From alexander in winter to wild strawberries in summer or burdock in spring and hazel in autumn, Edible Wild Plants and Herbs, indentification guide and cookbook combined, is an excellent compendium of all things foraged.
First published 25 years ago, this book has recently been brought up to date by the original author. The idea is not that we will all be able to live off the land self-sufficiently but that we can re-learn what our ancestors knew and used to pass on through the generations, a dying skill which, along with keeping chickens or pigs, cultivating your own fruit and vegetables, making pickles and preserves or even cooking with children, a growing number of people are trying to revive.
The calendar on the inside cover provides a quick reference of which plants (and which parts of the plant) to look for and when. Inside we learn more about each of those plants; it’s common and scientific name, where it grows, what it looks like, how it was discovered, the origins of the name and how it has been and is now used. Each description is accompanied by a selection of recipes for using the plant in food, drinks, lotions and potions and a beautiful painting or illustration from the botanical artist at Kew Gardens brings each plant to life.
If you don’t feel confident enough to get out and pick your own, a fair number of the plants and herbs described in the book can be successfully grown in your garden; lemon balm, mint, primrose and chamomile for instance. Alternatively, samphire can be found on our shores but is also ready available at most fishmongers, and chestnuts, if not picked from the tree, can be sourced from the market in the autumn.
But there’s no reason why each and every one of us, whether city or country bound cannot have a go at foraging for at least a few of the plants and enjoy our own bounty.
Try a range of recipes with wild garlic in early spring and nettles a little later in the season or elderflowers for cordial, fritters and jams in early summer and the berries for wine, sorbets and chutneys in the autumn.
There are few greater pleasures than eating or drinking a homemade product from free ingredients. I’ve got just one more week to wait before popping the cork and sharing my elderflower fizz with friends and we’ve already supped the cordial. There’s still time for you to make the most of elderflower too. What are you waiting for?