I managed to escape for an hour or so yesterday and freed some time to walk to a meeting, something that sadly hasn't been so possible lately.
When I walk anywhere, I tend to do so with the eye of a forager! I noted about myself some time ago that my eyes are constantly darting from ground to sky and scanning around for edibles. I don't know whether this is something that's innate, a hark back to when food was scarce, or whether it's something learnt by means of having a slightly food obsessed nature!
This time of year is excellent for the forager because it's the time when the fruit trees are in blossom. Short of having actual apples dangling from the branches, it makes easy work of spotting potential bounties realised in the autumn. Cherries and plum relatives (plums themselves, but also gages and blackthorns for sloes) are currently blossoming here; apples and pears won't be too far behind now. I made a mental of note of where to return later in the year!
But there is more besides fruit - leaves! Most people will be able to spot stinging nettles, and the leaves are particularly tender and delicious in spring (they get tougher as the year goes on and the stems are pretty much always a no-no. There's a reason why they are used to make string sometimes!) Nettle soup is particularly delicious (onions, a potato, a carrot, stock and a carrier bag of washed nettle leaves -doddle!), as is nettle cordial. If nothing else, nettle tea - a few leaves in boiling water - is rather fine too. Of course stinging nettle ID is pretty easy, if painful, but thankfully you're unlikely to go too far wrong. Almost all of the stinging nettle's relatives (including the red and white dead nettles, which don't sting) are edible too, but of course if you're unsure, check and double check before taking the plunge.
Often growing together with the nettles is hedge garlic. It's pretty small at the moment here, but it will grow to around a metre or more, capped with a small white flower. Squash the leaves and you'll smell the garlic. Sadly most of this is lost when cooked (or eaten raw for that matter) but it's inoffensive enough to be added in place of spinach to spinachy recipes. It's on the left below.
Chickweed is abundant in towns and will grow almost anywhere, every vacant gap and every bit of bare ground. Scourge of vegetable gardeners, it's actually pretty tasty! It's long and straggly (eat just the tips) and has a tiny white star shaped flower that looks lovely in a salad or as a garnish.
Hairy bittercress is on the right above. Like chickweed, once you've spotted it, you won't be able to not-see it everywhere! It's one of our most excellently flavoured winter plants, spicy and delicious. It's coming to the end of its season now, and will most likely have a tiny white flower on a long stem with seeds that will ping off in all directions if you touch it. And it will be very, very peppery! (Larger leaves = more spice). The leaves grow in a rosette and resemble tiny versions of the commercial watercress, a relative, that are seen in supermarkets. But wild is far, far superior!
But this was my most treasured spot yesterday - winter purslane! I know of only one patch of this locally, and sadly it's almost certainly also familiar to local dogs! (Did I mention about washing really well before eating foraged food?) Like bittercress it grows in a rosette and has really distinctive flowers, which sit inside the bowl of its cup-shaped mature leaves. The young leaves are sown above, lemon-pip shaped. The whole plant is delicious, almost water chestnut tasting - fresh, succulent and full of vitamin C. They're way behind where they would be normally this time of year, so luckily I've got a few more weeks to enjoy the pickings!
And last but not least, one to avoid! This is groundsel, which is throwing up its yellow flowers at the moment. The leaves look a little like rocket, and it has been mistakenly eaten as such, but it's toxic and will give you a bad belly and more. I always think that foraging is just as much about the poisonous as the edible, so make a mental note of this one and leave it for the bees. Bon apetit!
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.