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One day after their traditional appearance-time of St George’s Day, there is no sign of St George’s Mushrooms in their usual spots in Sussex, although I’ve heard one or two reports of their arrival elsewhere in the country. There is, however, no shortage of luxuriant spring plant growth, and it is the perfect time to put together a foraged woodland/streamside mixed salad.
Every now and then you’ll come across a location that’s got it all – well, almost. There are multiple edible species in this picture: Ramsons (Wild Garlic), Lady’s Smock, Alternate-leaved Saxifrage, Orpine (top left), Lesser Celandine and Nettles – although those won’t be going in a salad! In fact, the only plants in the picture that you can’t eat are the grasses and the Hemlock Water Dropwort (bottom left corner). Unfortunately for the unwary forager, if you eat Hemlock Water Dropwort then you will die. Within a few tens of metres of where this photo was taken there were two other edible salad species (water mint and primrose), as well as loads of pignuts (the edible tubers of which are illegal to dig up). On my way home I stopped on a quiet country lane and collected the rest of the ingredients, apart from the ivy-leaved toadflax, which grows on the walls in my garden.
On the board, starting top left and going down in columns: Garlic Mustard, Primrose flowers, Lesser Celandine leaves, Water Mint, Lady’s Smock flowers, Alternate-Leaved Golden Saxifrage, Wild Chervil (AKA Cow Parsley), Orpine, Three-cornered Leek (with flowers), Ivy-leaved Toadflax, Hairy Bittercress, Ramsons (with flowers). Beware if you’re foraging for Cow Parsley, because it is very easily confused with Hemlock, which is deadly.
All sorts of other things might have made it into a spring salad – these just happened to be the things I came across yesterday. There’s a real mixture of flavours in here – garlicky, minty, seriously aromatic, sweet and hot, as well as some milder things to bulk it up without blowing your head off. To make the salad, first wash everything and dry, then finely chop the Garlic Mustard and Wild Chervil. Roughly chop everything else, then mix it up well.
I like to serve it with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing, either with or without lemon juice depending on whether there are any lemon-flavoured plants (e.g. the various sorrels) in the salad. To make the dressing mix extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and light soy sauce in proportions 6:2:1:1, and then add freshly ground salt and pepper.
This fresh spring growth will be available for about the next month before summer takes over and many of these plants aren’t so good to eat.