Even though it is the dead of winter there are still plenty of things to find if you go foraging out and about. Common hogweed is often found along rivers so in Birmingham UK there is a good chance you can find this plant. Right now, even though the hogweed plants have long since been dead, thier seeds are remaining. They cling on to the dead plant material and are easy to spot as they tower above everything else right now. There wont be as many seeds as there were at the end of the previous year when they just ripened, but they will be there still and with this little wild spice – a little goes a long way!
These seeds are a great addition to your wild kitchen spice cupboard. They taste like a combination of cardamon and orange peel and have a very strong kick to them. I often encourage people to taste these as they go on our walks – and caution them that they only need one seed to try out. It’s powerful stuff!
Because of this, you can harvest very little and it will last you a long time. Which is just as well because there is SO much you can do with these! Thier unqiue flavour lends them to a variety of recipes including making your own gin compounds, herbal teas (pair with fennel), spiced biscuits, spiced cakes, pickling flavouring and more. A quick google will give you a wealth of ideas to choose from.
Common hogweed should be roughly as tall as you, and the seeds are flat discs of paper with two little seeds showing on one side and four on the other, like little brown lines.
Location: Anywhere, usually grass verges, pathcracks, fields and park pathways
Months: All year round
Edible Parts: Leaves, Seeds
Plantain is a common wild edible found all over the UK. The three main types in the UK are Major, Media and Lanceolata but coastal regions will also discover maritima and ponds/lakes may be blessed with Aquata. Plantain has trade mark ‘ribs’ (hence the name ribwort) along the underside of the leaf which are the prominent veins of the leaf. they run parrallell along the leaf and do not intersect. When the leaf is pulled apart the stringy material inside the vein is revealed.
Plantain is not only edible (best eaten when young and fresh) but it is also used in herbal medicine as it is packed full of anti histamines. this makes it useful as herbal tea to treat hayfever or infused in oil to treat stings and other skin reactions – in particular nettle stings.
The seeds of plantain are highly nurtitious if you catch them at the right time of year.
How to Make a Plantain Oil Infusion (for topical use)
Collect your plantain leaves (any variety) and roughly chop.
Spread the leaves our on a tray and dry them out, Ideally you would use a dehydrator at 45 degrees or less for this task but if you do not have one then you can sun dry or use your oven on its lowest setting with the door ajar. Be careful not to burn the leaves (they will turn brown is overheated).
Once fully dried, stuff as many leaves as you can into a clean dry sterile jar. Then top up with olive oil (or another base food grade oil) and ensure the leaves are submerged and there are no air gaps.
Leave in a cool dark place for 3-6 months to infuse. Strain before use.
These jelly ears were found in a man made wood consisting of Pine, Fir/Spruce and Elder. Jelly ears are commonly found on dead elder trees and here was no exception. For help identifying Jelly Ears for yourself you can also check out of Jelly Ear Identification post.
For comparison here is a picture of some of the jelly ears I found yesterday both fresh and old.
While this is a picture of Yarrow on my allotment, I can assure you this plant grows everywhere and you are as likely to come across it as you are to find docks or dandelions. Often hidden in short grass the plant Yarrow can appear to be horizontal for most of the year only revealing itself by a few well trodden on curls of leaves in parks and pathway grass. However, at this time of year it also starts to grow upwards as it attempts to throw out some flowers and it can get very tall in the right location.
The leaves and flowers of Yarrow are used in salads and yarrow oil is also used in shampoo. Some people chew on yarrow to relieve toothache. In the garden it makes an excellent compost activator. Medicinal uses include easing the symptoms of fever, colds, gastrointestinal issues including IBS symptoms and to induce sweating.
WARNING: Do not consume excessive amounts, may contain thujone, cause drowsiness and increase urination. For some people, it can also cause a skin irritation.
WARNING: Not to be confused with Foxglove and Comfrey.
Foxglove – feel the leaves, are they soft and fur like? If so then you probably found foxglove before it flowered which is poisonous.
Comfrey – Flowers are purple instead of blue. Comfrey is the perrenial version of borage which is annual.
Borage works much like Comfrey in the compost bin as a brilliant plant stimulant for leafy growth. However, it is also considered an edible herb with tasty crisp leaves (if a bit furry). Some report they taste liek cucumber but I am less convinced. The flowers are also edible and as such make a brilliant garnish and addition to salad mixes.
Collected leaves and flowers from the borage plants on my allotment. Many garden shops now sell borage seeds to grow yourself and they excellent plants for attracting bees.
Borage leaves and flowers used to boost the contents and appearance of Elderflower cordial. I found that in this mixture the leaves slowly turn neon pink from the tips inward creating a pleasing and pretty drink garnish.
Location: Found on Hawthorn trees, identify the tree first and make sure you have the right one before venturing this one.
Months: August, September, October, November
Edible Parts: Berries
Non-Edible Parts: The pips/stones inside are poisonous, never consume these.
Hawthorn berries are very common across the UK and last well into the deep winter so they are quite important as a food stuff. These haws pictured are quite a large variety but they are normally a bit thinner than this.
They make a great savoury flavour to accompany meat particularly game so I make them into a Haw Sauce (like ketchup but with much more flavour). I have found a lot of large ones this year that are lovely and soft so I will be exploring some alternatives.
Salt is one of our most important minerals for the human body but in the wild, it’s pretty hard to find in every day foraging. The coastal region is a massive resource for fresh salt whether it’s from the various food stuffs found from the coast or from harvesting the sea itself. Best of all, creating your own salt from the sea can be done all year round!
Salt isn’t as complicated and scary as you might first think. The way I will teach you how to produce your own salt from the sea today is pretty much exactly how large companies do it, there is no special secret you don’t know about.
Sea Water – Try to find a certified clean water area for the best and cleanest results!
Collect around 5 Litres of sea water if possible. I used a large water bottle for this to get as much as I could.
Sift the Sea Water through several layers of Muslin. Repeat several times.
Allow the water to stand for a week and you may see a bit of excess dirt form on the bottom still. Siphon off the clean water from the top (as much as possible without disturbing the dirt at the bottom) using plastic tube (see homebrewing for help). Sieve through several layers of muslin again.
Boil off as much water as possible so that you are left with around 1 litre of water left at the most. Now your water beyond this point will begin to make salt so to avoid the salt burning on the bottom of the pan you should set up a gentle cooking system like this:
This is a large pan with around 30-50% water in it on the lowest heat setting on the hob. A metal bowl has placed on the top with the sea water in it. As you can see, after a few hours your water will disappear and you will be left with super strong salt! You may find your salt colour can vary from white to brown, it all depends on where you got the sea water from and the water quality. This salt has been produced from Morecambe and produced finer salt than I expected!
Next, loosen the salt form the edge of the bowl and leave it to air dry in a warm dry location like a windowsill. This will take a very long time but it prevents burning and allows the salt to dry properly for safe storage.
While cycling through one of the many scenic cycle routes in Birmingham I came across a wonderful array of sweet red apple trees. I almost passed it by completely in my speed but the rate they were dropping had quickly created a red blanket in the corner and more were dropping as I looked. After a quick taste test I found these were not the lesser valued crab apples but sweet dessert apples of a most gloriously syrup like nature. I have never tasted a sweeter, crunchier apple in my life. Not a single ounce of powdery taste or bitterness.
There are so many apples there I could not fit them all into my backpack, so return journey’s are on the cards! I always find it truly amazing how many people just walk past these little golden finds and surely a red apple is as obvious a food source as it gets?
Oh well more for us! After picking up as many as I could possibly hold before the last of the daylight condemned me to utter darkness, I took them home and began the therapeutic task of washing and scrubbing the apples clean and sorting them into piles of bruised and undamaged. The undamaged ones are going to be used for eating and the bruised ones will be for cider with any luck.
As you can see on this particular foraging trip we also found a variety of other goodies (a big field mushroom and around 2kg of sweet chestnuts). However, I’ll discuss those treats separately, for now I chose this picture but it shows very clearly what jelly ears can look like when very big! However, they look quite different when young:
Cup shaped when young resembling an ear
red brown colouring
Inner surface smooth and shiny, scurfy outer surface matte
Some of the cup fungi are inedible, distinguished by their brittle flesh (as opposed to gelatinous) and they grow on soil. If it’s not a tree, leave it be! (Please DO NOT apply this rhyme to all mushrooms… just the jelly ears).