A wonderful vibrant seaweed, great to eat on its own, raw or add to cooking. Famously used as vegan bacon alternative. Taste – bacon-y, umami, salty, sweet and smoky.
Bursting with vitamins, including B12. It is also well known from Chinese crispy fried seaweed. Super healthy to eat raw or cooked, added to smoothies or toasted as crisps. Taste – salty, iodine-y and light.
(also known as gut weed) is famously used in Japanese cooking for its unique umami taste. A deeply detoxifying and powerful sea veg. Taste – deep umami, salty, sweet & smoky.
It grows explosively up to 3m long and can form dense mats near the shores. The young shoots are very good to eat raw and taste a bit like asparagus. It can only be found in East of the Atlantic, from Portugal to Norway, but it is most common around the British Isles. Taste – mild, crunchy and Moorish best used rehydrated, quickly stir fried with garlic until brighten green. Add lemon or lime juice and eat.
This plant originated in the Canary Isles and moved eastwards. Its earlier name meant ‘Parsley of Alexandria’ which was changed to Alexanders. It was introduced to Britain by the Romans as a food plant, as its stems, leaves and flowers are all edible (raw or cooked) and have a flavour rather like celery. The seeds have also been added to stews for extra flavour.
N.B. This plant is not poisonous but related plants with similar appearance may be extremely so.
Sea Arrow grass
Principally eat the pale base of the leaf stalks and the seeds (ground). The green parts of the leaves can contain toxic cyanogenic glycosides. Green parts should definitely be avoided if dried out – which is unlikely considering the UK climate and where it grows! Young flower stems are a real, tender delicacy if you catch them young. It tastes quite distinctively of coriander & parsley.
A superb, tender, salty succulent with a complex sweet flavour with hints of iron and nut. Even large leaves are tender and delicious and remain so after flowering and well into autumn. Sea aster is one of many gastronomic delights you can gather easily and sustainably on the salty water margin.
Samphire – Marsh & Rock
There are two types of samphire – marsh and rock.
Marsh samphire is the more common and resembles tiny shoots of asparagus but grows on muddy, sandy flats, often around estuaries and tidal creeks. It has a delicious salty taste.
Rock samphire is much trickier and harder to get to, requiring a huge amount of risk-taking as it is usually in high, out of the way places. Rock Samphire was even mentioned in Shakespeare’s King Lear – “Half-way down hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!”
Most samphire is of the marsh variety.
Enjoyable as it is to be simply plucked and eaten, samphire works so well alongside many foods, of course, fish but it is a good partner to a dish of lamb, cutting neatly through the fat.
A large shrub or occasionally more like a small tree. The bright orange berries are very distinctive, as are the shimmering silvery leaves, which are elongated oval in shape. They are exceptionally good for you, being rammed with antioxidants and vitamin C. They are mostly found coastally, but are starting to be introduced – or introducing themselves – to more inland locations. As you recalibrate your senses to the sharpness, you should be able to enjoy the wonderful vibrancy of the flavour – which gets the whole mouth dancing – high acidity.
Are the wild ancestors of common vegetables such as beetroot, sugar beet, and Swiss chard. Its leaves have a pleasant texture and taste when served raw or cooked, and because of this, it is also known as wild spinach.
This is a delightful, easy-to-come-by plant that can be cooked like spinach, added to stir-fries etc, but is at its best raw. Earthy beetroot flavour, succulent green leaf works well as a mild “bulker” with sharper-tasting leaves in spring. It is a mild diuretic and has been used as a poultice for cuts and sores, its juice as a treatment for sore eyes, and even as a cold infusion for discouraging dandruff!
Pungent mustardy salad green, great for pesto, or used sparingly with milder leaves in a spring salad.
Contrary to its name, there is technically nothing in this plant that tastes of garlic – it is a member of the cabbage/mustard family. When it is rubbed (or more likely chewed) however, it undergoes a chemical reaction that makes its name quite apt. This is a cleverly evolved defence mechanism as there are few animals that like the taste of garlic or mustard.
Thrives in heavy soil in hedgerows, woods and areas of scrub … interesting fact: unlike many trees, the carb apple grows singly, and sometimes woods will only have one tree. A year in the life of a crab apple tree.
The rose hip, also known as either rose haw and rose hep, it the accessory fruit of the rose plant. It is typically red to orange, but ranges from dark purple to black in some species
Elder is a shrub of woodland edge, hedgerows and grassland scrub, but also be found on waste ground, in cemeteries and even on rubbish tips. It prefers rich, fertilised soils, so is a common sight in urban areas and cultivated ground. Despite its reputation as a bad smelling, opportunistic ‘weed’, elder is regularly used as food, the autumn berries and spring flowers can both be eaten (the latter sometimes battered or fired) or the blossom can be used to make the popular elderflower cordial. Elder can be recognised by its strong smelling, compound leaves (each leaf is divided into five to seven leaflets), the white umbels (umbrella like clusters) of flowers in the spring and summer and the glossy black – purple berries during the autumn.
Sometimes known as blackthorn, clouds of white flowers are followed by the astringent blue-black fruits. Ideal for jams, jellies and of course sloe gin. Self-fertile.
Delicious lemony-apple flavour in leaves and stems. Contains oxalic acid which should not be eaten in large quantities.
Known also by the name of ‘brassica nigra’. It is an annual plant cultivated for its black or dark brown seeds, which are commonly used as a spice. It is native to tropical regions of North Africa, temperate regions of Europe and parts of Asia. It is an upright plant, with large stalked leaves, they are covered with hairs or bristles at the base, but on the stem smoother. It can reach up to 80-90cm tall. It blooms in summer, from May (in the UK) onwards. The flowers have 4 yellow petals, which are twice as long as the sepals. Each stem has around 4 flowers at the top, forming a ring around the stem. Later, the plant forms long seed pods, which contain 4 rounded seeds.
Is a trailing plant at home in grassland, roadside verges, sand dunes and waster ground. Its yellow flowers appear between June & August among the creeping mats of its silvery, downy leaves which remain all year round.
Bright green, feathery leaves and yellow flower heads of Pineapple weed can be seen on bare, disturbed ground, such as paths and pavements, roadsides and tracks. Introduced into the UK during the late 19th century, its rapid spread has been attributed to growth of motor transport, the seeds being picked up on tyre treads, along with the mud of the then un tarmacked roads, and being deposited miles away as rain washed them off. Lives up to its name, its crushed leaves have a distinctive pineapple smell. Conical flower heads look remarkably like tiny pineapples appear from May to November.
Counting down the clock as you blow the fluffy seeds from the head of a common dandelion is a familiar game to each and every one of us. These ‘dandelion clocks’ can carpet a grassland in fluffy white pillows straight after the bright yellow, gaudy flowers have already coloured it gold. Common dandelions grow in all kinds of grasslands from lawns to roadside verges, pastures to traditional meadows.
The blossom can be used to make the popular elderflower cordial. Elder can be recognised by its strong smelling, compound leaves (each leaf is divided into five to seven leaflets), the white umbels (umbrella like clusters) of flowers in the spring and summer.
In May, hedgerows burst into life as common hawthorn erupts with masses of creamy white blossom, colouring the landscape and giving this thorny shrub its other name of ‘May-Tree’. During autumn and winter, red fruits knows as ‘haws’ appear. Common hawthorn is a rich habitat for all kinds of wildlife from Hawthorn shield bugs and yellowhammers that feed on the haws, the wood mice and slow worms that shelter in the thorny thickets. Hawthorn has shiny leaves, divided into three to seven pairs of lobes, and five petalled, sweet-smelling flowers. It can be distinguished from the similar Midland hawthorn by its more deeply lobed leaves and the fact that it only has a single seed in each fruit.
Known as stinging nettles are a familiar plant to many of us, often firmly rooted in our memories after our first ‘hands on’ experience – a prickling irritation that’s not forgotten easily! A very common plant, it can be found growing in gardens, hedgerows, fields, woods and many other habitats. Its preference for damp fertile and disturbed ground makes it a good coloniser of places enriched by human activities such as agriculture and development. Stinging nettles are great wildlife attractors, caterpillars of the small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies use them as foodplants, ladybirds feast on the aphids that shelter among them, and seed eating birds enjoy their autumn spoils. To avoid the painful way to identify a stinging nettle, look for the hairs on its stem, its drooping, catkin flowers and oval, toothed leaves
Also known as navelwort, it is a distinctive plant of walls, stony banks and rocky areas, particularly in shade or damp places. It has fleshy, circular and upright, straw-coloured flower spikes which appear from June to August. Round, green, succulent leaves that look like coins. Juicy to eat and are great for adding colour to any dish.
Also known as ramsons which spend most of the year as bulbs underground in ancient, damp woodlands, only emerging to flower and leaf from April onwards. This early spring flowering allows them to make the most of the sunlight that is still able to make it to their forest floor habitat and attracts the attention of plenty of pollinating insects including hoverflies, butterflies and longhorn beetles. Millions of bulbs may exist in one wood, causing white, starry carpets and strong garlic smell we so keenly associate with this flower. Ramsons are unmistakeable, the garlicy smell alone can be a tell-tale sign! Otherwise for their round clusters of star like, white flowers borne on straight green stems in April and May. Their leaves are grey-green, oval and narrow and grow around the base of the stem.
The plantains have many virtues that are generally overlooked, including mushroom flavours for inventive culinary use, as well as their usefulness as medicines, successfully treating a wide number of ailments, internally and externally.
Three Cornered Leek –
Also known as snowbell, season starts in February & ends in June, known habitat in hedgerows, verges, woodland edges, field edges, waste ground and peoples flower beds. The leaves are long, thin and green which if looked at in profile is a very shallow ‘V’ shape. The flowers are hanging in clusters very much like a white bluebell with six petals and flowers from April to June. The flower stem is like the leaves but more triangular in profile than the leaves, hence the common name ‘three cornered leek’ when young a bit like spring onion or baby leeks, when more mature the root can resemble an onion. Smell of garlic/oniony. Tastes like spring onion or baby leeks.
Fresh green, trefoil leaves which form distinctive clumps in woodlands and shady hedgerows, often growing from the moss on fallen logs. Lemony flavour.