Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide

Are White Bells Edible?

Comparing white bells and three cornered leek

Can you tell which one of these plants is edible and which is poisonous?

In this blog I explore potential mistakes with white bell flowers and flowering three-cornered leek, touch on why it is important to get it right and a true story to remind you to check what you're picking!

are white bells edible? Comparing plants
The plant on the left is a white 'bluebell' and on the right three-cornered leek.

Spring Foraging

Spring is one of my favourite times of year. I can't quite decide whether it is the colour, the spring nutrition, the smell of fresh nettles (yes, they have a spring scent), or the increasing light and warmth. In truth, I'm sure it's all of these, plus it's the time I was born.

Spring is a rich time to forage, in gardening and farming it known as the 'hungry gap' before cultivated plants are ready to harvest. Yet many wild edibles are abundant and ripe at this time.

Here in West Cornwall three-cornered leek is prolific in many areas, often growing amongst bluebells as well as other spring plants and flowers.

Cornish bluebell wood in spring

True Story

I once met someone (who shall remain nameless) who'd foraged with friends in a large patch of three-cornered leek. They had a great time, felt proud of their bounty and created a delicious meal which they shared together.

Straight after the meal one of them was sick, then another. Within an hour 3 of them had thrown up. The other 3 took up to half a day to react, with one being sick right at the end of the day.

I was glad to hear this. It may sound funny but if someone has ingested a poison you want the body to reject it and get it out. And their healthy, functioning bodies did just that.*

Unknowingly they had picked bluebell leaves within their bounty. Bluebells are toxic to humans, dogs and cattle, they can cause serious stomach upset and if eaten in large doses could be fatal.

Top Tip: Always check through the plants that you have foraged before eating or preparing them.

Comparing white bells and three cornered leek

How to correctly identify three-cornered leek

I've written a whole blog on three cornered leek, though lets go over a few pointers here about identifying it.

  1. It smells of garlic/onion
  2. The flower stems are triangular and the leaf stems also have 3, more subtle, corners
  3. In comparison, bluebell leaves are folded, but do not have 3 corners
  4. Bluebells sometimes appear with white flowers, the flowers also appear lower on the stem
  5. Three-cornered leek flowers all come out from one point at the top of the stem
  6. Three-cornered leek flowers have a narrow green stripe down the centre of each petal

Why do bluebells go white?

It is an interesting phenomena that bluebells sometimes turn white and this can create an additional confusion. It is likely that this is a genetic change though it could also be soil depletion.

Remember to always check what you've picked. If you're not sure, leave it and enjoy the eye-candy of bluebell season!

*Always seek medical advice if you have eaten a poisonous plant. I am not a medical herbalist nor a medical professional and cannot provide medical advice.

2 comments on “Are White Bells Edible?”

  1. Hi My Gran-Pa and Gran-Ma were farmers at the turn or the 19 century in Southern Ireland so I only know of my past family’s farming history when country life was simpler. In my ignorance of today’s UK wild life Laws I picked some blue bells seeing their beauty in a Suffolk woodland. I planted the blue bells in my garden a small bunch, the following Spring and Summer I was amazed to behold that theY were not blue bells but the rare white bells and were spreading rapidly. As the years progressed they spread prolifically and are continuing to spread happily! They are quite heavenly! I have moved to Yorkshire and taken a few of their tiny bulbs with me but keep them in a trough container in my greenhouse a reminder only and thank the Lord for creating such heavenly plants.

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