Spring has arrived and the woods and hedgerows are about to burst with edible spring greens and foraging is a great excuse to get outside and reconnect with nature
I love to eat from the wild and it’s something that I've been exploring over the past year. There are many lessons that I have learnt during this time of reflection and one of them has been immense gratitude for our environment and the life force of our planet. Many of us have become keen gardeners - we have had more time at home, and many of us are looking at different ways to become more self sufficient and enjoy the many benefits of home grown produce. We currently have seed boxes on every windowsill!
I love the intimate connection I get with the environment and more than anything it is fun to grow as well as search for your own food.
The flavours, textures and nutrients are elemental and vital; they bring a new dimension to your cooking.
When you are foraging, if you take responsibility, your bounty is sustainable and free. Please only harvest what you are confident you can positively identify: if in doubt, leave it out. Also, avoid damaging roots and don’t take more than you need!
Here are some edible wild plants to look out for. Many of the plants listed can be found throughout the UK during spring and early summer..
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is an overlooked and underrated weed with cleansing and healing properties and is packed full of vitamins and minerals.
How to use it: its tender leaves can go in salads with lemon and olive oil dressing.
Blend into homemade pesto, or use to liven up fish or chicken. The tiny white, edible flowers make a pretty salad garnish.
What to look for: it’s a tough, creeping annual common throughout the UK on waste ground and in gardens. It’s abundant throughout the year from spring to late autumn.
From February look out for its small, white, star-like white flowers.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
The name of this plant literally means lion’s tooth (dent de lion) probably referring to its jagged leaf edges. It’s long been associated with folklore and herbal medicine and is probably best known for its diuretic effect.
How to use it: all parts of this slightly bitter plant are edible, both raw and cooked. Add young leaves to salads, sandwiches or pies. Flowers can be used in many dishes from risotto to omelettes, for decoration and to make beer and wine. Unopened buds can be marinated and used like capers. Roots can also be thrown into stir-fries or added to vegetable dishes, or try making dandelion coffee by drying then grinding the roots.
What to look for: really common, easy to identify and found almost everywhere. Young leaves from the centre of the rosette are best – the dark outer leaves may be too bitter. They first appear in February.
Goosegrass or cleavers (Galium aparine)
Easy to find and abundant, goosegrass is really starting to shoot up now. It’s known by most people as the plant you pick to throw on your friend’s back. If you’re going to eat this plant as a vegetable, it needs to be picked really young. This plant is in the Rubiaceae – the same family as the coffee plant.
How to use it: if you’re eating this as a vegetable just use the fresh looking tops when the plant is very young before the seeds appear in summer. As the plant matures it becomes fibrous and bitter. Cook it as a green vegetable or add to soups, stews and pies. You can also eat the seeds. Wait until they’ve hardened, then roast and grind as a coffee substitute.
What to look for: it’s easy to identify – it has a square stem and is covered in tiny hooks. Look for it from February and March along hedges, path and roadsides, and waste ground.
Gorse (Ulex europaeus)
C Common on sunny sites and with sandy soil especially around cliff-tops, wasteland, commons and heathland. Its vivid yellow flowers are sought after for their coconut and almond flavour
How to use it: take care when picking the flowers because it has prickly spine-like leaves. They are delicious eaten raw in salads or steeped in fruit tea. Or experiment and infuse its sweet flavour in gorse ice-cream or gorse wine.
What to look for: gorse is a dense evergreen shrub with spine-like leaves. Its deliciously fragrant flowers are at their best in early spring, but you’ll find it flowering from late autumn right through until early summer.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Hawthorn is one of the first trees to really wake up after winter. Now is the perfect time for picking the fresh young leaves before they toughen up and become unpalatable. In the past the leaf and unopened flower buds were a favourite forage for children, known as bread and cheese - the leaf being the bread and the flower the cheese.
How to use it: young leaves and unopened flower buds have a pleasant nutty taste. Clusters can be eaten straight from the hedgerow or add them to green salads, potato salad or sandwiches.
What to look for: hawthorn grows in woods, hedges and scrubland, on heaths and downs. The little green leaves are most tender in March and April.
Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica)
This invasive plant has managed to find its way into all corners of the UK and has become a major environmental problem costing millions to eradicate. Fantastic, then, that you can eat it! It’s apparently quite good for you containing high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, antioxidants, minerals and resveratrol, a substance that lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart attacks.
How to use it: strip any leaves and scrape off the papery tissue that divides the sections of the stem. You’ll need to peel tough pieces. You can substitute it for almost any rhubarb recipe including jams, chutneys, crumbles, pies and even knotweed vodka. Note that this plant is rich in oxalic acid so if you suffer from gout eat only small quantities of it or avoid it.
What to look for: look for it along riverbanks, on waste ground and by roadsides throughout the UK. Its young shoots are tenderest between March and May. Cut young stems with a knife but take care. Just a small fragment of the plant can cause it to spread so don’t throw any off cuts back onto the land. Boil or burn them and deposit them in the bin.
Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Nettle leaves are a surprisingly versatile ingredient and are reputed to be a great super food that’s rich in iron and vitamins A and D and packed with minerals. New growth usually begins to appear in early February.
How to use it: the favoured leaves to pick are the tips – they’re tender and give the best flavour. You can use gloves to avoid being stung. The leaves have a flavour somewhere between cabbage and spinach. You can use nettle in the same way as spinach or to make tea, beer or soup (try creamy nettle and potato).
What to look for: it’s an unmistakable plant familiar to everyone. It grows pretty much everywhere. Just remember to avoid roadside and pesticide-ridden areas. It’s best picked from late February to early June.
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum)
Wild garlic, also known as ramsons, is a native bulb that often grows in dense clusters on the floor of damp woodland and along shaded hedgerows. It’s a rich source of folklore and is credited with the ability to ward off vampires and evil spirits.
How to use it: the leaves and flowers are edible and delicious and have an unmistakable smell. The flavour is mellower than that of cultivated garlic and can be used in many ways. Add leaves to soups, sauces or omelettes. Make a wild garlic pesto or use to infuse olive oil. They are also delicious in salads and sandwiches or chop and mix with butter to make a delicious version of garlic bread.
What to look for: very common throughout woodland in England and Wales, but less so in Scotland. Leaves appear as early as February and are best picked before the flowers have died (usually early May).
Here’s a recipe to get your taste buds going! ...
How to make wild garlic pesto
100g wild garlic leaves
50g parmesan cheese or 50g nutritional yeast for a vegan and veggie-friendly version
50g toasted pine nuts
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
Lemon juice or 2-3 drops of lemon essential oil
Salt and pepper
Wash wild garlic leaves thoroughly.
Place the leaves, parmesan, olive oil and pine nuts into a food processor and blitz. You could do this with a pestle and mortar if you want to be more traditional.
Add more oil if you want to have a thinner pesto.
Add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.
If you would like to explore more options of using doTERRA essential oils in cooking you can read more here:
If you are interested in getting stuck in with some foraging fun why not join us on one of these dates with Krysia Chrzanowska-Hunt who will open your eyes to the wonder of the world on your door step.
With her infectious enthusiasm, Krysia inspires both young and old with a love of nature and helps them to discover the wonder of the world on their doorstep. She has more than 20 years of experience, both as an Education Ranger for the Forestry Commission and more recently working freelance. Her work ranges from Forest School programmes, Nature Tots groups, Mindfulness and wellness workshops to family events and author readings of her book for young families.
Each event will be somewhere different foraging for local, seasonal items. Once you have registered we will be in touch closer to the date with full details of where to meet. All sessions will take place near Bradford on Avon.
We will explore what's growing there, the uses of various plants and some suggested recipes and remedies (maybe some sampling too!).