March and the beginnings of spring…
One of the first signs of wild flora activity that heralds in the Spring season is the flowers that begin to show in March such as the Primrose plant (Primula vulgaris) – The plant can grow in woods, hedgerows, parks and gardens, and because of this care should be taken not to pick flowers that are on private grounds, also one should be aware that flowers can become tainted from roadside contamination, so it’s best to avoid these as washing the flowers will ruin them. As with any wild food you are planning to pick, please leave some of the flowers intact for insects such as bees.
The flowers were used medicinally, but for foragers today the main use of the flower is to decorate cakes and to add colour to spring salads. You can also eat the leaves of the Primrose but the tastes range from mild lettuce to more bitter salad leaves, so it’s probably best left alone.
Another common plant that everyone should know about in the UK is the Dandelion plant (Taraxacum officinale) – The common name “dandelion,” comes from the French phrase “dent de lion” which means “lion’s tooth”, taken from the serrated look of the leaves – Usually the young leaves and buds are eaten raw, and make a great addition to any salad, the older leaves can also be eaten raw but tend to have a more bitter taste, and are best left for cooking in dishes such as soups and quiches.
The raw leaves are high in vitamin A, C and iron, carrying more iron and calcium than spinach leaves, but obviously cooking steams some of these minerals away.
I’ll leave the flowers and the root of the Dandelion for another time in the calendar when it is best left to harvest.
A sticky plant which I had great fun with as a child throwing on the back of friends and family, it adheres to animals and peoples clothing and is also a common find in the UK, growing along damp river banks, fences and up high attached to other plants, called Cleavers or Goosegrass (Galium aparine) – In the old days dried Cleavers used to fill the inside of some mattresses as the plant would stick to itself and make a uniform pile, it’s root would produce a strong red colour.
Cleavers make another good addition to cooked food at this time of year especially when the leaves are picked early before the addition of any plant fruits. The small leaves are only really suitable for cooking and can be added to a variety of dishes such as stews, soups and can even be made into a refreshing tonic drink. The leaves are said to promote lymphatic flow, as to be cooling, soothing and cleansing.
I’ll leave it at that for today’s post, I may include some more March wild foods in the coming days, so stay tuned. 🙂
Susan Clark has written an excellent article on cooking with wild primroses, with a few recipes at the ecologist.org web-site.
The BBC have quite a few recipes for Dandelions at their web-site.
Spicy Chicken Cleaver recipe courtesy of www.countrylovers.co.uk
Here is a recipe for Lemonade made with lemons and Cleavers.