I grew up in a community were foraging was considered normal. Descended from 1,500 years of a nomadic lifestyle Food for Free was not just some folksy fad, it kept us alive but knowledge is so easily lost.
Thankfully the good people of PEA run Introduction to Foraging days for their volunteers and there are a few of our finds from an overcast day in January at Lopwell Dam Nature Reserve.
1: Wild Onion (Allium vineale)
Wild Onion known as field onion, field garlic, wild onion, wild chives and crow’s garlic is an innocuous little plant that to the casual passerby can look like nothing more than blades of grass but leaves from this little bulb give a wonderful hint of chives to salads, soups and sauces.
They’re useful in that they appear earlier in the season than Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum). Flowering in Jun-July the leave are available from late autumn to summer.
2: Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
Tall summer blooms die down at the end of late summer but by late January tender leaves have started to grow at the base of leftover dead stalks.
The plant does have a high salicylate content so is best avoided by asthmatics
3: Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)
Small geranium abundant in light shade in hedgerows. Stems turn red later in the year and flowers bloom April-Oct but leaves have begun to immerge by January.
4: Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)
Recognisable as a weed in grassy areas Ribwort Plantain along with Broadleaved Plantain are abundance across a range of habits. Look for raised parallel veins on the undersides of their distinctive leaves. Leaves are best harvested in earlier spring and taste somewhat mushroom like but need cooking to make them palatable.
5: Rose hip (Rosa Canina)
By late January you should still be able to find the little red rose hips of wild roses left over in hedgerows from late summer. Squeezed and added to water they make an excellent light tea but should not be eaten raw due to hooked seeds.
*6: Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
The bane of walkers and most stereotypical of foraging ingredients, the easily recognisable hooked leaves are beginning to show and make for excellent teas and soups.
Wild Onion, Meadowsweet, Herb Robert, Ribwort Plantain, and Stinging Nettle can be brewed individually into a tea or together along with peppery Common Hogweed (heracleum sphondylium) seed pods and turmeric into a golden soup.