It's the time of year when we like to scour the parks for local delicacies.
As counter-intuitive as this might sound, there are a number of weeds that have great health benefits and are absolutely free. They are also beneficial for local wildlife, accessible and delicious!
Here is a list of five plants that you may find in your local parks and further afield. Foraging is sustainable as long as you share with the local wildlife, so don't over pick! Also, be sure to pick from the tops of the plants, make sure you wash them in cold water and be mindful that verdant clusters can make a popular spot for dogs' toilet habits. Most importantly, make sure you have properly identified the plant before ingesting it, as some plants are poisonous. If you are not sure, avoid eating it. There are very useful in-depth descriptions online of the features you should be looking out for, plus similar less pleasant greens they could be mistaken for! Books are also a great resource, we like Thrifty Forager, by Alys Fowler.
The lowly Stinging Nettle- Yes, nettles are edible and they come packed with vitamins and minerals. Though we advise using gloves when picking, once cooked, they become stingless. The nettle isn’t the most popular of plants, but they are surprisingly versatile in the kitchen. This edible green is full of iron, calcium, magnesium and nitrogen which makes it extremely nutritious for other plants in composting as well as for your health. So it is wonderful for those who suffer from iron deficiencies without having to splash out on costly salad leaves. Blitz in soups, dry for teas and throw into your favourite dishes as a substitute for spinach. You can also create the most amazing vegan nettle cake!
Three-cornered leek- This wild leek has a surprisingly garlicky/oniony taste to it and can be eaten both raw or cooked. The benefits are still widely unknown however like other alliums, it is believed to be beneficial for blood cholesterol. We like to use them like chives in sauces, risottos, pasta or in salads.
Cleavers- also widely known as ‘Sticky Willies’ this green will attach itself to everything and anything. Once picked, the plant's 'bristles' soften and it can rival any vegetable. You can also infuse it in an ice-cold drink. The seeds can be ground to make what is called ‘cleavers coffee‘. The plant has diuretic properties and therefore is known as a cleansing plant. We recommend picking the younger leaves, as the older ones can become bitter.
Ribwort plantain- This is an ancient medicinal plant with anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties which makes it a perfect remedy for coughs and sore throats. The leaves are too bitter to eat direct but taste great brewed in tea or added to veggie stocks.
Dandelion- Every part of a dandelion can be eaten, from the roots to the flower (the fluffy seeds being the exception!). Dandelion leaves provide a substantial amount of minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium and are an excellent addition to salads. Again, pick the younger leaves as they are less bitter. Dandelion roots can be cut up and dried to make tea or a coffee substitute, and similar to root vegetables, you can also eat it whole! The dandelion is full of antioxidants and may help fight inflammation. Some research indicates that the humble dandelion can also boost the immune system! One of our favourite ways to use dandelions is to pick off the flower heads and infuse the petals in sugar and water on the hob to make dandelion honey which has a lovely taste to it, similar to bee's honey.
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