Thursday, 10 March 2011

Foraging in March: tasty greens

I live in a rural village and I do feel more in tune with the seasons than when I lived in Cambridge or London but there are edible treats to be had in the countryside near here that I often miss out on. I know they're out there but most of the time I'm so caught up with family life and cooking with supermarket or at best farmers market-acquired food that I don't think to go foraging.

This year I plan to remedy that a little.

March is a good month to start foraging - leaves are at their freshest and newest.  Really good ingredients for salads and savoury sauces can be found easily. Parks and derelict land are just as good for foraging as full blown countryside.

Three plants to look for this month:

Hawthorn leaves (above left image). Their traditional country name is 'bread and cheese'. The leaves emerge as little clusters and can be eaten straight from the hedgerow. They're fresh, nutty and delicious.

(Note: On hawthorn bushes the leaves emerge first in early March, on blackthorn/wild plum bushes the blossom emerges first in late March).

Jack-by-the-hedge or Garlic mustard. The clue's in the name - this grows at the base of hedges, is a relative of cabbage and rocket and has quite a strong flavour with a gentle hint of garlic. It grows in the US too.

At this time of year the plants form small clusters of roundish leaves close to the ground.

Image borrowed from here

They are easiest to identify when they flower in May though - the plants grow quite tall (about 50-100cm), the leaves are more pointed and the flowers are tiny and white with four petals.

Wild chervil or cow parsley. For years I didn't realise that cow parsley (pretty much my favourite plant) was also edible. The fresh growth at this time of year is the best - it can get bitter later in the year.

There are plants that look similar but are harmful, especially water dropworts -I know the plants I picked are cow parsley simply because I've watched them flowering for several years.

Also available in March are Ramsons/wild garlic, Nettles, Wood sorrel, and cleavers/goose grass.

In the US March is a good time to forage for Miner's lettuce or winter purslane.

What to cook with your foraged greens

Any of these plants can be eaten raw and are delicious additions to salads.

The leaves can be whizzed up with basil and/or rocket, pine nuts, garlic and good oil in pesto (Nigella roasts her garlic but I don't bother).

They may also give delicious fresh flavours to salsa verde which can be served with grilled or roasted meat or fish.

Stay tuned for more foraging later in the year.

It took me a year or two to be confident about the few plants I do forage. If you are doubtful about the plants you might find then maybe consult a book (e.g. Food for Free by Richard Mabey or River Cottage Hedgerow) or someone who forages regularly.

Edited to add: Diana at Pebbledash just told me about this website - -  it looks fantastic for foraging recipes.


greenrabbitdesigns said...

Thanks Emma for such an informative post!
I never knew you could eat hawthorn or cow parsley!
Vivienne x

quinn said...

I had no idea hawthorne is edible! All the forbs are still well-covered by a couple of feet of snow here, but I'll have plenty of time to watch for the hawthornes to start leafing out. Thanks!

quinn said...

p.s. Very nice identification images, too. Helpful to have the scale :)

The Flower Garden said...

Thanks I'm really interested in foraging more than just hedgerow fruits which I have picked for years. I didn't know hawthorn would taste so good. We've plenty of it about.
Jo x

Magic Cochin said...

Fab post Emma!

I had Hairy Bitter-Cress and chives as a side salad with my lunch today (result of some random weeding!)

Did you know that Orange Tip Butterflies love to lay their eggs on Garlic Mustard - a good reason to encourage a little patch in a corner of your garden.


The Coffee Lady said...

Oh, I just daren't. Not after what happened with the elderflower cordial, which turned out not to be elderflowers at all.

pebbledash said...

A post after my own heart, Emma, thank you! Do you know this site:
Informative, and great recipes too.

lou said...

Great post Emma, thank you. We had the river cottage hedgerow book for christmas and have been waiting to get out and do some foraging. Armed with this post info and the book.. this weekend I feel the call of the wild! xx

Tabiboo said...

Wild garlic is so on the top of my list this year.

Happy growing/foraging,

Nina xxx

Catherine said...

Even though I was brought up in the country I don't know much about collecting edible leaves from the hedgerows (autumn fruits are a different thing!) Your photographs are lovely and convey thoughts of spring (nearly here)

Jenevieve said...

I didn't realise hawthorn leaves were edible, must go see if the leaves are appearing on the ones down the road. Great idea to do some extra foraging! I will be collecting new nettle growth once they get bigger so I can make my own feed for the tomato plants, it really stinks, but it works! :) x

mandy said...

Emma, I'm inspired! I got the river cottage book for christmas but I hadn't thought that it was time to use it yet, doh! Your photos are better than the book!

Tara said...

I love the idea of foraging for the table. I've never tried it myself but I think it would be fun.

kristina said...

Very impressed with your foraging! I so enjoyed the course G and I did with Diana but, much to my shame, we haven't been foraging since. Of course, we're not actually allowed to pick anything in our local parks...sigh.

K x

dottycookie said...

Oooh, yum. We have a pink hawthorn in the garden; I wonder whether it tastes like bread and strawberry jam?

(Now then google reader, why didn't you show me this post, hmmmm? Why leave it to facebook? Naughty technology)

Julia said...

What a fantastic post Emma, I love the idea of seeking out edible goodies like that - I'll be keeping my eyes open when we go walking now!

Thank you for signing up to Being Creative, Im so glad you have, and yes you can use absolutely ANY creative medium you want, if it's three dimensional and outdoors, maybe you would be able to get some great photos to share on the Flickr group. I'm really excited to see what you're going to be doing!

Sending love
Julia x x x

planetcoops said...

Be really careful with the cow parsley - it is incredibly similar to hemlock.
The old tradition that if you pick cow parsley your mother will die, is to discourage children from picking hemlock by accident.

sea-blue-sky & abstracts said...

Really informative Emma, and I love the accompanying photos - didn't know that hawthorn and cow parsley were edible!! Have a lovely, relaxing Sunday. Lesley x

julie said...

Great post Emma - I love learning about things like this! Toby and I go out walking lots in the countryside at the weekend so I'll be on the look-out for some tasty weeds to bring home!

Cottage Garden said...

Emma, this is a wonderfully informative post. I love foraging and you have inspired me to be more adventurous. My favourite green forage food is wild garlic. I have tried cow parsley which I note is best eaten early in the season; I remember it being quite bitter.


mynestofyarnandbuttons said...

What a beautiful post. Fell you love with the sumptuous greens!!!!! (food-wise and color-wise) It all looks so alive and reborn....I love spring. xoRobin❤