White!

All of a sudden over the course of just a week everything has turned white – trees, hedgrows, fields – there are white flowers and blossom (what a fantastic language English is where there is a seperate word for tree flowers!)  So many of these white blooms are from edible plants – its quite an exciting time of year to be foraging – there is so much to eat out there – I know the spring has been wet and cold and grey, but the growth is so lush it almost makes up for it.

Trees in blossom at the moment are Hawthorn (May Blossom), Mountain Ash (or Rowan) and Elder (just coming) – May Blossom can be dried and made into tea, Elderflowers is famous for cordial and champagne, just mark the location of the Rowan and come back in the autumn for the berries.

Looking a little lower and the next layer down there is Cow Parsley, who’s early leaves are edible (making sure you are certain its not its very poisonous simular relation Hemlock), Sweet Cecily – again very simular, but instantly recognisable by its distinct aniseed smell and the versitle Jack by the Hedge (Garlic Mustard) and lots of White Deadnettle.

In some shady damp areas the brilliant Wild Garlic (Ransoms) are still in flower and their all pervading smell fills the valley.

Down at your feet at the bottoms of the hedgerow there are still more white flowered foods to be picked.  Hairy Bittercress and its cousin Shepherd’s Purse – little peppery plants – very welcome in a spring salad.  Last but not least Cickweed with its beautiful star like flowers is abundant and luchious this spring, enjoying as it does a damp spring.

There really is so much out there, and remember its all free for the picking!

 

Doing a Recci

I am leading a Spring Wild Food Walk for Transition Chesterfield.  Always on the look out for an interesting venue, my co-leader suggested a new patch, so we went to check it out.

Proving that you don’t have to be ‘in the wild’ to eat wild we started off on the site of a demolished house.  Plenty of Nettles, Dandelions, Docks, Bramble and Coltsfoot.

The idea of the walk is to show people that there are wild foods all around them, you just have to be shown (and be able to identify it correctly afterwards)

Along the road under the railway bridges – loads of Chickweed in the road edge, loads of Hawthorn hanging over.

Cross the road and along by the river, plenty of Wild Garlic, Cow Parsley and Garlic Mustard, some Plantain here and there, Hogweed coming through, a patch of Comfrey beginning to show; some Goose Grass or Cleavers – supposedly edible, but never recommended by anyone that I know of!

There are 3 main plants which I would look to show people during a Spring Wild Food Walk, flavours which are strong, plants that are plentiful, easily recognisable and that are easy to use.  We had already happened upon Wild Garlic – pick handfuls of leaves or flowers, chop and use whenever you would use garlic bulbs.  Garlic Mustard, use in lots of dishes where you are looking for a tang – cheesy dishes or with pork or in salad.

The 3rd plant is Sorrel, or rather its two plants – let me explain…Wood Sorrel is the tiny clover leafed woodland plant and Common Sorrel (Sheep Sorrel, Arrow Sorrel or Field Sorrel) which is a member of the dock family.  Although completely different species, they both taste the same due to the presence of oxalic acid – the sharp lemon-y flavour so familiar yet unexpected is a must for first timers.  Wood Sorrel is only to be found deep in the woodland, its bright, almost lime green leaves, lighting up the forest floor and matching with its citrus taste.  Common Sorrel (as would be expected) can be found in most grassland if you look hard enough.

So, on a mission to find the 3rd piece of the picture, we set out a little further afield, and crossed a rather busy road, onto the verge and up a track beyond heading for a scrubby piece of woodland.

We found a gap in the hedge edged with wild raspberries, and in very rough grassland located several Sheep Sorrel plants – tick the box.  We carried on into the woodland, but despite an extensive search, finding Gorse and Beech Mast, more Brambles and lots more Nettles, we didn’t locate any Wood Sorrel.

But happy with the route, we agreed to go ahead.  See you on May 8th?

Celendine

Today is so Spring!!

Its so spring beacuse today I saw my first butterfly of the year, the frogs have spawned in the pond in our garden and I even caught a glimpse of some Wood Anenomies (Windflowers) .

I vistited the embryonic Rhubarb Farm today (http://83.170.122.74/rhubarb_farm/index.php) a new Social Enterprise Community Supported Agriculture project starting near Bolsover.  Beautiful Spring Day, we saw loads of things to eat at the bottom of the hedgerows – enough to make a propoer spring salad – dandelions, garlic mustard, cow parsley, hogweed, dead nettle, sorrel and of course hawthorn itself.

What caught my eye most of all was a whole bank of Celendine.  their beautiful star like flowers shining in the spring sun.  But everytime I see Celendine it really brings home the reality of starving.  You see one of the old names for Celendine is famine food.  Each of the tiny plants, if you dig them up, has teeny tiny nodules on the roots and these, if collected and ground up are pure starch.  How poor would you have to be to have nothing else?   How hungry would you have to be to face such a task to fill your belly?  I think I am very lucky to live in the Western World in 21st century.

 

Birch Sap

Whilst everyone has heard of Maple Syrup and the whole thing is quite familiar, suggest to people in the UK that they drink tree sap and they are REALLY out of their comfort zone!

The sap is rising in all trees at the moment, in fact someone told me that if you hold your ear agianst a tree you will hear the sap rushing up the tree and I have tried this, but am never quite sure whether the noise I’m hearing is just the ‘sea in the seashell’ noise or whether it is actually sap rushing around inside the tree.

Just along the street from my house a row of birch trees oevrhang a neighbour’s fence, one branch had been twisted and broken in the winter gales and this week, the tree was put out of its misery and the offening limb has been cut off.  The sap is literaly dripping out of the cut, making a wet patch on the pavement.  Were it in my garden, I would have installed a bowl  bucket to catch said sap.  Recommended for making beautiful (pre-sweetened) tea, you could try boiling and then reduciing a  pan full of sap down to thin syrup-y stuff to sweeten any dish.  Mixing with lemon peel and cloves along with the normal yeast and sugar (or even honey)  makes great wine, so I’m told.  Birch trees can be ‘tapped’ a hole drilled in the truck (and a cork inserted afterwards to prevent permanent damage) for a reliabel source.