Foraging in Spring
Spring is full of fresh green growth and is a fervently abundant time of year for gathering edible leaves, herbs, shoots and early flowers. Plants that have been dormant or died back over winter, are now bursting forth with heightened nutrition and flavour. This season is all about greens and the first of the yellow flowers guiding the way as the wild food year unfolds.
So what can you forage, how exactly do you gather these delights, and when and where to do this? You might also want to take a look at my blog; A beginners guide to food foraging and read on to find out about my top 5 wild foods to forage in spring.
Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) has a wonderful, tart-bite and citrusy tang to it. Here in the UK it is abundant in grassy areas, hedgerows and fields. It adds a wonderful addition to salads and goes well with eggs. Anyone for sorrel and nettle quiche?
Common sorrel has delicate, spear-shaped leaves, 4-15cm in length, with pointy bits either side of the stem. Packed with vitamin C and A, it is not advised to eat large amounts of it due to its content of oxalic acid, which is also in spinach, rhubarb and blackberries.
Another common variety is wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) which is found in woodlands, at the base of trees and sometimes in stone walls. Wood sorrel has 3-lobed leaves, looking similar to clover leaves. Both plants share the same sharp flavour. Pick the leaves and leaf stems, and best gathered before the plant flowers.
One of my favourite spring greens, stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) are a green super-food. Packed with vitamins, minerals and protein, they are a good overall tonic for the body. Once cooked, they lose their sting completely, though their value is worth getting stung for too! Best picked with thick gloves and scissors, just harvest the nettle tops – the top 4-6 leaves before the catkin-like flowers appear.
Nettle and potato curry is delicious, as is nettle lasagne, nettle pakoras and the spring classic: Nettle soup. Nettle and sorrel is also a fantastic combination.
Crust-less Nettle and Sorrel Quiche
A simple to make, tasty quiche without the hassle of making pastry.
1 tbsp vegetable oil
75g nettle tops
100g sorrel leaves
6 free-range eggs
150ml sour cream
½ -1 tsp sea salt and black pepper
50g grated, hard cheese
Lightly grease a 20cm oven dish and preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/gas mark 4. Finely slice the onion, finely chop the nettle tops (careful not to touch them with bare hands) and roughly chop the sorrel leaves. In a frying pan, heat the oil over a medium heat and add the onion. Sweat for 2 minutes before adding the nettle tops for a further 3 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the sorrel.
Whisk together the eggs and sour cream, along with the salt and pepper and stir in the cooked onion, nettle and sorrel mix. Pour into the oven dish, sprinkle over the cheese and bake for 30 minutes.
The Allium family are full of green, garlicky flavour! Wild garlic (a member of this family), also known as Ransoms (Allium ursinum), has wide leaves that smell of garlic and loves to grow in woodlands. It shoots starts to appear in spring, followed by the leaves and flowers. The leaves, stems, flowers can be cut and used. The roots can also be eaten, but here in the UK you need permission from the land owner to dig up the roots.
Wild garlic is a wonderful ingredient simply chopped into butter and used as ‘garlic butter’, chopped into cheese (see below) as a flavouring or used instead of nori to wrap sushi rolls. It’s also creates a punchy, fresh, homemade pesto if whizzed up along with olive oil, lemon, hazelnuts, parmesan, salt and pepper.
I sometimes call this the belly-button plant. Pennywort, also known as navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) has a dimple in the centre like a belly button. A succulent leaf, it has a mild flavour and is great tossed (or placed) into salads. Because of its high water and low-fibre content, the leaves bruise easily so are best kept in a container in the fridge or in a glass of water before using.
The leaves can vary in size from 2cm to 10cm across and make a quirky, edible plate and base for canapes. Both the leaves and stems can be eaten. Snap or cut the stems as the roots are fragile and easy to pull out by mistake. Find them growing at the base of trees, on rock crevices and stone walls.
Pennywort canapes with wild garlic cheese
An easy, eye-catching snack based on a recipe from Rachel’s book: Wild Food Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly)
Selection of large-ish pennywort leaves
Soft, local cheese
Finely chopped wild garlic leaves
Clean the leaves, cut off the stems (which are also edible) and place on a plate or tray. Mix the cheese with the garlic leaves (about one quarter to one third leaves to cheese). Roll into small balls or take a teaspoon and place one ball or spoon onto each leaf. Serve as a starter or alongside other wild salad leaves.
Dandelion leaves and flowers
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are a common weed with tooth-shaped leaves, and bright yellow flowers coming off hollow, branchless stems. The whole plant is edible, with the exception of the stem: the leaves, flowers and roots. Find them in fields, hedgerows and pesticide-free lawns. These yellow flowers are some of the earliest flowers appearing in spring.
Dandelions have a bitter flavour, though this is milder in spring, and are highly nutritious. Bitters are particularly beneficial for helping detox and support the function of the liver and nutrients include: vitamin A, Bs, C, E, potassium, calcium and more. The flowers are more subtle in flavour and the petals look pretty scattered over savoury or sweet treats.
Dandelion flowers fritters
These fun, quick fritters can be served as a savour or sweet treat – dip into soy sauce and lemon, or dust with icing sugar.
200 ml (⅘ cup) ice-cold water or milk
1 large egg, beaten
90 g sifted flour (plain, buckwheat or other)
2–3 ice cubes
Sunflower oil, for frying
30 dandelion flower heads, stalks intact
Cover a couple of large plates with kitchen paper. Pour the ice-cold water into a mixing bowl, mix in the egg, add the flour and roughly fold it in with a fork. Do not beat it – the batter should be lumpy. Add the ice cubes.
Heat at least 2.5 cm oil in a wok or a frying pan. The oil is hot enough when a drop of batter bubbles and turns golden in 5–10 seconds. Hold a flower head by the stalk, wipe it through the batter to coat it all over, allowing any excess batter to drip off. Keep hold of the stem while dropping the coated flower head into the oil. Using the stalk, turn it if necessary and cook until golden and crisp, then remove and place on the kitchen paper. Repeat with all the flower heads. To serve, either snip off the stems or eat the flower heads and discard the stems as you eat them.