Julia Russel, a qualified local herbalist, writes about foraging.

julia1What better way of enjoying the verdant growth of spring than a spot of foraging? It offers a chance to get outdoors, immerse yourself in nature and excite your palette with a range of food tastes not found in your average supermarket.

Walking along local riverbanks you are likely to smell the swathes of ransoms (Allium ursinum) before you see it. It has a strong aroma of garlic, hence it’s other common name, wild garlic. There is no need to disturb the bulbs; all the best parts of the plant are above the ground. The leaves can be used in many dishes from soups, salads, stir fries and sauces, even wrapped up into little stuffed parcels. The edible flowers can be used to garnish a salad. Unopened buds pack a fiery punch and you may understand why ransoms was traditionally used to help stave off colds and ease coughs. The plant is best when used fresh, so get it whilst you can.

Recipe for Wild Garlic Pesto

Fine chop ransom leaves, and mix with olive oil and a pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar or blender. Add chopped pinenuts, finely chopped hazel nuts and grated parmesan cheese. Mix through pasta or use on top of baked potatoes. Feel free to experiment by adding other herbs, different nuts or cheeses.

Another garlicky spring green with its added hint of mustard is Jack-by-the Hedge (Alliaria petiolate), also known as garlic mustard or hedge garlic. The chopped young leaves are a tasty addition in salads and their slight bitterness will help stimulate digestion.

Young nettles (Urtica dioica) make a great substitute for spinach and lose their sting on cooking. Don your gloves to avoid the stings and pick only the top 4-6 leaves, like picking tea. To cook your nettles, simply rinse and add the damp nettles to a pan so they steam in the water that remains on the leaves, adding additional water if necessary. Once wilted, squeeze out excess water, chop and add to omelettes, pasta sauces, pizza toppings, or you can even make a spicy nettle aloo, a version of the popular Indian dish sag aloo, with nettle and potatoes. Rich in vitamins, particularly A and C, and minerals, especially iron, nettles are good for your health. They are also a great habitat for insect life, so it is worth cultivating a patch in your garden.

The dos and don’ts of foraging

  • Get the landowners permission before picking. Pick with care away from roads.
  • Respect the ecosystem and only pick where there is a plentiful supply leaving enough for other animals and to ensure regrowth and seed supply.

Julia Russell is a qualified local herbalist who has been leading herbal and wild food walks for over 20 years and can help you learn to identify and utilise many of the plants you may until now have consider weeds. Her next walk is Tuesday 14th May when she will be leading a walk entitled “Urban Foraging” in Lancaster. Details at www.juliarussellherbalist.co.uk

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