Fiddleheads look more like a decorative plant than a food, but they can bring flavor – and nutrition – to Spring recipes. They’re popular in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Quebec, and New England, but there’s a good chance they’re hiding in your local produce section also. According to some, fiddle heads might be deemed the next “superfood” because of their antioxidant capacity, phenolic compound concentration, and omega-3 fatty acid content. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientist Dr. John DeLong, who has been researching the nutritional composition of fiddleheads for years, the fern has more than twice the amount of antioxidants as blueberries, the original “superfood.” They also have 3-4 times the amount of the anti-inflammatory phenolic compounds found in spinach. And according to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Plant Science, fiddleheads have the most complete fatty acid distribution of any green plant, making them an ideal omega-3 source for vegetarians. Rounding out their nutritional composition, they are high in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and zinc. Fiddleheads have a grassy, nutty taste similar to asparagus. Because some have been found to be toxic in their raw form, fiddleheads must be cooked; try roasting them with olive oil and lemon juice. They also work in salads, alongside meat and chicken, in soups, or in stir-fries.
Dandelion greens can be found as easily in your backyard as in Whole Foods. But like purslane, another oft-forgotten weed, dandelion greens are high in nutrition and low in calories. Historically, dandelion greens and roots were used in Chinese, Indian, and Russian folk medicine to detoxify the liver; current research has verified this. Today, studies show that dandelion greens have many other health benefits. Because of their high inulin (a type of soluble fiber) content, they help maintain stable blood sugar levels: in a study published in Clinica Chimica Acta, researchers found that diabetic rats who consumed dandelion water extract decreased their blood sugar levels, total cholesterol, and triglycerides. Dandelion may also be a potent cancer fighter; studies published in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin and the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have identified compounds that inhibit cell growth and may protect against cancer. Dandelion greens can take the place of any leafy green vegetable (kale, collard greens, chard) in salads or recipes. Try them in stir-fries with chickpeas or, like the French, pair with bacon.
Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are a member of the Allium family (along with onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks). Like these other pungent bulbs, ramps are high in kaempferol, a flavanoid that has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing oxidative stress in blood vessels. The same flavonoid has also been shown to fight cancer: a study published in In Vivo found that kaempferol and quercetin (another flavonoid) work synergistically to reduce malignant cell proliferation. Ramps are also high in folate, which helps with the formation of DNA, as well as vitamin A, vitamin C, and selenium. Ramps are smaller in size than leeks but offer a more intense, pungent flavor. Try them in any recipe where you would normally use leeks, like soups and egg dishes. For more rampy flavor, try making a ramp pesto (in place of basil) or ramp hummus (simply blend it with chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice).