Will's Wild Food Diary

 Wild food diary

Fresh, organic and free! Of all things bushcrafty, nothing gets me more excited than a foraging adventure.

From time to time, I update this page with a different wild food that is in season- gradually building up an online reference on some of the foraging delights available to us.

In addition, I write a 'Wild in the kitchen' blog for the UK's leading site for professional chefs. 

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Disclaimer: There's loads of good stuff to eat out there and much of it is very easy to identify. Unfortunatly, there are also some plants and fungi that can make you seriously ill or worse. This diary is a brief overview intended to inspire and not a substitute for a good field guide and teacher. I will endeavour to point out any obvious poisionous look alikes but ultimately foraging is the individual's responsibility. Unless you are 100 percent confident you know what something is then leave it alone! Please also be aware that, as with any food, different people can have different reactions so it is good practice to always try just a small amount first.

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Category: Hogweed

  1. Hogging it

    Posted on

    Plants are like humans in many ways. When it's cold outside it can be hard getting out of bed and our recent semi-arctic weather has meant a lot of spring greens have been reluctant too.Hogweed leaf 2

    One plant that I've been noticing in the last couple of weeks is hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)- not to be confused with the notorious giant hogweed (see later).
     
    I can guarantee that if you have ever taken a walk down a British country lane you will have seen our common hogweed with it's roughly lobed leaves- often so heavy that the hairy stalks seem to bend out of the hedgerow- beckoning the hungry forager.
     
    This plant has a long history of use in Eastern European countries but I decided to do some oriental experimentation this time. No, nothing like that- I made a hogweed stirfry!
     
    Hogweed stirfryThe stems are tougher than the leaves so I chopped and cooked them first, along with some alexanders and jelly ear mushrooms, before popping in the leaves. The two parts of the plant are quite different once cooked- the very young stems are fleshy and succulent while the leaves crisp up and turn similar to a crispy seaweed. The taste of both is difficult to describe, perhaps somewhere between asparagus and parsnip. Apparently, the emerging flower buds, which look like little heads of brocolli, are also delicious so I'll be keeping my eye on them in the next month or two. As is the case with many spring greens, once the flower opens the whole plant becomes tough and bitter and is best left alone.
     
    Foraging considerations.
    It's the carrot/ umbelliferae* family again with some of the most deadly plants known to mankind- I'm thinking in particular of hemlock and hemlock water dropwort and, to a lesser extent, fools parsley.
     
    It's a real pity about these renegade relatives as this family also contains lots of delightful gifts for the forager- for example, ground elder and alexanders, which I've covered in previous posts. However the visual similarities are very superficial and, as always, anyone taking time to study what they're planning to eat is extremley unlikely to have a problem.
     
    The harmful fellow that really needs mentioning is Giant hogweed- introduced from central Asia by the Victorians for its ornamental appeal. It can grow over 4 metres high and has a toxic sap that burns and blisters the skin when exposed to sunlight.  
     
    If it happens to be full sized, that is an obvious clue as normal hogweed doesn't grow above a couple of metres at best. However, as hogweed is a spring forage when both plants are young this is not quite so helpful. More useful perhaps is to look out for the previous years dead growth which often hangs around into the next spring. If you don't have this to help then look at the hogweed stemsleaves which are markedly spikier than the round lobes of our native hogweed. Giant hogweed also has purple blotches on the stem and very coarse long bristles while common hogweed has striped purple and green stems and much finer bristles.
     
    Finally, pay attention to habitat. Stopping and looking around is one of the best identification skills a forager can learn, with practice this can really help one work out what plants they might expect to find in different locations. In the case of giant hogweed, it has a marked preference for damp ditches and streams- the only time I've noticed it in the three years I've been in Dorset is by a stream that enters the river at Wick. 
     
    While nowhere near the level of giant hogweed, it seems a few people find the raw sap from common hogweed to be an irritant (same with carrot tops for that matter). Personally I have been picking it for a few years now and have never noticed any irritation but if you know you have sensitive skin some gloves could be worth it. The heat from cooking totally destroys the sap so there should not be a problem there.
     
    * The other widely used genus name is apiaceae.