It’s a fresh winter morning and I am sitting watching the sky lighten and the day begin. I am just sitting, doing nothing, while the day is offering nothing less than a performance. Blue sky starts to peek through, charcoal grey clouds move slowly in…
Tag: Smyrnium olusatrum
I’ve just returned home from a winter foraging course where we covered 10 wilds that you can pick here in Cornwall through winter. I love foraging in the cooler months and there’s a great choice of wild pickings too. I’ve written about and sung the…
The Romans valued the plant Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) highly and brought it over with them to the British Isles almost 2,000 years ago to use as a pot herb.
It was used widely before celery came into fashion (has celery really been in fashion?!). Celery has been mentioned as early as 1700s as a food and was used both as a cleanser and winter vegetable when greens were minimal.
So why do so many people say ‘urgh’ when they taste Alexanders?
It’s all about how and when.
Every single part of Alexanders is edible – the root, stem, leaves, flowers and seeds (though personally I’m not keen on the flowers). That’s not the case with every plant. However, you need to know for absolute certain that you have the right plant. This is essential, as Alexanders is a member of the Carrot family (Apiaceae, Umbelliferae) of which there are many wonderful edibles, and some DEADLY POISONOUS plants. As you can imagine, getting this right, is, essential, as I said.
That aside, the qualities of Alexanders are, I believe, worth searching out, especially in spring. Personally, these are a green I also forage through winter, yet they are definitely superior when they’ve been cultivated in the warmer soil and lighter days that March and April offer.
My Tips for using Alexanders;
- Use only the mininal amount of leaves raw, otherwise cook them
- Start by using small amounts of this plant – as your taste buds mature you can use more
- Use in a bland base and balance the right flavours for broths, as in my Alexander soup recipe. Add to milk, cream, coconut or potato for frittatas, muffins, and even Alexanders infused into rum.
- Each part of the plant has different uses; leaves as a vegetable, young stems for candy and larger ones for stock, seeds as a spice
- The large stems are the sweetest, though can become very fibrous (this can be avoided by boiling them for flavour and discarding the fibre).
Oh, and if you’d like more tips on Alexanders, I can show you, for real, on my Spring wild food foraging courses
A quick and quirky video on Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum)
Let me show you more tips, share more recipes and tasters on my Wild Food Foraging Courses.
Most spring courses include Alexanders (greens), and late summer and autumn courses include the Alexander seeds/
Spring has been creeping in, in some places slowly, and other places fast. The telling signs of birds carrying nesting material, lighter mornings and the fresh green plant life in the landscape all help us soften and brighten as Winter is left behind. If you’re…
It’s deep December and I’m standing outside. Actually, there’s 8 of us standing outside and waiting for the one that’s gone astray. Once we’re all congregated, we begin. There’s something innately quiet about walking in Winter, as if all around us is sleeping, and in some ways it is. We walk together through this slumbering landscape, initially unaware of the life around us.
What can you forage in winter?
From as early as November, my forager eyes start to spot edible greens that are normally associated with spring. Alexanders, Nettle Tops, Three-Cornered Leek (locally known as Wild Garlic), Wild Cress and Mustard, Pennywort, Wild chervil, Gorse flowers and even Daisy leaves and flowers for salads and cooked dishes.
Although the nutrition of plants can be significantly increased in Spring, goodness can still be enjoyed from these plants through the winter months. In Cornwall, where we may lack in terms of nuts and berries (there are only a few forests & woodlands here) it is more than made up with coastal plants and, due to the mild climate, a great choice of edible greens right through winter. While other areas of the UK are below frost or snow, there are milder areas of Cornwall that offer valuable forage-ables.
The benefits of foraging in winter
What’s more, foraging feeds the soul not just in winter, though every time of year. According to the National Wildlife Federation’s article; It’s all in the dirt, the reason for this includes good bacteria in the soil that releases seretonin – the feel good hormone. This makes me feel even better about my muddy boots and dirty fingernails too!
In some ways, there’s more to see in winter, without the distraction of hoards of people, beautiful, bright flowers, and sunsets to melt into. Instead, the offerings maybe more subtle – beige stems, low growing greens, and flowerless stems, though don’t be tempted to dismiss these edible due to their humble winter personas.
Common Hogweed seed (Heracleum Spondylium), for example (below), may look like a dead seed-head, though within it lies delicious aromatic flavours for curries and many sweet dishes.
If you need it, use foraging as an excuse to get you outside, for that dose of daylight, fresh air and nature fix. Watching wintering birds, or rolling white horses of the waves, and returning with a handful of winter greens, it’s hard for the soul not to be lifted, even if just a little. And if you’re still not convinced and only yearning for the bright yellow sun of summer, then perhaps gorse is the only cure for you. Up on the moorlands of Cornwall, somewhere, you will always find the bright yellow flowers of gorse; an uplifting flower. According to Bach Flower Remedies gorse can offer you hope, when all hope is lost. I promise, summer will return.