Early spring is a time of natural wonder. As the earth slowly awakens from her winter slumber and colorful flowers push their heads through the soil, it’s the optimal time to slow down and appreciate the wild bounty growing all around you.
It’s also the perfect time of year to begin your journey into wild foraging. If you’ve never foraged for wild plants before, it can be a bit daunting to get started. Many of the plants you remember from childhood contain some of the best medicine at this time of year. Eating wild food is one of the best things you can do for your health as they are so vibrant, seasonal, and packed full of nutrients.
What you will Need
All you really need to begin foraging is some paper bags, or a basket to store your plants, some gloves (if you don’t want to be stung by nettle), and a sense of curiosity and wonder. The number one rule with plant identification is if you are at all unsure of the plant, then don’t pick it.
Be mindful when you forage: never pick the first patch of plants you come across, and always thank the plants for letting you pick them. Stay away from places you know will be sprayed with toxic fertilizers and wash your plants when you get home before using them. Don’t pick herbs from the side of the road to avoid pollutants. Never pick more than you need and leave some plants growing in the wild. I have a wonderful app PlantNet on my phone that helps identify plants I’m unsure of.
1. Stinging Nettle, Urtica Dioica
Benefits: Nettle is high in Vitamin C, K, Iron and magnesium. Sadly, nettle is seen as a weed by many people but it is highly nutritious for humans. Nettle can also help with seasonal allergies that arrive in spring.
Identification: Most people are familiar with stinging nettle from childhood, and if you are unsure, you can always check if she stings you! For a wonderful guide on nettle identification, see here.
Foraging tips: If you’re not familiar with nettle then it’s best to wear thick gloves to avoid being stung. However, it is also possible to harvest nettle without wearing gloves. Some people even enjoy the sensation of being stung by nettle! Take the tops of the nettle heads when harvesting the leaves and harvest nettle before she starts flowering.
Recipe for Nettle & Wild Garlic Soup
5 cups of fresh nettle leaves (chopped), 1 onion (chopped), 50g of vegan butter, 1 liter of veggie stock, a handful of wild garlic (roughly chopped), 1 large potato (chopped into cubes), 1 carrot, (chopped into cubes) sea salt and black pepper, a dash of Tabasco and vegan cream.
Wearing rubber gloves, sort through your nettles and rinse the leaves. Melt the vegan butter in a pan and then add the chopped onion, cook for 5 minutes or until soft.
Then add the chopped carrot, potato, nettles, wild garlic and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for 15-20 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and blend with an electric hand blender. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with a dash of Tabasco, a dollop of vegan cream and crusty bread on the side.
2. Sweet Violet, Viola odorata
Benefits: Sweet Violet is a fragrant flower that begins gracing our woodlands and hedgerows from March onward. You can use the leaves in salads and the flowers a wonderful tonic for flushing the lymph system after the winter months. The lymph can become sluggish during winter because we tend to eat more and move less. Sweet Violet contains vitamin C and A and is full of antioxidants.
Identification: You can often find Sweet Violet growing in woodlands and shady areas, this wonderful flower smells divine. Not to be confused with Common Dog Violet which is almost identical but unscented. As with all foraging, only pick Sweet Violet if there’s an abundant patch growing. This is one that had been over-picked in the U.K., so be mindful when you harvest it. For more identification of Sweet Violet see here.
Recipe for Sweet Violet Infused Vinegar
20g of Sweet Violet flowers & 250ml of white balsamic vinegar (or vinegar of choice).
Fill a mason jar about halfway with the flowers and then add the vinegar over the flowers. Place the lid on tightly and then leave in a dark place for 1-2 weeks. If you are using a metal lid, then place some parchment paper between to prevent the metal reacting with the vinegar. Strain the vinegar into a clean jar with a non-reactive lid and store in the fridge for up to a year.
Use as a salad dressing. You can also use the flowers and leaves of Sweet Violet in your salad.
3. Cleavers, Galium aparine
Benefits: The perfect herb for spring cleansing your system after winter. Cleavers are packed full of minerals and vitamins. Cleavers helps to move things out of the system, flush out waste and are a remarkable diuretic.
Identification: Cleavers, also known as sticky willy, are easy to identify as they will literally stick to your clothing. If you are going to cook with Cleavers then it’s best to take the fresh, new growth as this is less fibrous and easier to cut into small pieces. For more identification of Cleavers see here.
Recipe for Cleavers & Wild Garlic Pesto
A handful or two of wild garlic, 4 stalks of cleavers a handful of pine nuts, 10g of hard vegan cheese (optional), 1 to 2 tablespoons of a good quality olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of salt and pepper.
Place all your ingredients in a food processor and blitz to combine to a pesto constituency. Add more olive oil if needed.
4. Wild Garlic, Allium ursinum
Benefits: Wild Garlic is a great immune booster for the spring months and often grows in abundance in the woodlands from early March. Wild Garlic is known for its antibacterial, antiviral properties and contains Vitamins A, C, calcium and iron, it’s also very effective at lowering blood pressure.
Identification: You can usually smell the Wild Garlic in the woods before you see them. If you are unsure if it is Wild Garlic or Lily of the Valley (which is poisonous), then carefully take one of the leaves and rub it between your fingers to see if there’s the distinctive garlic scent. If not, then don’t pick it! Always forage this herb mindfully and make sure you leave some growing in the wild. Harvest wild garlic before it flowers. For further identification see here.
You can pop the leaves of wild garlic into your soups for an added punch.
Enjoy foraging for wild plants this Spring!
Also by Rebecca: How To Create A Sacred Space At Home
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Photo: Nettles by Paul Morley via Unsplash, Wild Garlic by Pascal Debrunner via Unsplash, Sweet Violet by Fritz Geller-Grimm via Wikipedia, Cleavers by Luis Nunes Alberto via Wikipedia