Wild foods to forage in Spring

Now that the sun is beginning to throw us a ray or two between the clouds each day, it’s the perfect time to get outside and see what nature has to offer our dinner tables. There’s plenty to find:

  1. Sea Beet (Beta vulgaris)

    Sea Beet - Atomic Shrimp
    Image: Atomic Shrimp

    This leafy plant, common on pebbly beaches above the tide line, is the parent of Swiss chard and beetroot. It’s beautiful in Spring soups or as a vegetable in place of spinach.

  2. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

    Dandelion - Marcu Ioachim
    Image: Marcu Ioachim

    Dandelions are all over the place, and the leaves taste great in a salad – particularly when blanched. The flower buds are also good to eat, and the petals make a lovely salad decoration.

  3. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

    Nettle - Till Westermayer
    Image: Till Westermayer

    If you pick them young enough, nettles can be used as a green vegetable, but they work best as a soup with a distinct flavour. If the plant gets too tall to be picked, then just cut it to ground level and then crop it again after about three weeks.

  4. Sea kale (Crambe maritime)

    Sea kale -  Dag Endresen
    Image: Dag Endresen

    This beach-dwelling plant’s flower buds make a beautiful vegetable. Dungeness, in Kent, is abundant in it.

  5. Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)

    Elderflower - Andy Roberts
    Image: Andy Roberts

    Although elderflower drinks can be bought quite easily in the shops nowadays, nothing beats mixing up the sparkling drink yourself.

  6. Morel (Morchella esculenta)

    Morel - Michael Hodge
    Image: Michael Hodge

    Usually to be found on chalky soil with ash, apple, or pine trees, this flavoursome mushroom used to be quite common but is becoming quite difficult to find.

  7. Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

    Sorrel - Kahvikisu
    Image: Kahvikisu

    Pretty commonly found in grasslands, sorrel can be used to make a fish sauce with a bite, or an unusual pesto sauce to be used with pasta.

  8. Claytonia (Montia perfoliata)

    Claytonia - Rictor Norton & David Allen
    Image: Rictor Norton & David Allen

    This leaf makes a lovely addition to a salad. You should find it on waste ground or cropping up as a weed in the garden.

  9. Watercress (Rorippa aquatica)

    Watercress - Alan Carlson
    Image: Alan Carlson

    Another forage-friendly plant quit easily found commercially, watercress is lovely in a soup. It’s found commonly in streams and waterways, and collecting a crop yourself is always much more fun and highly rewarding.

  10. Lime flowers (Tilia europaea)

    Linden - Ilenda Gecan
    Image: Ilenda Gecan

    Linden or lime tea is amongst the best of the so-called herb teas or tisanes, and is beautifully scented by the flowers.

Spring recipes using your foraged ingredients

Sorrel pesto

Ingredients:

2 tbsp pine nuts

1-2 handfuls young sorrel leaves (roughly 45g in weight)

1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, stalks removed

Sea salt

6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

30g hard goat’s cheese, grated

Method:

Using a small frying pan over a medium heat, lightly toast the pine nuts just until they begin to turn golden, and then tip into a food processor. Add in the garlic, sorrel, parsley, and a pinch of salt to the toasted pine nuts, and then pulse a few times until roughly chopped and mixed. Slowly add in the olive oil, pulsing as you do so, until you reach a consistency you like.

Spoon the mixture into a bowl and stir in the goat’s cheese. Keep in a sealed jar with a slick of olive oil over the top for about a week.

Linden or Lime tea

Ingredients:

1 tsp dried lime flowers

1 teacup of boiled water

Honey or other sweetener (optional)

Method:

Infuse one teaspoon of dried lime flowers in a cup of boiled water for 5-10 minutes. Strain, then drink as it comes or with a little honey to sweeten. Lime tea has a honey-like scent to it, and is said to soothe digestion and nerves. It makes a calming pre-sleep alternative to camomile tea.

Nettle soup

Ingredients:

½ carrier bag young nettle leaves

A generous knob of butter

A good slug of olive oil

1 large onion, finely sliced

1 large carrot, chopped

1 celery stick, chopped

1 big garlic clove, crushed

1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock

1 tablespoon crème fraîche or natural yoghurt

Salt and ground pepper to taste

Cream (optional)

Ground nutmeg (optional)

Method:

Thoroughly wash the nettles and discard the tough stalks. There’s no need to be too vigilant here as the soup will be liquidised. Melt the butter and oil in a large pan before sweating the onion, potato, carrot, celery, and garlic until softened but not browned. Add the stock and allow to simmer for 10 minutes until the potato is soft.

Add the nettles (with more stock if you need it) and bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the nettles are tender.

Purée the soup in a liquidiser (depending on the size of your machine, you might have to do two batches) and then return to the pan. Stir in the crème fraîche or natural yoghurt, and reheat without boiling.

Season the soup with salt and pepper, and if you want to impress then add a swirl of cream and a pinch of nutmeg before serving.

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