Hedgerow Foraging – David Harrison
In the current climate we find ourselves in a strange and new situation where something happening in society is having a direct impact on everyone of us in our own day to day lives. We have been told to stay indoors but for now (at the time of writing) we are allowed out for a bit of exercise or essential items i.e. food or medical. So where does foraging come into to all of this ? well now that your time outside the house has been greatly reduced you may be appreciating the greenery around you a little bit more than usual, those green verges you often drive past or the hedgerows down the country lanes or maybe even the public footpaths you very rarely use have all of a sudden become an interesting part of your day!
First if you do decide to have a go at Foraging the golden number 1 rule is NEVER eat anything you cannot positively identify 110%, if in doubt leave it out!
The Law, Common Law allows us to pick the 4 F’s of foraging : Flowers-Foliage-Fruit-Fungi and only pick for personal consumption and not for financial gain on common land you will be ok, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, tells us we cannot dig any plant up without the landowners permission, always have respect for the land and never pick everything you see, look out for byelaws in areas where Foraging is prohibited, don’t pick on nature reserves or SSSI etc. Take photo’s don’t pick the plant ID purposes, only pick when you know its of use to you, it could be on the RED list of plants.
OK let’s see if we can make your daily walk a bit more interesting! let’s start with a very easy plant to identify most people have either seen it or been stung by them at some point the Common Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica being its posh name. (See pic 1)
They can be found in the hedgerow or on the sides of footpaths in the open or in a woodland setting. Maybe even in the bottom of your garden, you’d be surprised what wild edibles could be growing in your garden!
This plant can be used as a replacement in meals where you would use spinach/cabbage. The fresh green leaves from the top of the stem is what you want to collect, usually the top 4 to 6 leaves, when picking its advisable to wear gloves to stop you getting stung, just pick the leaves not the stem. Once cooked or squashed up the sting will be gone. You may come across a nettle with white flowers growing up on the stem, this is the White Dead Nettle, gather and use it the same as stinging nettle.
Cooking the leaves only takes a couple of minutes if that, they will just go to mush if you cook them too long. You can make nettle crisps, either deep fry for a few seconds or dress them with oil and put in a Hot oven for a couple of minutes, then season & eaten. They can be added to soups, mixed in with fresh pasta mix, added to stir fry’s, the infamous nettle tea, options are endless with this very common weed packed with vitamins many people dismiss as a garden pest!
Common Stinging nettle Urtica Dioica (Pic 1 below)
Another plant often seen along footpaths or in fields is Common Sorrel, (Rumex acetosa) this plant will grow in clumps/rosette & once you can pick it out amongst the grass you will see loads of it, later in the season you will also see the main redish stem shoot up about 1 meter with small leaves and the rusty coloured seeds. Pick the fresh green basel leaves, you can eat them raw or cooked, they taste of apple peel to a degree. The taste is attributed to the oxaclic acid found in all the dock (Rumex) family of plants, the sorrels seem to have found the right taste balance! Caution Oxaclic acid can be dangerous if consumed in large amounts, but for what you will be eating it shouldn’t be an issue UNLESS you suffer from kidney stones, if so its best not to eat this and aggravate an existing condition. For those of you who will be eating this add it to salads, sauces, mix in an omelette or like Ray Mears make some little sorrel tarts.
When picking sorrel be careful not to pick the toxic Lords and Ladies (Arum Maculatum) which has a similar leaf shape, Note Pic2 below sorrel on left pointed ears, Arum on right rounded ears. Lords & Ladies only grows in hedges and woodland, you won’t find it growing out in the middle of a field just usually a few feet out from the hedgerow.
Common Sorrel Rumex Acetosa (See Pic 2,3 below)
As you make your way along the walk another plant you may see is Greater Stitchwort, Stellaria holostea, the Pink family of plants, chickweeds etc, it is a very common abundant plant seen on slopes or along hedgerows at this time of year, it has a large white flower about the size of 50p looks like ten petals but it’s actually 5 & very narrow leaves, looks a lot like pea shoots & infact it taste like them also, usually pick the flowers and the young unopened flower shoots everything below that is not worth picking, very quick and easy to pick and good for adding to salads or dressing a meal i.e. fish or chicken etc. Not really anything to mix this up with other than chickweed or lesser stitchwort, both being edible anyway!
Greater Stitchwort Stellaria Holostea (See Pic 4 below)
If you are walking in old woodlands or past shaded grass verges chances are you can proberly smell this before you see it, Ramson, Allium Ursinum this is wild garlic one of several that grow in the wild in spring. When it grows it grows in abundance, first the green leaves then later the beautiful white flowers and finally the seeds at the end, picked while still soft for pickling. When cooking with the leaves unlike shop bought garlic cloves ramsons garlic flavour weakens the longer you cook it, so if adding to a hot meal wait till near the end of the cooking before adding, the flowers look great in a salad or scatterd on a plate of food they have a nice zingy flavour.
Caution when picking the green leaves you must be careful not to pick the toxic Lords and Ladies(Arum) that grows amongst it, this is so often accidently picked with wild garlic because of the same colour leaves. Ramson leaves don’t really have prominent veins unlike Arum as already seen when comparing them with the sorrel leaf. (See Pic 5) shows Ramsons and Arum growing together, Arum in centre shape and veins giving it away. The mature Arum leaf stands out but the young ones can easily blend in ! (Pic 6 below) Ramson flowers. Always check when picking and Check again when cleaning the leaves before use!
Ramsons, Allium Ursinum. (See Pic 5,6 below)
Another wild garlic that is out now that might be in your area is 3 Cornered garlic/Wild Leek,
(See Pic 7,8,9) Allium triquetrum again all parts are edible and like Ramsons it loses its taste the longer its cooked so again add near end of cooking, these also have beautiful flowers and taste great.
Another plant that more than likley recides in your garden is bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta, this is a great salad addition, it grows near enough anywhere it can get a foothold, the crack in the drive the rockery, in the hedgerow, along the banks of the woodland stream you’ll see loads of it, you kind of get the idea it’s a tough robust plant. Bittercress is a member of the cabbage family of plants who all have four petal flowers and many of them have a peppery taste, Pic 10 is the normal rosette you’ll often see and (See pic 11) is when the flower spike shoots up and later the seed pods, its all edible and a lot better than those tubs of cress you buy at the supermarket ! it grows all year, at its best when it’s a light green rather than a dark green. Once you have learnt to recognise the features of the cabbage/Brassica family of plants you will be surprised how many you will notice, a great family of plants to learn.
Bittercress Cardamine hirsuta (See Pic 10,11)
There are lots of online recipes for this short selection of wild edibles to help incorporate them into daily meals, once you get the taste for these day to day weeds, you’ll want to keep finding out more and more about those in and around your area that you can safely eat. Remember Always Always only eat something if you are totally satisfied you have positively identified it, by sticking to that 1 simple rule you will avoid any accidental poisonings.
Try to use several different sources when identifying plants, please don’t just use google images they can often be wrongly identified!
Search out Foraging courses near you to help build that initial confidence, I guarantee it will open your eyes to what’s around be that coastal plants or inland it’s a great pastime and a great way to reengage with nature and a very useful skill to have which you can pass on to others.
I hope you find this short article useful and another way to get the mind thinking differently during this unprecedented time. Hopefully soon the restrictions will lift and day to day activity will resume. I hope you will try to keep searching out wild plants that are useful and just the fact of getting outside that alone can have a positive impact on your mental and health wellbeing.
Happy Foraging, all the best Dave, you can follow me on Twitter: @Basha1972 or Instagram: @basha010972
https://foragers-association.org/ Follow this link to find a Foraging Teacher near you