Non-coastal wild veg

This is, of course, a very large topic. Here are four of the best:

Fat Hen

Fat Hen (Chenopodium album)

Fat Hen (Chenopodium album)

Fat Hen is one of the best kept secrets of the British countryside. It is a pioneer species – a plant whose seeds lurk in the soil waiting for somebody to turn it over, and then germinating to briefly dominate before the longer-term species take over. It is therefore very often found on ploughed arable land, or anywhere there has been earthworks (including gardens). In terms of eating, it is one of the very best. Use it like spinach, but it is much tastier.  This is a plant that somehow manages to taste nutritious. My favourite thing to do with it is to fry with ripe tomatoes, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  The seeds are also edible (this is a relative of Amaranth and Quinoa).

Fat Hen has numerous edible relatives – the Goosefoots and the Oraches – including one species that was once widely cultivated in Britain (Old King Henry). They can be hard to tell apart, and you do need to watch out for a couple of poisonous lookalikes, notably Thorn-apple (Datura stramonium).

Hogweed

Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)

Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)

Very common, and the shoots are a surprisingly good spring vegetable. The best parts for eating are the “fiddlehead” young leaf shoots, just as they start to get substantial. Cook them for a few minutes in butter – keep adding more butter as the shoots soak it up.  Just don’t get this plant mixed up with it’s photo-toxic giant relative (Giant Hogweed) which can cause very serious burns and have disfigured people for life.  Hogweed is also slightly photo-toxic, so be careful when collecting with bare hands in strong sunlight. Another member of the carrot family also has a reputation for causing burns in sunlight – Wild Parsnip (which is the ancestor of cultivated parsnip).

Broad-leaved everlasting pea

Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea (Lathyrus latifolius)

Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea (Lathyrus latifolius)

The whole plant is edible, but the best part is the the flowers. There are numerous members of the pea family growing wild in Britain, and many of them are edible in one way or another. The “peas” themselves are usually edible after cooking, but must be consumed in moderation. People who eat a lot of them can end up suffering from a disease called “Laythyrism”, involving tremors and muscle weakness. But the flowers and shoots of most of the peas, vetches and clovers are also edible.  The only member of the family that is seriously poisonous is the largest – Laburnum, which contains cystine (a nicotine receptor agaonists that has been used as an aid to quit smoking, but is also potentially lethal).

Lady’s Smock

Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis)

Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis)

This is a member of the Cabbage Family – a large family of plants, almost all of which are edible. Lady’s Smock is one of the larger members of the genus Cardamine, which also contains the very familiar garden weed Hairy Bittercress (C. hirsuta). Lady’s Smock is more aromatic than most of them, but makes a wonderful component of a mixed wild salad. The whole plant is edible – leaves, stems and flowers.

2 thoughts on “Non-coastal wild veg

  1. Jill Rock

    Hi I am in the process of making a move to St Leonards from London ( weekends etc first) . I will be the excited owner of a flat in Warrior Square with a sunny garden which at present is a small patch of overgrown meadow 20 x 20ft.

    I would like to learn which plants to keep and which to introduce for cullinary purposes. My idea is to keep the meadow with perhaps the addition of a Wild plum or Damson tree. Is this feasible? Do you run any courses? Are you willing to advise me? As a long shot can such gardens be run as community gardens?

    I found your website in Hastings independent re hogweed

    sincerely
    Jill Rock

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Hi Jill

      I’d happy to come and give you a bit of advice, yes. When I’m not foraging for a living, I’m a gardener, and I’m also involved in Transition Town Hastings who are well into community and guerilla gardening.

      Easiest way to contact me is by email at geoffdann@hotmail.com

      Geoff

      Reply

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