I live in a rural village and I do feel more in tune with the seasons than when I lived in Cambridge or London but there are edible treats to be had in the countryside near here that I often miss out on. I know they’re out there but most of the time I’m so caught up with family life and cooking with supermarket or at best farmers market-acquired food that I don’t think to go foraging.
This year I plan to remedy that a little.
March is a good month to start foraging – leaves are at their freshest and newest. Really good ingredients for salads and savoury sauces can be found easily. Parks and derelict land are just as good for foraging as full blown countryside.
Three plants to look for this month:
Hawthorn leaves (above left image). Their traditional country name is ‘bread and cheese’. The leaves emerge as little clusters and can be eaten straight from the hedgerow. They’re fresh, nutty and delicious.
(Note: On hawthorn bushes the leaves emerge first in early March, on blackthorn/wild plum bushes the blossom emerges first in late March).
Jack-by-the-hedge or Garlic mustard. The clue’s in the name – this grows at the base of hedges, is a relative of cabbage and rocket and has quite a strong flavour with a gentle hint of garlic. It grows in the US too.
At this time of year the plants form small clusters of roundish leaves close to the ground.
Image borrowed from here
They are easiest to identify when they flower in May though – the plants grow quite tall (about 50-100cm), the leaves are more pointed and the flowers are tiny and white with four petals.
Wild chervil or cow parsley. For years I didn’t realise that cow parsley (pretty much my favourite plant) was also edible. The fresh growth at this time of year is the best – it can get bitter later in the year.
There are plants that look similar but are harmful, especially water dropworts -I know the plants I picked are cow parsley simply because I’ve watched them flowering for several years.
In the US March is a good time to forage for Miner’s lettuce or winter purslane.
What to cook with your foraged greens
Any of these plants can be eaten raw and are delicious additions to salads.
The leaves can be whizzed up with basil and/or rocket, pine nuts, garlic and good oil in pesto (Nigella roasts her garlic but I don’t bother).
They may also give delicious fresh flavours to salsa verde which can be served with grilled or roasted meat or fish.
Stay tuned for more foraging later in the year.
It took me a year or two to be confident about the few plants I do forage. If you are doubtful about the plants you might find then maybe consult a book (e.g. Food for Free by Richard Mabey or River Cottage Hedgerow) or someone who forages regularly.
Edited to add: Diana at Pebbledash just told me about this website – www.eatweeds.co.uk – it looks fantastic for foraging recipes.