Forage and Feast April

This month Dave has three more plants for you, an over-looked edible, a trickster that will leave you waiting for fruit for a long time, and a plant that whilst pretty, should definitely be avoided.

Spring is in the air, and I am really enjoying my walks at the moment, as the constant singing of Chiffchaffs reminds me that birds are arriving from Africa while I scour the woodlands and hedgerows. Leaves are looking lush and green and Lesser Celandine, Wood Anemone and Garlic Mustard have all flowered.

This month I have three more plants for you, an over-looked edible, a trickster that will leave you waiting for fruit for a long time, and a plant that whilst pretty, should definitely be avoided.

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. Use this blog as a guide to what to look for and then use a good reference book to confirm your finds. If in doubt, leave it out. Always have respect for the environment you are foraging in and only pick something if there is plenty to spare.

 

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

This wonderful plant is often overlooked. A native to our countryside, it is commonly encountered from Spring through to Summer in woods and in and around gardens. Some of my gardener friends refer to this plant as a weed and get rid of it. I personally think it’s delightful in the garden!

Ground Ivy is found across the UK and should be easy to come by with a little patience. The leaves and stems can replace herbs or be an addition to salads. They can be bitter,  more like spinach on the spectrum of edible leaves.

This plant makes a wonderful herbal tea, known as gill tea. It isn’t only tea that this species has been used for, however, its botanical name is Alehoof, as it was one of a number of plants used to flavour beer before hops were introduced to this country.

The leaves are small and kidney-shaped and its trailing habit also help to distinguish this from other plants. Its small blue-purple flowers really are pretty when you take a closer look. It is a small plant and so often overlooked, but when it grows en masse it becomes more obvious.

An early flowerer, starting in March, sometimes February through mild winters, I have seen this species still in flower around July, but it’s at its best in April and May.

Caution - This plant is said to be toxic to horses, who can eat vast quantities of it, but there does not seem to be many issues recorded with the plant for humans. It’s probably best avoided by those who are pregnant or breast feeding to be on the safe side.

 

Barren Strawberry (Potentilla sterilis)

On a couple of walks I have led recently, a few people have been caught out by this little trickster so read on to avoid the same trap.

For those who grow strawberries at home this plant will be instantly familiar as it looks very much like Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) or one of the cultivated small varieties you can buy from garden centres.

So how do you tell the difference between this plant and the true Wild Strawberry (which we will cover later in the year), well the answer is simple, just wait to harvest the fruits. And then keep waiting. And waiting. You see this species does not produce ‘strawberries’ so you will be waiting an awfully long time to pick some fruit to eat.

It’s all well and good waiting for Summer to see if this plant produces strawberries, but how do you know the difference now. The flowers are subtly different, in Barren Strawberry the white petals are more spaced out and have a slight notch at the top, making the petals more ‘heart-shaped’. In Wild Strawberry they don’t have this notch and the petals are closer together. Barren strawberry’s leaves aren’t as glossy and smooth as the wild strawberry either.

Barren Strawberry is found throughout most of the UK and grows in areas you would expect to see its fruitier relative, hedgerows, woodlands and in some gardens.

Whilst this plant may give us false hope of coming back later in the year to pick some fruit, it is a pretty plant, well worth seeking out and admiring if you get into the right habitat this Spring.

 

Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus)

As always with foraging what not to pick is just as important as what to pick. Someone recently told me that the flowers and seeds of this species look delicious, which raised alarm bells.

They may look nice, but they are poisonous and could even be deadly. There is a great quote by the famous naturalist Gilbert White who talks about its use as a treatment for worms.

“Where it killed not the patient, it would certainly kill the worms; but the worst of it is, it will sometimes kill both”.

In most cases people who have ingested this plant will be very sick, vomiting, diarrhea and even a state of madness have been listed as symptoms of ingestion. All parts of the plant are toxic.

In the wild it is pretty much confined to limestone areas, but it’s often encountered as a garden escape and so can be found close to habitation too.

In reality the bad smell from the plant means the chances of picking this plant accidentally are very slim. Keep an eye out for its pretty green flowers tipped with red, however, it may be dangerous but it is a beautiful plant and bees adore it.

 

As always enjoy your plant spotting where ever you go, from the garden to the remote countryside, but if you are going to pick plants to eat then always respect the environment and only ever pick something YOU are 100% you know what it is.

Until next month, happy foraging!