Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
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Foraging for Spring Hogweed Shoots

picking spring common hogweed shoots (Cow parsnip)

I've written about hogweed shoots many times; celebrating and bringing this weed into the limelight. I'm rather fond of it as an ingredient and have used it in dahl, cake and farinata.

As I write this post during the COVID-19 pandemic I am unable to teach face-to-face, so I thought I'd share more practical pointers on how to identify this plant and important things to remember when picking it.

Here I share an ID video, a bullet-point list of things to remember when picking this plant and a simple recipe to get your started. Plus a taste test for you to do! Which is a great way to get to know this plant and compare our cultivated foods to those our ancestors ate.

How to identify common hogweed

  • This is the commonest umbelliefer in the hedgerow
  • Feel of the leaf is furry and gets coarser towards summer
  • The white hairs on the stem are very prominent and can be seen from a bit of a distance!
  • Although a member of the carrot family, the leaves of common hogweed aren't feathery, they're quite large with an undulating edge which goes in and out towards the stem.
  • The leaf edge is serrated (toothed)
  • The stem can be purple or pale green.
  • It is common across Europe and grows in grassland, hedgerows, wasteland and cultivated land.

Is it that simple?

Kind of, yes. This is the difficulty of teaching from a distance, if we were in the field together it would be so much easier. So here are some extra tips to keep you safe.

Safely foraging hogweed shoots

  • If you're not sure, don't pick it
  • Send me a quick photo just to check!
  • Make sure it isn't giant hogweed. The leaves of giant hogweed are 1 metre, yes 1 metre long. Common hogweed have leaves half the length of this, at most.
Freshly picking hogweed shoots, cow parsnip  on my knee!
Hogweed shoots lying across my knee, but don't rub the sap into your skin!!
  • EXTRA NOTE: Never eat this plant raw, and avoid getting the sap on your skin, especially if really sunny. The sap, when it reacts with sunlight can cause blisters which are both uncomfortable and can scar.
  • FINAL NOTE: I suggest eating this plant in small amounts, I put myself off it by eating too much in one sitting a few years ago! It has an unusual flavour and is best used in small quantities.

Taste Test

Now for a quick way to cook these shoots and a fun taste test to do. Common hogweed shoots are one of the many plants known as poorman's asparagus.

Its flavour is very different, but it is an interesting comparison to do! Cook both asparagus and hogweed shoots in separate pans for a few minutes, strain, season and taste. I'd love to know what you think. Remember that your taste buds are getting used to new flavours so it's worth trying it (in small amounts) a few times over the next few weeks.

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