I’ve included a rundown here of 15 wild plants Kris Miners identified for me on our forage around Hanningfield and how you can use them. But do bear in mind that you must ask permission from the landowner if you wish to dig up the roots of plants or you can be prosecuted under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It’s important to respect our few precious woodland areas in the UK, especially nature reserves, and not go about stripping the land of its assets. If you do pick wild plants then you must always leave some of the plant behind. OK, lecture over! Onto the plants…
Woundwort – A member of the mint family with a pungent smell. Don’t worry – it doesn’t taste as strongly as it smells! The leaves can be used in salads or as a filling in sandwiches. As the name suggests, can also be used to treat cuts and staunch bleeding.
Hawthorn – There are two types – common hawthorn (shown) and Midland hawthorn. Midland has more than one seed in its berries, common hawthorn only has one. The young leaves have a nutty, bitter flavour – you can eat these in salads. “You can also eat the berry but not the seeds as they contain cyanide,” says Kris Miners. “Crush the berries, dry them in the sun and use them to make fruit leathers. Our ancestors would also have made fishing hooks from the thorns. It’s also good burning wood as it gives off a lot of heat.”
Blackthorn – Don’t confuse hawthorn with blackthorn, which has oval leaves. Hawthorn has divided leaves and blackthorn flowers before its leaves appear, and vice versa with hawthorn. You can eat blackthorn flowers but not the leaves. But you can eat blackthorn sloes (the blue berries) straight from the bush and use them to make sloe gin.
Dog rose – Dog rose petals are often used to decorate cakes but Kris says his granddad used to cut, peel and eat the stem, a bit like asparagus, although he can find no record of anyone else doing so. We tried it and it tasted good! Don’t necessarily try this with your roses at home though as the stem may be too hard.
Giant reed mace – Often mistakenly called a bulrush after it featured in a famous painting of Moses in the Bulrushes, but it isn’t one. “This plant is one of the most useful in bush craft,” enthuses Kris. “You can eat the tops like a corn on the cob when they’re green, and collect the pollen and use it as flour. It’s also highly flammable and has been used in making fireworks. You can use the fibres from the top when it’s dried out as tinder for making fires or padding for clothes or pillows. Plus the grubs in the stem can be useful bait for fishing. And you can use the stem as a hand drill for making fires, although you have to do it carefully as it can be brittle.” He also tells me that the root can be dug up and cooked on the fire, plus the base of the stem can be used like asparagus, the sap can treat toothache and the stem used in basketry. The uses are endless! The only problem is that it likes sprouting up in polluted water, which isn’t ideal for the forager, and it can be confused with iris or yellow flag.
Ash – The ash tree might not look appetising but it has provided food in times of famine. It develops keys, a bit like a sycamore tree, which can be eaten raw or pickled and used as a caper substitute.
Vetchlin – A yellow flowering plant which admittedly isn’t seen very often. It is a type of wild pea and you can eat the seedpods. Be careful, though, as it is similar to bird’s foot trefoil which isn’t edible.
Nettle – The young leaves can be used like spinach or in herb teas. The stalk can also be made into string or rope. Eating too much nettle which is past its best (after it has flowered) can be bad for the kidneys though.
Horsetail or mares tail – Not edible, but used by Kris as a handy bushcraft scouring pad!
Sedge – The stem is diamond-shaped. People say a sedge has an edge, which is a useful rhyme to help you remember how to identify it. The seeds are like millet seeds and can be ground up and put in water to make biscuits.
Plaintain – The scourge of my front lawn! The seeds of the reed-like stem can be ground up to make biscuits and you can eat the leaves too.
Grand fir – Native Americans ate the bark. If you pop the blisters in the bark you can use the sap to heal cuts. It’s also used in an antiseptic eyewash and as a chewing gum.
Elder –There’s a lot of superstition associated with the elder tree – it was thought to be unlucky if you sat under it and Judas is supposed to have hung himself on one. The leaves are also poisonous. But they can be rubbed on the skin to deter mosquitoes. The flowers, which are edible, have a strong aroma. You can make a tea by pouring hot water on them. Don’t wash them or you’ll lose the flavour. You also can coat them in batter and fry them. The berries are edible but can be a bit sickly – you need to add other berries to them if you want to use them in a crumble etc., says Kris. They are also used in wine making.
NEVER eat wild plants or fungi unless you are 100 per cent sure of what you are eating.
Have you tried any of these wild plants? Got any good recipes? Leave a comment and let me know.
Have a great weekend! Piper xxx