As we creep into late Summer, we leave behind the ‘hungry gap’ that allotmenteers and foragers find themselves in, and we can start to look forward to the emergence of the first signs of an autumn harvest. Excitement is building for mushroom season, but until then we still have some excellent wild ingredients to enjoy, including a restaurant favourite.
We cannot stress enough how important it is to follow government guidelines regarding social distancing and other measures put in place. However, if you can safely head out for a walk in a green space, keep an eye out for the last few tender greens, along with the more robust wild vegetables that are at their peak right now.
Often found sold in fishmongers, having been imported to be sold at extortionate prices, Marsh Samphire is usually the reserve of top restaurants. It is a shame, therefore, that most only get to try a tiny strand or two as a garnish for something fishy. Actually, this abundantly common wild ingredient is best enjoyed as a succulent vegetable and enjoyed in big mouthfuls. Often cited as ‘asparagus of the sea’, it has a salty crunch that bursts in the mouth when eaten either raw or lightly cooked - we recommend steaming or lightly braised in unsalted butter.
No prizes for guessing where Marsh Samphire grows! You will find it all over mudflats and estuaries where coastal conditions meet flat grassland. Wellies and scissors are a must - it is extremely important to not uproot the plant, but to take the top couple of inches before the stem gets tough and fibrous.
Wood Sorrel is one of those plants that you’ve probably missed in the past, but once you know what it looks like, you can spot carpets of the stuff growing all over the place. Happiest on forest floors, it appears all year round and provides a tasty snack on any stomp through the woods. It looks a lot like the clover you will find in your nearest lawn, but has a much more fragile leaf and stem.
Taste-wise, Wood Sorrel has a flavour that has been compared to lemons, apples and even grape skins. Expect a strong tartness for such a small plant! We recommend not cooking it, but adding it to dishes as a garnish or mixing through greek yoghurt. If you do choose to cook with it, whack it in a simple sauce and serve with something that would go well with a lemon kick such as shellfish, Mediterranean vegetables or summer soups. You won’t be surprised to hear that it is packed with Vitamin C, so it is great for your health too!
As with many foods, it is recommended to not eat too much Wood Sorrel in one sitting - the amount we have sent you is about right for someone with no known health issues concerning the kidneys. If unsure, please seek medical guidance.
Mugwort. Its name doesn’t sound very appetising, but we assure you that it is. Flavour-wise, it sits somewhere between rosemary and sage, with a warm bitterness that makes it a great herb for adding to a roast dinner or any dish where herbs blend into the background. On this occasion, however, we recommend trying its flowers as a tea for drinking before bed. It is high in vitamin C, it eases digestion and stomach cramps, and it is even said to encourage lucid dreams - the perfect brew to provide a good night’s sleep!
Mugwort grows all over the country and is a perennial plant that can be found along footpaths, roadsides or woodland edges. The best time to pick flowers and leaves is in the middle of summer, before the plant has gone to seed and the leaves become unpleasantly bitter. Fun fact: before the introduction of hops into brewing, mugwort was one of the most popular bittering agents to use when brewing beer!
We recommend using a teapot and allowing the tea to infuse for 4-5 minutes. Alternatively, use an infuser or a non-cotton tea bag and make directly in your favourite mug. The portion size is enough for one teapot or two cups.
That’s right: you can eat your Christmas tree. It should be added that this is in theory only as nearly all commercially available Christmas trees are sprayed with nasty chemicals that would not do anyone any good if consumed. Take a wander round your local countryside, however, and you are likely to find Norwegian Spruce growing wild (albeit most likely having been planted there once upon a time). In early Spring, green shoots start to appear and it is these soft, bright green tips that we are interested in. Nibbled straight from the tree, they have a citrus zing backed up with a unsurprising resinous tannin. We have dried and powdered the tips in order to combine this taste with the sweetness of regular cane sugar, which compliments the forest flavours perfectly.
Try simply substituting this sugar wherever you would in a dessert to really see that piney tang come through. Alternatively, you could experiment with any cocktail where sugar is an ingredient to add a foraged twist to an old classic - we reckon this works best in any sour cocktail, but have also seen success in an Old Fashioned and Mojito. Please drink responsibly and don’t get off your tree (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Pineapple probably isn’t a flavour you would expect to find in the British countryside, but with Pineapple Weed we have exactly that in abundance. A small nibble of the immature flower heads will take you completely by surprise as the unmistakable tang of pineapple hits your taste buds, and you will wonder how this isn’t more commonly known. Perhaps because Pineapple Weed favours compacted soil - canal paths, farm tracks, car parks - that we tend to take one look at where it is growing and think against it. You needn’t worry about this though, as here at Forage Box we only pick from clean areas, well away from dog walkers and other footfall.
This cordial has a delicate herbal quality that compliments the primary pineapple flavour well. With temperatures at their peak for the year, this is best enjoyed over ice with just a splash of still or soda water. Alternatively, make it a bit fancier by adding a sprig of wild mint or a thin wedge of lime… would mixing in some coconut water be a step too far?