For Christmas, I gifted Lucy an afternoon foraging course for the two of us. A couple of weeks ago, we went on our foraging adventure, which was set on the grounds of Blenheim Palace and run by Wild Food UK. Although it was a very chilly day, Lucy and I had a wonderful time and we learned so much about edible (and poisonous) spring plants in the UK. Here is my mini review of our spring foraging course – enjoy!
We met a small group of foragers and our instructor at noon, and the course ended at about 4pm. Our instructor (Fabio) was brilliant, friendly, and very knowledgeable. It was evident that he had scouted out the area beforehand to find plants for us to look at. He also came prepared with drinks and snacks for us to try while we were walking, and made a delicious picnic at the end!
As a disclaimer, DO NOT touch/eat any plants or mushrooms unless you are 100% sure what they are. I would recommend checking out a foraging course in your area, and learning with a professional.
Four Fs and the Foraging Code
Our instructor started the course by going through the foraging code. As mentioned above, the most important rule is that you don’t eat anything poisonous. In accord with the Wildlife and Countryside Act, you can forage the 4Fs from common land, for personal consumption only. The 4Fs are fruits, foliage, fungus, and flora. Collecting with respect, in moderation, and not uprooting plants is important. Never pick more than half of what you find of anything from anywhere. Be mindful about where you are foraging and the different rules that apply for nature reserves, private land etc.
Foraging on the Roadside
The first plant we examined was Wild Chervil AKA Cow Parsley, which we found on the roadside. Although Cow Parsley is edible, it isn’t recommended for beginner foragers due to its similarities with hemlock and other poisonous plants. It belongs to the umbellifers group of plants, and looks sort of like flat leaf parsley. The stem has a u-shaped notch, and the plant has small hairs on it. The name Queen Anne’s Lace is often used for various plants in this family.
The next tender shoot we tasted was Common Hogweed. Common hogweed, also known as cow parsnip, tastes deliciously fresh, and we had a warming hogweed soup that tasted like celery. It’s important to distinguish common hogweed from giant hogweed, which is a serious irritant.
By the Hedgerow
After walking down an access road, we first ventured to a spot near a field fence. Here we tried Jack by the Hedge aka (garlic mustard). Hedge Garlic is not actually in the alium family, but it does have a garlicky flavour. It is a bit of a marmite plant (much like coriander/cilantro). I didn’t mind the flavour, but found that it had an aspirin aftertaste.
Nearby, we came across the only mushrooms spotted on our walk in early spring. Wood Ears AKA Jelly Ears grow on Elder trees, and they are a mushroom often used in Asian cooking. Our instructor cautioned that you need to boil them and dry well before adding to hot oil, otherwise they will release water and explode when cooking!
Elder Tree is also commonly found in hedgerows. The flowers can make cordial or champagne, and the berries have excellent antioxidant properties. Check out my post on Elderberry Syrup Recipe and Folklore.
Lucy was brave enough to pick some Nettles, which are not only edible but highly nutritious. I’ve had some nasty nettle stings in the past, so I can be forgiven for being reluctant to touch nettles without gloves. The nettle tart we had was delicious, and I’ve been inspired to go out and forage for nettles (wearing thick gloves) to make all sorts of wonderful recipes.
After stopping for some wonderfully fragrant and sweet elderflower tea, we walked over the field to a stream. It was very chilly and windy, but we were lucky to try some new Ground Elder shoots. I loved the fresh, parsley flavour of this plant!
Into the Woods
The final part of our walk was wandering into some woodland. Here, we learned to spot Lords and Ladies, which are a serious irritant, and can often be found amongst wild garlic.
The star of the show for spring foraging in the UK is Wild Garlic. As someone who gets heartburn from garlic cloves, these fresh leaves are much milder on the stomach, but still pack lots of flavour. You can eat them raw without getting indigestion (IBS suffers know what I mean), and other than “garlic burps” afterwards, I devoured the wild garlic pesto without any issues!
The last plant we looked at was the Hawthorn tree. The new leaves were a bit meh in flavour, but apparently the blossoms are delicious. We tried some hawthorn berry fruit leather, which was so tasty!
Lucy and I had such a fabulous time foraging, and we are definitely keen to do another course. I plan to venture out and collect some easily identifiable plants soon. 🙂 Do you forage? If so, what grows in your area of the world?