What to forage in spring

As spring breaks through the cold we all start to get anxious for warm weather activities! One of my favorite things to do is to forage for wild herbs. These are the basis of many of the salves and teas I make during the year. In the first few weeks of spring I often forage baskets and baskets of herbs to dry!

pictures of wild herbs to harvest in spring

There are lots of wild herbs (or weeds) that you can forage for in your yard or local park in summer, but only a few that are ready to be collected this early in the year. Dandelions and plantain are two that start the earliest. Wild violet is not far behind, but only has a window of a few weeks before the flowers are gone.

I'm in Pennsylvania, so our foraging is dependent on the cold weather breaking. Plants that are just getting started up here, like chickweed are already way out of control in southern states! Many plants prefer spring to fall in the south and die out over summer.

Either way, now is the perfect time to start foraging!

Wild herbs to forage in spring

Here are a few of my favorite early spring herbs to forage, though there may be different ones available in your area!


I've been Harvesting & Drying Plantain for years! Broad leaf Plantain (Plantago major) can be used as a tea or in salves. Externally, it has excellent anti-itch properties and can help heal a bug bite, cut or scrape. 

Plantain has a rosette of large oval shaped leaves with veins that run from bottom to top. The plant sets out dense spikes from the center of seeds/flowers. The leaves may be small this time of year, but they will still be useful. Only the leaves are used.

I make a plantain salve and it really works wonders. It's a lot like a homemade Neosporin. It can also be prepared like a tea and used to treat digestive disorders and bladder problems. I use it in my 2 ingredient bug bite remedy

Of course if you ever get a bug bite or scratch while out foraging just grab a leaf, rip it in half and rub the cut end on the wound for instant relief.

Plantain growing in grass

Common Chickweed:

This is probably your most annoying 'weed'! Chickweed (Stellaria media) relieves inflammation and has antiseptic and antifungal properties. Commonly used in salves. There are several types of chickweed but common chickweed is most likely what you will find. It's usually found in partial sun to full sun areas.

Chickweed can grow very long (tall?) and sort of spread out, or stay more compact. It has stringy, slightly hairy stems with oval leaves that grow opposite each other. Flowers are very small and white with deeply lobed petals, sort of daisy like.

Chickweed can be eaten like a salad green. It does not have a milky sap like dandelion, which is also a way to identify it. It can also be cooked kind of like spinach. Usually harvested and dried, using the whole plant. It can then be infused in oil for salves, often used on wounds or minor injures.

Chickweed, picture to identify it

Wild Violet:

While these little purple flowers are one of the first blooms of spring, they don't last long, so pick them while you can. In fact, harvest as much violet as you need for the year because they won't be back till next year! (ethically foraging them of course) Violet has been used for centuries for it's many healing properties.

Both the flower and the leaves of the wild violet are edible but the stems are not. The flowers and leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and the flowers add a splash of color to salads! Violet leaves contain fiber, vitamins A & C and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They are used to encourage healing and soothe the digestive, respiratory and urinary tracts. 

Wild violet likes to grow in partial shade, so you can often find it at the edges of the woods or alongside the house or garage. Violet is one of the easiest plants to forage for, but to avoid misidentifying other plants, only harvest violets when the flowers are present. There are several other plants that have similar leaves but are not edible...so you want to be very careful not to confuse them!

I think the easiest way to take violet is by making violet tea or tincture. For complete details check out: Foraging Wild Violets and Making Tea!

Wild violet flowers and leaves in clear glass bowl

Purple Deadnettle:

This one is really common and you might have it growing in shady areas of your yard. Purple dead nettle is a part of the mint family and though it has brilliantly purple leaves with pink flowers at the top, it's also recognized by it square stems and fuzzy leaves. The whole stem is harvested when foraging, though you'll strip the leaves off before drying or using.

Purple deadnettle has medicinal benefits including being astringent, anti-inflammatory properties, antibacterial and antifungal.

It gets it's weird name because it looks like a plant from the nettle family, but unlike nettles it does not sting. Hence the word dead. Also known as red deadnettle.

Purple deadnettle drying on paper towel


We all have Dandelion growing in the yard, right? However, I also have dogs and chickens running around in that yard so I prefer to collect my Dandelion from a field in the woods where there's a better chance that it hasn't been pooped on! When foraging always be aware of where the high traffic areas for wildlife (and pet walkers) are and avoid these spots.

Dandelion flowers, leaves and roots are all useable medicinally. The larger the plant, the larger the root, though at this point in spring the roots are going to be pretty small. The flowers and young leaves are best in spring.

You can use the dandelion flowers to make Dandelion oil and the young leaves in are edible ad can be used in salads. Dandelion root is often used to treat liver problems and detoxify the body, so if you can find large dandelions try to pull out the tap root all in one piece.

Hand holding dandelions strung together

Where to forage

Most people simply forage their yards, checking near the foundation of the house or in flower beds. As a bonus, pulling whole plants when you find them in undesirable areas like your garden, will keep them from flowering and spreading late in the season! Simply discard the unusable parts.

I don't live in a busy area so there isn't much pollution but if you do live closer to the city do not collect herbs beside well traveled roads. They might have residue on them from car exhaust and other pollutants.

Also, if you think the area you're in might have been sprayed with chemicals then just avoid collecting there. If the plants look withered, tattered or diseased then keep looking. You wouldn't want to bring home a crop of bugs or use a diseased plant in a tea.

Only chose the healthiest looking plants and remember to leave enough in areas you don't own so the crop will continue to grow.

If you have any questions about plant identification at all consult a field guide or a reputable website. If you're still not sure, just skip it...it's always better to be safe than sorry when foraging.


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I am not a doctor or other health care professional nor do I claim to be. I am not trained in any medical field. I am simply passing on information that has worked for me. This information is for entertainment purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any medical condition. see a Dr if you are ill. Click for my full disclaimer.

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