Spring greens – a foragers paradise

The last week or so it has really felt like spring has sprung. We’ve had a week of unsettled weather, defying any attempt to predict what it will be like from one hour to the next. We’ve had hail, rain, gales and thunder storms interspersed with unexpected periods of glorious sunshine!

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One of those life-affirming sunny intervals over Longis Bay

Today I had a nice relaxing morning after bellringing taking a walk around some places I haven’t been for a while, intent on restocking my fridge with some greens for this week.

I started with a visit to Ladysmith – a historic ‘Lavoirette’ and ‘Abreuvoir Publique’. This is a shady wooded site rampant with Winter Heliotrope and Three-Cornered Garlic. Here I found my 3 main spring veg plants: Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) and of course, Three-Cornered Garlic (Allium triquetrum).

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Hogweed (top) and Cow Parsley (bottom) surrounded by Three-Cornered Leek at Ladysmith

Three-cornered Garlic is one of my favourite wild vegetables. It’s not native to the UK and spreads rapidly and can be invasive. Here on Alderney it’s ubiquitous, flourishing all over the island. This is one plant you can pick as much as you like of, the entire plant is edible with a sweet and subtle garlicky onion flavour when cooked, next time I go out I might take a small trowel with me to get the bulbs too. I eat it sparingly in salads and cheese sandwiches or in generous amounts cooked as a vegetable in all sorts of dishes from pasta to omelettes. The one thing to watch for when picking it is where it grows in proximity to bluebells in wooded areas – make sure you know what you are picking! If it smells garlicky it’s ok 👌

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Can you separate your Three-cornered Garlic from your Bluebells?

Hogweed and Cow Parsley are both in the Carrot family (Umbelliferae). This is a family of plants which includes some of the tastiest vegetables but also some of the deadliest so make sure you know what you are picking!

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Young furled hogweed shoots are the best ones to pick

Hogweed and Cow Parsley are both very common and found in a variety of habitats and they are both at their best at this time of year. The young leaves are picked when still mostly furled and a bright fresh green. To identify the plants correctly make sure you have at least 2 point of identification and compare carefully with potential imposters. For Hogweed, the main plant it might be confused with is Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) which is an invasive species found mostly along rivers in the UK. Cow Parsley can be trickier and can grow alongside similar looking and very poisonous plants such as Hemlock (Conium maculatum) and Hemlock Water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata). If you want to know more about these plants and what to look out for, there is a good guide at Galloway Wild Foods.

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From L to R: Cowparsley, Hogweed and Three-cornered Garlic

I also picked some other bits and bobs which are useful greens either cooked or in salads. These include:

  • Dandelion leaves (Taraxacum agg.) which have a bitter taste but are good mixed with other greens in salads.
  • Oxalis leaves – I’m unsure of the species without any flowers but it’s likely to be a non-native introduction, there seems to be plenty around! This is related to Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) which is native to Britain and has a sour tang, similar to sorrel.
  • Chickweed – a weed of bare ground and shady places, it has a fresh mild taste and is great in salads, there is a fair bit of it around but it can be difficult to find in places that would be safe to pick – there’s lots along the roadsides which is also where the dogs walk!
  • Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) – most that I’ve seen here is Sea Radish (ssp maritimus) although without flowers or seed pods I can’t say for definite which this is. Like many Crucifers they have a cabbage-y flavour and are great as a cooked vegetable when the leaves are young and tender.
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a common sight all over the island and the fresh fronds have an aniseed flavour which can be used to flavour all sorts of dishes, it’s particularly good with pork.
  • Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) also known as Wall Pennywort is also a common site around the island, particularly in damp shady places where the leaves can grow up to 3” across. It’s edible and although I’m not convinced it’s particularly tasty it can add a pleasant texture to salads.
  • Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a classic wild vegetable with a distinctive flavour. The stings are neutralised on cooking and it can be great to add to pasta bakes or used like spinach as well at the classic nettle soup.
  • Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is a frequent sight all over the island. On footpaths where the vegetation is regularly trampled, the leaved don’t grow very large but in some long grassland areas they can be very worthwhile. I like them in a cheese sandwich where their sharp lemony tang goes wonderfully with a rich nutty hard cheese.

 

Here’s looking forward to a good years foraging on Alderney and some tasty meals!

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