BLOG: Forage & Feast July

The calm before the storm… this month feels like the final dress rehearsal before the big show of berries, nuts and mushrooms are finally here. That is not to say there is not plenty to search for this month, such as species from previous articles, like Elder, japanese rose, linden flowers and Darwin’s barberry.

July is a great month to think about your foraging and plan ahead, if you want to make jams and chutneys, then keep an eye out for good patches of bramble for blackberries and unripe damsons, apples or pears that you can pick later on.

This month, I wanted to talk about bringing foraging to the garden. I believe that foraging shouldn’t negatively impact the wild, generally foragers are after common plants, only taking small amounts so that wildlife can still use the rest of them. There are some local wild plants however, that I am happy to plant in the garden as some are in decline as pressures from changes to agriculture and land use increase.

For that reason, this month I have included three plants you could add to your garden (no matter how small), that will bring a smile to your face and tantalise your taste buds. It’s still fun to keep an eye out for them in the wild although all three can be easily sourced from garden centres.

You can use this blog article as a guide to help you search for these species, however always refer to a good identification guide or book to make sure that what you’ve picked is what you think it is. Only ever pick and eat something from the wild if YOU are 100% sure that YOU know what it is.

 

Heartease aka Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor)

You may know this plant as Wild Pansy, but I prefer Heartease as it was used to help with heart problems. In fact it has a whole host of historic medicinal uses, from treating urinary problems, gout, asthma, nerve inflammations, tiredness and even bed wetting! More than that, it’s such a pretty plant. I love it because it makes salads look too good to eat and sometimes I even freeze them in ice cubes to add to a lovely G and T! The flavour is subtle and slightly peppery, as well as a garnish they make a nice addition to a herbal tea.

In the wild these little pansies are generally yellow with purple towards the top and base of the flower with varying amounts of white thrown in. They self seed and can become quite prolific in the garden, although I see them so infrequently in the wild locally that I only pick them in the garden.

 I think that Heartease look like the happiest flower, there are some look-a-likes such as the Field Pansy (Viola arvensis) which can survive in the same habitat, but these have much smaller, paler flowers, although they’re also edible.

 

Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)

People often ask me if I have a favourite flower and I have to say I have a real soft spot for Cornflower. Sadly this species has declined dramatically since farming practices have intensified and Plant Life have declared this as a species they want to bring back from the brink!

Often included in wild flower seed mixes, Cornflower is now seen more often in peoples gardens than the wild! For this reason, it is another species I have included in my edible garden. The striking flowers (traditionally blue but other colours are available) will wow anyone who tries one of my summer salads. The edible flowers have a lovely taste and Cornflower actually has some historic uses for conditions like conjunctivitis.

This flower is actually the national flower of Estonia. It’s impressive colour attracts insects, it is stunning to find in the wild but it’ll also look great in my garden, what’s not to love!

 

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

 I have included this plant because it is stunning with a wonderful blue colour. I have a thing for blue plants and Chicory is a cracking example. This species seems to be becoming more widely available in supermarkets (usually the white-flowered variety) while ‘wild’ Chicory is also spreading as it is often found in wildflower seed mixes.

A tall plant, growing to around 1.5m, the flowering spike has lots of blue flowers growing in groups up the stem. In the wild it can be confused with the invasive Blue Sow-thistle (Cicerbita macrophylla), but this is a more delicate plant with a much thinner flowering stem, with rounded leaves which have slight teeth around the edges. Chicory’s leaves are more similar to a dandelion.

The leaves, roots and flowers of the Chicory plant are edible but the flowers and leaves taste very similar to Dandelion. The leaves will be very bitter at the moment, they’re best earlier in the year, but the flowers are delicious in July. The roots can be used like a vegetable when they’re fresh, or you can roast them for around 2 hours at 120ºc, grind them up and put them into cakes or sauces. If you grow Chicory in the garden you can also roast the root to make ‘coffee’!

 

Next month Autumn begins (for foragers anyway), as the first of the berries are out. We will look at a few berries to keep an eye out for for as well as a species of mushroom. In the meantime, enjoy your foraging and remember, only ever pick and eat something from the wild if YOU are 100% sure that YOU know what it is.