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A feast of edible goodies

All Areas > Food & Drink > Wild Food Foraging

Author: Steven Hawley, Posted: Saturday, 24th January 2015, 08:00

Ever looked around the English countryside and wondered how much of it you can eat? Probably not, but every month our fertile isle offers up a feast of edible goodies for us to make use of. If you’re worried that helping yourself to a fist full of face-purpling berries will scupper the supper of local wildlife, fret not. Most of the natural treats I have in mind are more than sustainable.

You would be surprised at how many plants you walk past that have a long history of culinary use in Britain. Sadly, a lot of this knowledge has been surrendered to dot com ordering and the like. But once you know what a plant is, how to identify it and – most importantly – how best to put it on the end of a fork, you will struggle to take a Sunday afternoon constitutional without stopping to notice many tasty treats.

Harvesting this crop won’t have a negative impact
Jack-by-the-hedge (Alliaria petiolata – don’t worry, I struggle to pronounce that too), also known as Garlic Mustard, is something you’ve probably seen many times but never noticed. After a mild winter, such as the one we’ve been experiencing, this plant can be seen as early as February. It is easily identified by the mild garlic/onion smell it gives off when you bruise the leaves, which are similar in shape to that of a stinging nettle (though they don’t sting and are glossy to look at).

Its flowers are small and paper white, and appear in spring. Common all over England, Jack-by-the-hedge can be found mostly in hedge rows – as the namesake suggests. It’s an invasive species and in no way endangered, so harvesting this crop won’t have a negative impact on the ecosystem.

Pick only a few leaves from each plant so as not to hinder future growth – though the plant is not endangered, there’s no need for vandalism! Chopped finely and added to home-made mint sauce, it makes for a perfect accompaniment to roast lamb. You can also add the leaves to a simple salad to lift the flavour of this out-of-season side dish. Historically Jack-by-the-hedge was once used as a disinfectant. I prefer, however, to place my trust in dot com ordering for my sanitary needs!

If you’re not 100% sure that the plant you’re picking is safe for human consumption, don’t pick it. If you’re prone to food allergies, always seek medical advice before consuming anything foraged in the wild.

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