Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
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Common hogweed shoots, also known as cow parsnip (Heracleum sphondylium ) add an aromatic twist to this Indian dahl recipe. Think of this common weed as the exotic, wild vegetable and you'll be close to what hogweed offers us. A good dahl is simple to create and is a great carrier for mild spices and the shoots offer a subtle flavour, neither overpowering nor underwhelming.

As I'm making this during the COVID-19 pandemic, I'm using spices and ingredients that I have at home. Feel free to increase or replace spices with ones that you have to hand. There really are a multitude of ways to make a good dahl.

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Simple and delicious (wild) onion-flavoured water biscuits. Serve with cheese or just plain on their own. I made these for a group of school children who loved them (phew!). They ate them plain and with wild herb butter on.

This recipe uses three-cornered leek (Allium triquetrium), but you could use any of the wild garlic family. Just follow these simple tips to make sure the biscuits work.

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A roll of freshly made Spring wild herb butter

This is so easy and a great way to use wild herbs and smother baked potatoes, toast, fish or anything you wish with foraged goodness. The butter can either be used within one week or frozen and sliced as needed.

A handful of freshly picked sorrel leaves

When to make herb butters

Spring is often when an abundance of herbs appear and are at their best. In summer most flower and seed late-summer to autumn. You may find a new bounty in Autumn but bear the flurry of spring greens in mind!

Ingredients

60 g butter, room temperature
1 tbsp wild herbs

Herbs you could use:

  • sorrel
  • wild chervil
  • wild garlic
  • mints
  • scurvy grass
  • wild mustard
  • hairy bittercress
  • fennel
  • yarrow leaves

Method: Wash and dry the herb you are going to use, this minimises the water which doesn't blend brilliantly with fat! I pat mine dry on a tea towel. Finely chop and blend thoroughly with the butter. Use immediately, or if you're going to keep or freeze it, I wrap mine in greaseproof paper and roll into a sausage-shape. Once in a sausage-shape, it it is easy to slice from fresh or frozen and watch melt over hot food.

Wrapped herb butter ready to freeze

All the herbs mentioned are taught on my foraging courses, especially in Spring but perhaps not all on the same course! You can also keep up to date with what I'm foraging, making or cooking at @rachellambertwildfoodforaging

Urtica dioica

I've never really got on with making alcohol. As much as I like processes (I tend to think that people are either predominantly process or goal orientated), whether it is wine or beer, I seem to lack the knack of transforming weeds into a fermented intoxicating liquor. Perhaps I am just not dedicated enough to making and drinking alcohol.

Give me the task of making a wild dessert, or creating a sweet cocktail and I'm all over it, with pleasing results. Ah, I suppose I can't be great at everything.

Where I fail, thank goodness others succeed at making wild drinkable goodies. I've benefited from a few too, I remember about 20 years ago, my boyfriend at the time making the first batch of nettle beer I experienced and loving the result. Actually, I was lucky to get even a sip as he fell head over heals for this spring tonic. Light, refreshing and mildly alcoholic, it disappeared in a matter of days...

Making Nettle beer is easier, quicker and less technical than making making other beer and wines, and having had some success myself, I wanted to share the delights of brewing these greens so you too can enjoy this spring drink.

Nettle beer has been made for hundreds of years and is traditionally drunk in spring when the nettles are at their best. Have a go yourself;

Nettle Beer Recipe

Light, refreshing and mildly alcoholic, don't expect this spring tonic to hang around for long. You will need a few days patience while it ferments though, just a few days...

Ingredients

  • 3 litres water
  • 400 g nettle tops
  • 12 g cream of tartar
  • 350 g unrefined sugar
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 tsp yeast

Pour the water into a large pan and bring to the boil, add the nettle tops, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain off the liquid into a large bowl, or saucepan and discard the cooked nettles. Stir in the sugar, lemon juice and cream of tartar and leave to cool. When the liquid is luke warm, add the yeast, cover with a muslin cloth or similar and leave to ferment for 5 days.

Making nettle beer (Urtica dioica)

Siphon the beer into sterilised flip top bottles and drink soon, or keep in a dark, cool place. Nettle beer has a reputation of exploding (as it keeps on fermenting), so flip top bottles will at least save you from shattering glass. Otherwise, just drink soon.

allium triquetrium

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Spring is exciting - a combination of warmth and light gets plants, animals and human-animals going. Sometimes, for me, too going. The term mad march hare feels too close to home for me, as I prance around the hedgerows picking wild greens as if there is no tomorrow, or as if spring won't last forever, which of course it won't. Lets face it, we've often being waiting a while for it to come too.

Many wild greens respond well to being plucked, for example when the tops of nettles are snipped off this stimulates more growth and leaf tops to grow. So below I've chosen 5 common wild foods that arrive every year, a plenty and are happy to be plucked, appreciated and eaten.

Here are my top 5 pick-ables (non-technical term :)) for this spring, I have loads of nuggets of information and recipes to share on each of them, though for now I'll keep it brief.

My Top Five Spring Wild Foods

1. Stinging Nettles Urtica dioica

Never under-estimate a common plant, believe me, nettles are a valuable food and we are lucky to have them. Their nutrition and versatility makes them easy to use (just avoid being stung) and they are (in my humble opinion and according to nutritional facts) better for you than spinach or cabbage.

2. Wild Garlic Allium family

The wild onion, garlic and leek family is vast and too large to go into here, though their commonalities include a wonderful garlic taste (and smell), anti bacterial properties and support for the heart. The whole of the plant can be used and it can be used raw or cooked - raw is stronger. It is one of the key edibles of spring.

3. Cleavers/Goosegrass Galium aparine

Cleavers spread. They grow up to 1 metre long and can be collected without a bag (let them stick to you). The leaves are a wonderful spring cleanser and support the urinary and lymphatic system, though best cooked to avoid the not so pleasant hairy texture when raw and use in small amounts. I like to just pluck the tops and sweat them with nettles in butter or oil.

4. Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum

Writing this from the south coast of Cornwall, Alexanders are definitely on my list. Abundant and often considered an invasive (land managers around Bristol have also practically pleaded with me to pick and eat them too). Nutritious and versatile, if you just know how to use them and pick them early on in spring.

5. Common Sorrel Rumex acetosa

Sorrel sap is tart and lemony and at its best in spring, and once you get your eye in, you'll start to see it everywhere. Delicious added to so many savoury and sweet dishes, though don't eat too much as it contains oxalic acid which isn't good to eat in large amounts. A little is fine though.

So there you have it, my five favourite wild greens, and yes greens are best in spring. Next spring, maybe I'll share a different five, as there's always more to share.

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