Elderflower Time

We are having ideal weather for wild food to grow – rain, sometimes heavy, alternating with warm sunny days. Elderflowers are out; this means elderflower fritters first of all, and drinking last year’s elderflower wine. Then it will be making cordial and wine – just as soon as the rain stops for long enough to collect some nice fresh flowers. Fritters are delicious – I make a batter with one egg, some milk, beer or cider and enough flower to make a sticky batter, plus a teaspoon or so of baking powder. Last week I tried half a can of Guinness in it, but think it was maybe a bit heavy – cheap lager is better. If the oil is hot enough, it takes less than a minute to turn each one golden and fluffy. I like to sprinkle them with lemon juice and sugar, which isn’t very self sufficient, but good.

I’m very caught up with Hogweed just now. Such a common wayside weed, but absolutely delicious. Peel the young shoots or young leaf stems and cook like asparagus, toss in butter if you like. We had our first Plants with Purpose Foragers’ Ramble last Saturday and there was plenty of hogweed, out of bravado I chewed on a raw stem (you do these things when you’re being watched) – and it was rather good! But better as a cooked vegetable.

I won’t try to list all the edible plants we found on Saturday – there were far too many. But everyone had a good munch on the immature seed pods of Sweet Cicely, and plenty of wild salads were collected and sampled. I learned a new trick – one of the youngsters on the ramble demonstrated how to eat stinging nettles – so what you might say – but  raw?? Well, you grasp the nettle and roll it up tightly into a ball (I got slightly stung finger and thumb but if you get it right this shouldn’t happen.) You place the rolled up nettle leaf precisely between your back molars and chomp, without engaging the tongue. Scary, but it works!

The high point for me was finding Monk’s Rhubarb, a garden pot-herb that has escaped and naturalised but is not too common, and I’ve never seen it before. It’s another member of the dock family, also called Alpine Dock (Rumex alpinus), which has massive, heart-shaped leaves and long, purplish, rhubarb-like stems. There were several big specimens between the rivers Almond and Tay, no doubt deposited by river alluvium during some flood. Yesterday we went back to pick some to try – it was good, quite tough and on the bitter side mind. I was expecting that as it is apparently better through spring and later in the autumn, but becomes less enticing during summer. I did the usual “cook like spinach” trick, standard procedure for many wild greens; possibly will try next lot for longer cooking.

Another find which is easy to spot just now was Pignut. This umbellifer has very delicate flowers, is about 30cm tall, and has very very fine leaves, almost hairlike. If you are more skilled and fortunate than we are, you can trace the brittle stems down to the edible tubers. Be sure you have the landowner’s permission to dig it up though because otherwise it’s illegal.

Weeding the garden at this time of year produces lots of plants of Wood Avens, or Clove Root (Geum urbanum). The roots smell strongly of cloves and can readily be dried and crumbled to use as flavouring – or use them fresh of course. I do like this plant, but it is a bit of a thug in the garden so this helps control it!

Our next Foragers’ Ramble is the second Saturday in July.

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