Wild Alaska Devil’s Club Buds

heidi drygas devils club 1

We all have our quirks. Some wear an apron while they cook. Others enjoy Cheez-Its with their PB&J’s. Some still drink Shirley Temples when they’re 36. Many say we “collect” kitchenware as a hobby to cover for our kitchenware hoarding problem.

Whatever…they’re quirks! They make us unique, right?! (Don’t judge- Cheez-Its and PB&J’s go together like peas and carrots, just trust me. Also, I own 4 colanders if you need one. I wish to God I was joking. I am not.)

Freshly harvested Devil's Club shoots
Freshly harvested Devil’s Club shoots

One quirk I embrace: I’m a forager, and I embrace my inner hunter & gatherer.

Now, by “hunter & gatherer” I don’t mean to conjure up an image of me in an Elmer Fudd hat with a 30-06 slung over my shoulder ready to field dress a moose. Although let’s all take a moment and do that right now.

That was fun.

Shoots after they've been blanched in boiling, salted water and "shocked" in an ice bath.
Shoots after they’ve been blanched in boiling, salted water and “shocked” in an ice bath.

No, by hunter & gatherer, I mean I am a woman who enjoys nature’s edible bounty in all its forms. Fish, shellfish, game, and lately wild edible plants. I mean, they’re free! More importantly, they’re delicious!! Now admittedly I’m still a novice at foraging for wild edibles, although my foraging roots for Alaska’s wild seafood go way, way, way back.

Currently, my wild edible plant repertoire consists of young cow parsnip (delicious roasted), fireweed shoots (similar to asparagus, and can be eaten raw), fiddleheads (total pain in the a** to clean, but broke down and picked some last weekend– they’re butter, garlic, and lemon’s BFF), stinging nettles (just picked last night, still not sure what to do with them), and my favorite so far: Devil’s Club leaf shoots, or buds.

Devil’s Club grow all over Southcentral Alaska on many of my favorite trails and hikes. When fully grown, Devil’s Club is a nasty, horrible bane of a hiker’s existence. But when they are buds an inch or two long, they are a tasty, delicate treat. To me, they have notes of pine, mint, parsley, and resin. I absolutely love it and have never quite tasted anything like them. Because of their incredible flavor, they’re well worth the effort to harvest!

heidi drygas devils club 4

I learned a lot about foraging for Devil’s Club buds from an article written by Laurie Constantino. Wear long sleeves and plants when picking these suckers. While the shoots are soft, their thorny stalks are not so tread carefully. Pick shoots 1 – 2 inches long, when the buds are tender and their spiny undersides are still soft to the touch. USE GLOVES! (I learned this seemingly common sense lesson the hard way. OUCH!) Simply grab the bud, bend it down, twist, and it comes right off. Discard the inedible outer brown sheaths, wash in cold water several times, blanch in boiling salted water for a couple minutes, and plunge into a cold water bath. Drain and they’re ready to eat as is, or to use in any culinary creation you can dream up.

heidi drygas devils club 5

The first time I ate Devil’s Club buds, I simply tossed them with olive oil, salt and lemon after blanching them. They were delicious! I still think this is my favorite way to eat them. I also added curry one time and while it turned out great, the curry flavor was too strong for the delicate flavor of the buds. In my recipe below, I find the fennel and dill pair wonderfully with the piney/resin-like flavor of the shoots.

I hope you head out and find some buds- the short spring window is about to close! You can still find many buds at higher elevations around Southcentral Alaska. Happy foraging!!

heidi drygas devils club 6

Find more recipes like this on the Chena Girl Cooks blog.

Devil’s Club Buds with Fennel and Dill

(Adapted from Laurie Constantino)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large fennel bulb (or one small), cored and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of Aleppo pepper (optional)
3 cups Devil’s Club buds/shoots
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

(1) Clean Devil’s club buds by picking out any twigs or leaves and by washing twice in cold water. Fill a large bowl or sink with cold water and several ice cubes. Blanch shoots for 2 minutes in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Drain and plunge immediately into the cold water. Drain again. Lay shoots flat on a kitchen towel. Place another towel on top and squeeze out the excess water, or roll the shoots up in the towel and gently squeeze out excess water.

{**At this point, if you want to use them for later use, let air dry for a couple hours, then place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and place them in the freezer overnight. In the morning, put the frozen shoots in a large ziplock bag and store in the freezer. This is also how I freeze berries for winter storage.}

(2) In a large skillet, sauté fennel in olive oil for 5-7 minutes, until soft and golden brown. Add garlic and Aleppo pepper and sauté another 30 seconds. Add blanched Devil’s Club buds, stirring until just warmed through and moisture has evaporated from the buds. Add lemon zest and juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

xo h

Heidi was born and raised in Fairbanks, and grew up in and around the waters of the Chena River. She graduated with a degree in History from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and received her law degree from Willamette University. A lawyer by day and self-taught home cook at night, she is passionate about cooking and creating tasty, uncomplicated food. She is also a firm believer in buying local produce and products whenever possible, and is an avid fisherwoman. She currently lives in Anchorage with her trusty terrier, Milo.


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