wanted to savor the subtle flavor of the hostas, so we did a fairly simple sauté for lunch, then for another meal we added the chopped shoots to a casserole of ham, noodles and cheese; this latter preparation was especially good, the hosta providing a fresh crunch to the other ingredients.
Hostas start blooming in late summer, and I understand the blooms are edible as well.
There are also, of course, lots of other edible plants, many of them wild, growing all over Oak Park. Right now, poking up in our backyards and alley ways (fertile terrain for wild plants of all kinds) are the much-sought-after ramps, as well as hackberry, burdock root, spiny lettuce and creeping Charley. Yes, you can eat creeping Charley.
Make sure, though, that you know what you’re eating (hostas are pretty easy to recognize) and that what you’re eating has not been treated with chemicals. As the redoubtable Ms. Klehm told us during our forage in nearby Washington Park, “Don’t go sticking things in your mouth just because you’re in an elfin mood.”