There are many pleasures to be gained from eating from the wild and with spring in full swing, it’s an ideal time to go foraging and add a new dimension to your food and it’s fun to search for your own food.
If you forage responsibly, your bounty is sustainable and free. Please only harvest what you are confident you can positively identify: if in doubt, leave it out. Use a good guide to help you such as Alys Fowler’s The Thrifty Forager, or the Collins Gem version of Richard Mabey’s Food For Free. Only pick what you can comfortably use without waste or harm to the plant – leave some for others. Wash your bounty and check for bugs lurking in flowers.
Spring is ideal to collect wild food if you’ve never foraged before. The lush growth of summer hasn’t begun and one of the most easily identified plants perfect for beginner foragers is the Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).
The word ‘dandelion‘ comes from the French dent le lion meaning ‘tooth of the lion’, after the leaves which look as it they are made up of jagged teeth. They are native to Europe, North America and Asia.
You can find these nearly everywhere grassy and in waste places. They exude a milky sap from all parts when cut, and the raw taste can be bitter, so wear gloves when you pick to avoid stained hands. The leaves grow from the base of the plant in a rosette and the flower comes out on a hollow stalk.
The leaves are quite bitter, like chicory. Very young spring leaves are less bitter. Use them like salad leaves or spinach (soak older leaves in water for a few hours). You can make great fritters with the flower buds: coat them in a light batter and fry. Or use the petals in leaf or potato salads or with pasta. Dandelion’s can also be used to make rather delicious wine and champagne.
St George’s Day (23rd April) is traditionally the time to go out and pick dandelion flowers, and they are in abundance at this time. Choose a hot bright sunny spring day, and wait until mid afternoon before picking the dandelions. The heat of the sun will dry the dandelions and the noon sun will help open up as many of the flowers as possible.
Also in season to forage in Spring – Birch Sap, Elderflower, Cleavers (leaves), Hawthorn Leaves (early spring), and blossom (late spring), Nettles, Oak Leaf, Bramble tip/leaves, Lime leaves, Lime sap, Male Pine Cones, Hop Shoot.