I have been foraging for many years now, I'm not entirely sure when it started or how exactly but thinking back was probably about twelve or so years ago when I began to experiment with hedgerow jams. When you become enthused with things you naturally want to absorb all the information surrounding that area of interest. So I'm guessing it started with berries and then spread to leaves and other tasty hedgerow finds. Yum!
There's a lot out there and it can be very daunting when you first start out. My advice is (and this is what I practise myself) just get out there and have a wander around. Look at the verges when you go out walking and see how many species of plant you can already identify. You may surprise yourself. What I used to believe to be a mass of weeds now has become a collection of nourishing pickings and as well as the nutritional value, when you explore wild plants further, there are many medicinal qualities about them and much interesting folklore to be intrigued by too.
My ability to take in vast amounts of information; and remember it at any one time, has never been great. Therefore, the way that I have learnt so much over the years is to add about three different species to my repertoire a year.
This year my best new discovery has been Hogweed. Now Hogweed comes in two varieties (I'm sure there are more but these are the two that you need to know). Standard Hogweed and Giant Hogweed. Standard, is the stuff that you are most likely to see out and about and now that I have identified it I realise that it really is everywhere.
Giant Hogweed is enormous! Apparently it was brought over to the UK as an ornamental plant and grows mainly by water. If you need to familiarise yourself do look it up.
When I googled Hogweed; just to confirm that it is safe to eat, I discovered that top British chefs are trying to establish it on the menus of some of the top London restaurants!
You do need to pick this stuff with gloves, not because it stings but because there is something within it that can cause skin irritation especially if the sun reacts with it. This is not a problem for everyone and once cooked is not a reason for alarm, it's merely a precaution.
I fried up some young shoots in a little butter (choose the young over the old as they will be more succulent) and they are rather tasty!
The next plants that you may find in abundance are dandelions. We used to feed these to our bunnies when I was a child. They have quite a bitter taste but if you pick the young shoots and combine them in a salad they are pretty tasty. You can eat the flowers too! Apparently the sap of the plant is good for ridding one of warts ( a poultice of cider vinegar works well for warts too).
Another plant that is quite new to my repertoire this year is Cow Parsley. It's a member of the celery family and can be found growing virtually everywhere at this time of the year. There are some similar poisonous plant varieties so best familiarise yourself before tucking in. The trick I have discovered is that if you pick the plant, the stem is C shaped. The leaves also smell very much like celery if you rub them.
Do you see the nettle in the foreground? They are amazingly nutritious and are particularly tasty made up into a soup :-)
Hmmm, one of my springtime faves....'Jack by the Hedge' or 'Garlic mustard' as it is often referred.
I've noticed in the last few days that this plant is currently in flowering mode. Again, look it up if you want to be sure.
This is a picture of one of the flower beds in my front garden. Hmmm pretty weedy hey! Well, right in the centre there you can see quite a lot of Ground Elder. For many gardeners it is seen as a real pain but it is in fact edible and can be used much in the same way as spinach.
A close up :-)
Here's another garden weed right on my doorstep. Clevers/Sticky Willy/Goose Grass. It's the stuff that sticks to you and was the inspiration behind Velcro....useless information!
Small shoots chopped up and added to a salad are tasty but the thinker, older plants...well, they just get stuck in your throat!
Hawthorn. Right now the blossom is just opening too. The flowers are really tasty and together with the leaves they used to be considered the 'bread and cheese' of the hedgerow.
Okay.....another one slipped in!
Primroses....pretty aren't they. The flowers are fully edible and look lovely added to salads. You can dip them in egg white and then sugar to crystallise them too for cake decorations.
So here it is, my lovely Spring foraged salad. Yummy!
Really scrumptious when accompanied by some stuffed pasta, beetroot and apple bread, halloumi cheese and a little pesto (garlic if you've been lucky enough to find some!). XX