Spring is my favorite time of the year. I love to explore the countryside as the sun shines on the unfurling leaves and the emerging flowers light up the hedgerows.
As the frost melts and the stark bareness of Winter gives way to fresh, bright and vibrant color, nature’s kitchen begins to offer us an abundance of wild foods.
If you are new to foraging, you may be surprised at how many of our native plant species are edible, maybe even more so at how great they taste. With a little bit of knowledge, you can discover plenty of wonderful wild ingredients that are full of nutrients, completely fresh and best of all free!
In this article I will be covering my top ten and including a little information about any medicinal uses, but I highly recommend you research the subject further as it’s a vast and fascinating one!
1. Urtica dioica – Stinging nettles.
Often avoided and somewhat the villain of the hedgerow, the humble stinging nettle is, in fact, a fantastic wild food. A useful ingredient in a variety of dishes, stinging nettles are delicious in soups, teas and as a simple cooked vegetable.
Often used as a replacement for spinach, as the flavors are very similar, Nettles are also used in cheese making (Cornish Yarg and some varieties of Gouda) and make a popular ingredient in pesto and purées. Wear gloves when foraging to gather the young leaves at the tip of the plants. Cooking removes the sting, so you won’t need to worry about that when eating.
Nettles are a good source of iron, calcium and vitamins A and C. They have been used for centuries as a medicinal plant in the treatment of many ailments, from kidney stones to arthritis.
A recent study by the University of Warwick in the UK found that the Formic Acid found in stinging nettles increases the effectiveness of certain cancer treatments by 50%. Definitely more of a hero than a villain in my opinion!
2. Allium ursinum – Wild Garlic
Wild garlic, also known as ramsons, buckrams or wood garlic, fills the woodlands with a distinctive smell at the start of Spring. It grows near or amongst bluebells and is identifiable by its lush, long leaves as well as the strong garlicky aroma. Towards the end of the season it bursts into bloom with small white flowers.
Unlike domestic garlic, the leaves of wild garlic are most often used. The bulbs are also edible but are much smaller than the version found in the shops. The flavor of wild garlic is much the same as that of domestic garlic, although it is milder. The flowers are also edible and make a delicious treat added to salads. Wild garlic leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and work well in soups.
Garlic is well known for its effectiveness in reducing blood pressure and hence the risk of heart disease and stroke. All garlic has this medicinal property, but wild garlic has a greater effect on lowering blood pressure than any other variety. It is also antibacterial, antibiotic and antiseptic.
3. Taraxacum officianale – Dandelions
The quintessential garden weed, dandelions are more often that not seen as a nuisance in an otherwise perfect lawn. In fact, every part of this common weed is not only edible but really tasty!
Dandelion leaves can be picked and eaten at any time during the growing season, but the smaller young leaves are much less bitter if eaten raw. Bigger leaves lose some of the bitterness if you steam them first. You can use dandelion leaves as a delicious ingredient in a salad, sandwich, soup or stir-fry.
The distinctive yellow flowers are sweet and crunchy and can also be eaten raw, are fantastic breaded and fried or can be used to make wine. The root can be used as a vegetable or can be dried and roasted as a coffee substitute.
If you need more convincing that this versatile plant is considerably more than just a pesky weed you only need look at the medicinal properties of dandelions. They are chock full of vitamins A, B, C and D and minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. The roots are used to stimulate appetite and for liver and gallbladder problems, the leaves are well known as a diuretic.
Maybe next time you see dandelions in your lawn, you’ll be tempted to harvest them instead of destroying them.
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