A few Common and tasty plants that spring foraging offers.
In the UK there are two seasons when nature provides us with extraordinary abundance. The autumn is favourite with fungi enthusiasts, but for me, spring foraging provides the ultimate in diversity, abundance and forgotten flavours.
You can get up to speed with what wild foods are available when you go out spring foraging, with my colour-coded, foraging harvesting charts.
Sea beet / Sea spinach (Beta vulgaris ssp maritima) Fleshy leaved coastal specialist, that over-winters as an untidy rosette. Ancestor of the garden beetroot and swiss chard. Can be found upright or prostate in flower.
Wild chervil / Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) Our most common of the tricky to identify carrot family of umbellifers. The young tender flower stems are one of my spring foraging highlights. Not really one for beginners due to its similarity with the deadly poisonous common hemlock.
Sea purslane (Halimione portulacoides) A true gourmet plant. This relative of samphire, also grows only on salt marshes and estuaries. It is one of my favourite spring foraging moments to go to the estuary and salt marshes to harvest this plant. The fleshy oval leaves are salty and available all year round. Read more on this tremendous plant here
Sea arrow grass (Triglochin maritima) Unusual tasting estuary and salt marsh specialist. The dark green, chive-like clumps of semi-cylindrical leaves have a distinct taste of coriander.
Sea aster (Aster tripolium) Another fantastic coastal / estuary edible. Only lives on mudflats. Fleshy oval-lanceolate leaves with long petioles. Composite flowers, coloured yellow./ mauve.
Buckshorn plantain (Plantago coronopus) Distinctive lobed foliage makes this coastal plant easy to identify. Fleshy leaf rosettes produce terminal spikes of non descript flowers.
Sea plantain (Plantago maritima) Narrow, fleshy, strap-like leaves with just one raised rib on undersides. Yellow flowers, similar to ribwort. Enjoys life in and around the coast and estuaries.
Ribwort plantain. (Plantago lanceolata) Found all over the UK everywhere except the highlands of Scotland. Long, narrow, lanceolate leaves with raised ribs on undersides. Flower buds taste of mushrooms.
Common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) New leaf shoots are one of the finest spring vegetables you can eat. Again, not really for foraging novices as it looks so similar to notorious Giant Hogweedwhose sap can give 3rd degree burns if it gets on skin. An article on common hogweed will appear here soon. This is another of the featured plants in my foragers ‘top trumps’ style card game, available from my shop
Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) The ancestor of our garden strawberries. The small conical red fruits have a superior taste when ripe. Woodlands and grassy hedgebanks are favourite habitats.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) A true herb of the Gods! Named after Achilles, this common medicinal herb of town and country grasslands is best when the aromatic, savoury leaves are young and tender.
Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) An easy to identify low growing umbellifer, with its triangular leaves comprised of three sets of three leaflets. Tastes like parsley. Best raw when young.
Elder (Sambucus nigra) Does this plant need any description? Masses of large white ‘umbel-like’ flowers in hedges in late May. Purple berries follow in Autumn. Superb medicinal plant.
White dead nettle (Lamium album) One of many mint family plants found in Britain. Earthy aromatics when crushed. Large, white, two lipped flowers full of sweet nectar if you beat the bees to it!
Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) The scurge of home owners, but a great edible for savoury and sweet dishes and drinks. You may like this knotweed and beetroot relish recipe. Masses of upright bamboo-like stems, full of resveratrol, also present in red grape skins. Shoots come up from April!
Rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) One of two willowherb species that offer asparagus-like stems. No leaf rosettes, its stems from creeping rhizomes appear from late March. Spiralling narrow leaves, purple / pink flowers with four petals, on conical looking, tapering spikes.
Greater willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) Has opposite leaves on the stem, distinguishing it from rosebay. It has thicker stems. Also grows in dense stands from creeping rhizomes. Loves riverbanks.
Flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) More of an urban forage, this plant is a favourite of gardeners for its drooping racemes of aromatic, often brightly coloured flowers. If you live in town or city, spring foraging trips can almost be guaranteed to provide opportunity to harvest the flowers. The dark blue berries that follow are bland, but rich in pectin.
Violets (Viola species) Often carpets woodland floors and shady spots. Evergreen heart shaped leaves. Gorgeous ‘love heart’ scented blue-purple flowers in March. White and pink forms exist. For a quick violet vinegar recipe, check this out!
Perennial wall rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) The tastiest wild rocket. Perennial plant of numerous free draining habitats. Pinnately-lobed leaves form rosettes on woody growth. Yellow summer flowers.
Black mustard (Brassica nigra) Large pinnately-lobed, coarse leaves, with red-purple mid ribs. Loves sand coasts, poor soils and wastegrounds. Yellow flowers, then pods full of pungent hot seeds.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) Common low growing perennial of grasslands and meadows. Trifoliate leaves with white chevron markings. Globular heads of red, pea-like flowers. Medicinally valuable.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) Lover of damp grasslands, water meadows and river banks. Leaves with distinctive red mid-rib. Frothy creamy sprays of vanilla/honey scented flowers in June.
Wild celery (Apium graveolens) Ancestor of cultivated celery. Red tinged, deeply grooved leaf stalks, with once pinnate leaves. Serrated, oval leaflets. White compound umbel flowers in summer.
Common mallow (Malva sylvestris) Our most common mallow. Soft, kidney shaped, creased leaves, often with purple spot at base. Showy pink flowers with five petals. Seed pod ‘cheeses’ follow.