Forage and Feast May

This month Dave has three more plants for you, after a strangely dry April - two edibles and one that should definitely be avoided.

One of the things I have noticed over the years of writing these blogs is how much more ‘unreliable’ the weather has become, last month was no exception. What happened to April showers? Usually I would be finding St George’s Mushrooms, Morels and other spring fungi, but these species are somewhat reliant on rainfall to trigger their growth, no rain = no fungi.

When we are foraging or looking at nature in general then we become very aware of the weather and of the impacts it is having, extremes at different times of the year, flash flooding just after and Indian summer, lack of rain followed by a really cold month then into the hottest month on record etc.

Plants though are more reliable during ‘weird’ weather than fungi. Yes sometimes they flower early or late depending on the conditions but they will be there, and this month I have three plants for you to search for on your walks close to home as all three can be found near to where you live (no matter where that is). As usual I have some edible and a poisonous one to avoid but whenever you are foraging only ever pick something YOU know 100% you know what it is.


Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Also known as Jack by the Hedge, this is a wonderful spring flowering plant that is not also delicious but also useful for wildlife. With a name like Garlic Mustard do I really need to explain what this plants tastes like? I will, it has a garlic taste with a mustard aftertaste and also slightly bitter notes, with colder winters supposedly making the leaves sweeter.

It is an abundant plant along hedgerows, edge of woodlands, meadow edges and even in urban areas, with its lush green ‘nettle-like’ leaf shape and white flowers that keep flowering up the flowering spike. In recent years it feels like this plant has increased and appears commoner than I can ever recall it.

The upper small leaves and the flowers are what I nibble on as I go on my walks, you can add them to salads or just graze at your leisure and whilst its garlic flavour is not as intense as Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) it is a flavour I look forward to every spring…and autumn. The great thing with this species is you get two goes at it, as it produces new leaf growth in the autumn so you can use leaves then as well as the spring.

We also need to take in to account our fluttery neighbours with this plant. As always with foraging we want to take a little and from now until mid June if we pick the flower heads or upper leaves of the plant we have to check for a little bright orange egg. It is the egg of the Orange-tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines). The female lays one egg on a plant as unlike other butterfly species like the Peacock (Aglais io), the Orange-tip caterpillars can be cannibalistic, so the female avoids this from happening by just laying an egg per plant. So before you pick the upper leaves or the flowers just have a little glance for the egg, its quite obvious to see, and if there is one, leave that plant alone.

The butterfly has increased, certainly in my native Rochdale, in my lifetime, no doubt as the plant has increased also. Whilst the Orange-tip can lay its egg on other plant species, in Greater Manchester Garlic Mustard seems a preferred choice. So just use common sense and both we and the butterfly can benefit from this delicious plant.

Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus)

An interesting species, it is a member of the poppy family and not really related to the Lesser Celandine at all, just in name. It has small yellow poppy like flowers and is common in lowland regions especially near habitation, it becomes more uncommon the higher in altitude you seem to go.

It is not quite known whether it is a native plant to the UK, but the fact it is always near habitation is probably an indication is not. Hedgerows, roadside verges and gardens are some of its favoured spots to grow. The flowering time seems to line up with when the first Swallows arrive back, hence the plants old name of Swallow Wort.

The plant is harmful to us, it would be ill-advised to consume any part of the plant and if you break a leaf or stem of this plant you will see it oozes an orangey liquid (a unique feature which can help with identification). This liquid is said to be slightly corrosive, and legend has it it has been used to burn warts by witches.


Hawthorn (Blossom) (Crataegus monogyna)

I know we have included Hawthorn before, but that generally focused on the use of the fruits, at this time of the year the hedgerows are bursting with the colour of Hawthorn so I thought it was worth mentioning the edible flowers of what is probably our commonest hedgerow plant.

May Blossom is another name for Hawthorn because it is in its full glory of flowering in May, and the flowers are edible, having a slight apple taste, but they can be a bit marmitey, let me explain why. Some people love the smell of Hawthorn on a nice spring warm day and the heady aroma of the blossom filling the air. Others (myself included), think it smells of death. So I think the flowers have an initial lovely taste, but an after taste I do not enjoy, others just love it. So if you like the smell of hawthorn then I guess its for you, but others beware.

The flowers lower blood pressure (so if you already have low blood pressure beware) and can be used in salads, nibbled as you go on you walk or used in a tea.

Hawthorn can be found pretty much everywhere and there are occasionally some very ornamental ones which are very red, but sometimes the Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) is pinkie than the Common Hawthorn, but in terms of taste and smell they are the same.

There you have it folks, two species to try this month and one species to avoid, but admire it is a pretty plant. As always if you do go foraging only ever pick something YOU know 100% what it is.


Happy foraging!