I love learning about nature’s bounty and the medicinal properties of herbs and plants. In 2015 I went on a one day Wild Food Workshop at Painshill Park in Surrey. It was a freezing Sunday, early in April, but walking around the beautiful landscape made up for the cold. (Pictures below taken June 2008. It’s a beautiful place, well worth visiting.)
Our guide was very knowledgeable and had us sampling roots, leaves and flowers as we walked around. I never realised you could eat very young beech leaves (they have a very interesting flavour) and young primrose flowers and leaves (an acquired taste). Or that the very tips of the brambles sometimes taste like blackberries – I wasn’t brave enough to try them though. Neither was I brave enough to eat a rolled up, fresh nettle. I did try a nettle cooked over the fire, but it tasted like eating a cigarette.
We collected a bounty of plants and were shown how to prepare, cook and make infusions with them. I wish I could have photographed and written about every single plant.
Here is a list of some of the plants we sampled and how they were prepared.
Teas (infused with hot water and left to steep).
Dandelion (makes a coffee substitute if you dry the root out)
Fried over an open fire.
Wild garlic or Ramsoms – delicious fried in butter.
Cleavers, also known as sticky willy (my kids love this name) and goosegrass – use the young plant before it flowers, fried in butter. It didn’t taste of much.
Celandine root – tasted ok.
Plantain root – tasted ok.
Burdock root – fried in oil but not that great. Can also eat the root raw.
Cat tails (Reeds) – can’t remember tasting it (but it is prominent in my pictures)
Our guide also made a simple bread and added Woodhaven – very tasty.
Plants you can eat.
Thistle all edible, just cut the spines off the leaves. (Don’try it without checking, my notes aren’t that clear after shivering all day!)
Dandelion – can use the whole plant and root.
Lady smock, cuckoo flower – the flowers and leaves are very peppery.
Violet – think you can eat it all.
Plantain – can eat roots, leaves and the seeds can make a cake.
Red dead nettle & white dead nettle
Wild garlic – eat root, bulbs, leaves and flowers.
Stinging nettles are a super food. It contains Vit C & A and protein, but I’ll be leaving them to the butterflies.
We must all remember as children putting dock leaves on stringing nettle stings. My kids used to call it Doctor Leaf and were adamant it was a miracle cure. But apparently the best cure for stings is plantain.
We also made a soapy mix from crushed conker leaves and water.
Despite all I learnt, I’m not sure I’d put the tasting into practice without a guide. Nature has a nasty way of tricking you. If you get the identifying wrong, it could be the last thing you do.
Dogs Mercury – looks like Ground Elder
Hemlock – (looks like cow parsley which is edible) Hemlock is one of the top 5 most poisonous plants. 50% of people who eat it die.
Yew berries – just a few can kill a child.
Elder – Only edible parts are the berries and the flowers.
I collect reference books. I love Ray Mears Wild Food and James Wong’s Grow your Own Drugs. I’m gathering quite a collection of books on herbs and even tree medicine. I find the whole idea fascinating, and love how our ancestors learned to do so much with plants.
I’ll use any excuse to dip into these book and learn something new to put into my novels. I even have a wicca woman who opens an apothecary shop in one of my future books. She wasn’t supposed to be a main character, but as my love of foraging has grown, so she has started to take over and I really can’t wait to tell her story.
We can all try the most basic of foraging in hedgerows with things like blackberries and elderberries. It’s a great excuse to get outside and I love getting the kids involved. Not only on the collecting but in the cooking and the eating!
Give it a go this spring and summer. I’d love to know your results.
Tomorrow I’ll be sharing a Gluten free recipe.
Links to previous AtoZ challenge posts here