Foraging is a great way to get outdoors and enjoy nature, plus there’s the added bonus that you might return home with a basketful of tasty, free ingredients to use in the kitchen. Here are ten easily identified and flavoursome wild plants to look out for and gather in Spring and early Summer.
Nettles are a delicious and plentiful Spring harvest. Pick young leaves before the plant comes into flower; they are packed with vitamins and minerals and have many uses in the kitchen. Treat the leaves as you would spinach; they are great in homemade pasta, soups or whizzed into smoothies.
2) Ramsons/Wild Garlic
Ramsons are a member of the allium family, which includes onions and garlic. Young leaves are the best in the kitchen – blitz them into pestos, flavoured butters and soups. Young flower buds are great pickled, while the flowers themselves make for a cheerful addition to a Spring salad. Find them in wet and shady woodland areas.
Dandelions are one of the first leaves to pick in Spring and they are easy to identify. They have a bitter note (a bit like Chicory) and work well with other leaves in a salad ensemble. Flower buds can be pickled and used like capers, while the flowers are also edible. Take care not to overdo it, as all parts of the plant are known to have diuretic properties.
Chickweed has an almost lettuce-like succulence and is fantastic in a sandwich, with roast beef being a particularly favourable pairing. A low growing annual, as with all wild plants, ensure that leaves are gathered from a clean, pollution-free area.
5) Sweet Violet
Sweet violets will have flowered long before many plants have even thought about stirring from their winter slumber. Flowers can be sprinkled over salads, or used to make flavoured sugars. The flavour of violet is distinct; if you’re unsure what to expect, head to the nearest sweet shop and pick up a roll of parma violet sweets. Young leaves are also edible.
6) Hairy bittercress
I’m convinced that Hairy Bittercress could do with a bit of an appellative makeover, as it is neither particularly hairy, nor particularly bitter. It is a common plant that can be found in many gardens, often in great profusion. The flavour of the leaves is like a cross between cress and rocket, and it is a worthy addition to any salad or sandwich.
Elderflower is the true taste of early summer. Flowers can be picked and used to make cordials and wines, or made into fritters by dipping freshly picked umbels in a light batter, deep-frying and dusting with sugar. Later on in the year, Elderberries are a valuable addition to the Autumn kitchen.
Primrose flowers can be used to decorate cakes, infused into floral teas or scattered over salads. Pick with restraint, as they emerge at a time when many pollinators such as bees are emerging from hibernation and need all the sustenance that they can get.
9) Garlic mustard
Also known as Jack-by-the-Hedge, Garlic mustard is a common plant that, although garlicky, isn’t related to garlic in any way. Young leaves have a spicy, mustardy note and are great in pestos, rostis and soups. Later on in the season, the seeds can be harvested and added to the spice cupboard.
10) Common sorrel
Common sorrel can be found in grassy hedgebanks and on the fringes of meadows. Young leaves have a lemony, acidic pop – they contain oxalic acid which literally makes the mouth water. They are a great addition to soups, flavoured butters and salads.
While I have chosen species that are easy to identify, a 100% positive identification of the plant is a must before eating and even then, try a little first before consuming in larger amounts. There are plenty of great field guides available that contain picture references to aid with identification. Avoid gathering near busy roads and be mindful of spots that may have been frequented by dogs in a lavatorial capacity. Only take what you need and always pick with discretion.
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