Few know that the much-derided chickweed is an amazingly tasty salad green packed full of vitamins, says expert forager Carl Mintern, who shares what you can find in February on your daily walk.
February definitely feels like winter, but with the days lengthening we can turn our thought toward the spring. Shoots are starting to appear in hedgerows and snowdrops are already making their welcome appearance.
Some wild plants or edible mushrooms are available, or even at their best, right now! Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) are one such plant. Alexanders are a biennial first introduced to our shores by the Romans, who brought it with them as a pot herb. They are among the best wild vegetables of spring. It is widespread, some would call it invasive, in coastal regions around the Blackmore Vale, across the whole of the south of the country in fact but can also be seen inland. Hedgerows are where you should be looking for this plant. You can pick the stems right now and they will continue to be harvestable when the first flower buds appear in late March and April and beyond.
With a flavour similar to angelica or parsley, the stems are delicious steamed or boiled, or lightly fried tossed in butter. Salads can be invigorated with their leaves and flowers.
As always, be sure you know what you are collecting: never munch on a hunch (as every forager knows). Particular care must be made to avoid some of this plant’s cousins in the carrot family, which include both hemlock and hemlock water dropwort, both of which are deadly.
The lowly chickweed
A particular favourite of mine is Chickweed (Stellaria media). This common plant is an amazingly tasty salad green and is packed full of vitamins. This weed can replace lettuce in any salad and is out there growing right now. It can be found in meadows, waste ground and gardens. The beautiful white flowers will also liven up the appearance of a salad.
Chickweed is abundant almost all year round and is certainly one every forager should add to their repertoire.
Finally, let’s mention a great winter fungus, the velvet shank mushroom (Flammulina velutipes). You can find these bright coloured orange- brown caps fruiting through the winter. Velvet shank mushrooms are saprophytic, meaning they live on dead and decaying trees. Look for orange-coloured caps (3-7cm across when fully grown), growing in large profusions. They have a glutinous layer to their caps in all but the driest conditions.
They are related to species of mushrooms cultivated in Japan and are a great mushroom to add to asian dishes. They superficially look like some other species including the deadly funeral bell. But while the funeral bell is a summer/ autumn mushroom, the velvet shank is a winter bloomer.
This lovely species will start showing itself in early winter and can continue until around March.
See details and availability of Carl’s local foraging courses on his website Self sufficient Hub here
by Carl Mintern