The Umbelliferae (Apiaceae) family, also known as the Carrot family is a large family of plants, all with the similarity of umbels - think structure of an umbrella with a handle, spokes and canopy. There are some fantastic edibles within this family and also some deadly poisonous plants. A little foraging knowledge can be dangerous and this family needs to understood well and the plants respected.
Here are 8 wild foods within the umbellifer category (there are 18 edibles in total in this family). It goes without saying that this information is not enough to identify and use these wild foods. Though it is an introduction to them, with links to more information about the main plants I teach.
Introducing 8 umbellifers in flower
Wild Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
An aniseedy scented plant and a wonderful flavouring (unless you don't like fennel). It's a coastal plant in my foraging book where I share a fennel sorbet and fennel flower fritter recipe.
Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum)
A coastal plant that in the past was highly rated as a vegetable and for it's nutritional qualities. I've written about rock samphire as my favourite summer plant, shared a delicious salsa verde recipe for it, and recipe for pickled rock samphire. It is also in my foraging book.
Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum)
Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)
A coastal that has spread inland. You need permission to dig up the (small and fibrous) roots. The seeds are edible but shouldn't be digested if you're pregnant. This plant is in my Foraging book where I share a Carrot Seed and Honey Cookie recipe. Extra info: I have used the summer flowers in a similar way to elderflowers and infused them for syrup - they have an unusual, subtle and carroty flavour!
Hogweed/Cow-weed (Heracleum sphondylium)
Also known as Common Hogweed (in comparison to Giant hogweed) is a common sight across the UK and Europe. I've previously shared recipes for it; Hogweed shoots in a cake, plus a vegan version of Pear and Hogweed Shoot Cake. I sing the praises for it as an alternative and superior asparagus. and even used the seeds to flavour meringue in an Apple Curd and meringue Pie recipe.
Cow Parsley/Wild Chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris)
Often the first spring flower to appear. A very common hedgerow plant, the leaves can be eaten but should be avoided once the plant is in flower. However, before the flowers appear the leaves and stems can be eaten. I like the leaves in salads and the stalks simmered and added to sauces.
Pignut (Conopodium majus)
A delicate flowering plant, renown for the nuts (roots) that are tricky and (a little) rewarding to dig up as food. Not a nut at all, but a nutty flavour and texture of a fresh hazelnut.
Wild Celery (Apium graveolens)
I've rarely seen this in Cornwall, I photographed this one in Norfolk where I was excited to find it! A stringy plant, personally I prefer to use Alexanders (its predecessor).
Autumn is full of potential pleasures, warming foods, sweet dishes and a bounty of autumnal fruits to enjoy. Personally, I take particular interest in creating desserts with wild ingredients, so when Sara from Cotna Barton suggested we made a wild apple meringue pie on our Forage, Cook and Dine event last month, I jumped at the chance to include another wild ingredient in there.
If you've been on a wild food walk with me or another forager, you may well of tasted this amazingly strong flavoured seed; Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium). Common as muck (as the expression goes!), it is often mistaken for being poisonous because if the sap gets on your skin and reacts with sunlight you can come up in horrible blisters that can scar. However, several parts of the plant can be used as a food, & these seeds are excellent as a flavouring. Correct identification is essential of this plant though, especially as it is related to several poisonous species such as Hemlock.
So what's the taste? Well, taste is a very personal experience, though some of the descriptions I've heard is; orange peel, aromatic, soapy, turkish delight, spicey...
Some people like it, some people don't. Unfortunately, Sara, our cook for this event is not a fan of the flavour, so including it in this recipe took a little persuading. Luckily, I was convinced it would work, so into the ingredients list it went. One of the secrets with this seed is to grind it - it really helps to release the flavour and breakdown the papery texture of the seed pod.
Well, before I go onto sharing the recipe, let me tell you that the dessert was a success, 9 hungry foragers, cooks and diners polished the whole dish off, and Sara's plate was clean too - she liked it! It just goes to show that some wild ingredients are really worth persevering with, until you find the right combination of how to use them.
Wild Apple Curd and Hogweed Seed Meringue Pie
For the Curd
- 500 g cooking apples
- finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 100 ml lemon juice
- 500 g unrefined caster sugar
- 4-5 large eggs
- 150 g shortcrust pastry baked in a flan case (prepared before hand)
For the Meringue
- 4 egg whites
- 200 g unrefined caster sugar
- handful of hogweed seeds
Chop the apples into a pan with 100 ml water and the lemon zest. Cook gently until soft and fluffy, then rub through a sieve. Put the butter, sugar and apple puree into a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. As soon as the butter is melted and the mixture is hot and glossy, pour in the eggs and whisk with a balloon whisk.
If the mixture splits, take the pan off the heat and whisk vigorously until smooth, before returning to the heat. Stir the mixture over a gentle heat until thick and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl every few minutes. This should take about 10 mins. Pour immediately into the pastry base.
For the meringue, use a food blender to blend the sugar and seeds until the majority of the seeds break down and an aromatic smell is released. Discard the seeds which stay whole. Put aside. Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until they form soft peaks, then add the sugar a spoonful at a time. Pile onto the tart and bake at gas mark 4 for approximately 20 mins, until the meringue is crisp and slightly coloured.