I wrote a post a couple of years back on 5 easily identifiable plants for foraging and it’s turned out to be remarkably popular. On that basis, and to provide a little more help, here’s another 5 easily identifiable plants to forage. I’ve included plants that are around at the time of writing, or will be shortly.
Whenever I’m teaching tree identification in general, or foraging in particular, I like to include hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). It’s a large shrub/small tree and more often than not you’ll find it in hedgerows but you can find them as a standalone tree as well, I’ve seen a couple of specimens over 15m. It can be found in temperate areas in the northern hemisphere.
I often recount a saying my great gran used to say- ‘Cast not a clout til may is out’. Clout is a somewhat out of fashion word for a piece of clothing, and so I used to think that the saying meant to hold on to your winter clothing until the end of May. But that’s not what it means at all. In the west country where I grew up, and other parts of the British Isles too, hawthorn is known as the may tree due to it flowering in May (or thereabouts). So the saying actually means that spring hasn’t truly arrived until the hawthorn is in flower. And what a sight it can be; in my view hawthorn blossom puts the more famous cherry blossom to shame. And last year (2018) was particularly spectacular.
When the hawthorn is in flower you can eat both the leaves and flowers, country folk refer to it as ‘bread and cheese’. To be fair, the leaves just taste a bit leafy. But the flowers taste of almonds and are a wonderful spring treat. They also produce a red berry, a haw, in late summer/early autumn. Take a look at this post to find out more about edible berries.
Hawthorn also has herbal properties and can be used to make a tincture which can strengthen heart muscles.
Dandelions are abundant in much of the world, and that’s certainly the case in the UK where they are growing profusely at the moment. There are many sub-species within the genus, but exactly how many is a matter of debate amongst botanists, but over a thousand species have been identified in Europe alone! As well as being edible they’ve been used in herbal remedies since pre-history.
All parts of the plant are edible; they are high in Vit A, B, C & D and minerals, especially potassium. The leaves can be bitter, but removing the stalks can help, if a little fiddly; if you want to cook them instead, either blanche or sautee. We’ve also cooked the flowers in bhajees. The roots can be chopped finely and dry roasted to make a coffee substitute or used as a decoction for hangovers!
Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) were intoduced to the British Isles by the Romans. It’s mostly confined to the south and is most often found near the coast but I’ve found it inland as well, the green in Egerton being one example and Nethergong another. We have loads of it growing along the downs at Herne Bay and as it’s an early spring plant we’ve been making the most of it. Take a look at this recipe for alexanders and wild chervil tart and this one for alexanders and potato scone melts.
Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) has the typical square stem of the dead nettle family. We find it both within the woodland and in some of the surrounding fields, so it seems to tolerate both shade and sun. And mostly we find it creeping along the ground, but sometimes growing more upright, especially near fences or hedges.
It’s also known as ‘ale hoof’ as it was used to clarify and flavour beer prior to the use of hops; also because its leaves are somewhat hoof shaped. The leaves are generally matt and covered in tiny ‘hairs’.
Whilst you can eat ground ivy raw in a salad, I prefer to eat it cooked, and basically use it as a filler in vegetable curries, tarts etc. I also really like it finely chopped and added to natural yoghurt to make a dip. As an infusion ground ivy has decongestant properties.
Cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis), often referred to as Lady’s smock, can be found across much of Europe and western Asia. It comes out early in the year and is one of my absolute favourites. It tastes of horseradish/wasabi and really adds a kick to any foraged salad. The leaf tends to have more flavour than the flowers, but not by much. Keep your eye out for this one!