Everything you need to know about spring foraging.
Spring is finally here and the hedgerows are brimming with food that will bring a flavoursome punch to your salads, soups and sauces. It's an ideal time for foraging as leaves are young, fresh and zinging with flavour, so make the most of it in the coming weeks. Just remember to use scissors or a sharp knife when harvesting so you don't uproot the plant and always take a good foraging guidebook with you. If you're not sure, don't pick it.
Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata
Also known as Jack-in-the-Hedge, Hedge Garlic and Poor Man's Mustard, this commonly found plant tastes, funnily enough, like garlic and mustard. It's easy to identify with its hairless, nettle-shaped leaves and delicate four-petalled white flowers but if you're unsure, crush it in your hand and you should get a whiff of garlic. The smaller, younger leaves are a great addition to salads and pesto and packs a punch in nettle soup. Nice with roast lamb.
You may have heard the playground myth that if you pick dandelions you'll wet the bed but worry not. They may be a diuretic, but they're not that effective. Dandelions are extremely common and you'll be heartened to know that every part of it is edible. Young leaves (between March and May) work well in salad; the petals make a delicately-flavoured jam and the roots, when roasted and ground up, can be drank as a caffeine-free coffee substitute, but there are disputes about how palatable it is.
Wood Sorrel, Oxalis acetosella
This tiny, delicate plant carpets woodland floors this time of year and is often confused for clover (which is also edible). Each plant has three heart-shaped leaves with a central fold and the taste is akin to wild strawberries or grape skin. Its name derives from sur, the French for 'sour' – the sourness comes from oxalic acid, which you should avoid eating in large quantities. Just add a few leaves to zing up your salad or to infuse a lemony flavour in fish dishes.
Ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea
A plant with notes of sage, mint, thyme and rosemary – could this be the ultimate wild herb? This member of the mint family, commonly found in hedgerows, roadside verges and waste and cultivated land, is easy to spot between March and June for its tiny, purple orchid-like flower at the base of its green and rust-red leaves. If in doubt, give it a sniff – those herby aromas should come through. Ideal for flavouring meat and fish.
Wall Pennywort, Umbilicus rupestris
Look out for a green, succulent, rosette-shaped leaf that grows on walls and looks like a bellybutton – hence the Latin name Umbilicus. These plants are best in moist conditions just after rainfall when the leaves are at their most juicy. Avoid reddish ones, which indicate they've gone a bit dry and take care when foraging as the root is shallow and easy to pull out. The flavour is reminiscent of lettuce and cucumber, so try it instead of a lettuce leaf in your sarnies.
You can pick a poisonous plant if you don’t know what you’re doing – so be careful. Always make sure you take a reliable guide book or an expert with you when foraging. If in doubt, don’t eat it!
Words: Abigail Whyte
Last date edited: 8 April 2015
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