Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
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.

Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is considered a very invasive weed in many parts of the world, including across Europe.

Here I share tips on how to turn this invasive plant into a tasty food, including information on how to do this safely and legally. I share the when, how, what and why of cooking and eating this plant. In the UK you can be fined for encouraging the spread of this plant, but not fined for eating it! Just follow these guidelines first.

Ooh, plus a simple Japanese compote recipe to get you started.

Which part of Japanese knotweed tastes best?
Experiments for Japanese knotweed recipes. Which part tastes best?!
A sign telling where NOT to pick Japanese knotweed
If treated by the council, sites are signposted. Though other sites treated by individuals or companies may not be so clear. Think twice before harvesting and definitely NOT at these sites!

When to harvest

Japanese Knotweed is ready to harvest in Spring. It can grow fast, up to 30 cm a day, so if the tips are too small just return a day or two later.

It is important that you know the plant hasn't been sprayed or treated. Here in the UK, treated sites are often sign-posted to protect people and animals, but this is not always the case. If you are not sure, then don't pick the plant.

How to harvest Japanese knotweed

It is paramount that you don't spread this plant at any stage of processing it. I normally cut the stems and put them straight into a deep, solid bag. A basket isn't appropriate for this plant, as bits may fall out and it can regenerate from a single, tiny piece.

It is best harvested when it is 1-2 ft in height, see notes below on preparing the plant as a food.

Heath benefits of Japanese knotweed

Japanese knotweed is a member of the Buckwheat family and is also known as Donkey rhubarb. Some of its other names include; Fleece Flower, Monkeyweed, Himalayan Fleece Vine, Tiger Stick, Sally Rhubarb, Mexican Bamboo, and Huzhang.

It has a sour flavour, similar to rhubarb, which also tells us it is full of vitamin C. As well as being high in vitamin C, it contains good amounts of vitamin A and may help regulate blood sugar.

How to prepare Japanese knotweed

You'll need 2 containers when you prepare this plant. One for eating, one for disposing of. The leafy tops can be bitter, so are best removed and the very base can be too fibrous. Remember to contain every part of the plant so it can't reproduce. I simmer up the bits I don't use, let them cool, then bin them.

You don't need to peel all of the outer fibre off, just the main bits. Or don't peel at all, and push the cooked stems through a sieve, discarding the fibre afterwards.

So, to summarise, discard the tops, leaves and bottoms, plus fibre (before or after cooking).

Japanese knotweed compote, cake, slice, jam, juice
Japanese knotweed compote (top left)

How to cook Japanese knotweed

Recipes to follow, I promise! Meanwhile, here's are my recommendations for using Japanese knotweed instead of rhubarb compote in recipes.

  • 300 g Japanese knotweed, trimmed and peeled
  • 60 ml (4 tbsp) water
  • 50 g soft brown sugar

Chop the knotweed up into small chunks and place in a small to medium saucepan with the water. Place over a medium heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes with the lid on. Stir if necessary. You'll now have a pulp to sweeten, start with about 50 g of soft brown sugar and stir in until dissolved. Stir into yoghurt or have with hot porridge or alongside a moist fruit cake.

Japanese knotweed recipes

For a few other ideas, such as Japanese knotweed fool, Japanese knotweed muffins and Japanese knotweed crumble, you might want to my this post; Eating Japanese knotweed.

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