Heady honeysuckle

By Sarah Watson

 

With its intoxicating scent, curvy Art Nouveau-style blooms and understated pastel yellow and blush-pink hues, honeysuckle is surely the most elegant wild flower, not to mention one of the most deliciously-scented. Even its name, Lonicera, sounds like a siren of the silver screen.

There are many species of honeysuckle, some of which may be toxic to varying degrees, and UK native Lonicera periclymenum is the one to forage for. It’s a twining shrub with opposite pairs of untoothed, pointed leaves and stalkless, trumpet-shaped flowers arranged in whorls.

It takes just a small quantity of the fragranced trumpets to capture their honeyed, floral notes. Honeysuckle-infused water can be used to make refreshing sorbets, cordials or conserves. The latter goes very nicely with some thick slices of ham, or in a summer cream tea with the addition of some fresh raspberries or strawberries.

To make honeysuckle syrup, steep a few small handfuls of flowers in enough water (just off the boil) to cover them. Leave overnight at room temperature, then pop in the fridge to infuse for another day or so. Strain through muslin into a measuring jug, and add equal quantities of sugar to liquid along with the juice of half a lemon for each 500ml. Put into a saucepan and bring to the boil slowly, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer gently for 4 minutes, then funnel into sterilised glass bottles and seal, or let the syrup cool and transfer to sterilised plastic bottles for freezing.

Use the syrup to make a vinaigrette, jellies, or for a refreshing drink, add chilled fizzy water and a splash of citrus juice, or even yuzu. Honeysuckle syrup goes well with brandy in cocktails, or here’s one to try with gin.

In summer, wild honeysuckle can be found flowering in woodland, scrubland, hedgerows and along roadsides. The red berries of most honeysuckle species are said to be mildly poisonous.

Honeysuckle_berries,_Swindon_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1443368

Photo by: Brian Robert Marshall, licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I suggest harvesting lightly from several places, taking a little from each patch and leaving some flowers for the bees and moths. Take individual, open trumpets, leaving unopened flowers to bloom and leaving the stalk and flower base behind for berries to form.

Always use good plant identification books to identify your finds to 100% certainty before eating them.

Discover  more about identifying and cooking with wild herbs and flowers on a Wild Feast foraging & cookery course.  Get more wild food tips and updates on courses on Facebook and sign up for my e-newsletter for wild food recipes direct to your inbox (option to unsubscribe at any time).

Ground ivy – a treasure, not a weed!

By Sarah Watson

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is in the mint family –  it’s not a close relation of the 3-lobed, evergreen, climbing ivy (Hedera helix) that most people are likely to be more familiar with, the leaves and berries of which are poisonous.

Ground ivy is in fact a common creeping herb that grows in 
grasslands, lawns, wooded areas, woodland edges, hedgerow bases, disturbed ground and around buildings. It provides good ground cover and is sometimes seen as a lawn pest, but learn to love it if you can for its aromatic herbal qualities and pretty little lavender-blue flowers which attract bees and butterflies.

Like all members of the mint family, ground ivy has a square stem in cross section, and the softly hairy leaves, which are sometimes bronze in colour, are kidney-shaped with rounded teeth. Ground ivy was used for flavouring ale from Saxon times until the advent of hops to England, hence it’s old name of ‘ale-hoof’.

The plant is high in vitamin C, iron and flavonoid antioxidants. Research has shown it has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. However it’s also high in phenols, which may be toxic in large quantities – although this is likely to be decreased by cooking. So use it as a flavouring herb rather than a daily green.

tomato-366379_640 (1)

Ground ivy leaves can be used to flavour soups or casseroles. It has a gentle earthy, herbal flavour, with a fragrance somewhere between sage, mint and thyme, although less strongly aromatic, so you may want to use a bit more than you would if you were using those herbs. I chop it finely and mix with shredded ox-eye daisy leaves to make a herby coating for soft goat’s cheese, or a seasoning for fresh tomato bruschetta.

At my cookery demo at the Midsummer Fish Fair in Hastings, I used ground ivy to season local dogfish wrapped in pancetta ham, saltimbocca style, adapted from Pomegranate’s head chef Jamie Stephens’ Huss Saltimbocca recipe where he uses sage.

Ground ivy is also delicious mixed in with minced meat to make burgers, or blended with mayo and horseradish as a dip for potato wedges (pictured below and inspired by Robin Harford of eatweeds.com). Infused in vinegar it can be used to make a herby vinaigrette.

Always use good plant identification books to identify your finds to 100% certainty before eating them, and wash leaves thoroughly several times. Be careful plants have not been contaminated with chemicals.

Discover  more about identifying and cooking with wild herbs and flowers on a Wild Feast foraging & cookery course> book here.  Get more wild food tips and updates on courses on Facebook and sign up for my e-newsletter for wild food recipes direct to your inbox (option to unsubscribe at any time).