Foraging is a fascinating skill that both deepens our relationship to nature and empowers our health. This article shares some interesting plants you can forage here in the UK in March.
Foraging is a wonderful way to connect both with nature, and nourish our health. A useful link with images that can help with identification as well as botanical information is Wild Flower Finder. Here Robin Harford shares some edible plants you can safely harvest from the wild in March.
Please note: Under Section 13 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, uprooting any wild plant without landowners’ permission is illegal (1).
Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)
Before harvesting, be absolutely certain of the plant’s identity as it has a poisonous lookalike called hemlock (Conium maculatum) which can be deadly if consumed.
For the best taste, pick young cow parsley plants in the spring when the stems have developed, and older plants may have a bitter flavour.
Cow parsley has a mild, slightly spicy taste and is closely related to chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) (2).
You can use the leaves of cow parsley fresh, dried, or preserved in salt for later use (3). It makes an excellent substitute for chervil as a garnish in salads, potato dishes, and egg dishes (4).
You can also sprinkle fresh or dried cow parsley as seasoning in soups, omelettes, casseroles, potato and bean dishes (5). It is a lively addition to salads, especially when combined with cold potato, tomato, and cucumber.
Cornsalad (Valerianella locusta)
Cornsalad is a mild-tasting and delicious Spring salad plant. This is the wild variant of the commercial Lamb’s Lettuce found in supermarkets.
The plant is consumed as a salad in the Mediterranean (6) and some regions of Eastern Europe (7). Additionally, it can be used to make a green sauce.
Young cornsalad plants are commonly incorporated into salads in Slovakia and are typically seasoned with vinegar (8).
Cornsalad is consumed raw in salads in Catalonia, Spain (9), and it is a frequently used salad ingredient in Bosnia-Herzegovina (10).
It is also consumed in Southern Italy due to its antiscorbutic properties (11). Additionally, it has higher levels of potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and copper when compared to other leafy greens (12).
Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
The Saxons used ground ivy to enhance the flavour of beer and to clarify the brew. It was used in breweries for this reason up until the time of Henry VIII (13).
The plant’s popularity in the 16th century before the introduction of hops led to common names such as Alehoof, Tunhoof and Gill-go-by-the-ground from the French ‘Guiller’, meaning to ferment. Alehouses were sometimes known as gill houses and the stakes outside the premises were entwined with ground ivy leaves (14).
In Ludlow, Shropshire, UK, ground ivy was called Robin-run-in-the-hedge and served at Easter stuffed in a leg of pork (15).
Its aromatic flavour made the leaves and stem a good substitute for mint or thyme in recipes for soups, egg and minced meat dishes, or served as a mint sauce on lamb (16).
The young shoots and leaves were eaten as greens like spinach, made into soups or added to raw salads (3).
It may be added to spice up salads, to flavour stews or omelettes, or as an addition to sandwich spreads (17).
Saucer magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana)
During the Middle Ages, Britain had a robust cuisine featuring edible flowers. Nowadays, purchasing a salad bag from the farmer’s market often yields only three varieties of edible flowers, if any.
Magnolia is an exotic and tasty edible flower with a flavour reminiscent of mild ginger, often paired with sushi. Interestingly, magnolia is a highly nutritious edible flower with 14g of protein per 100g, comparable to tofu (18).
In the ethnobotanical record, I have identified nine specific species of edible Magnolia. Experimenting with other species beyond these nine is not recommended as the risks are unknown. The nine edible varieties include: Magnolia coco, Magnolia grandiflora, Magnolia denudata, Magnolia hypoleuca, Magnolia kobus, Magnolia liliflora, Magnolia mexicana, Magnolia pterocarpa, and Magnolia soulangeana.
While Magnolia is often used to make vinegar or syrup, it can also be experimented with by cooking and frying. I have created mouth-watering dishes such as “braised magnolia buds” and “magnolia and tempeh dumplings.” The dried petals also make a delicious tea.
Smooth sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus)
Sowthistle, a wild herb that has been part of traditional Mediterranean cuisine for generations, offers young and tender leaves that impart a bitter yet nutty taste to salads and provide a flavourful wild edible for rejuvenating spring dishes like pistic (19).
The leaves of this herb are commonly used for salads and soups in several countries, including Turkey, Egypt, Spain, Italy, Sicily, Tunisia, Crete, and Cyprus. Furthermore, sowthistle finds its way into various traditional recipes across the region, where it is added to misticanza salad in Italy, pan-fried for seasoning omelettes in Sicily, mixed with stuffing for wild herb and vegetable pies in eastern Spain, and used as a pizza topping in Latium, western Italy (20).
Beyond its culinary applications, sowthistle has additional uses. For instance, its flowers are utilized to curdle milk in some regions of Italy. In Morocco, sowthistle is included in a springtime dish that incorporates up to twenty wild edibles called beqoul (21).
Ramsons / Wild garlic (Allium ursinum)
Out of all the wild edible plants available, ramsons (Wild Garlic), as it is traditionally called, is the quintessential symbol of the foraging movement.
The wild herb was so highly valued in Ireland that, according to the Old Irish Brehon laws, there was a fine for stealing it from private land – the poacher would forfeit “two and a half milch cows”. One wonders how the penalty of two and a half cows was paid (22).
Wild Garlic is best picked in Spring, making an infusion in olive oil is a good way to enjoy its subtle flavour and culinary benefits all year round; the leaves can also be frozen or made into a pesto sauce to enjoy later in the season, however, when dried the herb loses much of its taste.
The plant makes a fine addition to omelettes, cream cheeses or dips, sauces, and as a side vegetable to fish. The bulbs, as well as leaves, can be chopped and cooked in casseroles, and the leaf buds can be used like capers.
- Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Accessed September 14, 2022. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1981/69/section/13
- Mabey R. Plants with a Purpose: A Guide to the Everyday Uses of Wild Plants. Collins; 1977.
- Facciola S. Cornucopia II: A Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications; 1998.
- Wyse Jackson P. Ireland’s Generous Nature: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland. Missouri Botanical Garden Press; 2013.
- Herbalpedia. The Herb Growing & Marketing Network; 2014.
- Heinrich M, Müller WE, Galli C, eds. Local Mediterranean Food Plants and Nutraceuticals. Karger; 2006.
- Dénes A, Papp N, Babai D, Czúcz B, Molnár Z. Wild Plants Used for Food by Hungarian Ethnic Groups Living in the Carpathian Basin. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae. 2012;81(4):381-396. doi:10.5586/asbp.2012.040
- Łuczaj Ł. Ethnobotanical Review of Wild Edible Plants of Slovakia. Acta Soc Bot Pol. 2012;81(4):245-255. doi:10.5586/asbp.2012.030
- (9) Parada M, Carrió E, Vallès J. Ethnobotany of Food Plants in the Alt Empordà Region (catalonia, Iberian Peninsula).
- Jman Redzic S. Wild Edible Plants and Their Traditional Use in the Human Nutrition in Bosnia‐Herzegovina. Ecology of Food and Nutrition. 2006;45(3):189-232. doi:10.1080/03670240600648963
- Guarino C. Ethnobotanical Study of the Sannio Area, Campania, Southern Italy. Ethnobot Res App. 2008;6:255. doi:10.17348/era.6.0.255-317
- Fleischhauer SG, Spiegelberger R, Guthmann J. Enzyklopädie Essbare Wildpflanzen: 2000 Pflanzen Mitteleuropas; Bestimmung, Sammeltipps, Inhaltsstoffe, Heilwirkung, Verwendung in der Küche. 12. Auflage. AT-Verlag; 2020.
- Grieve M. A Modern Herbal Vol 2 (I-Z): The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs, & Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses. Dover Publications; 1971.
- Hatfield G. Hatfield’s Herbal: The Secret History of British Plants. Penguin; 2008.
- Watts D. Dictionary of Plant Lore. Elsevier; 2007.
- Irving M. The Forager Handbook: A Guide to the Edible Plants of Britain. Ebury; 2009.
- Kress H. Practical Herbs Vol. 2. Aeon Books; 2018.
- Jakubczyk K, Koprowska K, Gottschling A, Janda-Milczarek K. Edible Flowers as a Source of Dietary Fibre (Total, Insoluble and Soluble) as a Potential Athlete’s Dietary Supplement. Nutrients. 2022;14(12):2470. doi:10.3390/nu14122470
- Turner NJ, Łuczaj ŁJ, Migliorini P, et al. Edible and Tended Wild Plants, Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Agroecology. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences. 2011;30(1-2):198-225. doi:10.1080/07352689.2011.554492
- Lentini F, Venza F. Wild Food Plants of Popular Use in Sicily. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2007;3:15. doi:10.1186/1746-4269-3-15
- Sánchez-Mata M de C, Tardío J, eds. Mediterranean Wild Edible Plants: Ethnobotany and Food Composition Tables. Springer; 2016. doi:10.1007/978-1-49393329-7
- Mac Coitir N, Langrishe G. Ireland’s Wild Plants: Myths, Legends and Folklore; 2015.