It may be a bad time for farmers and market gardeners, but it’s not such a bad time to forage for wild foodsby Cal Flyn / May 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
We are just emerging from the “hungry gap,” the part of the year when winter vegetables are spoiling, but summer crops are not yet ready to eat. The onset of the first warm days prompts cabbages and brassicas to run to seed; while stored root vegetables like potatoes and onions soften and sprout.
These days we have access to fresh food year-round thanks to supermarkets and their aisles of airfreighted produce, but in the days when empty fields meant empty stomachs it was a thin, marginal period.
It’s been a dour time in more ways than one. Though the days have been lengthening, the weather has been dreich where I am in Scotland. For us wild swimmers, the sea temperature (which is linked to, but lags behind, the weather) has been at its trough. Paths, bridleways, tracks and gateways are still ankle deep in mud. I’ve always liked winter, winter proper. But the soggy, slushy start of spring leaves me a bit low and gloomy.
In a bid to knock myself out of my seasonal stupor, I turned my attention to the season’s silver lining. It may be a bad time for farmers and market gardeners, but it’s not such a bad time to forage for wild foods.
In the woods, the wild garlic has been unfurling, filling the air with their rich perfume, carpeting the forest floor in glossy green leaves and pom-pom heads bearing a dozen delicate white flowers apiece. They are very strongly flavoured raw (though pleasant if added, in small quantities, to salad, or shredded over sauce) but mellow in the frying pan to make an aromatic, spinach-like side dish.
And there are a dozen more less showy, less well-known species that also make a delicious morsel. Chickweed—a dainty plant with tiny starburst flowers and oval leaves that wear a soft fur—is delicious raw, and looks very pretty on a plate. Stinging nettles have come up in thickets along the edges of fields and paths; their soft new shoots and woolly leaves are good in tea or soup. They sting though, obviously—pop on a pair of rubber gloves.
A similar-looking species, the white-dead nettle (actually from the mint family) haunts the edges of woods. It’s less hairy, doesn’t…