I once flew to meet a man because he loved salads. He had come up with a recipe with hundreds of ingredients, many of which were grated, and that was reason enough for an unknown trip.
I’m a little crazy with a good bait salad. There are at least 15,000 edible plants in the world, but we in the West have allowed agribusiness and supermarkets to be limited to 10 or so basic things like potatoes, onions, carrots, peas and broccoli. When it comes to salads, few of us think far beyond salads or tomatoes.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse or vegetable plot, all of these usually grow away from your home, often requiring high inputs of water, heat, peat, plastic and pesticides. It is not sustainable, while many plants that contribute to a very good salad grow from our back door, on the bus, or in parks. These are ingredients that are easy to find and delicious to eat, such as lemon leaves, dandelions, chickweed or oxeye daisy petals. Below is a long list, as well as some clues for identification, but a few words of warning first.
There aren’t many edible looking plants that can kill you when your mouth is full, but there are some – as well as many others that can make your stomach faint and make you run for clothes. If you are new to the game, using two or three different framing books, check and re-check what you are collecting. Each writer will have a slightly different way of describing the plant, which is useful for drawing. Even better, go for a walk with a guide. It’s a great way to meet people, learn the rules, and gain confidence.
As experienced hands will tell you, when identifying a plant, you should look at the whole picture, not just the leaves. Is it growing in the right condition? If it is a bog plant, you are unlikely to find it in dry cracks in the pavement; If it wants sun, it will not be deep in the forest. Touch and smell are also very important. Crush the leaf and season it; If it’s not your nose, don’t eat something you are not sure about – many poisonous and inedible plants give us a bad smell. (However, just because it smells good doesn’t mean it’s safe to eat. This is especially true of mushrooms: too many toxins give off a pleasant odor.)
For salads, you always want the youngest, most tender leaves. The old ones will be hard and often bitter.
As far as the law is concerned, in the UK you are only allowed to choose four Fs – fruits, leaves, flowers and fungi for personal consumption. You are not allowed to choose professionally unless you have a license. And you should not dig roots or choose from any endangered or protected species. Where you can feed is a bit more complicated, but you can do it anywhere you have “permission access”, which means if people have historically fed there, you can continue. The landlord may ask you to leave, but can’t confiscate your BlackBerry basket.
Don’t be too greedy: Remember that every leaf you pick, every flower you choose, every stalk you pick is someone else’s house, food, nest. Walk lightly, check carefully, walk frequently and take much less than your stomach wants. And never take the first thing you find when you go out, nor the last. This Forger’s rule protects outsiders in the population, which is very important.
Before you make a choice, look carefully, take a closer look and look down. There are eggs; Are the edges turned into tents for young insects? Is there a creature sleeping underneath? Many insects are born and live in the wild during the first stages of their life. Don’t eat anyone’s house.
For your own well-being, never eat fodder on a busy roadside – essentially you’re eating exhaust fumes. Since soil pollution is prevalent, be careful to choose even at industrial sites; It also runs along the banks of the urban canal.
Finally, be careful about urination. Dog urine is very easy to identify: it adds a hint of oil to the leaves. You can also see where the local dogs are going and stay well. Fox urine is very hard to find, but clearly smells of musk. With the bitter experience, I can say that both tastes are scary, although the shawl strips the moisture out of your mouth and lasts a long time.
Now that we have made our way through the do’s and don’ts, we can embark on a delicious journey. I have limited myself to brief descriptions, to encourage you to cross-reference before you start cutting.
One of the best bases for salads is the young heart-shaped leaves of the lame tree, which are best made from salads. Small leafy lime (Tilia Cordata) Which is hairless. These should be bright and lime green in color. They taste like lettuce – surprisingly – but I think they keep the salad dressing well and don’t fade too quickly. They are exceptionally good at sandwiches.
I like even the youngest leaves Hawthorn ( Crataegus monogyna); Again, they need to be vibrant, new green and a few centimeters long. The leaves are alternate, as opposed to, so the stems in an alternate spiral, with five to seven lobes and teeth at the tips. Hawthorn leaves are said to protect the heart emotionally and physically, and are considered good for circulation. They taste fresh and grassy green and their beautiful jagged edges make them attractive for salads.
I can’t get enough dandelions (Taraxacum officinalis) At this time of year. Each portion is edible and full of good stuff: they are rich in potassium, for example. They are bitter, like Andy, but sometimes more so, so you need to indicate the youngest inner leaves, again lime-green, new growth. If the bitterness is too much, soak them in salt water for 10 minutes or more. In salads, I’m also crazy about the flower stalks, which taste a bit like Italian chicory (puntarelle) And can be treated in exactly the same way. You just want a flower bud or a new flower stalk; When the plant lays seeds, the stems are filled with chewing fiber. I cut the stalks diagonally into sections, salt them well and then dress them with oil and a few drops. They go very well with boiled eggs and finely chopped red onions.
Chickweed (Stellaria Media) Is another excellent base, the taste of which is not much different from that of corn salad. It may be in flower now, but if it is growing somewhere moist enough, it will still be tender. It is low-growing and mat-forming, with delicate little egg-shaped leaves and small white flowers.
The Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) The season is almost over, but in colder climates you may find seeds you may not be able to pick. These will appear on the side of the seedhead and will be in the shape of a ball, in groups of three. They should be bright green instead of yellow. They quickly break down the sweet garlic and turn into a particularly good salt (mix equal parts coarse sea salt and seeds), which will be safe in winter. It is very good at salad dressing.
Lemon balm (Melissa Officialis), Fennel (Fennele) And Perennial wall rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) Are garden runners that are often found in abundance on roads and walls in cities and towns and are great for bulking salads.
Lamb cat (Romex Acetosella) The other is better, even if you want to moisten it somewhere so that it is juicy. In dry places, it is very hard. It has rectangular, arrow-shaped leaves and tall spikes of pink flowers. If it has swelled (which is possible now) and gone into seed, steal these if they are still bright pink and fleshy. Scattered through the salad, they give a delicious slice of lemon.
Unopened flowers Narrow left or Ribbert Platen (Plantago lanceolata) Can be steamed briefly until soft, cooled and topped with vinaigrette and tossed in mixed salads or treated with a little asparagus, although they do taste amazingly mushroom-like. The leaves are long, narrow ovate and the veins run parallel to the base. The flower spikes are square and the unopened flowers are pine cone shaped.
Similarly, unopened flowers Oxy Daisy (Lucanthemum), Which looks like a large lan daisy and is 60 cm tall, can be steamed and marinated briefly, or can be made into pickles like capers. The white petals are beautifully scattered for some color. The leaves are also edible, although they are very bitter and fragrant until flowering. If you can find them first, they are highly desirable.
A good alternative is the leaves Normal or lawn daisy (Eternal wars), Which can be used raw, where they have an interesting meat texture, or cooked, which is my favorite method. The leaves are paddle-shaped and have short hairs. Once cooked, they soak the dressing in a very palatable way. Flowers can also be eaten – they don’t taste good, but they do look beautiful.
Finally, there are the excellent vinegars to make from the creamy white umbrella Ordinary old man (Black beauty), Long, tubular yellow flowers Normal honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) And pale pink petals Dog rose (Dog rose). All can now be found in Hazro. Daredevils can make these vinegars from scratch by fermenting flowers in sugar and water, but it takes time, so use a good quality white wine vinegar or raw cider vinegar for a quick solution and just infuse the flowers (never the arrows). Many days for a delicious fragrant dressing.
The Bible remains for Food for Free Frasing by Richard Mabe, but not to be overlooked by Miles Irving’s The Forger Handbook and Forge, Harvest, Feast: A Wild Inspired Cuisine by Marie Viljoen, based in the US, but still very relevant.
There are some great accounts on Instagram: US-based Alexis Nicole’s @blackforager is cool and funny. Close to home, both Fern Freud and Tamara Colchester offer walks and workshops.
The Woodland Trust’s website has some great pages for what to eat each month. I also like WildFoodUK.
Alys Fowler is the author of The Thrifty Forager: Living Off Your Local Landscape (Kyle).