One of the things we love about Bath is the myriad of foraging opportunities. You may not think a city such as ours would have much wild food to offer, but it just goes to show that wherever you live, be it countryside or city, there is plenty of wild food around. It's not only about the food, it's a chance to get outside and take a closer look at the natural world around us. All the more important if you live in an urban environment. If you haven't yet been foraging but are keen to try, here are three great plants to start with, curated by our expert forager Christopher Robbins. All of these are copious in the Bath and Bristol area, and everywhere in between. For more top tips, read Christopher's foraging basis or come along on one of his foraging courses.
Grows in meadows, edges of woods, and around houses, loving rich soil. Grows 50-100 cms, highly variable. Leaves heart- spearhead shapes, paired opposite, and next pair at 90 degrees. Coarsely toothed with stinging hairs on leaves and stems. Tiny, single sexed flowers in upper leaf axils, usually on separate plants. Neither has obvious petals. Male hang in catkins; female in tight clusters. Flowers June to August. Best foraged before flowering when leaves and stems toughen.
Harvest only upper 3-4 pairs of leaves. Avoid getting stung by gripping leaf tip firmly in thumb and index finger then cut with scissors. Spread out to wilt and sting disappears then handle like spinach. Many heavenly recipes. See our article on How to Pick and Eat Nettles.
Common all year on sunny/shaded, fertile bare or cultivated soil. Small leaves that eat like watercress. These are so common in gardens they usually not noticed. Rosettes to 10 cms diameter, leaves pinnate with up to 7 opposite pairs of angular, almost diamond shaped leaves. Flower stalk to 5-15 cms with small petalled, white flowers about 2mm diameter all year. Fruit 2-3 cms long and very thin pods that rupture easily when ripe. Pick whole plants wash soil off roots and take the leaves for sandwiches, salads or to sex up scrambled eggs or omelettes. Lovely tang of mustard. Many closely related plants also delicious.
Many myths and legends on this beautiful deciduous tree to 10m, with rough and warty bark, soft pith in young branches. Grows in fertile hedgerows, woodland, near streams, around farm buildings. Leaves pinnate with 5 oval to elliptical, toothed leaflets with a short petiole, and smell of marzipan before flowering. Flowers (May-June) with large, flat, umbel to 24cms dia. with many small cream/white flowers 2-4 mm with strong, pleasant scent. Fruits (July to Aug) as juicy berries, dark-crimson to black, and bunches hang down as ripen. Forage flowers for light fritters or cordial. Fruits make rich jellies or syrups to replace Cassis, and go so well with apple desserts. The Elder is known as the People’s Medicine Chest as all parts of the tree can be used to make home remedies.
This list was originally featured in the June 2017 issue of Crumbs Magazine.
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