Ahead of the Slow Food foraging day we are doing here on Sunday, I have been doing my homework. Here are a few of my favourite wild, or semi wild, plants growing within 100yds of the house. (There is no district line between wild and cultivated plants here and a lot of overlap between perennial vegetables, wild plants and weeds.) I am a bit concerned about two things. One, by encouraging people to eat wild plants, might I contribute to the disappearance, or reduced range of some of them, and two, will anyone enthused by the workshop poison themselves. So I am planning to show people how to identify plants and which ones are protected and rare or sensitive to a lot of picking and point out the few really poisonous things.
Everyone knows the Dandelion, Taraxicum officiale, and all parts of the plant are edible. The young leaves are great in salads and the roots can be cooked and eaten or dried, roasted and ground into coffee, although its a lot of work for not much coffee.
Chickweed Stellaria media is in no danger of disappearing around here and seeds its self all around the garden and polytunnel. I would probably eat more of it if it wasn't so stringy when you pick it, but I do snip bits off and put them into salads, and when I remember I bring an odd handful to the hens, who really do enjoy it.
Nettles Urtica dioica are very useful and and good for you. The tips are the least stringy to eat, and can be cooked as greens or made into soup. They are nicest in early spring before all kinds of insects move in and live in them. In fact in spring foraging it is pretty much all about leaves. Summer is for flowers, (think elder meadowsweet) and autumn is best for nuts, seeds, roots and berries, which is obvious when you think about it, but only just occurred to me.
Fat hen is really just wild quinoa, that the early Americans domesticated into a seed crop. Early Europeans ate the seeds to and they have been found in ancient bog bodies in Ireland. I have tried eating the seeds, and its a bit like eating sand, but maybe I didn't cook it right. The leaves are excellent in salads and taste a bit like Camembert.
Watercress Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum is the wild plant I probably use the most. It grows in abundance in a stream on the farm. I mostly make it into soup, or cook it up with a buch of other things like nettles. It shares the stream with the deadly poisonous Water Dropwort Oenanthe crocata. It is a good thing to be able to tell them apart, or this might happen.
from Flora Britannia by Richard Maybe (who also wrote "Food for Free").
People tend to be concerned about liver fluke which can encyst in the stems of water cress, but they are mostly below the water level and are killed by cooking, or a 6% vinegar solution.
To my shame, I am not sure if this is common sorrel or Sheep's Sorrel, Rumex acetos or aceosella, hopefully someone will tell me before I have to get out Webb's flora and work it out properly. I put bits into salads and cooked greens sometimes because I think its good for me but I don't really like its sharp rhubarb taste.
Neither am I particularly keen on Wall pennywort Umbilicus rupestris but it looks great in a salad.
Wild Garlic or Ransoms Allium ursinum is great stuff for the pesto, but also good in soups salads and sandwiches, any way you want really. It is not half as strong as the smell would suggest. It is not growing wild around here, but I put some in the front garden a few years ago and now I see them popping up around the place. I expect farmers eradicated them from around here as they would flavour the milk. It would be interesting to feed it to cows and them make cheese.
The three cornered leek Allium triquetrum is an introduced plant, originally form the Mediterranean that enjoys West Cork hedgerows, was also introduced to my garden where it is expanding its territory, competing well with its South African neighbor Montbretia.
I will try and add more to this later.