I am in a great mood at the moment, maybe it is that the sun has finally been shining or maybe its the fact that I’m getting married in a few days, who knows! To celebrate, I have three plants for you this month. Two are edible species, one to look for close to home and one to look for if you are enjoying this lovely weather nearer the coast. The last is a deadly poisonous species in a surprising location.
Remember wherever you explore this month, only ever pick and eat something from the wild if YOU are 100% sure that YOU know what it is.
Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea)
This is a delightful plant that certainly does not merit the name of ‘weed’, a non-native species which escaped from Kew gardens and quickly colonised most of the UK.
Pineappleweed is in the Chamomile family and it’s easy to see why people confuse it with such a plant, but whilst the shape and look of the plant is similar, there is one difference. The flowers never really look as if they are in flower. Similar species like the Scented Mayweed and Chamomile have white flowers but Pineappleweed looks like it has buds which don’t really develop.
If you crush the flowers and upper leaves, it will release a strong smell of pineapple with a hint of chamomile, a truly delicious scent. A widespread and fairly common species, it loves dry earth and is often found at the side of paths, the edges of fields, driveways and parks.
One of my favourite simple foraging treats is just to take a few tips from a couple of plants so I have a small handful and infuse them for five minutes in hot water to make Pineappleweed tea, which is similar to chamomile with a fruity aftertaste. As I say there are some look-a-likes but they all have actual flowers so it should be pretty easy to identify.
Sea Beet (Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima)
A plant that will be familiar to many of you if you grow chard, beetroot or spinach in the garden is Sea Beet. Indeed some garden varieties of these plants were cultivated from this species.
It is common in coastal areas, whether that be on the higher shoreline, estuaries and marshes or even wasteland nearby. It is a large plant, with some specimens reaching over a 1m across and around 1.3m high.
Finding it should not pose an issue and its chard-like leaves are easy to identify. The dark shiny leaves can be leathery when flowering, while the flowers themselves are green with no petals, and form a spike with short leaves between the flowers.
Restraint should be shown when foraging from a single plant, especially during the winter months when it’s very slow growing and below par from January to February. I usually take a couple of leaves from a single plant then move on to the next, you can still pick a lot of Sea Beet but don’t strip a single plant bare.
You can use Sea Beet in the same way you might use spinach or chard, just adding a knob of butter to a pan with a little garlic and frying it off, This is not only the simplest way to enjoy it, but one of the tastiest too. The younger, fresher leaves are best as the ones from flowering plants tend to be more bitter. Finding a selection of plants at different stages should not pose much of a challenge though.
Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger)
Henbane is an odd plant, it looks beautiful when in flower, but it really stinks. I tend to find this plant close to, and around the coastline, but I have seen it in urban areas on brownfield sites in Greater Manchester.
This plant is deadly poisonous and should not be eaten, although the smell when touched should be enough to put anyone off. Growing to around 1m, Henbane can become quite bushy. It is usually sticky and hairy, with broad leaves which have light veins and attractive cream-tinged trumpet shaped flowers with dark purple veins. The black berries it produces once flowered are even more deadly than the rest of the plant.
Henbane usually flowers in June and July and loves disturbed ground, canal paths and brownfield sites. The plant is especially coastal and seems to have declined in recent years, although it can turn up in the most random of places. A friend found it growing in their garden a few years back after they had turned over the soil and I wonder how long the seed had been there waiting for the right conditions…
Whilst it would still be an unusual find wherever you go, it is worth learning, as with foraging knowing what not to pick can be more important than knowing what to pick.
As always enjoy your foraging and plant encounters wherever you go this month, but only ever pick something if YOU are 100% sure that YOU know what it is. Next month we will look at some more species and get prepared for the mushroom season. Happy Foraging!