April foraging guide: best plants to find and recipe ideas
Winter is finally over, and spring has arrived with longer days, warmer sunshine and blossoming flowers. Here is our expert guide on what to forage for in April in the UK.
By the month of April, spring is well underway with the countryside buzzing with wildlife and many plant species in bloom. Wild flowers such as bluebells and wood anemones are covering the forest floor, eager to make the most of the window of sunlight before the tree canopies burst into leaf and cover it up again.
From the pungent wild garlic plant to common mallow, why not see what plants you can identify on your next spring walk? Here's our guide on how and what to forage for in April in Britain, with a few key details regarding where each plant can be found, characteristics and recipe ideas.
Where to forage in April
The first flush of tender green leaves is growing prolifically by now. This makes April a great time to forage for spring greens in woodlands and forests and in the countryside to use to give your home-cooking recipes a local, seasonal flavour.
How to forage safely and responsiblyWhether you're a seasoned forager or a complete newcomer, there are some golden rules you need to be aware of before you begin. Check out our beginner's foraging guide to learn how to forage safely and responsibly throughout the year.
Best plants to forage for in April
Wild garlic, Allium ursinum
Also known as Bear leek, wild garlic is an edible plant that emerges in April and can be foraged right through summer. Use it when cooking to add great flavour to your favourite recipes.
The leaves and flowers are edible. Young leaves are delicious added to soups, sauces and pesto. Leaves appear in March and are best picked when young. The flowers emerge from April to June and can add a potent garlic punch to salads and sandwiches.
Dandelion flowers (Taraxacum officinale)
Parts used: flowers
April is the month when dandelions really explode across fields, verges, scrubland and any patch of your garden they can set down roots in. You've probably heard of dandelion coffee, but did you know you know about dandelion wine? The petals of dandelions are also great for making sweets and puddings, and look lovely sprinkled on a cake.
Freshly picked dandelions/Credit: Elliot White
Birch: silver , betula pendula, and downy, Betula pubescens
Parts used: young leaves
This tree is native to the northern hemisphere, which may be why it is one of the most hardy and resilient trees in winter. In spring, young birch leaves contain especially high amounts of flavonoids, saponins and tannins - all valuable nutrients. These leaves are one of the first to unfurl and can be used to make a peppery, minty tea, rich in vitamin C. Birch leaves are simple with round corners and serrated edges. The leaves of downy birch are rounder in shape than those of silver birch, but both can be found in the UK.
Blackcurrant leaves, Ribes nigrum
Parts used: leaves (fruits in summer)
Blackcurrant is a woody medium-sized shrub native to Europe and Asia, which is grown for its small black berries, but it is also highly valued for its leaves. They are excellent at helping to support normal digestive function, and can be a useful appetite stimulant in times of illness. A small handful of fresh, young leaves can be made into a tasty tea with antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory actions. They have palmate lobes and a serrated margin. All parts of the plant are strongly aromatic.
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Common mallow, Malva sylvestris
Parts used: leaves (flowers in summer and seeds in autumn)
This large, spreading plant can be found on roadside verges and along footpaths and its leaves can be used to make dolmas and as a replacement for spinach in almost any recipe. Adding the leaves to soups helps thicken them.
Common mallow leaves contain more than double the amount of protein per 100g than cultivated vegetables, such as spinach and kale, and contains fibre, calcium, magnesium, zinc and essential vitamins A, B, C and E. Identifiable by its five-lobed leaves - which appear on the stems - and more rounded leaves at the base of the plant. In June, its pink flowers can be seen on flowering spikes.
Cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris
Cow parsley is a member of the carrot family and is often confused Queen Anne’s Lace, although they aren’t the same thing. It’s an excellent herb to give your dishes a bit of a twist.
Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata
Garlic mustard flowers in April, it’s also known as Jack-by-the-hedge and hedge garlic. Use it in sauces, dressings and soups to add a taste of peppery garlic.
Medicinal herbs to forage for in April
Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea
Parts used: leaves and flowers
This utterly delicate fairy-like flower is a common perennial that's found in Britain, west Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. It's mostly in semi-shaded woods, hedgerows or grassland. When used medicinally, this plant is a great expectorant and catarrh-clearing herb with additional anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties. To identify, look for its crinkly, opposite, heart-shaped leaves and slightly hairy stems with two to four purple flowers. It has a slightly musty, but minty, smell when its leaves are crushed.
Plantain, Plantago major
Parts used: leaves
In Britain, this plant is sometimes called ‘angel’s harps’ as, when the leaves are pulled apart, the fibres can be seen in a harp-like formation. This plant is common almost everywhere but the most acid grassland, appearing in meadows, grazed pasture, lawns, sea cliffs and sand dunes.
With anti-inflammatory properties, it is a versatile wound-healer and used extensively in herbal first aid for boils, splinters, pus, and dirty and infected wounds. It is also a restorative herb for mucous membranes of the respiratory system, which helps with many types of allergies. Its leaves are broad, large and oval with wavy edges and seven large nerves running through the whole length of the leaves.