A guide to edible flowers from the wild and garden

By Sarah Watson, forager

A list of over 50 edible flowers – just some of those you can find in gardens, urban places and the countryside in the UK and beyond. I’ll be adding additional info and some ideas for using them. Tasting notes are for flowers in the their raw state. For flower foraging tips and cautions, be sure to read my ‘Edible flower power‘ article.

As always, be 100% sure of your identification before eating and do research what you intend to eat – if in doubt, leave it out. Get wild food and drink tips and updates on my course dates on Facebook, or sign up for my e-newsletter (option to unsubscribe at any time).

Apple blossom

Latin name: Malus species.
Plant family: Rose – Rosaceae.
Plant notes: Apple blossom is a source of nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and other insects, and bullfinches eat the buds. Birds, badgers, foxes, mice, voles and butterflies feed on fallen fruit.
Tasting notes: Rather bitter.
Uses: Decoration; infuse in honey; use to flavour jellies, cream and ice cream; dry for tea.
Caution: Flowers contain small amounts of cyanogenic compounds and should not be consumed in large quantities, especially raw.

Bellflower (Campanula)

Latin name: Campanula species
Plant notes: Campanulaceae – bellflower
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Blackthorn (sloe blossom)

Latin name: Prunus spinosa
Plant family: Rosaceae – Rose
Plant notes: Native to the UK. Great for many species of wildlife, especially butterflies, moths and other insects.
Tasting notes: Bitter almond.
Uses: Decorative and good for flavouring sweet dishes and making syrup.
Flowering time: Early spring.
Caution: Flowers contain cyanogenic compounds and should not be consumed in large quantities, especially raw.

Borage

Latin name: Borago officinalis
Plant family: Boraginaceae – Borage
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Cucumber flavour.
Uses: Decorative, and in Pimms, fruit cups and cocktails – acidity changes petal colour from blue to pink. Good for sweet or savoury dishes and salads.
Flowering time: Spring to autumn.
Caution:

Carnation (see Pinks)

Chamomile (German) or scented mayweed

Latin name: Matricaria chamomilla
Plant family: Asteraceae – Daisy
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Fruity and floral with vanilla notes.
Uses: Decorative and good for flavouring sweet dishes and making syrup. Dries well and is used to make tea as well as in baking.
Flowering time: Summer and autumn.
Caution: Can cause allergy symptoms, especially in those with ragweed/daisy allergies. Contains coumarin so avoid potential drug interactions, e.g. with blood thinners.

Cherry blossom

Latin name: Prunus species
Plant family: Rosaceae – Rose
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution: Flowers contain small amounts of cyanogenic compounds and should not be consumed in large quantities, especially raw.

Chive blossom

Latin name: Allium schoenoprasum
Plant family: Amaryllis family – Amaryllidaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Like sweet chives.
Uses: Decorative and flavouring for savoury dishes, use to flavour vinegar and pickle whole flowerheads.
Flowering time:
Caution:

Cornflower

Latin name: Centaurea cyanus
Plant family: Asteraceae – Daisy
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Daisy (common)

Latin name: Bellis perennis
Plant family: Asteraceae – Daisy
Plant notes: Native to the UK.
Tasting notes: Mild, slightly soapy and drying in the mouth.
Uses: Decorative and good for sweet and savoury dishes.
Flowering time: Spring, summer
Caution:

Dandelion

Latin name: Taraxacum officinale
Plant family: Asteraceae – Daisy
Plant notes: Native to the UK.
Tasting notes: Slightly sweet and lettuce like with the bitter green parts removed.
Uses: Decorative and good for sweet and savoury dishes.
Flowering time: Spring, summer.
Caution: Watch out for seed ‘fluff’ as flowers get older – noone wants a mouthful of fluff!

Darwin’s barberry

Latin name: Berberis darwinii
Plant family: Berberidaceae – barberry
Plant notes: Often planted as an ornamental hedge.
Tasting notes: Tangy, lemony and a little bitter.
Uses: Decorative and good for sweet and savoury dishes, drinks and cocktails. Blend with sugar.
Flowering time: Early spring.
Caution: Contains berberine.

Elderflower

Latin name: Sambucus nigra
Plant family: Adoxaceae – Elder
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Floral, honey, citrus, vanilla.
Uses:
Flowering time: Early to mid-summer.
Caution:

Fennel

Latin name: Foeniculum vulgare
Plant family: Carrot  – Apiaceae

Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Spicy, honeyed and anise-like.
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution: plant sap is mildly phototoxic so can cause a skin reaction in the sun.

Flowering currant

Latin name: Ribes sanguineum
Plant family: Grossulariaceae – gooseberry
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Herbal – a little like thyme with floral notes.
Uses:
Flowering time: Early spring.
Caution:

Flowering (Japanese) quince

Latin name: Chaenomeles species
Plant family: Rosaceae – Rose
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Quite bitter.
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution: Flower may contain small amounts of cyanogenic compounds and should not be consumed in large quantities, especially raw.

Forget-me-not



Latin name: Myosotis sylvatica
Plant family: Boraginaceae – Borage
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: mild cucumber flavour.
Uses: Decorative, in drinks, cocktails and flower ice cubes. Good for sweet or savoury dishes.
Flowering time: Late spring, early summer
Caution:

Fuschia

Latin name: Fuchsia species
Plant family: Onagraceae – willowherb
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Crunchy, lettuce-like and with varying degrees of bitterness.
Uses: Decorative.
Flowering time:
Caution:

Garlic mustard
Latin name: Alliaria petiolata
Plant family: Cabbage – Brassicaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time: Spring
Caution:

Gorse
Latin name: Ulex europaeus
Plant family: Pea – Fabaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Slightly oily and pea-like. The coconut flavour is brought out with the addition of sugar.
Uses: Decorative.
Flowering time: Mainly October to May.
Caution:

Green alkanet
Latin name: Pentaglottis sempervirens
Plant family: Boraginaceae – Borage
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Mildly cucumbery.
Uses: Decorative, and in Pimms and fruit cups. Good for sweet or savouriy dishes – acidity changes petal colour.
from blue to pink.
Caution:

Ground ivy
Latin name: Glechoma hederacea
Plant family: Lamiaceae – Mint
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Caution:

Hawthorn

Latin name: Crataegeus monogyna
Plant family: Rose – Rosaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time: April, May
Caution:

Herb Robert


Latin name: Geranium robertianum
Plant family: Geraniaceae – Geranium
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Herbal and quite earthy.
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Honesty


Latin name: Lunaria annua
Plant family: Brassicaceae – Cabbage
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Hot with a wasabi kick.
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Honeysuckle

Latin name: Lonicera periclymenum
Plant family: Caprifoliaceae or honeysuckle
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Lavender (English)

Latin name: Lavandula angustifolia
Plant family: Lamiaceae – Mint
Plant notes:
Tasting notes
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Lilac

Latin name: Syringa vulgaris
Plant family: Oleaceae – Olive
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time: April, May
Caution:

Lime (linden)
Latin name: Tilia species
Plant family: Malvaceae – mallow
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Magnolia

Latin name: Magnolia species
Plant family: Magnoliaceae – Magnolia
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Crunchy, spicy and gingery with a chicory bitterness.
Uses:
Flowering time: Early spring
Caution:

Common mallow
Latin name: Malva sylvestris
Plant family: Malvaceae – mallow
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Marigold
Latin name: Tagetes species.
Plant family: Asteraceae – Daisy
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Meadowsweet
Latin name: Filipendula ulmaria
Plant family: Rosaceae – Rose
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution: Contains coumarin so avoid potential drug interactions, e.g. with blood thinners.

Nasturtium

Latin name: Tropaeolum majus
Plant family: Cabbage – Brassicaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Floral and peppery.
Uses: Salad, pickle the buds like capers.
Flowering time:
Caution:

Oxalis
Latin name: Oxalis species
Plant family:
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Pansy

Latin name: Viola
Plant family:
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Pineappleweed

Latin name: Matricaria discoidea
Plant family: Daisy – Asteraceae
Plant notes: An introduced, naturalised and widespread plant.
Tasting notes: Aromatic, bitter pineapple.
Uses: Herbal tea, syrup, fruity baking and dessert flavouring and booze infusion.
Flowering time: Spring to autumn,

Pinks (and carnations)

Latin name: Dianthus species
Plant family: Pinks – Caryophyllaceae
Plant notes: Many thousands of garden cultivars have been bred.
Tasting notes: Slightly spicy with a hint of clove.
Uses: Decoration, salads, infuse in wine and flavour desserts.
Flowering time: Spring and summer.
Caution:

Pot marigold

Latin name: Calendula officinalis
Plant family:
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Herbal.
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Primrose

Latin name: Primula vulgaris
Plant family: Primulaceae – Primula
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time: Early spring
Caution:

Rosemary
Latin name: Salvia rosemarinus
Plant family:
Plant notes: Delicate rosemary flavour.
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Red clover
Latin name: Trifolium pratense
Plant family: Pea – Fababaceae
Plant notes: Sweet, delicate pea flavour.
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution: Contains coumarin.

Rose

Latin name: Rosa species
Plant family: Rose – Rosaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Rosebay willowherb

Latin name: Chamerion angustifolium
Plant family: Onagraceae – willowherbs
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Rosy Garlic

Latin name: Allium roseum 
Plant family: Amaryllis family – Amaryllidaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Spring onion-flavoured.
Uses: Decorative or savoury flavouring.
Flowering time:
Caution:

Speedwell

Latin name: Veronica chamaedrys
Plant family: Plantaginaceae – plantain
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Earthy, slightly bitter and insubstantial.
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Stitchwort (greater and lesser)

Latin name: Stellaria holostea and Stellaria graminea
Plant family: Pinks – Caryophyllaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Like raw sweetcorn, insubstantial.
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Three-cornered leek


Latin name: Allium triquetrum
Plant family: Amaryllis family – Amaryllidaceae
Plant notes: Invasive, non native plant.
Tasting notes: Mildly oniony.
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Tulip

Latin name: Tulipa species.
Plant family: Liliaceae – Lily
Plant notes: Cultivated.
Tasting notes: Crunchy, slightly sweet and lettuce-like.
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution: Tulips can cause allergic reactions and the bulbs contain toxins. Only the petals are edible, and it’s recommended to remove the pistil and stamens from the centre of the blossom. 

Vetch (Common)

Latin name: Vicia sativa
Plant family: Pea – Fabaceae
Plant notes: The flowers attract many kinds of insects including bumblebees.
Tasting notes: Delicate pea flavour.
Uses: Decoration.
Flowering time: Spring to autumn
Caution: Seeds can be toxic when older or if eaten in large quantities.

Violet


Latin name: Viola species
Plant family: Violet – Violaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

White deadnettle
Latin name: Lamium album
Plant family: Mint – Lamiaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Herbal.
Uses:
Flowering time: Early spring to early winter.
Caution:

Wild garlic


Latin name: Allium ursinum
Plant family: Amaryllis family – Amaryllidaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Garlicky with a slight sweetness.
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Wild mustard (charlock)
Latin name:
Plant family: Cabbage – Brassicaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Hot and mustardy.
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Wintercress

Latin name: Barbarea vulgaris 
Plant family: Cabbage – Brassicaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: hot and peppery with a bitter aftertaste, best with salty, oily foods like mackerel pate.
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Wisteria
Latin name: Wisteria sinensis
Plant family: Fabaceae – Pea
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Mild pea and floral flavours
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Wood sorrel
Latin name: Oxalis ascetosella
Plant family: Wood-sorrel – Oxalidaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Yarrow
Latin name: Achillea millefolium
Plant family: Asteraceae – Daisy
Plant notes:
Tasting notes:
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:

Yellow archangel

Latin name: Lamium galeobdolon
Plant family: Mint – Lamiaceae
Plant notes:
Tasting notes: Herbal.
Uses:
Flowering time:
Caution:


Discover more about identifying and cooking with wild edible plants on a Wild Feast foraging & cookery course.

Happy foraging!

Rose petal syrup recipe

By Sarah Watson, Forager, Wild Feast

All rose petals are edible, but when collecting rose petals for syrup, choose a fragrant rose variety that hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals. Japanese rose  (Rosa rugosa) is ideal as it’s naturalised in the wild but is a non-native, robust shrub that can be quite invasive.

Pick flowers that have recently opened and look fresh and clean. Take only the petals –
leaving the rest of the flower means rosehips may still be produced later in the year. Laying the petals
on a tray outdoors for around half an hour should allow any lingering insects to escape.

Makes a small bottle of syrup

Ingredients

  • A handful of rose petals
  • 500g sugar
  • 400ml water
  • Half a lemon, zested and juiced

Method

Layer several handfuls of fresh rose petals with 500g of white, granulated sugar. Massage the rose
petals gently with the sugar until they start to soften and bruise. Cover and leave for two to four days.

Add the sugar and petals to a pan with 400ml water and the lemon zest. Gently heat the liquid, stirring gently until the sugar dissolves. Strain through a fine sieve (you could dry the leftover sugary petals to use later), bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes or so, until the syrup thickens a little. Then just before taking the pan off the heat, add the strained juice of half a lemon and stir.

Funnel into a sterilised bottle and seal. Once opened, store in the fridge and use within a couple of weeks.

Edible flower power

By Sarah Watson, forager

© Blog words and images copyright Wild Feast, all rights reserved

Flowers beautify our homes and surroundings. Lilac and English lavender are much-loved garden stalwarts. Cheery dandelions and daisies brighten lawns. Colourful tulips and marigolds enliven flowerbeds, and primroses and violets grace the hedgerows. These floral treasures aren’t just a feast for the eyes, they can all be eaten…

Edible blooms have long been used; the Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Romans added them to food and drink. In today’s fashionable restaurant dishes and stylish social media posts, flowers look vibrant and elegant. But many blossoms in our gardens, urban places and countryside can be used in everyday food – for free!

English lavender in flower

As well as giving colour and charm to our food, edible blooms can add crispness and taste, ranging from sweet and floral to savoury and spicy. Flowers are being turned to anew for the flavours they can bring to food and drink, sometimes as a way to help cut our sugar and alcohol intake.

And flowers really do have power! They’re sources of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre, and can be rich in antioxidants that may help protect our bodies from disease. The age-old practice of using flowers as medicine is much in use by herbalists today.

Pavlova with forget-me-not, speedwell, bugle, primrose, rosemary, green alkanet and red clover flowers

Modern research suggests some flowers may be useful to treat physical or mental illnesses. Even looking at them helps us feel better: A study showed patients in hospital rooms with flowers needed less pain medication and felt more positive than patients in rooms without.

So feed yourself with nutritious flowers! Create stunning salads with borage, daisies, honesty and dandelion petals. Pickle chive blossoms or wild garlic buds, and infuse vinegar with red clover or elderflowers.

Salad with flowers of garlic mustard, yellow archangel, wild garlic, wintercress and ground ivy

Perfect for decorating cakes and desserts are daisies, violets, forget-me-nots, primroses and cornflower petals. Make syrups and cordials from honeysuckle, rose, elderflower, hawthorn and cherry blossom. Mince flowers into sugar, butter, buttercream icing, whipped cream or soft cheese – try rose petals or rosemary, and in savoury dishes, nasturtiums or chives.

Dry marigold petals, English lavender, chamomile or fennel flowers to use in teas, or as a baking ingredient or spice. Stuff courgette blossoms with cream cheese. Dip wild garlic flower-heads and ox eye daisies in tempura batter and fry for a crispy, delicious treat.

Fennel flowers

As nutritional information on edible flowers is limited, it’s best just to eat them in moderation. Not all are edible; some, like foxgloves and lily of the valley, are seriously poisonous. Others may have toxic stems, leaves or bulbs – like tulips, where it’s best just to eat the petals and remove the other flower parts. Check with a good foraging book or expert website.

Flower foraging tips:

  • They’re essential food for bees, butterflies and other insects, so leave plenty behind. Here’s a useful link from the Royal Horticultural Society for insect-friendly flowers to plant if you have a garden
  • Avoid any which may have been treated with chemicals (or come into contact with untreated manure) like those grown for bouquets and gardens.
  • Avoid harvesting from busy roadsides where they can absorb poisonous heavy metals or places domestic animals have been.
  • For those who have a health condition, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, check which flower types are suitable.
  • Be aware they can trigger allergic reactions, especially for those with hayfever, asthma or severe allergies.

Find out more about using the floral gems in gardens, towns and the country in my edible blooms list.


As always, be 100% sure of your identification before eating and do research what you intend to eat – if in doubt, leave it out.

Discover more about identifying and cooking with wild edible plants on a Wild Feast foraging & cookery course.  Get wild food and drink tips and updates on course dates on Facebook, or sign up for my e-newsletter (option to unsubscribe at any time).

Happy foraging!

Mouthwatering Wild Garlic Buds

By Sarah Watson, forager

Wild garlic flower buds

Take advantage of the punchy flavour and health benefits of wild garlic (Allium ursinum) flower buds before they flower, by pickling the buds to preserve them.

Around now in April, the long, pointed leaves become topped with a haze of starry, six-petalled white flowers. The blossoms emerge from their pale green, pointed bud parcels (as pictured above), arranged in clusters of 10 to 20 on a three-sided stem which is triangular in cross-section.

Wild garlic flowers

Wild garlic flowers are an early nectar source for butterflies and bees, so take only as much as you need, and take care not to take too many buds or flowers from one spot. Mind your step too as some plants, such as native bluebells, are sensitive to trampling.

 

Sweet Pickled Wild Garlic Buds recipe

Makes one jar

This works for both wild garlic buds, and the seed pods later in the year. Enjoy your pickles as a piquant, garlicky garnish, in salads, on canapes, pizzas, with cheese and crackers, etc.

Ingredients:
  • A good handful of fresh wild garlic flower buds with stems, carefully washed – or seed pods which you can snip off the main stem and pickle as individual pods (like caviar!) or leave as a whole umbel (umbrella shape) with a short length of stalk attached.
  • 200ml (approx.) white wine vinegar (or you could use cider vinegar or pickling vinegar)
  • Up to 2 tbsp sugar (or to taste)
  • Half tsp salt
  • 1-2 tsp pickling spices (you could choose from: fennel, peppercorns, mustard seeds, allspice, chilli, ginger, coriander seeds, cloves, juniper, lemon zest or go wild with hogweed seeds or spruce, fir or larch tips).
  • A dried bay leaf or two, and/or other fresh or dried herbs
Method:
  1. First sterilise a jar and a vinegar-proof lid to fit your wild garlic buds.
  2. Pack the buds tightly into your jar, leaving about 10cm of stem attached and forming a circle with about 4 stems at a time – fill the jar almost to the top as the contents will shrink when the hot liquid is added.
  3. Heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, spices and bay gently in a pan (enamel is best, avoid aluminium with acidic liquids) until the sugar dissolves.
  4. Then bring to a gently bubbling simmer and remove from the heat.
  5. Pour the hot, spiced pickling vinegar over the buds to cover them.
  6. Leave for a minute or two to allow the vinegar to start to penetrate the buds and for the liquid level to settle, then slowly raise and lower a clean chopstick around the inside of the jar to remove air bubbles. Tamp the middle down a bit, and then gently tap the jars against your worktop a few times to remove any remaining bubbles.
  7. Top up with vinegar to about a centimetre from the top of the jar, then seal the jar while still hot.
  8. Once cooled, keep in the fridge and leave to mature for 2 weeks to a month.
  9. As with all home-made preserves, check for spoilage before eating, e.g. any off-smells, colour changes or unusual softness or sliminess – if there’s any doubt, don’t eat it.

Make sure you carefully identify any foraged plants you’re planning to eat to 100% certainty with a good field guide, or three. If in doubt, leave it out. If you’re still not sure exactly what to look for, come on a foraging course with an expert.

Discover more about identifying and cooking with wild edible plants on a Wild Feast foraging & cookery course.  Get wild food and drink tips and updates on course dates on Facebook, or sign up for my e-newsletter (option to unsubscribe at any time).

Happy foraging!

© Recipe & blog words and images copyright Wild Feast, all rights reserved

Why you shouldn’t miss out on wild garlic season


By Sarah Watson, forager

 © Recipe & blog words and original images copyright Wild Feast, all rights reserved

bears-garlic-wood

If you’ve caught an oniony waft while passing through woodland, you’ll know wild garlic, otherwise known as ramsons, is in season. This flavoursome wild green that often grows in abundance is eagerly awaited by foragers – and there’s so much you can do with it!

I’ve listed some cooking ideas and recipes in this post, as well as identification and harvesting tips – so there’s no need to miss out on this wonderful wild harvest!

bears-garlic-leaves

The young leaves of this onion-family UK native (Allium ursinum) are tender and silky with a delicious garlicky, peppery flavour that’s more delicate than cultivated, raw garlic. It grows over most of lowland UK, often in dense swathes, in deciduous woods, woodland edges, on stream banks and shaded hedgerows and verges, preferring rich, damp soils.

Bright green wild garlic shoots can appear as early as January or February, with the season starting in earnest in March and continuing until around May for the leaves, and June for the seedpods.

From April the long, pointed, spear-shaped leaves are topped with a haze of pretty, starry six-petalled white flowers arranged in ‘umbels’ with three-sided stems (triangular in cross-section).

wg-scallopsRye Bay scallops with wild garlic pesto and wild garlic flowers

There’s some evidence we may have been eating wild garlic since the Stone Age – little wonder as it’s so good for us! In today’s cuisine, raw leaves are used in salads, mayonnaise, dressings and herb butters – scroll down for my recipes for wild garlic dip and wild garlic and nettle pesto, including a vegan version.

The leaves can be preserved by lacto-fermentation (I use this simple method by forager Robin Harford) which alters their flavour profile somewhat, but the ferment still packs a punch. Fresh leaves can be infused to make flavoured vinegar, or shredded to use in all sorts of recipes, such as risottos, curries, pasta dishes, mash, omelettes, stir-fries, stews, sauces, soups, and to stuff meat or fish. Wild garlic is great in savoury bakes too: bread, scones, muffins, oatcakes…the possibilities are endless – I’ve even used it in savoury cocktails!

The pretty flowers are also edible, try them fried in a light tempura batter, or use them as a decorative, savoury garnish. The green flower buds and the hot, peppery, little seed pods (before they develop a hard seed) can be pickled to make wonderfully garlicky ‘capers’.

bud-1378009_1280

Wild garlic leaves keep well in a bag in the fridge for a few days. I find the flavour stronger before flowering, and cooking reduces the potency because the leaves’ volatile oils evaporate quickly, leaving them much milder and sweeter. So for maximum flavour, add them in the last minute or so of cooking.

As wild garlic often grows in damp places, the leaves can be gritty, so wash them well in several changes of water after a 10 minute soak.

Not only is this foragers’ favourite delicious, it’s also super-healthy! Wild garlic contains high levels of vitamins A and C, as well as minerals including calcium and potassium. Studies have shown that wild garlic contains more magnesium, manganese and iron and than cultivated garlic.

wg-canapes-resize

Wild garlic and smoked mackerel canape rolls with cuckoo flowers
(made & photographed by Bethan Davies)

The leaves especially are a source of potentially potent antioxidants which could help protect against cancer and support the immune system. Recent Romanian research concluded that the antioxidant level appears to be highest in the raw leaf within the first few hours of processing.

Wild garlic contains ‘uridine’ which may be mood-lifting and good for brain health, according to studies, especially when paired with fish oils – fortuitous then that wild garlic goes so well with mackerel! The fresh plant has been shown to have antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties, and it contains antiviral plant lectins. It’s also said to be a digestive tonic, perhaps that’s because it acts as a prebiotic, promoting the growth of good gut bacteria.

Wild garlic leaves are typically rich in sulphur compounds which protect the heart. In comparative trials, wild garlic  proved more effective than cultivated garlic in reducing blood pressure and LDL cholesterol in rats, while raising HDL cholesterol levels.

cuckoo p

Cuckoo pint growing amongst wild garlic

Wild garlic could be confused with a few poisonous plants. Cuckoo Pint or Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) is a common plant that often grows amongst wild garlic. It burns the mouth due to the oxalates it contains and could make the throat swell and obstruct breathing. So pick each wild garlic leaf individually care, checking as you go.

Cuckoo Pint has arrow-head shaped leaves, although be aware that the two pointed ‘tails’ on either side of the leaf stalk may not be developed when the leaves are young. The leaf veins of cuckoo pint are arranged in a ‘network’, whereas the veins of wild garlic are parallel – and wild garlic leaves have a distinctive garlic smell, of course.

The leaves of highly poisonous Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis) look similar to wild garlic, but there are two leaves per stalk growing from the rhizome, whereas wild garlic only has a single leaf on each stalk arising from the bulb. The less widespread but deadly Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) produces its leaves in spring too, but they’re thicker and glossier, more like a garden hyacinth.

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When picking wild garlic, take only as much as you need and spread your harvest by taking a leaf or two from each plant, minding your step as some woodland plants, such as native bluebells, are sensitive to trampling. Wild garlic flowers are an early nectar source for butterflies and bees, so take care not to take too many from one spot.

The plant is an ‘ancient woodland’ indicator species, which means if it’s found along with enough other indicator plants, which include rowan, yellow archangel, wood sorrel, snowdrops and wood anemones, there’s a good chance the woodland is over 400 years old.

Although they’re edible, I don’t take wild garlic bulbs from the wild as it’s illegal to uproot plants without the landowner’s permission, it prevents the plant from regenerating and they’re small and fiddly to clean. In the right conditions, wild garlic can be persuaded to grow in some gardens, but beware as it can get quite invasive.

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Wild garlic flower buds

Always use good identification books to identify your foraged finds to 100% certainty before eating them – if in doubt, leave it out! And if you’re still not sure exactly what to look for, come on a foraging course with an expert.

Discover more about identifying and cooking with wild edible plants on a Wild Feast foraging & cookery course.  Get wild food and drink tips and updates on course dates on Facebook, or sign up for my e-newsletter (option to unsubscribe at any time).

Wild Garlic & Nettle Pesto recipe

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Raw wild garlic can be pretty overpowering, but earthy nettle is the ideal partner to tone it down, making a perfectly punchy, super-healthy pesto! You can keep this in the fridge for a couple of weeks and it also freezes well. For me, pesto is a very personal thing, so do adjust my recipe proportions to your own taste.

Ingredients:

Makes approx. one 200g small jar

  • 4-5 tbsps mild olive oil
  • 40g fresh, wild garlic leaves
  • 40g fresh nettle tips (top 2-6 leaves), picked before flowering
  • 40-60g nuts (e.g. pine nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, or a mix)
    or you could substitute sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • 30g parmesan, grana padano or similar strong, hard cheese, finely grated
    [vegan version: substitute 1 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes]
  • 2 tsps white wine vinegar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • ground black pepper
  • salt
Method:

Pick over and wash the wild garlic leaves well and chop roughly. Wash the nettle leaves wearing gloves, and then steam them for a minute or two, or blanch them briefly in boiling water – cooking them denatures the sting. You can use them raw, but you need to blend them really well to make sure they don’t sting.

Once cooled, squeeze out excess water from the nettle leaves (the nettle water makes a great soup stock) and chop them roughly. Meanwhile dry fry the nuts or seeds in a pan, or toast in the oven, until pale golden brown.

Whizz all the leaves in a blender with half the lemon juice, the vinegar and enough of the olive oil to loosen the mix. Add 40g nuts (or for the vegan version, add an extra 20g to make it up to 60g and nutritional yeast)*, process until smooth enough for your liking and stir in the grated hard cheese. Then stir in the remaining olive oil as needed, the rest of the lemon juice to taste, and season with salt and ground pepper.

Serve with pasta, potatoes, soups, toast, crackers, breadsticks, fish, shellfish, meat, as garlic bread…or straight from the jar!

Be aware that there’s a risk of botulism with unpasteurised, fresh plant material stored in oil. It’s a slight risk, but a very serious one (although rare, botulism is potentially fatal). So to be on the safe side, I recommend storing home-made pesto in the fridge and using it within two weeks. Otherwise it’s best frozen.

*Note the vegan version of the pesto comes out paler green than the non-vegan pesto in the photo due to the extra nuts and the colour of the nutritional yeast.

Wild Garlic Dip

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You don’t need much wild garlic to make this simple and deliciously moreish, garlicky dip, popular with both kids and adults, but not especially breath-friendly for entertaining! If you’ve made wild garlic pesto, you could stir that into cream cheese to make an even quicker, convenient version of this dip.

Ingredients:

Makes a small ramekin-full

  • 120g cream cheese (a light version if you prefer)
  • fresh wild garlic leaves, a small handful
  • 2 tbsps crème fraiche or sour cream (optional)
  • 1 tbsp (approx) finely grated parmesan, grana padano or strong cheddar
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • salt, wild herb salt or celery salt
  • ground black pepper
Method:

Pick over and wash the wild garlic leaves well and chop roughly. Whizz them in a blender with the cream cheese and the grated hard cheese until the mixture is smooth and pale green – add just a few to start with, blend and add more to taste if desired. Stir in the crème fraiche or sour cream, then the lemon juice, salt and ground pepper to taste.

Serve with breadsticks, crudités, or whatever takes your fancy.

Crazy about crab apples

By Sarah Watson

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The original native crab apple tree (Malus sylvestris) is a valuable wildlife habitat and food plant that’s now uncommon in the wild. The abundant, fragrant blossoms attract bees, and birds and mammals eat the yellow-green fruit. The wild native species is a smallish thorny tree of woodland edges and hedgerows with a habit of becoming ‘crabbily’ gnarled and twisted. But there are also many cultivated, ornamental varieties and species of crab apple, and apple trees from discarded pips growing wild also tend to produce small ‘wildling’ apples. Whether cultivated, wildling or wild, crab apple fruit is usually somewhat sour, bitter and dry-tasting but this intense apple flavour works well in many recipes, including drinks, which makes it a wonderful ingredient in my eyes!

Crab apples are in the rose family – Rosaceae. The deciduous leaves are arranged alternately on the twigs and can vary in shape, but are roughly oval or round with a pointed end and finely serrated edges. As the tree grows older, the scaly, greyish bark becomes cracked. The five-petalled flowers are white or pink with numerous yellow stamens, and appear in April and May.

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I love the variety of crab apple fruit, they can range in diameter from less than a centimetre to around five centimetres, and can be oval as well as round. The little apples may be green, yellow, red, or prettily flushed with pink or red. The fibrous stalk is long in relation to the size of the fruit when compared to a standard sized apple. Cutting the apples in half at right-angles to the stalk reveals the distinctive five-pointed star-shaped apple core where the seeds (pips) develop. The fruit is ripe when it begins to fall off the tree and the seeds turn brown.

Crab apples, like all apples, contain some vitamin C and may contain significant quantities of antioxidant compounds, such as anthocyanin (the dark red pigment in some  apples) and quercetin which may help prevent cancer, asthma and diabetes. Crab apples are also high in pectin, which has been shown to help reduce cholesterol levels and may reduce the risk of heart disease. There’s something in the old saying ‘an apple an day..’! Like all apples, the skin, and just under the skin, is where the nutrients are most concentrated, so to get the most of the beneficial compounds, process and eat the skin along with the flesh.

crab-apples

Crab apples have long been associated with love and marriage. Apples were thought to have magical powers and the Celts knew them as the tree of love. Folklore says that if you throw crab apple pips into the fire while saying the name of a lover, if the lover is faithful the pip will explode in the heat, but if they are not, the pip will burn silently!

Always use a good plant identification book when foraging, and remember to leave some fruit behind for the wildlife.

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Crab apples make excellent jams, jellies, pickles, apple sauce, sorbet, syrup, cordial and cider. They were traditionally roasted and added to wassail, which contained ale or cider with sugar and spices…Here’s my round-up of recipes from the web – you could use cooking apples, like Bramleys, for any of these recipes if you can’t get crab apples:

Crab apple leather makes a super snack, here’s a recipe from The Hedgerow Cookbook. You need to spread out the puree to about 5 or 6 mm thick with a spatula or spoon before drying in a low oven (50°C is ideal – for that you may need to prop your oven door slightly open), or a food dehydrator. You can add other fruit, flavourings  or  spices to the mix such as cinnamon, fennel seeds or hogweed seed. I’d advise removing cores and stones at the start if you can, that way you can blend up the fruit skins and get the benefit of all the nutrients concentrated there.

Try crab apple, orange and cider jelly in gravies and sauces, as an accompaniment to roast pork or cheese, or it’s delicious enough just to spread as it is on buttery toast. This fab recipe’s from voluntary community group West Ealing Abundance which uses London fruit that would otherwise go to waste.

What about a spiced crab apple (or quince) butter from Gail Duff’s Country-side Cook Book for spreading over cakes or on warm scones.

Or try Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s blackberry and crab apple cordial.

And last, but certainly not least, here’s Abel & Cole’s recipe for crab apple whisky, make in autumn/fall in time for Christmas!

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

Heady honeysuckle

By Sarah Watson

 

With its intoxicating scent, curvy Art Nouveau-style blooms and understated pastel yellow and blush-pink hues, common honeysuckle is surely the most elegant wild flower. Even its name, Lonicera, sounds like a siren of the silver screen.

There are over 180 species of honeysuckle, some of which may be toxic to varying degrees. The flowers of a few species are considered edible, including UK native common honeysuckle, or woodbine (Lonicera periclymenum). In summer, wild honeysuckle can be found flowering in woodland, scrubland, hedgerows and along roadsides. There are showy, garden varieties of it too – as pictured above. It’s a twining shrub with opposite pairs of untoothed, pointed leaves and stalkless, trumpet-shaped flowers arranged in whorls which are followed by clusters of red berries.

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) introduced from eastern Asia and naturalised in parts of Southern Britain, also has edible flowers. Its trumpets, in shades of creamy-white and yellow, are borne in pairs (pictured below) and followed by small, spherical black berries. It’s quite invasive in the wild in the UK and can be harmful to native plants, so you don’t need to worry about taking too much.

It takes just a small quantity of the deliciously-fragranced blossoms to capture their honeyed, floral flavour. Honeysuckle-infused water can be used to make refreshing sorbets, cordials or conserves. A jelly goes nicely with some thick slices of ham, or in a summer cream tea with some fresh raspberries or strawberries.

Use my honeysuckle syrup recipe below to make a vinaigrette, jelly, or for a refreshing drink, add chilled fizzy water and a splash of citrus juice, or even yuzu. Honeysuckle syrup goes well with tequila or brandy in cocktails. Or try ‘Suck my Honey’ – my gin and honeysuckle cocktail recipe with lime and orange blossom water – find it on the Difford’s Guide website in my article on using honeysuckle in drinks.

The berries of most honeysuckle species are said to be mildly poisonous, as are the leaves. Pictured below are the berries of common honeysuckle.

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

Harvest native honeysuckle lightly from several places, taking a little from each patch and leaving some flowers for the bees and moths which feed on its nectar. Take individual, freshly-opened trumpets, leaving unopened flowers to bloom, and leaving the stalk and flower base behind for berries to form, as birds and other wildlife feed on them.

Honeysuckle syrup recipe

Makes one bottle – about 700ml

Ingredients:

  • Large handful of fresh honeysuckle trumpets – all green bits removed
  • 500ml hot water – recently boiled
  • 500g sugar
  • Juice of half a lemon

Method:

Soak your honeysuckle flowers in enough water to cover them. Leave overnight at room temperature to cool, then pop in the fridge to infuse for another day or so.

Strain through a sieve lined with muslin (or kitchen paper) into a measuring jug.

Add equal quantities of sugar (in grams) to liquid (in millilitres), 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.

Funnel into a sterilised glass bottle and seal. Keep in the fridge once open,and use within a month. Or let the syrup cool and transfer to a sterilised plastic bottle for freezing – leave some headspace to allow for expansion.


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 a truly underrated little flavouring herb in the mint family! As such, 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 flavour, 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 and clarifying ale from Saxon times until the hops were widely grown in  England, hence it’s old name of ‘ale-hoof’.

The plant is high in vitamin C, iron and flavonoid antioxidants. It has traditional herbal uses, and research indicates it has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. It does also contain aromatic terpenes, found in mint plants too, which could be irritant, or even damaging, to the digestive system and kidneys in large quantities. So to be on the safe side, use it in moderation as a flavouring herb, rather than in excessive amounts, and be aware that it may be best avoided if pregnant or breastfeeding (‍there are also cautions about how much mint to consume while pregnant).

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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).

Elderflower – the essence of early summer

By Sarah Watson

The flowers of the elder tree (Sambucus nigra) are one of my favourite edible blossoms. The creamy-white, saucer-shaped blooms have a unique, sweetly fragrant scent with notes of citrus and honey, and a superb, rich, floral flavour. But the elderflower season doesn’t last for long – just a few weeks in late spring to early summer. So make the most of it while you can, taking care not to collect too many flowers from one spot so the tree can fruit later, providing food for wildlife as well as other foragers.

The flower heads are arranged in flat clusters (or umbels) of 10 to 30cm across, each one is made up of tiny florets (small individual flowers) with five petals and five pale-yellow anthers. The leaves of this small tree are formed of two or three pairs of opposite leaflets with serrated edges, ending in a single leaflet. If you crush the leaves, they can smell quite acrid and unpleasant. The young twigs are green, becoming grey as they age – splitting them reveals a soft white pith. The  grey bark of the trunk is vertically grooved and corky-looking and can often be covered in green algae.

Take care not to confuse elderflower with the similar-looking flowers of the rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia), the wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana), cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium). Or worse, the deadly hemlock (Conium maculatum) or hemlock water dropwort (Oenanthe crocata). Remember you’re looking for a tree, not a non-woody plant – and check the leaves, bark and flowers carefully.

The best time to pick elderflowers is on a warm, dry day when the blooms are freshly open – as they get older the smell becomes less pleasant, even cat-wee like! Pick the nicest smelling ones, and shake them gently to dislodge any insects.

Elderflowers, and the fruit that follows in late summer to early autumn, small globular glossy purple-black elderberries, have been used in cooking for centuries. However, the stalks and leaves contain rather toxic cyano-compounds which are denatured to some extent on cooking, but not tasty either. So flowers and berries should be stripped away from as much of the green stalk as possible – this can be done with a fork or using your fingers.

It’s simple to make your own elderflower cordial, I add lime for extra zing – here’s my elderflower cordial recipe, and here are some ideas for using elderflower cordial or liqueur in gorgeous cocktails.

My elderflower fritters, made with a light tempura batter, served with elderflower panna cotta

Elderflower fritters are a lacy, crispy treat: dip elderflowers in a light batter, briefly deep-fry, then sprinkle with icing sugar or elderflower cordial and serve with summer fruits or gooseberry compote. Note: it’s easier to leave some of the main flower stalk on for this dish, but as it’s not especially edible, it’s best not to eat it.

Elderflower ‘champagne’ is worth a try too, but watch out for exploding bottles – rather than using glass ones, I prefer reused plastic fizzy drink/sparkling water bottles (sterilised with sterilising tablets and water), or you can buy empty ones online or from wine-making shops. Keep the filled bottles in a cool, dark place keeping them away from anything you don’t want to be potentially sprayed, just in case!

Use elderflower to flavour sorbet, ice lollies, ice cream, custard, panna cotta, cakes, preserves, liqueurs and salad dressings. Nick Hales of St Clements restaurant in St. Leonards-on-Sea suggests pickling Hastings herring fillets in elderflower vinegar – I have to say I was sceptical, but I tried it and it works wonderfully!

Always use good 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 forage, cook and eat 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).

Golden gorse to lift the spirits

By Sarah Watson

gorsePhoto: Gorse in East Sussex by Ian Cunliffe, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence, via Wikimedia Commons.

Gorse has been bringing striking golden-yellow brightness to the landscape since early January. Native common gorse (Ulex europaeus) is widespread on Sussex heaths, roadsides, railways and fields, flowering mainly from January to June. It’s a large, evergreen shrub covered in sharp, needle-like leaves with yellow coconut-perfumed flowers, the scent being more noticeable on sunny days.

Gorse_flower._(8476622380)Photo: Gorse flower by Ian Kirk, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence,
via Wikimedia Commons.

The flowers of this pea family shrub are edible and impart a distinctive coconutty, floral-vanilla flavour to infusions. The petals can be used as a decorative salad garnish, scattered over cakes, or infused in boiling water to make a tea. Or try crystallising petals with beaten egg white and fine sugar and spreading them out to dry in a warm place (this intensifies the coconut flavour), then sprinkling over ice cream. Ideally a gorse ice cream, made by heating the cream or milk of your recipe with a handful of gorse flowers, then cooling and leaving it overnight in the fridge before straining and using it to make the ice cream.

Coconut_lime_cake-gorse2-adj-resizeAbove: my coconut and lime cake with gorse flower rum frosting, topped with fresh gorse petals.

Gorse flowers are also used in the new breed of artisan British gins such as The Botanist, in winemaking, and to flavour whisky and beer. Try John Wright’s River Cottage Handbook recipe for gorse flower white rum, or infuse a handful in vodka for just a couple of days, before straining and adding sugar to taste. I also make a sunny yellow syrup with lime and orange, which is just gently floral flavoured with a slight hint of coconut and can be used in cocktails or as a drizzle.

The flowers provide pollen for insects, especially on warmer winter days. Luckily picking too many is difficult as the bush is well-protected by sharp spines, so gathering them needs to be a slow, careful process – gloves are recommended, although I find it easier to get a feel for picking the blossoms without them, but caution is needed! Take care not to confuse gorse with the poisonous laburnum tree, which is also in the pea family and has bright yellow flowers, however unlike gorse, the flowers hang down in clusters and the leaves are not sharp and needle-like.

Discover  more about identifying and cooking with wild herbs and flowers on a Wild Feast forage, cook and eat 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).

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