The top ten food to forage for in March and April

As we celebrate our gradual emergence from the depths of the harshest cold and the lengthening evenings begin to tempt us outdoors, the forager will not be disappointed by what nature can provide at this time of year. Dominique Henson explores

1st March 2017
Image

N.B. Always be sure you can positively identify any plant before you pick it, and never eat anything you are unsure of. Make sure you leave plenty for wildlife (and other foragers!).

Dandelions

Easily recognisable by their bright yellow flowers, dandelions are commonly considered to be weeds. The name ‘dandelion’ in French means ‘lion’s tooth’. Like other members of its family, this genus has very small flowers collected together into a composite flower head called a floret. The entire plant can be eaten. The flowers can be made into wine and the ground and roasted roots can be made into dandelion coffee, which has a slight chocolate-like taste.

Mallow

Mallow is part of a larger family which includes cotton, okra and hibiscus. Members of this family range in appearance, from large white to purplish flowers, to smaller more common white swamp or rose mallow. It is an edible plant used for medicinal care as well as food. Fruits are round and have cheese-like wedges, giving the common mallow its nickname cheese-plant. It is used in herbal medicine for its anti-inflammatory, diuretic, demulcent, emollient and laxative properties. Flowers bloom in June-late autumn, but all parts of the plant are edible. Leaves at this time of year can be added to salads, and when boiled produce a thick mucus used to thicken soups and stews. The leaves can also be dried and used in tea.

 

Mahonia Japonica

Mahonia Japonica is a very hardy winter-flowering evergreen shrub found in shady woodland areas but also in full sun. In early March, large clusters of small lemon yellow flowers bloom. Dark fruits appear in mid-spring and summer. Flowers are useful to foraging bees, and the fruit is edible to both humans and birds. They are rich in vitamin C, although they have a very sharp flavour.

Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celandine have glossy heart shaped leaves and bear shiny, bright yellow flowers in March and April. It is consumed as a dried herb and is thought to have medicinal properties. This plant should only be ingested if dried as a herb, as it contains protoanemonin, a mild toxin.  

Laver

Laver is an edible seaweed. This delicacy is dried and toasted giving it a unique flavor used in Wales to make laverbread, a traditional Welsh dish served around the west coast of Britain and east coast of Ireland. It is known as the ‘Welshman’s Caviar’. It contains a high iodine and iron content, making the flavor similar to that of olives.

Cow parsley

Cow parsley is closely related to parsley, and flowers in spring to early summer. Extreme caution must be taken when foraging for this herb as it can be easily mistaken for poisonous plants such as hemlock and fool’s parsley, which like to grow nearby. It is edible but has a sharp flavour similar to parsley with a hint of carrot.

Rosemary

Rosemary is a common woody perennial herb with fragrant, needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple or blue flowers. The leaves are used to flavor various foods, such as stuffings and roast meats. They can also be made into oils, which can make a natural incense. 

Primrose

Primrose flowers bloom in early spring in a range of outstanding bright colours including white, cream, yellow, orange, red and pink. Both the flowers and leaves are edible. The flavour ranges between mild lettuce and more bitter salad greens. Leaves can be used for tea and the young flowers can be made into primrose wine, and can also look impressive as edible decorations on salads and cakes.

Selfheal or prunella

Selfheal or prunella is commonly found growing in lawns and is regarded as a weed. It is a member of the mint family and has the square stem found amongst mint plants. It is used in the Pacific Northwest on boils and to treat cuts and inflammations. Dried prunella can be used to make herbal drinks. The mildly bitter leaves are also good as salad greens.

Yarrow

Yarrow was thought in antiquity to staunch the flow of blood from wounds. It flowers in late April, and is found in mildly disturbed grassland and forestland. The herb is purported to encourage perspiration, and was used in the Middle Ages to heal wounds, cuts and abrasions. It has also appeared as part of a herbal mixture known as gruit, used for flavouring beer prior to the use of hops. The flowers and leaves are used in making liquors and bitters. Younger leaves are said to be a pleasant leaf vegetable when cooked like spinach, with a sweet and slightly bitter taste. Leaves can also be dried and used as herbs.

You are currently reading: The top ten food to forage for in March and April - 1st March
Get your first 5 issues for just £5 when you subscribe to BBC Countryfile magazine!

Subscribe to BBC Countryfile Magazine today and you can enjoy generous savings from the shop price plus, free UK delivery and discounts off special editions and back issues.

Countryfile Magazine - Current Issue