Although we celebrate Candlemas or Imbolc at the beginning of February and the days are starting to get noticeably lighter and longer, there is still a perception that there is nothing to forage at this time of year.
In some parts of the world it may well be difficult to forage due to snow and ice. However in most parts of the U.K. and particularly here in the South West it’s mainly wet and muddy. So as well as getting some fresh air and exercise there are lots of foodie contributions available for enhancing diet and wellbeing. And even some traditional recipes for using them.
Having checked my nearest Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) patch a couple of weeks ago and noting that it was coming through well I was expecting to see lots of this yesterday and I was not disappointed. There is still lots of growing to be done and lots of space to fill until we have a carpet of green “onionyness” to delight the senses.
My daughter has asked about making Wild Garlic Pesto and there is a recipe from the Riverford Kitchen here. I picked enough to make a small pot.
Wild Garlic can also be fermented to make a spicy, pungent probiotic green which will last well in its brine. For more information have a look at this blog post which links to both Robin Harford’s blog and Birgit Anna McNeil’s blog.
If you make Milk Kefir you could add some wild garlic to a Kefir cheese along with some dried herbs, freshly ground black pepper and salt for a “Boursin” style cheese spread. Very tasty and better for you than the average herby cheese spread. Feeding the gut microbiome over the winter can help suppor the immune system. The sulphur compounds in Alliums also help boost immuntiy. Very useful additions to the diet in the depths of winter and especially when there is a wide range of viral illnesses in the community.
For a less pungent flavour why not try Three-Cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum).
This has a milder flavour but is still noticeably oniony. We have a large patch in the garden despite the landlord’s best efforts to dig it out while he still lived here. It can be found in the wild.
Also in the garden at the moment I have a wonderful trifecta of nutritious and tasty “wild edibles” in Hairy Bittercress (Cardamime hirsuta), young Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) and Cleavers (Gallium aparine). Consider using these in a cleansing, revitalising soup with Dandelion greens (Taraxacum officinale), Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and early Ribbed Plantain (Plantago lanceolata). These provide valuable minerals as well as good digestive and liver support to awaken the body systems and help remove any accumulates waste materials.
One of the components of the French Potage Vert recipes I looked at recently is Lamb’s Lettuce which the French call mâche. This is also known as Corn Salad and provides some additional nutrition including vital Vitamin C, over the winter months.
This self-seeds readily in my garden so is in plentiful supply at this time of year.
It can be picked as whole rosettes or individual leaves. If you are making a soup it will help provide texture and bulk and I would recommend putting the whole thing through a liquidiser. Keep the pulp in the soup as the fibre is useful to our digestive systems that are often a bit more sluggish at this time of year. We tend, in the winter, to eat more stodgy, high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods as well as more processed foods. Fibre in our diets helps feed the beneficial microbes of the gut improving digestion and absorption of the micronutrients in our food.
I was also very pleased to see the first Ground Elder seedlings coming through in some profusion. As this is the first year I have specifically looked for them having discovered the patch last year, I don’t know if this is early or not.
These are still far too small to pick so I will keep an eye on them as I go back and forth to the Wild Garlic patch over the coming months.
You will also notice Lesser Celandine a.k.a. Pilewort (Ficaria verna, formerly Ranunculus ficaria) leaves in this picture. As it is the root bulbils that are used in ointments I won’t be picking any of these from the woodlands. I shall have to wait for the ones in my garden.
Happily overwintered and prolific all year round is Pennywort (Umbilicus ripestris) which is slightly succulent and provides an alternative in salads to cucumber. A pleasant snack during a foraging ramble and probably familiar to many of us.
Alexanders, in my opinion and indeed that of the rest of my family, are a bit of an acquired taste when eaten as a vegetable although they will substitute well for celery in stews alongside a well-flavoured meat such as pheasant or venison. The seeds can be gathered later in the year to add to condiment mixes. Once you have identified this Umbellifer it is very easy to spot as it comes through in the late winter and in sheltered areas it is already preparing to put forth flowers. The most likely Umbellifer to confuse it with would be Angelica (Angelica archangelica) due to the size of the leaves.
I find Alexanders highly aromatic and the flavour almost myrrh-like and somewhat bitter. Traditionally used to support digestion they are not generally used in modern herbal medicine. One to at least try. You may like it.
Fresh greens are also coming through on our coastline, however I shall save these for a separate post once I’ve had a chance to see what seaweeds are also about.
Happy foraging! Enjoy the signs of Spring and the bounty of the Earth.
Photographs are posted to illustrate the broad nature of the plant being discussed. Do not rely on these for identification purposes. Obtain a good field guide and if possible find someone to take you on a foraging walk. Habitat, smell, habit are all vital in correctly identifying wild edibles and in some cases there are very specific indicators of species.
Remember: Mistakes in identifying wild edibles (plants as well as fungi) can be fatal. If in doubt don’t eat it.