Salad from under my feet, and other small wonders

It’s amazing how good a daisy leaf tastes. I had no idea until last Sunday afternoon. I went on a local foraging walk and found out just how much of the common plants we walk over, through and around all the time are not only edible but tantalising to the taste buds and highly nutritious.

I’d already considered myself a forager. Every year I know spring is beginning to show its face when the first wild garlic appears. Actually, it’s often the smell of wild garlic that you notice first. This year I went with a gaggle of friends to gather bags full of the pungent leaves. I think we may have overdone it somewhat (not that the wild garlic minded – it’s rampant), but some of us later reported having more wild garlic than sense! Never mind, it’s great stuff and a real wild food milepost in the year.

I also try to gather elderflowers every June, to make cordial or champagne or flower-infused vinegar. And then in autumn elderberries (and also sloes). I just finished off my last bottle of elderberry cordial from a batch I concocted a couple of years ago. It’s reputed to protect from colds and other illnesses, and I believe it works. A friend tried making elderberry vodka. This was unfortunately comically vile. It became the focus of a party game last summer – who can make a cocktail that makes this liqueur palatable? So wild food is ripe for experimentation.

On Sunday’s foraging expedition, the guides took us to a green space near the start of the Bristol and Bath cycle path. Very much an urban, everyday sort of place. Every few steps we’d stop and there would be perhaps five different plants growing near our feet that it’s possible to eat, and/or make a tea from, and/or treat an ailment with.

We tasted garlicky, mustardy foliage (that would be the garlic mustard, also known as Jack-by-the-hedge), the lemony freshness of daisy leaves, the feathery bitterness of yarrow (whose leaves can also be used to staunch bleeding), the celery-like crunch of thistle, which we stripped first with a knife to remove the prickly bits. We also found and gathered nettles, dead nettles, dandelion leaves and flowers, wild chives, hawthorn leaves, lime leaves and flowers, willow twigs, burdock, herb Robert, cleavers, pineapple weed, plantain, chickweed, cow parsley and the buds and young leaves of blackberry. We also learned about a few things NOT to eat, including the highly poisonous lords-and-ladies.

Later we took our gatherings back to Trinity Community Garden, which was running this event, where we tried nettle soup (delicious and made, if I recall correctly, from nettles, potatoes and garlic and was served with lemon juice and lots of salt and pepper), dandelion flower fritters and wild garlic pesto with fresh bread. There were also flasks of teas to try – cleavers, nettle and dandelion.

I continue to feel inspired, and this weekend I may go on a little forage on my own and see what wild salad I can bring back from a wander in one of the green corners of this city.

wild food nettle soup