Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
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Gathering pineapple weed in a foraging basket

If I say 'pineapple', what do you smell? If I say 'mango, passsion fruit or citrus', what do you smell?! The power of suggestion is a clever influence when it comes to smell and taste, but honestly, pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) really does smell of all of these!

Pineapple weed collected in a basket

It's what stands it apart from the other members of the DAISY FAMILY Asteraceae (Compositae), including mayweeds and chamomiles. Yet there are a few other pointers which will help you avoid mistakes too.

Pineapple weed growing thorugh the pavement

Where does pineapple weed grow?

Pineapple weeds loves to grow where people, vehicles and animals tread. In some places it is nicknamed the 'street weed.' As if it is trying to make our journeys sweeter smelling. I regularly find pineapple weed growing through cracks in the pavement, on driveways, paths and disturbed areas of fields, like tractor tracks.

Lots of pineapple weed growing on a footpath

Pineapple weed is a prolific edible weed which is happy to grow in dry, disturbed ground which is often compact and hostile for many other plants. It is native to and grows across the US and has been well-established in the UK and Europe since 1871. It is found in New Zealand and Russia and it is also native to East Asia.

Domed heads of pineapple weed

Pineapple weed verses Chamomile

Confusingly, pineapple weed is also known as wild chamomile or false chamomile because it is a good substitute both medicinally and flavour-wise if chamomile is not available. However it is not the same as the 'true' chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) which is used in herbal tea or as an essential oil to calm and relax children and adults, nor its cousin scented mayweed (Matricaria recutita) which is used similarly. Pineapple weed has the same uses as scented mayweed except it isn't anti-flammatory.

Pineapple weed does not have white petals and it smells of pineapple! In comparison, chamomile is strongly aromatic, but not fruity in scent and other mayweeds have either no scent or a mild scent. Unless it's stinking chamomile (Anthemis cotula) which has a sickly smell!

How to identify Pineapple weed

Pineapple weed grows up to 30 cm tall, is yellowy-green, has no petals and a domed, conical shaped head. The head shape is thought to be the inspiration for the name 'pineapple weed', that and its fruity smell! It flowers through summer, from June to August. The common scentless mayweed is normally taller and grows up to 60 cm tall.

Confused?!

It's really easy when you know how, this video should help you.

What is pineapple weed good for?

Pineapple can be used as an ingredient for teas and food (I share recipe ideas below) and it also has medicinal qualities. It can be used for insomnia (similar to chamomile), has been used externally on insect bites and irritated skin and it also has analgesic properties and can numb pain!

Some people are allergic to pineapple weed and other members of the daisy family and this plant should not be consumed in large amounts.

Plate of dried pineapple weed flowers

How to harvest and dry pineapple weed

Pineapple weed loves to grow in dry areas so it is easy to dry for tea and recipes. I find it useful to use scissors to cut off the flowering yellow heads, leaving as much of the green foliage behind as possible.

You can dry pineapple weed in a warm, sunny room, a warm spot outside or in a dehydrator.

Pineapple weed collected in a basket

8 recipe ideas for using pineapple weed

Pineapple weed has a wonderful fruity flavour and can be used raw in salads, infused for teas, syrup, salad dressings or made into a jam for gorgeous snacks and desserts.

Here are 4 quick and easy ideas for using pineapple weed;

  1. Pineapple weed in salads - use the flower heads and leaves in salads to add a fruity bite
  2. Pineapple weed syrup - just use the flower heads to make the best syrup. Cover the flowerheads with water, simmer for 5 minutes and strain. Measure the water and combine every millilitre with a gram of sugar, or every cup of liquid to one cup of sugar. Combine the liquid and sugar and heat slowly while stirring until the sugar dissolves. Dilute for drinks, cocktails or salad dressing
  3. Pineapple weed salad dressing - mix half pineapple weed syrup with olive oil, vinegar and a little wholegrain mustard. Combine well and drizzle over salads or cold meats.
  4. Pineapple weed tea - simply pour boiling water over dried or fresh pineapple weed flowers and leave to infuse for 5 minutes. My friend Lisen in Sweden combines it with thyme as a herbal tea blend.
Square of pineapple weed flapjack

My favourite pineapple weed recipes

Pineapple weed has huge potential as an ingredient. It is both fruity like pineapple and aromatic like chamomile. I also discovered it combines really well with oats and yoghurt.

You can use any of the combinations below, but my favourite recipe is first making a pineapple weed jam and making it into a fruity, crumbly vegan flapjack with a chewy pineapple weed centre!

A piece of homemade pineapple weed flapjack with a jam centre
  1. Granola and yoghurt topped with pineapple weed syrup
  2. Pineapple weed flapjack topped with yoghurt (blend pineapple flowers into a flapjack mix)
  3. Pineapple and pineapple weed jam, granola and yoghurt
  4. Vegan flapjack with pineapple weed jam centre

Want to know more?

Pineapple weed is one of the edible plants I teach on my foraging courses during summer and I can also cover it in private forays where you can choose what, where and when you forage! Or browse my wild food blog for more recipe and foraging ideas.

Single elderflower on my kitchen table

For me, Summer is about outdoor adventures, picnics, barbecues, fayres, festivals and the beach. Elderflowers are the perfect accompaniment, unless it's a festival or fayre - then it's doughnuts!

Here I share my ultimate elderflower doughnut recipe - they're gorgeous!

Yes, doughnuts are fayre food for me, when I’m tired and hungry from dancing it’s the smell of doughnuts that I sniff the air for. Created following a mini disaster – my Cornish town’s annual fayre and no doughnut van in sight – they are a delightful summery twist on the hot sugary ones I yearned for. Complete with a gorgeous soft, jam centre and sweet elderflower coating, these are melt-in-the-mouth with a double dose of elderflower to keep spirits high. 

Plate of freshly made homemade elderflower jam doughnuts

For this recipe you'll need to first make elderflower cordial - here's my simple elderflower coridal recipe, plus lots of information about where to find elderflowers, when to pick them, what the benefits of elderflowers are. You can also find tips on when to avoid elderflowers.

Elderflower, lemon and orange cordial

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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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Waitrose Food magazine - March 2020

Waitrose Food Magazine - March 2020

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.

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are a common weed that are often overlooked or taken for granted. Yet they are so good for us!

Here I share 5 health benefits of eating (or drinking) dandelions. Plus tips on where to find them, as well as common mistakes with identifying dandelions and 4 simple ways to incorporate dandelions into your diet.

How important are dandelions?

By the way, dandelions have been cultivated in areas of Europe and North America for over 150 years. That's how valuable and important they are!

5 Reasons to Eat (or Drink) Dandelions

  1. Ask anyone about eating a dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), and they might quote the dandelion's diuretic properties. It's French name being 'pissenlit' or 'wet the bed'. Though few people know that dandelions are a very mild diuretic, and diuretics tend to flush potassium out of the body. Though dandelions also contain potassium, thus replacing what is flushed out - that's good!
  2. The dandelion's latin name refers to its many health benefits, the Greek word taxaros meaning disorder and akos meaning remedy (2). Dandelions contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, some Bs, C, D and K.
  3. The 'dent de lion'  (Lion's tooth)  also contain significant amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron and folate.
  4. Dandelions can have a mild detoxing action as bitters benefit the liver.
  5. Dandelions can stimulate digestion and improve gut bacteria (through the presence of inulin).

Where to find Dandelions

Isn't it just the way; when you want to find dandelions, there just don't seem to be any, anywhere. So here are some tips. In general, they like to grow on various grassy areas, parks and wild mountainous ranges, but below is some more specific information.

In the UK there are two most common types of dandelions and about 250 types in all, though some are quite rare and others quite distinct from each other. The two most common are;

Ruderalia (121 species) type of dandelions grow well on grassy areas, meadows, waysides and waste places. Erythrosperma (30 species) are more slender and thrive in warm, dry and sunny spots such as chalk grassland, heaths and dunes.

How to correctly identify dandelions

As you can see from the images above, the shape of dandelion leaves can vary depending on the variety. However, they all have a toothed edge AND a hollow stem that created a milky sap when snapped. The stems are not branched, nor solid. That is how to make sure you've found dandelions and not one of its common cousins.

4 simple ways to incorporate dandelions into your diet

  1. Dandelions are bitter, so if you're cooking them it is good to cook them separately in a little water for 2-3 minutes, then drain them and add them into whatever you're cooking. Start with small amounts - think a teaspoon rather than 50 g.
  2. Chop finely and sprinkle as a garnish. Again, think small amounts.
  3. Pour boiling water on a couple of chopped leaves and leave to infuse for 5 minutes and drink as a tea (sweeten if needed).
  4. Add leaves into salad and mix with other leaves and serve with a honey or mustard dressing.

Baba Ghanoush on bread

I've been using seaweeds in and as food for long enough now.  I've got into the the swing of which seaweeds to match with what recipe and amounts to use. Dulse (Palmaria palmata) with potatoes is traditional, in bread feels natural and, I feel, has long wanted to be matched with Baba Ghanoush.

 

Baba Ghanoush is an Arabic dish using charred aubergines, giving a mildly smoky flavour to this delicious dip. The name roughly translates as 'daddy spoils you' and it does taste rather decadent. Matched with dulse, my favourite dried seaweed to snack on, adds an umami flavour, a little mineral rich salt and plenty of nutrition.

I have a standard Baba Ghanoush recipe that I've used for years. A straight-forward recipe from Daverick Leggett's book 'Recipes for Self-Healing' where Daverick also goes through the energetics of food. He describes Baba Ghanoush as nourishing for the blood and yin - this will make sense if you read more in his Recipes for Self-Healing book.

Back to the recipe. Baba Ghanoush is so delicious, so decadent, so easy to make, and, in some ways very similar to hummus. Except there are no beans to give you flatulence, though I have a seaweed recipe for that too! Look up the Kelp Hummus recipe in my seaweed book for flatulence-free chickpea hummus, with a little added seaweed.

Charred aubergine for Baba GhanoushMaking aubergine dip

 

Who would know that blending the flesh of aubergines with garlic, lemon, tahini and seaweed could be so awesome. This recipe makes a fair amount, which meant I was able to enjoy it on toast, on the top of squash soup, and on the beach with sea lettuce bread on yesterday's seaweed course. Here's the recipe.

Baba Ghanoush with Dulse Seaweed

An Arabian dish perfect for dipping freshly cut vegetables into, or spreading onto bread. Inspired by Daverick Leggett's recipe and given a seaweed twist.

Ingredients

  • 3 aubergines
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsp dark tahini
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 5 g dried and ground dulse seaweed
  • Olive oil to garnish and to taste

Burn the aubergines. Either on the highest temperature in the oven or on an open flame until they go soft and squidgy. Scoop out the insides, or peel off the skin and blend the flesh with the rest of the ingredients. Drizzle with a good olive oil and serve. Lasts well for a week, if you hide it and don't eat it all at once.

Find out more about Dulse

Dulse is one of the seaweeds I teach regularly on my seaweed courses, I've also written about Drying Dulse at Home and here's my Dulse soda Bread Recipe. In my seaweed book (as well as my courses), I describe where to find Dulse, what seasons to harvest it, how to harvest it sustainably and nutritional benefits.

Bowl of Baba Ghanoush with Dulse seaweed

Hogweed shoots are normally used as a type of so-called poorman's asparagus, cooked on their own, or used in dhal. I also enjoy them in lightly spiced Thai stir fries and recently discovered the joys of eating them in farinata - a lovely subtle addition. I've been foraging hogweed shoots (Heracleum sphondylium) for years, I find them superior to asparagus and a delightful way to broaden my experience of spring. I've written a very thorough blog before on their identification and use as a 'superior asparagus'.

At some point, most of the wild foods I eat are incorporated into some kind of dessert. Call it an inevitable result of having a sweet tooth. Partly I'm just intrigued, though sometimes it feels inspired!

Heracleum sphondylium

I had an idea of a Pear and Hogweed Cake and had to give it a go, to see whether my idea would stand up to the taste test of reality. Hogweed shoots have an unusual aromatic taste, quite subtle when cooked and I just wondered...

Recently I even tried to make a vegan, gluten-free version of this cake and it came out trumps. So here's the full of everything (butter, eggs and wheat version), and I'll share the other one soon. The recipe below has been tweaked to include a hogweed seed sugar as well. A teaspoon of the seeds are ground with the sugar to make a lovely aromatic topping. Once baked it makes the top slightly crisp too.

Heracleum sphondyliumHeracleum sphondylium

Pear and Hogweed Shoot Cake

A beautifully moist cake with an intriguing filling. Perhaps you won’t notice the unusual perfume of the hogweed shoots – some do, some don’t.

Ingredients

100 g butter

90 g unrefined sugar, plus 1 level tbsp

2 large eggs

1 tbsp baking powder

¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda

100 g whole-wheat flour

30 g hogweed shoots (mainly shoots rather than leaves)

5-6 tbsp apple juice

1 tsp dried hogweed seeds (optional)

200-230 g pears

Preheat the oven to 200°C and grease a 20 cm diameter cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale, almost white. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat in well before sieving in the baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and whole-wheat flour.

Chop the hogweed shoots into 2 cm lengths and simmer in 3 tablespoons of apple juice for 2 minutes and put aside. If using, use a spice grinder to blend the dried hogweed seeds with the tablespoon of sugar and sprinkle the mixture over the base of the cake tin. Slice the pears to about ½-1 cm in thickness and layer these across the base of the cake tin. Next sprinkle on the semi cooked hogweed shoots. Measure out the remaining juice that the shoots simmered in and add this, one-tablespoon at a time, to the cake mixture, making it up to 3 tablespoons with extra juice. Pour and smooth the cake mixture roughly over the pears and shoots and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when pierced into the centre of the cake. When cooked, turn out onto a wire rack, with the bottom-side facing upwards and leave to cool. Serve alone, with crème fraiche or clotted cream.

Heracleum sphondylium

I love to eat weeds. Many weeds are edible, abundant and available as food if we just knew, or remembered, how to use and cook them. Invasive plants are also great to eat. I always think; why curse something when you could be eating it and benefiting from its abundance? In Spring, many weeds are at their best for nutritious food, including Japanese Knotweed.

Here I describe why Japanese Knotweed is good to eat, when not to eat it and share some recipes and images (courtesy of Jake Ryan of Wise Knotweed Solutions).

Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is both beautiful, edible and scary stuff that has a bad reputation. It was first brought to Europe in the mid 19th century by a botanist. It has been shared between botanical gardens and garden lovers for decades before the problems related to it were detected. Japanese Knotweed grows at an incredible rate and is capable of significantly damaging properties as it can squeeze through masonry and concrete. It has been known to devalue properties, growing up to 20 cm a day with roots up to 3 metres deep. Japanese Knotweed is classed as “controlled waste” and the law requires it must be disposed of at a registered landfill site. There have been cases where the environment agency have prosecuted people who failed to dispose of the plant correctly. So don't add left-overs to your compost, put it in general waste, or cook it all, then dispose of it.

Fallopia japonica

Turning a problem into a dessert

Depending on how big the weed has grown, it may be possible to add this invasive plant to a tasty dessert. Knotweed has been described as tasting like a lemony rhubarb and can be used to compliment a number of dishes. Japanese Knotweed is an excellent source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C and has also been known to prevent and treat cognitive disorders. When edible, the plant can be extremely complimentary in a number of dishes such as muffins, crumbles and more.

Fallopia japonica

When not to eat Japanese Knotweed

As an invasive weed that can cause significant damage to properties, it is often sprayed with herbicides. Before considering cooking with knotweed, it is important to guarantee that the plant has not been treated with chemicals, and to be absolute certain of this. Don’t let this put you off cooking the plant if it is chemical-free though. So long as the plant is safe to eat and disposed of correctly, it can make a great addition to a number of meals and desserts.

It is also important to remember the tasty invasive weed can only be eaten at certain times of the year. The perfect time to eat Japanese Japanese Knotweed is mid April to May when the first shoots in spring appear, are up to 20 cm in height and tender enough to eat. After that it can become stringy and may need peeling, or just look around for younger shoots. It is important not to eat the weed at other times of the year as the adult plant may cause mouth blisters. Jake Ryan of Wise Knotweed Solutions got in touch with lots of the information (including all these photos) you've just read above and recipes below, as an alternative to chemical treatment.

Fallopia japonica

Japanese Knotweed Fool

Ingredients

  • 300 ml double cream
  • 100 ml greek yoghurt
  • 450 g chopped Japanese Knotweed (leaves removed)
  • Apple juice
  • 5 tbsp unrefined caster sugar
  • Mint leaves to garnish (optional)

Method

Whip the cream until it forms peaks, stir in the yoghurt and put aside. In a medium saucepan place the Knotweed and sugar in enough apple juice to cover it and cook until tender, strain and blend until smooth. Fold in the Japanese Knotweed, pour into glasses or small bowls and refrigerate for 60 minutes. Add mint leaves to garnish.

Japanese Knotweed Muffins

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 200 ml milk
  • 100 g butter, melted
  • 300 g plain flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 300 g thinly chopped Japanese Knotweed (leaves removed)
  • 100 g unrefined golden caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar

Heat the oven to 180°C and line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases. Beat together the eggs, milk and melted butter. Blend the flour, baking powder and cinnamon and pour the egg mixture into the the flour. Stir until well combined. Mix in the caster sugar and thinly sliced  knotweed shoots. Beat the mixture well before dividing between the paper cases. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden.

Japanese Knotweed Crumble

Ingredients

  • 10 Japanese Knotweed stems (leaves removed)
  • 8 tbsp unrefined caster sugar
  • 1 tsp ground ginger powder
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 110 g butter
  • 180 g flour
  • 110 g brown sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C degrees and slice the Japanese Knotweed into 7 ½ cm pieces. Place the knotweed in a 20 cm by 20 cm ovenproof baking dish and sprinkle with the water, castor sugar and ground ginger. Bake for 10 minutes until tender and mix with ginger powder. To create the crumble topping, fold the butter into the flour and sugar and rub together until in resembles bread crumbs. Sprinkle the crumble over the knotweed and bake for 35 minutes. Serve hot with cream or custard, or have cold for breakfast!

I recently went out for a meal at a restaurant and they had wild nettle cordial on the drinks menu. Ooh, as a forager with a soft spot for 'sweet' I just had to try it. I must say, I was disappointed. I even asked for an extra dash of cordial so I could taste it better, though even then, all I could taste was sweet.

Perhaps because I'm used to making my own, non-commercial wild nettle cordial - fresh and homemade always tastes superior, I feel. Personally, if I make something from wild ingredients I want to benefit from a mixture of the nutrients, the flavour and the whole experience of picking to creating with it.

I find nettles rewarding to cook with because they are in such abundance and their flavour is pleasant though not overly strong. My wild nettle syrup is dark green, it is nettley (not a real word, though you get the idea) and good for you. Here (video above) I'm about to dilute it as a refreshing prelude to a nettle based lunch of nettle soup and nettle pakoras.

Oh, I do like the common stinging nettle - it is the perfect spring wild food! Here I tell you a little about why I love nettles in a short video, and here I expand on some of the reasons nettles are worth falling in love with.

Back to the recipe.

Urtica dioica

Rich Nettle Syrup

Dark and rich, I’ve watched nettle syrup disappear surprisingly quickly as a diluted drink at events. This version includes fennel, which lifts the syrup out of the darkness a little and is delicious in Nettle Baklava or Sweet and Nutty Nettle Energy Balls (more on those another time). Nettles also goes well with lemon or root ginger (simmer the ginger with the nettles, or add the lemon at the end of cooking).

Makes approx. 750 ml

Ingredients

  • 800 ml water
  • 3 tbsp fennel seeds, freshly ground or crushed (optional).
  • 200 g nettle tops
  • 800 g soft brown or demerara sugar
  • 1–2 tbsp lemon juice (if not using immediately)

Put the water, fennel seeds and nettle tops in a medium saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 40 minutes. Take off the heat and strain through a fine sieve or muslin cloth, using a wooden spoon to help squeeze all the liquid out.

Measure the liquid, and for every millilitre add one gram of sugar (e.g. 500g of sugar for 500ml of liquid). Place the nettle liquid and sugar back in the saucepan, bring  almost to the boil (the liquid should be steaming), reduce the heat and leave on the heat for half an hour, stirring occasionally. Do not allow it to boil. If using the syrup immediately, siphon off the amount you need. For the rest, add one tablespoon of lemon juice for every 200 ml of liquid, allow to cool and store in sterilised bottles.

 

Urtica dioica

Five years ago I wrote a blog about my Nettle and Honey Cake - it went down a treat. Named as; 'probably the best cake I've ever had' by one enthusiastic forager, I was super pleased the result.

Every so often I like to repeat recipes so I can enjoy the flavours again and see if they need tweaking. Over the last few years I've also found that nettles combines well with ginger and with lemon and, although this cake contains neither, its texture is reminiscent of a lovely moist ginger cake.

Last week, however, I made a new discovery; nettle cake (urtica dioica) and gorse (ulex gallii, ulex europaeus) flower syrup! It's a wild and divine combination which I just had to share with you.

Urtica dioica Urtical dioica

A Spring Dessert: Nettle and Honey Cake with Gorse Flower Syrup

An almost toffee flavoured, moist, not too sweet cake, with a sweet hit of moorland gorse flavours drizzled over it. Somehow, this whole combination reminds me of green tea, perhaps it is the lovingly received health benefits of these local, wild ingredients, or just the natural flavours of green nettles and infused gorse.

Ingredients 

  • 50-75 g nettle tops
  • 250 g clear honey
  • 100 g dark muscovado sugar
  • 225 g butter
  • 3 large eggs beaten
  • 300 g white flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder

For the syrup

  • 50 g fresh gorse flowers
  • 225 g unrefined sugar
  • 300 ml water

Place the gorse flowers in a medium saucepan with the water and sugar and bring to the boil. Immediately take off the heat, cover with a lid and leave overnight (or for as many hours as you can). The next day bring the liquid to the boil again and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve or muslin cloth and store in sterilised bottles in the fridge or freeze in ice cube containers and defrost as needed. Will last a month or so if not frozen.

Line a 20 cm square or round cake tin and pre-heat the oven to 150°C. Steam the nettles for 5 minutes and put aside to cool. Place the honey, sugar and butter in a small saucepan over a low heat and stir until melted and combined. Once the nettles are cooled, blend with the eggs to make a smooth, green pulp. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and gradually beat in the melted sugar and butter mix. It will resemble a lovely toffee colour.

urtica dioicaUrtica dioica

Pour in the pureed nettles and blended eggs and beat together.

Urtica dioica

It makes a wonderful green, raw cake mixture colour! Pour into the cake tin and bake for an hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, or the cake springs back when touched. Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from the tin onto a cooling rack, and cool completely before slicing. Serve with gorse flower syrup.

Urtica dioicaUrtica dioica

Read more about Stinging Nettles for food, and I've many blogs about Gorse Flowers including recipes too.

I've been teaching foraging for a while now (over 10 years), and I've just come across some old film footage of me introducing stinging nettles (Urtica dioica). Oooh, we were all younger then, weren't we!

Nettles remains one of my favourite wild greens, especially in spring, and as I write this (in April), I'm enjoying nettles most days, in soup, cake, pakoras, tea or doughnuts - yes doughnuts, more on that later!

For ideas of how else to use nettles, do have a look at my Stinging Nettle blog, in particular you want to read this one; A Dozen Ways to Eat Nettles, or come along on a wild food foraging course where I share all this and more.

As you can imagine, I've learnt a fair amount over the years, and love to share what I know. There is plenty to say and learn about the humble nettle, from recipe ideas to health benefits, to worldwide uses.

stivesscreenprint

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) are one of my favourite spring greens, and this was a recipe I shared with Graham Pullen of St Ives Screen Printing at Tom's Yard. Graham is keen on making art affordable and accessible, and has incorporated the recipe into one of his hand-printed individual cards (featured above). I love both Graham's botanical drawing of the humble nettle, and his interpretation into print.

The last time I made this recipe was for my friend's birthday last spring. We had a 'bring a contribution' curry dinner and the range of curries, samosas and spiced breads was great. These nettle pakoras fitted in perfectly. The only down-side was my dog sneakily finishing off the cooking oil. Trust me, you don't want to know the end of that part of the story.

Urtica dioicaStinging nettle recipe (Urtica dioica)

The fourth time I made them was when I ran a nettle day at Bramble Cottage. It was great having a 6 month old, budding forager with us, gurgling, watching and smelling the various stages of the process. Perhaps that's where this nursery rhythm tune came from, finding a soothing way to give a little extra information about the humble stinging nettles.

You can watch the process and hear the song in this video; 'Making Nettle Pakoras' below. The reason for the song lyrics is explained in my blog When NOT to eat Stinging Nettles, yet the song is self-explanatory really, so just watch and listen...

 

The recipe?

Do get in touch with Graham, and he can show you, sell you or tell you where to get a great range of foraging recipe cards, including this one with the full recipe. For more ideas, why not browse my Stinging nettles blog. Nettles are regularly included in my wild food foraging courses too.

Follow the #singingforager to find out more.

Gorse Flower Fudge

Oh my god, I had such hopes with this recipe, I really thought I’d clinched it first time (which happens occasionally, though is definitely not a given). Heating it slowly, the smell of the gorse flowers was divine and the flavour of properly made fudge, just blissful.

Ulex europeaus, ulex gallii

I went out early in the morning to pick those coconut smelling gorse flowers and couldn’t stop thinking of the smell of condensed milk and how the flavours would match. When I searched for condensed milk though, I couldn’t find one that wasn’t Nestle brand (I’m still not happy about their ethics around supplying milk formula in developing countries, as well as other things), so I decided to settle for a more traditional recipe instead. Double cream, butter and sugar it was.

 

Of course, I’m still learning, and I forgot that as the temperature of the sugar rose higher, the sugar flavours got stronger, and the scented gorse flowers sunk below the brown sugar, cream and butter, never to be smelt again. I even tried a second time using half unrefined caster sugar instead (you may know that I don’t use refined sugars, at all, in cooking), though still the gorse was lost.

However, if you like fudge (and I discovered that many of my friends do), this is an awesome sweet treat. So I decided to share it anyway, plus some tips of how not to cook with gorse (all discovered through experience and in hindsight).

Tips for Making Homemade Fudge

Fudge is both easy and measured in terms of time, temperature and effort – go easy on yourself, especially if it doesn’t work first time. Mine didn’t work first time, it’s usually to do with temperature or not stirring it long enough, though sometimes it just isn’t clear why. Mine didn’t set properly so instead I put the batch in the fridge, and when it was cold, cut it into squares and re-rolled them in my fingers into oblong(ish) shapes. They were a kind of delicious toffee fudge.

The second batch didn’t set either, so I flattened the cooled mixture and sealed it in a bag and froze (there’s only so much fudge you can eat at once!) The mixture can be semi-defrosted and cut into squares.

Tips for Cooking with Gorse

  • Don’t use any strong flavours that might mask the subtle gorse scent (or just go with this ever so subtle flavouring)
  • It’s all about infusing and leaving for as long as you can for the flavour to come out
  • Infuse into milk, cream or water by bringing to an almost boil, turning off the heat and covering overnight
  • Lemon and orange go nicely with gorse, as does coconut (though not all together), it depends what flavour you want

Gorse Flower Fudge

More accurately, a wonderful creamy, buttery tasty fudge recipe which you don’t need to add gorse flowers to (keep them for another recipe), though you can if you want!

Ulex gallii and Ulex europeaus Ulex europeaus, ulex gallii

Ingredients

350ml double cream

30g gorse petals (outer sepals and stems removed already)

100g butter

600g light brown sugar

150g golden syrup

pinch of sea salt

Line a 20cm x 20cm tin with greaseproof paper. Place the cream and gorse flowers in a medium to large heavy bottomed saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer, add the butter and stir. The mixture should be turning a lovely pale yellow colour. Once the butter has melted, stir in the sugar, syrup and pinch of salt. Place a sugar thermometer in the pan and leave to reach 116°C, watching carefully though do not touch. Take off the heat, leave to cool to 100°C before stirring energetically for 10 minutes or until the glossy mixture dulls and stiffens. Pour the mixture into the lined tin and leave to cool for a couple of hours. Cut into squares, keep in an air-tight container, or in the fridge.

I warn you, this might be a blog with questions.

I did wonder what to make the title, it could have been; what's yellow, subtle with a crisp outer and soft centre? Though it sounded too much like a chocolate advert. Here's the answer, a recipe, and a few other questions.

Gorse Flower and Coconut Macaroons

I first made these macaroons a few years ago for a journalist's break in Lamorna Cove, I'd trialled them a few times and loved the play on coconut with the association of gorse flowers - you know, that lovely coconut aroma when you pass a gorse bush on a sunny spring day. Revisiting them more recently I decided to tweak the recipe and replace the golden syrup in favour of using my own, wild, homemade gorse syrup. The result was even better and blending fresh flowers into the mix added wonderfully to the colour too.

These Gorse Flower and Coconut Macaroons are light and moist with a slightly crispy outer, coloured and scented with gorse flowers. Well to be honest, the colour is bright and the scent subtle with just a sniff of moorland gorse flowers, though friends decided the recipe was too good to exclude.

Which asks the question; what's important? Using wild food for the nutrition, the flavour or the fun and the experiment of it all? I'll let you answer that for yourself, though for me, we enjoyed the macaroons, a lot. And maybe, just maybe knowing they were handmade, and incorporated something wild and fresh increased that pleasure and their goodness. After all, my understanding is that relaxing pleasures can also increase the body's ability to absorb nutrients well - making it a win-win situation.

Back to the recipe.

Coconut macaroons are so much easier to make than the French macarons, which I've never tried to make as I'd heard too many stories and rumours about the failure to success ratio. You can't go wrong with these, just gather some gorse flowers at any time of year, a few extra ingredients and set to. Oh, and they're gluten-free too.

 Gorse Flower and Coconut Macaroons

Ingredients

250 ml gorse flower syrup

50 g unrefined sugar

A little coconut oil (for greasing)

4 egg whites

¼ tsp cream of tartar

½ tsp baking powder

25 g fresh gorse flowers

30 g ground almonds

250 g desiccated coconut

 

Place the syrup in a small pan with the sugar, bring to the boil and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced to 180ml and thickened a little, it will thicken more as it cools. Pour into a jug or food processor and blend in the fresh flowers and leave to cool. Grease a baking tray and pre-heat the oven at 150°C. In a spotlessly clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they begin to stiffen then add the baking powder.

 

In a second bowl combine the ground almonds and coconut, and then pour in the flower syrup. Fold in the egg whites until the mixture is even and using one tablespoon per macaroon, spoon onto a greased baking tray. The macaroons should be in slightly loose rounds. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and crispy around the edges and remove from the tray while still warm. Keeps well in an air-tight container.

I have a foraging dog. He's called Paddy McGinity (a name I inherited rather than gifted to him), and yes, he can climb rocks and cliffs as agile as a goat.

Most of the time my dog is with me on forays, while I forage and teach up to 100 different species of wilds in the UK. Often, he's doing his own thing (chasing rabbits and exploring), though sometimes he hangs around and is inquisitive.

I've watched him 'watch and learn' to forage blackberries, rosehips, acorns and he's good at apple scrumping. Seaweeds aren't so popular with him, expect Kelp stems and fish, crab and rabbit are favourites, naturally.

Actually, many are surprised how many fruits and vegetables he'll eat - celery and cabbage leaves being the exception, though cabbage stems are a hit! I've watched him sneakily remove broccoli from my friend's bag, gobbled tomatoes from crates, and forage raspberries straight off a friend's allotment (sorry Liz). To me it makes sense; a natural diet of fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Unfortunately he's not that selective, and easily succumbs to bread, sugar and fat (not dis-similar to us!).

He's eaten many other wilds over the years too, mostly be default when he's foraged (I'd say stolen) food from my kitchen. Nettle and Lemon energy balls he devoured very quickly, as were the second batch (very frustrating), Hogweed Seed Biscuits were a hit too, Alexander Seeded Bread is gulped easily and Elderflower ice cream has been ogled at, but so far I have been able to keep it away from him.

Such a sweet dog.

Of course, though he's also an instinctual animal, a wild beast, an opportunist and a forager. Not dis-similar to us, though he is more closely connected to his wild roots. We have lots to learn from animals, and unfortunately they have lots to learn from us!

picking seaweeds from a rock pool

I've always considered myself an artist rather than a scientist, and heaven help me if I had to make cakes for a living; I'm far too much of a slow, pondering and inventive cook to make any money from it.

I do have some successes though, and some happy accidents along the way. I also love to share what I learn, how to do it (and how not to).  On that note... I set out to create a gorse infused cream and this happened.

And it was rather good, so I thought I'd share the process (and I'll share the final recipe another time too). If you've ever whisked cream too much, butter is what happens - it's science, though what you do with it decides whether it is art or not.

How to Make Gorse Flower Butter

Perfect for lathering on fish dishes, on hot toast, or mix with icing sugar and use as a filling or topping on cakes.

Ingredients

75g fresh gorse flowers

200ml double cream  

 

Place the gorse flowers in a small saucepan and pour over the cream. Stir and bring to a slow simmer over a low heat, take off the heat, cover and leaving to cool completely before straining through a fine sieve or muslin cloth.

When the cream is cooled, using an electric whisk, beat the cream until it starts to clot and continue until the cream starts to separate (into buttermilk and butter). You can strain off the buttermilk and use in cakes or bread (that's another one for me to try).

And that's it. You have made gorse flavoured butter. If you want to make it into butter icing, weigh the butter and mix the same amount in weight of sieved icing sugar, blend well and smother the tops or middle of cakes.

 

Part of the fun of foraging for me is coming home with a wonderful choice of unusual ingredients to cook and create with, or drying them to use another day. In my kitchen pretty much anything goes, of course there have been disasters along the way, though I've also had some pretty successful surprises.

Wild Seaweed Focaccia

Foraging also gives me the benefits of broadening my nutrition through a wide range of foods. It's impossible for me to know everything that my body needs (or would take a lot of expensive analysis), though I do know that by including different seasonal plants and seaweeds I'm more likely to be feeding myself micro-nutrients that would be easy to miss.

For example, we all know that life provides a myriad of stresses and that good nutrition helps to counter the effects of and helps to reduce stress. Though did you know that in particular, seaweed provides up to 56 different essential minerals and trace elements for the human body. Wow.

I first came across sargassum seaweed (also known as wireweed and used to be known as japweed) in Sonia Surey-Gent and Gordon Morris' book: Seaweed A User's Guide; an unassuming and valuable book. Here, sargassum muticum is given high acclaim;

'Sargassum... eaten as a powder with a drink of water, provides all the nutrients needed by the body, with hardly any calories.'

Hmm, all the nutrients needed by the body... sometimes I need a strong reminder to use seaweed. Feeling in the mood to make bread I decided to grab some dried gorse flowers, and the dried and ground sargassum that had been hanging around the kitchen waiting (too long) to be used.

This is what I came up with, complete with a sprinkling of nutrients, made with love and enjoyed with organic chicken soup after a cold and beautiful evening round the fire with friends.

Gorse Flower and Sargassum Seaweed Focaccia

A slightly sweet and nutty bread, with all the lovely texture that focaccia normally has, perfect with cheese and salad, with soup, or drizzle with gorse flower syrup if you fancy something even sweeter.

Ingredients

300ml warm water

100ml gorse flower syrup

1 dessert spoon dried yeast

500g organic strong white bread flour

handful of dried gorse flowers (2x handful of fresh is fine)

1 tsp dried and ground sargassum seaweed

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)

1 heaped tsp sea salt

Pour the water and syrup into a jug and stir in the dried yeast. In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, flowers, seaweed, oil and salt, mix in half the water and with clean hands, combine and knead for 5 minutes, gradually adding the rest of the water. Now for the fun part - stretch and pull the dough for at least another 5 minutes before placing on an oiled surface and kneading for a further 5 minutes. Your dough is now ready to rest (and maybe you too), so pop it back in the mixing bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or until it has doubled in size. Preheat the oven the 220°C and flatten the dough into a large, oiled tin and leave to rise for another 1/2 an hour, and prod your fingers into the dough at evenly spaced intervals to give the traditional focaccia topping effect.

Scatter the top with extra gorse flowers (if you have), a little olive oil and bake for 20 minutes or until golden onto and hollow sounding when tapped. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes before using a fish slice, or similar to remove from the tin and leave to cool on a cooling rack. Slice into squares and eat fresh. Lasts well for 2 or 3 days.

References

Rachel's Seaweed book talks you through identification, sustainable processing and drying of sargassum muticum seaweed.

www.verywellmind.com

www.stress.org.uk

 

Sometimes I feel creative, sometimes crazy, with the ideas I come up with for using wild food. This one is a complete labour of love; a custard tart topped with rosehips and a rosehip syrup glaze. Devoured by 14 appreciative people on a hazy October afternoon.

Here's the recipe;

Rosehip Fruit and Custard Tart

 Ingredients (for pastry base)

  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g cold butter, cubed
  • 20g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1-4 tbsp cold water
  • a little egg white
For custard filling
  • 320ml whole milk
  • 80g unrefined caster sugar
  • 5 free-range eggs yolks (freeze the egg
  • 25g cornflour, mixed to a paste with a little cold water
For the topping and glaze
  • 200ml rosehip syrup
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 100g rosehips, fresh out the freezer

In a large bowl, add the flour, ground almonds and baking powder, mix well and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the the beaten egg and 1-tablespoon at a time of cold water (just enough to bind the dough, no more). Alternatively you can blend the mixture in a food processor, adding the water at the end. Press the dough into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C and grease a 23cm diameter flan tin.

For the filling, in a medium saucepan bring the milk to the boil, whisking all the time. Remove from the heat and in a medium bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks for 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture falls in thick ribbons from the whisk. Slowly whisk in the cornflour paste until well combined. Slowly pour in the hot milk, stirring in well, before returning the mixture back into the saucepan. Heat the mixture, whisking constantly, until boiling. Cook for a further minute, then pour the mixture into a bowl and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge.

Roll the pastry out on a floured work surface to about ½ cm thick and line the flan tin. Brush the pastry with a little egg white to seal it and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden-brown and crisp. Let the pastry cool a little, then carefully transfer to a wire rack. At this stage the cooked pastry can be covered and stored for a few days before using.

For the glaze, heat half the rosehip syrup in a saucepan until boiling then remove the pan from the heat. Dissolve the cornflour in the remaining syrup and quickly pour the mixture back into the saucepan, returning to the heat, stirring all the time, until the mixture has thickened. Next add the honey, bring back to the boil and remove the pan from the heat. Set aside to cool. When ready to assemble the tart, spoon in the custard filling, and with a sharp knife, carefully slice the ends off the rosehips, then slice them in half, lengthways and scoop out the ball of seeds with a teaspoon. Place the rosehips on top of the custard, cut-side down. Transfer the glaze to a pouring jug and drizzle over the glaze. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.

It is hard to make generalisations about what the appeal of foraging is for 21st century folk, already living in a pre-dominantly digital and comfortable world. There will, of course, be various reasons why people choose to seek out their own, hard to reach food when modern conveniences, restaurants and well stocked supermarkets are all too easily available.

Some of those reasons will include; the search for fresh, local, unadulterated and regional tastes, for others, the satisfaction and exhilaration of gathering ingredients in the outdoors, compared with the chore of browsing shopping aisles.  Cost might be an aspect - free food - rather than food that is entwined with monetary value, which, for a growing percentage of people, is of real concern. As foraging remains in vogue, that alone will appeal to some; providing a fashionable activity, something perhaps, that's different, to entertain the family, bring people together, and is outside the usual day to day activities. I have come across all these reasons and more, why humans resort back to a seemingly redundant activity.

As you will know, foraging is what we, the human race used to do in the UK - as with everywhere else in the world -  in order to feed ourselves and our families. Along with hunting, it was all we did for food, and was an activity that preceded farming, and trading. According to Ray Mears, is wasn't till around 6000 years ago that the practice of farming reached the shores of Britain (1). Since then, foraging and hunting have slowly diminished in the UK, as ways of reaping greater harvests and utilising animals better have replaced the old practices.

Why then, return to foraging again? Having outlined a few possible reasons above, I wanted to un-pack this a little further, exploring the multi-layered benefits of eating foraged foods. The World Health Organisation's (WHO) latest report on 'Obesity and Overweight (January 2015), states the current day dilemma of cheap, high energy foods that are low in nutrition (though high in sugar, salt and fats), and the combination of diet with a sedentary lifestyle, that results in numerous health problems including heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and obesity (2). These are modern day issues, that to our hunt-gatherer ancestors were pretty much alien.

 

 For us living in a comfortable, 21st century lifestyle there are elements of our ancestor's way of life that could be of benefit to us; namely fulfilling activity and more natural, nutritious foods.

The Paleo Diet

Ignoring the word diet for a moment (or simply seeing it as a way to describe a way of eating), the paleo diet has been described as a way to optimise health, minimise the risk of chronic disease and help to lose weight (3). A modern adaption of a hunter-gatherer diet, the paleo diet (referring to the Stone Age, and the early use of stone tools about 2- 2.5 million years ago) seeks to work in unison with what humans consumed up until farming.

Avoiding processed and refined foods, increasing protein, lowering carbohydrates and increasing vegetable and fruit intake are some of the principles.  Incorporating foraged foods fits naturally into this; accessing a wide range of vitamin and mineral sources from wild foods which naturally have a lower carbohydrate base (trying digging up wild, edible roots and you'll know why) and natural oils. Protein would mainly come from meat and fish, though some lower amounts from plants too.

Combine this, with refreshing time outside, in the natural environment, with movement and activity that makes you feel good, well, it's not rocket science... these things can have a positive effect on our health and well-being.

If you'd like a taste of what this could feel and taste like, all within a mixture of both a timeless, natural setting, with modern comforts, then why not try a Wild Yoga Retreat at CostisLost House;

Wild Yoga Retreat ~ 12th - 15th June (3 Nts) ~ £485pp

Costislost House is an idyllic rural retreat in north cornwall with its own rustic charm. A stunning house set in beautiful countryside, perfect peace and tranquility to practice yoga, meditation and be pampered. Running yoga weekend breaks and active yoga breaks. Ashtanga yoga is taught be Denise Christian who taught alongside Hamish Hendry in London before moving to Cornwall. Jane is our naturopathic nutritionist and chef and is on hand for nutritional advice and inspiration to guide you to optimum health. Also on offer; massage, relexology and on our active weeks other sports and activities such as surfing, cycling, kayaking, foraging and walking.

Find out more about the Wild Yoga Retreats; the yoga, the wild food foraging, eco-steering, nutritious, healthy food based on paleolithic principles (full board included), and optional treatments (holistic massage, aromatherapy and much more) - www.paleoyoga.co.uk

References 

  • (1) Mears, R. & Hillman, G.  (2007) Wild Food,  BBC: Hodder & Houghton
  •  (2) WHO (2015), Obesity and Overweight, Fact Sheet no. 311, www.who.int
  • (3) Cordain, L. (2015) The Paleo Diet, www.thepaleodiet.com

Find out more at the #mindfulwildforager

A long held discussion or even conflict within the world of wild foods is that of comfrey & whether its healthy or potentially harmful to humans. I'm sure this discussion will continue for, well, a while, meanwhile I thought I'd add my contribution. I've also included my latest recipe, alongside some reasons (including scientific ones) of why I like this plant.

Comfrey leaves - Symphytum officinale -  has been used for thousands of years as a food & medicine, some of its common names include 'knitbone' because of its internal & external application for broken bones. Indeed, it has been held in high-esteem by herbalists for its healing properties, in particular reducing inflammations by aiding cell regrowth & repair (1).

Just on a side line, if you research into comfrey as a plant food (a liquid green fertilizer) you will find lots of positive reports of its nutritious benefits of 'greatly enhancing the fertility of your soil'. I am aware that people are not plants - although an interesting topic based on our intake of so many nutrients from the plant world that are then laid down as vitamin & minerals in our bodies which create our bones, repair our cells - I digress!

Meanwhile, more recently, comfrey has been approached with more caution & in some incidences considered a potential poison that should not be used as a food, or indeed a medicine at all. Only last month, when speaking to a reputatable & quite open-minded scientist about wild food, he quoted to me the risk of eating comfrey in the context of the dangers of wild food foraging. Now, while I want to promote safe foraging ( some plants are most definitely poisons, for example, while others need to be processed), I also want to promote a balanced approach to plants as foods & accurately represent the benefits.

As a non-scientist, I've chosen to refer to research done & leave you to come to your own conclusions... In particular, everybody's body is different & reactions, can & indeed have, occurred. In particular, the main research that is often cited is from 1978 when rats were fed comfrey leaves (8-33% of their diet) for a durational period, which resulted in liver tumours developing in all cases (96% turned out to be benign by the way) (2). However, as pointed out by Health Practitioner, Dorena Rode (through her extensive & thorough research on comfrey - well worth a read), further scientific research has been carried out where no such results were found (3). I also usually add the obvious; that we are not rats & I challenge anyone (not literally) to even try & eat comfrey as a third of your diet for half a year!

So, am I promoting comfrey as a food, or am I not?

Well, over the past 5 years I have certainly used comfrey as an ingredient in wild food events & dinners (with no known negative side-effects). Excellent in curries, we were particularly pleased with our Sea Beet, Comfrey & Black Mustard Thoran - a South Indian style dish using coconut that Sara created on one of our inspired walks through the Cornish countryside.

Personally, I also remember over 15 years ago sitting in a wood with my boyfriend, it was morning time & he was cooking up comfrey fritters (quite a traditional & classic recipe quoted for this food) & frying wild mushrooms for people to taste - delicious! However, I have also remained cautious around using this plant too often.

Now, coming back to the present day. This morning I've been looking at those comfrey leaves I picked yesterday morning; a glorious summer wander with comfrey looking too good to be passed by. The combination of sunshine, the outdoors & wild food just gets my creativity going sometimes & I want to play! The heat also doesn't inspire a laboured curry for me & one of things I enjoy about comfrey is the cucumber-like flavour & freshness.

Armed with a little research, a healthy appetite & travelling past my local shop for a few ingredients - I set to. Before I tell you my recipe, I want to share with you a few tips that I decided to take on board regarding eating comfrey;

Here are 4 reasons why I continue to eat comfrey - occasionally: 

1. Apparently the older leaves are meant to be less potent in the Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids (4) that are thought to be harmful in comfrey - so I focused on picking these older leaves

2. I like life & have no desire to push the boundaries of nature, so am adhering to not eating comfrey too regularly or in large amounts (for my own comfort & peace of mind)

3. That comfrey is also RICH in many beneficial nutrients for us humans (great!) including; Calcium , Magnesium, Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, Beta Carotene, Phosphorus, Potassium, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Iron,  Sulfur , Copper & Zinc (4)

4. I've never felt any ill-effects from eating comfrey & I enjoy eating wild foods.

 

Back to my recipe. Based on my love of that cucumber-like flavour of comfrey, plus reading that protein deficiency & lack of sulphure containing amino acids may contribute to the ill-effects of comfrey (3), I created this;

 

 

Comfrey & Yoghurt Dip

1 handful of comfrey leaves (older ones)

200g of natural yoghurt (the proper full fat stuff)

1 heaped tablespoon of good honey

1 squeeze of lemon juice

1 shake of liquid amino acids (google it!)

Put all the above in a food blender & whizz together. The result is a sweet, cucumber-like dip (think tzatziki) that I thought was delicious! Perfect for a summer spread of salads, dips & fruits. Let me know what you think..

REFERENCES 

(1) Comfrey 2011 University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC)

(2) Hirono, I., H. Mori, and M. Haga, Carcinogenic activity of Symphytum officinale. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1978. 61(3): p. 865-9.

(3) Comfrey Central - A Clearinghouse for Symphytum Information www.comfrey-central.com

(4) Comfrey is Poisonous? Dherbs Article

Researching regional names of plants is a fascinating and usually an amusing pastime. Common Hogweed  (Heracleum sphondylium) is one of those plants, and as it’s now in season (april to june) I thought I’d dedicate a whole blog article to it.

Inspired also by local names such as Pig Flop (an image of a pig collapsing after pleasantly over-indulging on this plants passes through my mind!), Cow Weed (what’s its known as on the Scilly Isles), Cow ParsnipCow Belly and even Humperscrump, according to Forager and Author John Lewis-Stempel. It's also known as a type of poorman's asparagus, although I think it's superior.

To me, this plant has always been known simply and humbly as hogweed, and I’m going to share with you some facts about identification, names, tastes and recipe ideas.

Starting with identification, common hogweed can be found across the UK, it really is common and usually considered a pain. Its habitat can be varied and includes fields, open woodland, hedgerows and roadsides. Often people are sceptical when I introduce it as a potential food and for two understandable reasons.

Firstly,

For some it has the association of being poisonous, mainly because if the sap gets on your skin and is combined with sunlight, for example when strimming the plant on a hot summer’s day in t-shirt and shorts, one can come up in horrible blisters that can scar. Not an experience I’ve shared, though I’ve heard enough stories to know it to be an unpleasant encounter.

Secondly,

There is the issue of correct identification. Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) is in the Apiaceae (Carrot) family and shares a similar flower structure with edibles such as carrot (funnily enough), parsley, fennel, chervil as well as the deadly poisonous plants; hemlock and hemlock water dropwort. Needless to say, mistakes can be lethal and enough to put many people off. However, there are distinguishing characteristics that can be learnt. Reading a few words and seeing a few images is not generally suffice for this, though it is a good start, so here it goes!

Flower head of Common Hogweed

Hogweed generally grows up to 2 metres tall (related & non-edible Giant hogweed grows up to 5 metres). Hogweed has hollow, ridged stems that are hairy, almost furry, that can give a white-ish tinge to the stems. The leaves are soft/furry with undulating lobes (see images) and stems can sometimes be purple, though normally green (NOT purple spots like hemlock). Like anything, take your time to get to know the plant (it will always return the following year if you’re still unsure) check with experts & you will be duly rewarded.

Leaves of Common Hogweed (slightly undulating and definitely furry)

So with so many obstacles to over-come before even picking it, why bother at all? Well, of course its the taste. Like many wild edibles, it has, at times, been called poor man’s asparagus - as its the young shoots you’re looking for in spring. I like to think that this is sly way to protect a valuable plant which has an unusual taste that could easily be at home on many gourmet’s plates. The history of so-called poor man’s food includes beliefs such as inferiority of taste, too common (abundant) or inadequate in flavour (unlikely these days in comparison with bland, long shelf-life shop bought veg). As a modern day forager its a great plant - abundance is perfect (making it very hard to over-pick) and the unusual flavour is one of the exciting aspects of wild food. It is also rich in vitamin C and carbohydrate.

How to enjoy it at its best? Well John Wright (from River Cottage) covers the young shoots in beer batter. For me, I simply steam those young shoots, drizzle in butter or hollandaise sauce and serve as an accompaniment to fish or meat dishes. I’ve also chopped them up and added them as a flavouring for dhal (combines well with wild carrot seed ).

Finally, you’ll all be asking what the flavour is. Well, the true answer is inside of you - we all experience tastes differently - though I describe it as perfumed, aromatic, sometimes a hint of bitterness & rich.

Hogweed Shoots with Hollandaise Sauce Recipe

To serve 2 persons

  • 6 young hogweed shoots (Poor man's asparagus)
  • 175ml white wine vinegar
  • 2 free range egg yolks
  • 70ml unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • Squeeze lemon juice

Boil the vinegar with peppercorns & reduce by half. Strain and put aside. Boil a large pan of water, then reduce to a simmer. Using a large balloon whisk, beat together the yolks and 2 tsp of the reduced wine vinegar in a heatproof bowl that fits snugly over the pan. Beat vigorously until the mixture forms a foam, but make sure that it doesn’t get too hot. To prevent the sauce from overheating, take it on & off the heat while you whisk, scraping around the sides with a plastic spatula until you achieve a golden, airy foam.
Meanwhile put the poor man’s asaragus shoots on to steam (4-5 minutes). Whisk in a tablespoon of the warmed butter, a little at a time, then return the bowl over a gentle heat to cook a little more. Remove from the heat again and whisk in another tablespoon of butter. Repeat until all the butter is incorporated and you have a texture as thick as mayonnaise. Finally, whisk in lemon juice, salt & pepper to taste plus a little warm water from the pan if the mixture is too thick. Drizzle over the hogweed shoots & serve as a starter or alongside meat or fish.

(Hollandaise Sauce image, thanks to - ourkitchen.fisherpaykel.com)

Last month a few hardy foragers (actually it was a lovely bright, wintery day) joined me at Cape Cornwall for a wild food walk with tasters. At a welcomed break we sat down with a large flask of 'Wild Spiced Cleaver Coffee'.

The drink went down well - sweet, hot and naturally containing some caffeine, everyone was pleasantly surprised! There are many variations in making this coffee substitute, this is one alfresco style on the beach!

An indoor version would be drying roasting the oven for 40 minutes at 140C.

Everyone has there own traditions for Christmas Day. For me, I'm satisfied  if I'm in good company, have a dip in the sea & there's a healthy amount of indulgence.

Down here in Cornwall I've plenty of people to share these common themes with; least of all bracing the elements & stripping off on the beach for that ceremonial plunge - nothing like it for feeling alive & building up an appetite! So on the morn of the 25th, Sennen beach (just a mile from Lands End) was pretty packed with rosy faces & cold toes as we raced towards those rolling waves to start the day splashing about, all with good company, of course.

The rest of the essentials for the day already prepared, there was little left to do except dry off, drink hot tea & eat. As a lover of good food, I enjoy the simplicity of a good roast with lots of colourful veg to accompany it. I could tell you a good story of a wild meal, but in all honesty, for this day I'm on holiday, want to think as little as possible about food & just allow it to happen.

However, I had put my creativity together in the form of gifts & brought out some wild ingredients to invent new chocolate recipes. For weeks I'd been thinking about combinations that would excite & please. Who in my family likes richness, who needs to watch there blood sugar levels & who prefers a savoury twist. Of course, its impossible to please everyone, though the fun for me is in the creating & the making.

I created 8 recipes in all, some wild, some not, some rich & dark (I'm a Green & Black's fan myself) & some with raw cacao & agave syrup (far richer in minerals & with less of a caffeine hit - though still chocolate!). Cinnamon, fruit, Cornish sea salt, nuts & vanilla all featured & for the wild ones; laced with sloe vodka of course, & a white chocolate with dried blackberries in (good for children if you want to reduce the risk of too much hyperactivity).

The verdict? Well the large box of chocolates is being taken to family tomorrow & I'll see which ones disappear first & let you know! Its a time a year for many things & for me, there's definitely a place for good, indulgent chocolate, especially handmade. Wishing you all a joyous festive season & here's a couple of recipes to be going on with.  x

    

White Chocolate with dehydrated wild blackberries - goes like raisins, though with more seeds/texture!

    

Last year's sloes had been soaking in vodka for 12 months, de-stone & chop them, add a couple of tablespoons of the sloe vodka & stir into the melted chocolate. And one image of the final box of chocs! Most of them I've tasted, of course, so I'm quite confident about the results!

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

Ingredients

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.


I recently led a group of families on a foraging walk & as part of the day I provided sweet biscuits with rosehip fruit in them. I wanted to show how this fruit can be utilised in ways other than just for syrup. The biscuits went down really well, though what I didn’t provide was guidance on how to process the fruit into a versatile ingredient for many recipes, so here it is!

This is a labour of love. It is a process to be enjoyed, with a fruity goal in mind - a delicious and versatile sheet of pure fruit which can be used can be stored for months and used as a snack or to flavour many dishes, for example tarts, pies and ice cream. Best done when you feel you have the time, preferably with helpers - friends or family.

What
Using Japanese Rose (rosa rugosa) hips will enable you to reap more fruit for your work, they’re a larger hip than our native rosehips making them easier to handle.


Where

Gather rosa rugosa ‘hips’ (the fruit), these plants have naturalised in many places, originally many were planted on sand dunes & shingle beach areas to help stabilise the ground. You can also find them on waste ground, or befriend someone who has them growing in their garden - a proportion of your foraged product afterwards is normally gratefully received.

When
Start looking out for hips from late summer & through autumn. You could of course wait for after the first frost, at the risk of the birds getting them first. Living in Cornwall, with a milder climate & being impatient to utilise these fruits, I normally pick them as soon as possible & freeze them to ‘fake’ the first frost. I’m looking for the dark red fruits, not too orange in colour. Freezing them also means you can store them until you’re ready to embark on processing them.

How

Defrost or pick the fruits after first frost. Start processing them as quickly as possible so not to loose valuable vitamin C. Carefully and patiently remove the flesh from around the outside of the fruit, careful not to dislodge the tight ball of hairy seeds. You want to avoid these seeds as they can irritate the digestive tract. This is a messy and fiddly job, so take your time, you’ll be left with a pile of fleshy rosehip pulp, and a pile of hairy seeds. Discard the latter. You may want to chop the pulp a little, to ensure that you don’t have too bigger pieces of flesh or fruit skin.

If you’re using a de-hydrator, follow the instructions for making fruit leather, and spread the fruit pulp onto the teflon sheet before drying the fruit for several hours. If using an oven, line a dish or baking tray with oven-proof clingfilm, and spread the pulp on, about 2mm thick. Put the oven on the lowest heat and leave for up to 12 hours.

The consistency of the fruit leather can be altered according to taste - slightly moist and chewy or dry and almost brittle. The latter will keep longer. When needed, rehydrate the fruit and blend of break into pieces.

The Flavour
What I love about processing fruit this way is that there is no need to add sugar. Instead, you can get to taste a mixture of natural sweetness & tarty-ness of this amazing super fruit.


What next & how to use... Now the fun bit. Once you’ve made your fruit leather, either keep it whole or cut it into strips & store in an air tight container. It will keep for over one year. Now your fruit can be used in various recipes, these are just some of the ones I’ve tried so far. Before using the leather, best to break it into small pieces & re-hydrate in a small amount of warm water.

Rosehip fruit ice cream, Rosehip fruit chocolate, Rosehip fruit biscuits or in simply in porridge. You can of course still use it in traditional recipes such as rosehip syrup or sweet soup, or simply chew on it as snack when out walking, or when you need a energy & vitamin C boost.

Enjoying a combination of new sights & tastes & feeling reassured

by how many wild edibles we share with mainland Europe 

 

Back in Spring, I felt inspired to plan a trip to Europe, lured by stories of ice-cold mountain lakes, lots of outdoors people, armfuls of wild berries & mountains...

Over the last few years I've found myself completely content with being in Cornwall - I felt I had everything - sea, moors, great locals & the inspiring influx of newcomers & tourists. In my experience, like any love affair, there usually comes a time when I feel established enough in the relationship to step out into new things, knowing I can return home with fresh ideas & renewed vitality.

On this premise, I vaguely planned my trip, & on the cusp of September when I thought the berries might be at their best, got on the sleeper train to London & started my journey to Austria. Now, you may well be familiar with travelling abroad, for me, lets just say it's been a while. Starting from a small town called Mayhofren nestled in the alps of  south Austria, the delight of seeing & smelling a new environment was inspiring, naturally I wanted to be out there immersing myself in it all.

I find walking & foraging a great way to experience a place &  before I knew it I was walking along rivers, up & down valleys comforting myself with the pleasures of elderberries, bilberries & raspberries. Everything can taste differently in a new place - the air, earth & water contributing to a plant's unique flavour.

 

The raspberries were like none I'd tasted before - sweet, seedy & ripe. As an optimist, I often have a romantic idea about a place before I go & on the whole, Austria lived up to my image of it, however, armfuls of berries, hmm, I'm not sure about that! Foraging, can at times need concentration & focus, & even when I found bushes & bushes of bilberries in the alpine forests, I needed a keen eye to pick them out.

Locally, bilberry jam was delicious, I had traditional Austrian dumplings flavoured with juniper berries & a fellow walker had burger & chips with cranberry sauce - move over Heinz ketchup! The foraging highlight for me was these last two berries - juniper & cranberries. Although I've read that juniper berries grow in South England, I've never found them, ooh, & the sharp taste of raw cranberries was surprisingly pleasant as a walking snack.

 

So, rest assured, that learning about foraged foods in the UK can give you a broad starting point across Europe,  a unique way of appreciating new landscapes & a fun way of tasting your way round many countries, mountains & lakes!

 

Not much time left and many are just out of reach! Remember to take a ladder foraging with you or a good friend with climbing skills...

Last Resort - I've had to resort to just picking one or two heads this time of year, and drying them for elderflower tea. You may have more luck! Though drying Elder flowers for tea is great medicine for the winter months, read below to find out more.

Elderflower syrups and dishes are potent medicine - they can help counter hayfever, fight colds, boost your immune and send you to a delightful floaty place with those sweet aromas...

Choose from fresh or dried elderflower tea (just add hot water), elderflower fritters, or cordial for sorbets and ice creams, mix with summer fruits or into cocktails. Here's a simple recipe for cordial and a tempting image of local fruits cooked with elderflowers - delicious!

(photo: Elder flowers and Yarrow)

 

Elderflower Cordial

This is classic recipe with a bit of a twist, I like to change things sometimes, so here I use a mixture of orange and lemons, and add a little honey too. If you want a more traditional recipe, here it is; Elder Flower Cordial and Elder Flower Sorbet Recipe.

This cordial is a wonderful refreshing summer drink, and elder flowers are also a great remedy for colds. You'll need some pre-planning - a 1 litre container, clean screw-top bottles, a funnel and a seive/muslin cloth is needed, or improvise with what you have. Adjust the amount according to the number of flowers you have picked.

Ingredients

  • 450g unrefined caster sugar
  • 1.5 litres boiling water
  • 20 elderflower heads (flowers left on stalks)
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • 1 orange
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 2-3oz citric acid (if you’re going to store the cordial for a whole

Ideally pick the flowers in full sun. Place sugar in a pan and pour boiling water over, stirring until dissolved. Place the elderflowers (check to remove bugs) in a clean bucket and pour hot sugar mixture over it. Grate the lemon and orange zest, then cut the fruits into slices, squeeze, and plop into the container (it could be a saucepan, or a large heat-proof bowl). Stir, in the honey until dissolved, cover, and leave for 24-48 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain the mixture through a sieve, or preferably a fine muslin cloth, and funnel into clean bottles, or dilute and serve immediately!

(Photo: Elderflowers cooked in a summer fruits pudding)

Unique Island Foraging

Really, like nowhere else.

Sudi Pigott, food journalist and author compared Gourmet Foraging and Dining on Scilly to an experience at Noma - Rene Redzepi's  Copenhagen restaurant, which, at least twice has won best restaurant in the world awards (S. Pellegrino 50). Noma specialises in using foraged and seasonal produce and has a world renown reputation.

According to Sudi, we were on a level with Noma (Daily Express, 2011).

Travelling to the Isles of Scilly always feels magical to me. I couldn't get much closer really (well not much) and still live on the mainland. The Scillonian ferry is 10 minutes walk away from my house, and standing in the right place I could watch the boat leave and return daily, in season.

Foraging can appeal to such a wide reach of people, from foodies to wildlife enthusiasts, and Scilly really is the perfect environment for it. A series of islands, low population numbers and a priority for wildlife including birds, plants and sea life, plus a distinct lack of cars and motor vehicles is ideal for foraging to flourish in the clean air and land. Indeed, foraging has happened a-plenty in Scilly in the past, piles of empty limpet shells on (the now uninhabited island of Samson) pays testament to that.

(The Foragers: Hell Bay Gourmet Foraging and Dining Break, Isles of Scilly)

And what about now? Like elsewhere in the UK, foraging has largely been forgotten, and the Coop (the largest food shop on Scilly) is perhaps an over-used substitute for the wild stuff. Local foods are still used though, when available. Though I can't help casting my eye across all those beautiful fresh ingredients, forgotten in the hedgerow, fields and coastline.

When I first approach Hell Bay with the idea of doing gourmet foraging events, I wanted the best. The best chef, environment and eating experience that would allow the wild ingredients to really be appreciated for what they are - special.  Special, abundant and worth rediscovering.

Our group of enthusiast guests, felt similarly (I hoped), and joined me for 3 days, 3 islands, 3 walks and 3, 5 course gourmet dinners - including the ingredients we'd foraged during the day. Travelling from various areas of the UK, foraging became our common ground, oh, and discussions about the hotel's enviable art collection.

We may not have looked like foragers, though looks aren't everything, and in a way, foraging was just the medium we used -  the chosen lense to appreciate the islands and the natural abundance they had to offer. Indeed, both people's adventurous spirits, and the wild plants themselves came up trumps, my favourite being when we focused on the seashore...

Foraging for seaweeds is tide dependent and on the islands it is also dependent on the times of the boats. On our final day of foraging we got the boat to St Martins island.  A sensitive juggling; this wasn't the first time we'd got dropped at the opposite end of the island to expected and planned for! A low tide is perfect for seaweed foraging, though not for mooring boats - oh well, we got to the island, were wellied up, well some of us, while others dared it with bare feet or trainers.  Thankfully the coastline of St Martins came up with the goods.

It amazes me that pottering around just one collection of rocks enabled us to forage for a wide range of seaweeds to accompany our dinner.

Sea Spaghetti before harvesting for supper

I had a 'shopping list' of 7 seaweeds, which we snipped off with scissors and took, happily back to the hotel kitchen. Idyll memories of aisles of sandy beaches, rock pools, paddling expeditions and a little clambering, looking under kelp forests and getting faces up close to the splish, sploshing water around us. Those who chose to, watched from a distance, enjoying the sun while the wellied ones paddled out to find the freshest finds. We laid out are proud findings on the rocks (who ever took photos - I'd love a copy!) before revising their names and bundling them into our baskets before heading off to lunch.

The evening's menu was always greeted with satisfying ooohs and aaahs - all the excitment you would expect from a special dinner party. I love that part - although we forage together, I like to keep the evening's menu a surprise. It's like revealing a new painting - we've worked creatively behind the scenes - myself helping design the menu and advise processes, then leaving the chefs to use their talents and skills to create 5 bespoke courses with a range of colours, textures and visual arrangements. Like art, food comes down to personal taste, though the variety and skill seemded to be enough to please everyone...

Hell Bay Hotel, Bryher, Isles of Scilly (our foraging base)

However.

Some dishes were a hit, while others had a mixed response that might be expected from more experimental cuisine. Personally, Sea Spaghetti (Spaghetti-like seaweed) with Grilled Turbot and pangretta with sea lettuce, followed by Rice Pudding with crystalised Alexander stems were hits with me. Though some disagreed! Other's loved the hogweed seed biscuits that accompanied Cornish cheeses - for me, I was completely satisfied already and had no room for anymore. All created within the style and quality you expect at Hell Bay.

Unique Scilly foraging it is.

I could list all the dishes of each evening, though just as a taster, here's the menu we enjoyed on our second evening after foraging on the Island of Tresco and an afternoon free to enjoy the Tresco Abbey Gardens.

  • Sorrel & Wall Oxalis Soup
  • Fennel Tempura Fillet of Hake, dressed White Crab Meat, steamed Rock Samphire,
  • Pan roasted fillet of Venison, Nettle Gnoochi, Frosted Orache, Three-cornered Leek puree, Chocolate & Yarrow Jus.
  • Gorse Flower Creme Brulee with Blackberry Leaf Sorbet
  • Cornish Cheeses with Hogweed & Alexander Seeded Biscuits

I offer bespoke foraging experiences on the Isles of Scilly, my availability is limited, and especially limited in high-season when the chefs are exceptionally busy. Luckily, foraging is best in early spring and autumn - do bear this inmind if you'd like to experience the wild side of these beautiful islands.

Single leaf of Common Sorrel

Once you know Common Sorrel (rumex acetosa) it's perfectly normal to start seeing it pop up all over the place; in hedgerows, lawns, fields, grass verges. It really is so common, that  you'll be amazed you never spotted it before!

Of course, each plant has its own characteristics, making it unique and easily identifiable, though to me it is as if each plant also develops its own character too. Or perhaps I just start to see each plant as a character. In the early days of foraging I would regularly take walking breaks to help clear my head and gain perspective again - life becomes a lot simpler I find, if I go for a walk. I would mindlessly begin spotting plants as if they were landmarks or a way to orientate myself in the landscape, whether I knew the walk well, or it was completely new to me. Somehow being able recognise plants along the way helped me feel comfortable and at home.

It was a bleak, non-descript kind of February day that I comforted myself by the fresh greenery around me, and feeling particularly inspired, or who knows, maybe the plant spoke to me, these words started to flow. Perhaps it reflects those early days of identifying and getting to know the plants, anyway, I wrote this poem in honour of Common Sorrel.

I met a friend today,
A familiar face in the hedgerow.
Smooth skin, tall and straight,
A tailored jacket and spear shaped hat.

He promised me tangy company, tarty surprises
And melt in the mouth experiences.
Though his delicate demeanour hid a sharp taste, addictive and tantalising.
Oozing witht As, Cs and Iron strength.

I plucked him from his familiar home,
Twirling him between my fingertips.
I watched his tails flutter in the wind, till his jacket became limp and a sour expression covered his face.

One bite and I am hooked on you dear sorrel
Your lemony tang is un-mistakable,
Your taste, instilled in my taste buds
And I will dance to see a sight of you in the hedgerows again.

Sorrel is a great winter, spring & autumn salad leaf, it has a great tarty, lemony taste & traditionally has been used in sorrel soup, in omlettes & even in sweet tarts. There is two things to be wary of with sorrel; firstly identification, secondly not to eat too much of it. I've heard some stories of people mistaking lords & ladies for common sorrel (not a pleasant mistake), & eating too much of it can bind up valuable nutrients in the body - hardly the desired effect! Enjoy in moderation & be sure you're identifying the right plant.

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