This month Dave Winnard from Discover the Wild has three plants for you to seek out! Bistort and Danish Scurvy Grass, which are edible, and Wood Anemone, which is poisonous.
Well, what a stunning end to the month we’ve had, anyone would think it was summer! Everything appears to have sprung up in the last week, and woodlands and hedgerows are now alive with vibrant green plants.
Bistort (Bistorta officinalis)
Bistort is a plant that isn’t as widely known about as it should be. It is one of Spring’s delights for me and a versatile and abundant species. It may not be as well-known as other Spring edibles because it is found in woodland areas a bit higher up in the region, such as: Rochdale, Bury, Oldham and Bolton. It can be found throughout the area, you just may need to work a bit harder to seek it out.
Bistort’s leaves are sometimes confused with Dock leaves (Rumex), in fact this plant is used in parts of West Yorkshire for making Dock Pudding, together with oatmeal, nettles and onion.
In Spring the leaves can be used like spinach, young leaves can be eaten raw, but they get a little tougher with age, so a bit of heat to wilt them renders them delicious. They can then be used like any spring green in any recipe really.
In some woodlands they can carpet vast areas, the leaves are distinctive, they have a bright pink base to the leaf stem and the leaf has ‘wings’ that come down from the bottom of the leaf down the stem too, a feature which dock would not have.
Once the flowers appear, which are fluffy pink flowers which sit on top of a long stem, the leaves become bitter and not really useable, so you need to get them in April, early May when they are at their best.
Danish Scurvy Grass (Cochlearia danica)
Now that you’ve filled your basket with Bistort, I would like to introduce you to an edible plant, which is very difficult to find, despite it being one of the most quickly spreading species in the area.
You may be surprised to hear that this plant used to be considered a coastal species, as it has a preference for salt. In fact, this is the reason that it has spread so quickly across the entire UK. All the salt built up on the edge of roads from salt spreading in Winter, has created the perfect habitat for this little plant. Add to that the cars whizzing by and spreading it’s seeds all along the road and it’s easy to understand how this plant has increased dramatically in the last 30 years.
Danish Scurvy Grass has spade like leaves, with a pretty lilac/ pink/ mauve flower. It grows very low to the ground and does not need much soil at all to grow - which is why it is no issue for this plant to grow alongside roads.
The leaves contain vitamin C and historically it was used for treating scurvy! The leaves are edible and quite tasty, the problem is trying to find a patch that isn’t in the middle of a road. I have discovered a few spots where they grow along country lanes which have been gritted in the Winter and I occasionally throw the leaves into salads and things.
Whether you can find a spot away from heavy traffic to try this or not, it is a plant worth looking out for next time you are out and about as it’s such a hardy and successful species. The central reservation of the M60 and A-roads in the area will be carpeted in this plant!
Wood Anemone (Anemonoides nemorosa)
This month I have included a delightful plant to AVOID eating, it is a joy to see in woodlands during Spring. People have mistaken it for the edible Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), however, which is also a white flower, but the leaves are totally different. For that reason, I have included this plant so that you can admire it, but REMEMBER do not pick it.
The Wood Anemone is a small plant that likes to grow in woodlands and hedgerows, preferring areas that allow a bit of sunlight in. They have 6 or 7 white ‘petals’ and sometimes are tinged with a purple hue at the back.
The leaves are lobed unlike Wood Sorrel whose leaves look like that of a ‘shamrock’. April and early May is the best time of year to find this species and they can grow in quite large groups which makes for a fabulous sight.
It is a poisonous species, so none of this plant should be ingested, if you do ingest this plant then seek medical attention as it can cause breathing difficulties and even heart failure!
If you do find this plant, it is worth also looking for a fungus called Anemone Cup (Dumontinia tuberosa) which is also NOT edible. The fungus looks like cups on stalks, growing from the roots of the plant. There are very few records of this species in this area so if you do spot some then please do get in touch.
As always, when you are foraging only ever pick and eat something if YOU know 100% what it is. If you are ever in doubt then leave it out. Next month I have some plants and fungi for you to seek out and in the meantime enjoy nature wherever and whenever you can.