Friday, 8 April 2011

Wild food weekend post #3

Some more of the edible plants we saw on our foraging walk, or 'bimble' last weekend at Otterton Mill. Bear in mind that all these were in the village; it's certainly not necessary to go trekking off for miles in the wilds to get some fresh free greens. Give it a go!

Bittercress - make a pesto using the raw leaves together with nettles and wild garlic, hazlenuts or walnuts and oil, lemon juice and parmesan. Grows in a rosette as seen here. Nipplewort - used to be used as a soothing poultice by nursing mothers, hence the name. Leaf and stem both edible. Use leaves raw in salad or wilt gently to cook. Yellow Flowers.
Cow Parsely - another of the umbellifers therefore easily mistaken for the poisonous Hemlock plant so I'm not posting a pic. It has a hairy stem though with an angle or ridge to it. I think most of us know what cow parsely looks like in the hedgerows but if you're even thinking of eating it get a good field guide! Use the stem - has an aniseed flavour. Can eat raw or cooked and can pickle it. Peel before using.
Cleavers / Goose Grass - yep - that blimmin sticky stuff that hooks it's little burrs onto your clothes and your cat in the spring and summer months. Best early in the year - around February but fine now. Just pick the very tops and cook - it's too scratchy to eat raw. Don't overcook. The seeds can be eaten when young - like peas. Can also use the scrunched up plant as a natural scourer and at one time people in the Outer Hebrides would weave a quick temporary basket from them for gathering foraged goodies. Red Valerian - Has red / pink flower spike heads. Cook leaves as greens and can eat raw in salad.
Navel / Penny Wort - Use the succulent leaves in salad. Taste better when growing in shade where you will find bigger leaves too.

So a lot of easy to find plants out there can be eaten and there's many more than this. Nettles and Wild Garlic to name 2 favourites.
After our walk we returned to the mill where later in the day we watched the cookery part of the wild food foraging. Here we had Alexanders as well - these grow either by or very near the sea and pretty much can be treated like celery - they sauteed it in butter which seemed to work. I must admit that in the cookery theatre everything seemed a little overwhelmed with butter but as least it gave us an idea of what all this stuff tastes like - and whether you think it's worth going out and getting again. As well as the Alexanders and various of the plants we'd seen on the forage we had Sea Beet; which the Chap and I have had before, and Ground Elder - something I was eager to try as it's so easy to come by. We also had Wild Sorrel and Garlic Mustard (Jack by the Hedge) stems.
I was a definite fan of the Alexanders but found myself a little disappointed by the Ground Elder. It had been done with the stems on and I found I was chewing and chewing and chewing then picking them out of my teeth after. I'd try them again but just the leaves if I cooked it.

All in all and good experience though, which inspired us to go foraging for some Alexanders on the way home down by the coast at Budleigh Salterton. There was masses here - I don't seem to have taken a pic of the whole plant but they have glossy leaves [yep - it's another umbellifer so be careful] and should have this pinkness to the stem sheaf where the leaves are growing out from.
I thouroughly recommend giving foraging a go - you get out in the fresh air, learn stuff and filled with pleasure when dinner time comes round that you got that bit of it for free. You find yourself looking at the hedgerows and pavement edges with a different eye I can tell you!

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