Today’s blog focuses on foraging wild foods; plants which can be found right on your doorstep, in our fields, next to our river banks and on your next country walk, all of which can be eaten and also used for medicinal purposes. All for free.
The post outlines a few plants we found on a foraging course which we did at Gaddesden Manor last weekend. So next time you head out for a walk, take a look and see what you can spot. You’ll be amazed.
As the name quite rightly points out, hedge garlic can be found amongst British hedgerows. Find one and there’s probably an abundant border of them. Its larger leaves are heart-shaped and smaller ones (closer to the tip) are pointed, almost triangular. The white flowers come out in April to July but hedge garlic can be picked throughout the year.
Pick a few leaves and you’ll smell the garlic instantly. Although it loses its flavour once cooked it’s great to add to a dish at the end. Make a homemade mayonnaise and mix chopped leaves through to make your own aioli.
Common hog weed – stay with me, I know the name is unappealing
Part of the carrot family, the common hog weed is a plant you can use all the way through the year. (Not to be mixed with giant hog weed which can cause horrendous burns and must not be eaten.) You’ll notice hog weed most often by the roadside, abundant in tiny white flowers from summer to early autumn.
The young shoots are delicious; the taste is a mixture of asparagus and parsley. Find the parent plant and near the root, you’ll find the tiny shoots which are the best parts. The tastiest way to cook them is to sauté in butter.
My favourite part are the tiny seeds which look like flat discs and can be picked once the flowers have fallen. These were picked in October and as you can see have dried out. The flavour is similar to strong orange peel with a slight hint of cardamom. The seeds are great for infusing gin, or adding to mulled wine. Next time you’re out, have a taste.
Pineapple weed looks similar to chamomile just without the flower petals. You’ll find it growing along the ground, usually along a footpath. Unsurprisingly the flowers taste just like sweet pineapple, particularly when crushed. The weed is perfect for tea or simply dry the flowers out and use on your next dessert.
Instant sore throat saviour
Ground ivy grows vigorously and it’s a plant you’re bound to find in any country garden, within wooded areas and grasslands. Ground ivy offers many medicinal properties and in particular soothing sore throats. As it’s a member of the mint family, it offers cooling and calming properties whilst being high in antioxidants and vitamin C.
Whilst it can be used as a herb in a salsa verde or added to salads, it’s best drunk as herbal tea with a dash of honey; also known as a spring tonic. Add a handful of leaves to a mug and top with boiling water.
There are reports that yarrow was first used by the Greeks over 3,000 years ago to treat wounds from Achilles’ soldiers and the Native Americans have been using yarrow to treat infected cuts and to reduce bleeding for centuries. Yarrow is still used today with its abundant medicinal properties. Not only can it be used to stop bleeding and aid wounds, but it also has a use for helping digestion, alleviating colds and many more purposes. The great thing is that it grows everywhere so it’s readily available.
The plant has the ability to act as an anti-inflammatory and because of its astringent properties, yarrow is great for skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Simply rub the essential oils onto the affected area.
Yarrow is great for healing cuts, mosquito bites, open wounds and can also help alleviate bleeding. The plant contains alkaloids that have been shown to reduce clotting time and the plant oil has antibacterial properties to fight bacterial infections. Simply crush fresh leaves and place directly onto the wound which will work as an antiseptic and local anaesthetic.
Yarrow is also renowned for soothing colds and flu as the plant reduces muscle pain, eliminates fever, and kills bacteria. A simple tea made from the leaves with boiling water will encourage the body to sweat out the fever.
Yarrow really does have an abundance of medicinal properties. Its flowers are best picked in the summer months but the leaves can be picked all year round. Ensure you pick the leaves on a sunny day, when the oils are in abundance.
Foraging wild foods offers many benefits. It’s free, and you’re sourcing local, fresh, seasonal produce which can be eaten or used for medicinal reasons. But it’s important to know what you’re harvesting. Please treat this post with caution. It’s important to be aware of exactly what you’re foraging to make sure the plant is what you think it is.
I’d highly recommend doing a course beforehand. We did one through Woodland Ways who provide a range of courses ranging from a day to a week. The course allowed us to cook what we foraged; who knew you could cook blackberry crumble on a fire?
In the meantime, you can start making yourself familiar with plants. There are plenty of books available to guide you on your next country walk. One I’d recommend is Roger Phillips’s book; a complete guide to foraging. So next time you head out, have a look and see if you can spot some of these well-known plants.