While warm and sunny weather only occassionally rears its head and I’m still wearing my winter coat most days, the rest of the natural world seems to have got the memo: spring is here. A few days ago, when it actually was warm and sunny and I was able to frolick coat-free through fields of dandelions, we set out with a group of friends to forage some tasty wild plants for our dinner.
Wild garlic is easy to recognise – by its long green leaves and pretty little white flowers – or perhaps even more easily by the unmistakable, but subtle smell of garlic that wafts up and enters your nostrils as soon you stumble upon it. This wild relative of chives tastes like a more mellow version of white bulb garlic. Leaves, stalks and flowers are all edible and can be eaten both raw and cooked, although I prefer to use them raw, in a garlic butter or pesto sauce for instance.
Wild garlic blooms between April and June and its little white flowers smell sweet, but taste like garlic, which makes them a perfect garnish for savoury dishes.
Apparently, wild garlic is also sometimes called bear garlic, as bears are known to go wild for the stuff. This means bears and I have more in common than I thought.
Elders bloom from May to July. Their white blossoms can be dipped in batter and fried or deep-fried, but their sweet and floral aroma really comes into its own when they’re used to make a refreshing cordial or lemonade. The same goes for the sweet, honey-coloured lindenflowers that grow on linden trees (who would have thought) in June and July. This recipe works for both.
Dryad’s saddle mushroom
The dryad’s saddle is a large, flat, edible mushroom that usually grows on the side of tree stumps. Unlike most wild mushrooms, the dryad’s saddle commonly fruits in the spring. Look out for young specimens, as they become very tough as they mature. We learnt this the hard way. Hard being the operative word.
A few foraging tips:
- Only pick wild garlic (or any wild plant) when it clearly grows in abundance and only pick what you need.
- Try to forage away from footpaths (footpaths mean people, people mean dogs, you do the math).
- Shake plants to remove insects and wash them thoroughly (the plants, not the insects).
- Don’t eat wild mushrooms unless you’re absolutely sure about them or have someone else with you who is able to recognise edible (and inedible!) species.