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 a seasonal diary of some of the foraging delights available to us.

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Disclaimer: there's lots of good wild stuff to eat, and much of it is fairly easy to identify. Unfortunately, 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 an in-depth field guide and/or skilled teacher. I will endeavour to point out any obvious poisionous look alikes, but ultimately foraging is the individual's responsibility. Unless you are 100 per cent confident you know what something is, leave it alone! Also, please be aware that, as with any food, different people can have different reactions. It is wise to try just a small amount first.

Alexanders – taste bud blast from the past

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alexanders and hand

Over the last few months, the lanes and tracks around the Purbeck hills have been dazzling with an early spring friend – Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum).   

Thought to be named after Alexander the Great who came from modern-day Greece where the plant is abundant, this is a predecessor of our cultivated celery and was most probably introduced by the Romans.

It remained a widely cultivated green until the 18th century when more succulent varieties of celery were developed and it fell into culinary obscurity.

Nowadays, although it can sometimes be found inland, especially on the sites of old kitchen gardens or monastries, Alexanders is more commonly associated with the coast. I love John Wright's image of it lingering there awaiting a ship to take it back to its Mediterranean homeland, but it is most likely due to it being a bit of southern softy and not liking hard frosts. 

Alexanders juiceThe raw taste is pretty bitter with a fresh citrus kick and, while quite strong, it provides a fascinating insight into a forgotten flavour. For a milder taste, it's good to simmer or steam the young stems for a few minutes – a bit of olive oil and seasoning sets it off a treat. The leaf is subtler in taste and a little bit popped in a sandwich is fun, while sauntering along the coast in early spring. By May or June it is flowering, the taste has deteriorated and it's best to move on.

2013 update: For the last couple of months I have taken to regularly juicing alexanders- usually with apple and ginger and a bit of water to mellow out the strong flavour. Mixed with orange, ginger and honey it also works very well- although this is slightly less detoxifying due to the high sugar content of the honey.

ID points and warning: This is a member of the umbellifer or carrot family which includes some deadly plants – mainly hemlock, hemlock water dropwort and fools parsley. However, if you can forgive its unfortunate family background and take the time to study it, it really is a great plant to know as, when it is found, it is usually in abundance.

The fact that it comes out very early in the season (down here it shows by early winter, and by now it's in full profusion) is a strong identification point and should be backed up with a closer examination using a good field guide: leaves should be shiny and relatively shallowly lobed with a sharply serrated edge; the smell when broken should be tangy and citrusy/limey; while at the base of the stem you should see a broad pinky-veined sheath. To be ultra safe, avoid picking from damp ditches/ water courses where hemlock water dropwort may be lurking. Also keep an eye out for dark reddy purple blotches on the stem too as this may be hemlock.

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