May is the time of the year when the landscape really wakes up after winter. There’s some warm sunshine (in between the still heavy rain showers), colourful flowers bloom in the hedgerows, the trees are covering themselves with leaves again and new plants seem to emerge and take over everywhere (why do weeds grow faster than your garden plants?). This time of year is all about fresh new growth – which makes it the perfect time to start foraging for wild food. Here are four common and easy to identify wild foods best at this time of the year:
Most of us can easily identify a dandelion, whether you wage war against them in your garden, you seek them out to feed small pets or you actually just like seeing their cheery yellow flowers in spring. Not so many of us know that it is edible to humans. If you are bored of the same old lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad, why not make one up with fresh young dandelion leaves. They can be eaten raw but to get rid of the slight bitterness, just blanch them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. The flower buds and petals are also edible, use them to really brighten up your dish.
Yes, those evil stingy plants that leave red itchy welts across your skin when you brush against them. They are actually a great food source, packed full of vitamins and minerals. The very tips of tender new growth forming in early spring is the best for eating, these do not sting as much as older nettles, but wear thick gloves like washing up gloves to protect yourself while gathering. Always cook nettles to disarm the sting, unless you want a very tingly salad, they are as versatile as spinach and can be added to many dishes, used to make a soup or even a tea.
The long straggly small-leaved plants found scrambling up nearly every hedgerow. Still not familiar? The really sticky plants that schoolchildren love to stick to each others backs. They are covered in miniscule hooked ‘hairs’ that love to catch hold of clothing brushing past them. Like nettles, they are full of vitamins and minerals and best foraged in spring when the plant is young and soft. Pick the tips off the shorter trails and blanch them to soften them before eating.
This ground-covering woodland and hedgerow plant is often found alongside bluebells and it flowers around the same time as bluebells. The difference is, their flowers are white, differently shaped and smell very strongly of garlic, especially when you walk through an area covered by many wild garlic plants. Unlike your usual kitchen garlic, you don’t eat the bulb, you should harvest the young leaves for a mild garlicky addition to your recipes. Can be quite pungent if eaten raw, so best cooked.
These plants are all generally very easy to identify, even for novice foragers, but remember the golden rules of collecting wild food – If you are not sure, don’t eat it. If you are a beginner then ask someone more knowledgeable for advice or invite them to join you on your first forays. Only pick plants that appear obviously healthy with no dead patches, marks, staining or critters on the leaves and always wash thoroughly before cooking or eating. Avoid picking plants from areas close to heavy traffic or other polluted areas. And think twice about selecting plants growing at dog pee height, especially on popular walks!