Early Spring is definitely the time to get out and find free food.
The new plants are just emerging, and you can get a good feel for what’s about in your area. Watch and learn as they develop and pick off some tasty treats as they do! It is also easier to find them when the landscape is still quite sparse, before it gets more overgrown.
At Easter, not only can you find additions to your Sunday feast, but you can get the children involved with foraging along an Easter Egg Trail. But don’t forget: If you fancy any of it, make sure you do your own research to ensure you know exactly what it is you’re eating as you should never eat anything if you have any doubt as to what it is. Also, only pick samples as you may need the landowners’ permission to take any more.
As much of the seashore has the same to offer as the last article, take a wander through the countryside and see if you spot any Easter bunnies instead.
Wild Garlic (Ramsons)
You will probably smell it before you see it, usually in woodlands and hedge banks, with its wide long pointed leaves, and chive-like stems topped with clusters of small white pointy flowers. You can eat the whole thing, but the leaves are the best bit, either raw in a salad, or cooked in an omelette or in sauces. Get some seeds and grow your own to make use of the bulb as a standard garlic substitute.
A common weed that covers the ground it invades with long stems that creep along the ground and lots of round pointed light green leaves (not to be confused with its dark green relative, hairy mouse-ear chickweed which is poisonous). It has one or two tiny white star shaped flowers at the end of each shoot. It can be used raw in salads and has a mild flavour of peas.
Another ground cover plant, this one is very recognisable by its clover-like leaf that looks like a shamrock. It can be found in shady places and when it is dark or rains, the leaves and the white, pink-veined flowers contract. It has a sharp acidic flavour, so good with fish, but eating too much raw can play havoc with digestion.
This common hedgerow tree has strongly scented white flower blossom in May and June, with the characteristic small hard red berries in the Autumn. However, the bit to eat is the leaves - when they are really young. So get a tree in early Spring for a tasty nutty addition to a salad, bread and cheese.
Is known for being an invasive pest, wiping out sensitive wetlands areas of its native plants. Control it by eating it! In early Spring, the young shoots should be stripped of leaves and peeled to be used in sweet and savoury dishes for its mild rhubarb-esque flavour. It obviously goes well with oriental dishes from its native Japan. The mature plants are big bushes of many stems, heart shaped leaves and strands of creamy white flowers. Catch them in the shooting stages where the red/purple speckled stems grow quickly upwards before the knot of leaves at the end starts to unfurl.
Everybody recognises stinging nettles – there’s no mistaking them if you get too close! They’re found in most places where it’s a bit damp and muddy. Wear gloves and pick the young leaves from the tops of the stems to be able to eat them raw in salads. The older leaves can be cooked to remove the sting, and used in soups, stews, sauces and to wrap foods for baking.
A well known weed, the whole plant can be eaten, from its jagged leaves to the yellow multi-petalled flowers. The young leaves are more round than long and taste like raddiccio, getting more bitter as they get older. Roasted dandelion root is like parsnip, however be warned the plant has diuretic properties!
Found in hedgerows and on banks, the pale yellow flowers on dark cabbage like leaves are one of the first flowers of the year to bloom. The flowers are slightly sweet and look pretty in salads or sugar coated for cake decorations. It is however illegal to pick wild primroses without permission from the landowner…
But if no matter how hard you try, you just can’t find any – or you’re not 100% sure of what you’re picking, go somewhere where everything is ready and waiting at one of the many Pick-Your-Own farms or farm shops throughout the West Country. Stay in a holiday cottage in the South West to make the most of the countryside.